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Recovering the dead, the cargo and valuables from the wreck of the S/S Atlantic

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper Apr. 1873 - Transcribed by BÝrge Solem Aug. 2005 -

IN our last issue we published a series of illustrations showing incidents that occurred during and immediately after the wreck of the mighty vessel. This paper contains the "latest scenes and incidents at the wreck," as sketched by our special artist; but before describing them it would be well to mention the principal events transpiring at Marr's Island and vicinity since our last.

The Investigation began at Halifax, as before mentioned, on Saturday, the 5th instant, and has continued ever since. Simultaneously the work of' recovering the dead cargo and valuables has been carried on by the fishermen and divers of Marr's Island. Each day bodies have been raised to the surface by means of the grappling-irons, until, by the latest information, it appears that two hundred and fifty have been interred ashore. Most of these were put in coffins provided for them by the officials of Halifax, and the bodies not recognized or taken away by friends repose in Nova Scotian burying-grounds.

Among those identified were several of the cabin passengers. They were forwarded to New York and other destinations. The remains of Mr. W. H. and Miss Mary R. Merritt were sent to New York; the body of Mr. Hewitt, of the firm of Best & Co., was also forwarded to New York by Mr. Marckwald, and was buried on Saturday morning last, from Dr. Hall's Presbyterian Church, Nineteenth Street and Fifth Avenue.

There have been many romantic incidents attending this calamity which have come to light during the search for the bodies. One was the discovery of a girl in sailor's garb, whose life was sacrificed in efforts to save others. She was about twenty or twenty-five years old, had served as a common sailor for three voyages, and her sex was never known until the body was washed ashore and pre pared for burial. She is described as having been a great favorite with all her shipmates, and one of the crew, speaking of her, remarked: "I didn't know Bill was a woman. He used to take his grog as regular as any of us, and was always begging or stealing tobacco. He was a good fellow, though, and I am sorry he was a woman." It is said that the poor thing was an American, and, among the crew, perhaps the only one of that nationality. Who she was and whence she came nobody knew.

When the bodies were first brought ashore, their examination and identification were very loosely conducted. Frequently, sums of' money would be taken from the pockets, belts or pouches of the dead, and before the record was half completed the magistrate in charge would be examining the next corpse. Several New York gentlemen, who were looking for deceased friends, protested against this mode of procedure. Two wretched creatures, who were drinking and quarrelling on the rocks, fell into the sea.

The divers went out to the wreck in boats, and, going overboard, descended to her. They report the water very clear, and every object plainly visible around the ship. The following is a description of the interior of the hull as seen by a visitor in-cased in a diving-suit:

The air from above, which is furnished through the rubber tube, comes with a hissing sound, producing a strange feeling. I shudder at the thought of being immersed so deeply, and how slight an accident would insure instant destruction. All around the objects looked weird-like, the glasses in the casque magnifying the already bloated forms into twice their size. The waters are very cold, and a chilly feeling creeps over me at first, but as I proceed it wears away, and I enter upon the task I have undertaken with more nerve than I fancied I possessed. The immense hull lies well down on the port side, which is broken in several places from contact with the reef. Fish were swimming around, eagerly devouring the particles of food which are to be picked up. Picking my way toward the hull, I catch hold of a rope and scramble up the deck. The place where I have descended is where the ship parted, and a sectional view of the hull and cargo is obtained. The forward hatch is open, and I peer down the hold.

"Oh, what a spectacle is presented? The cargo has broken bulk and lies heaped up in a confused mass; bodies of men and women, bruised and torn, are jammed among the cases and crates. It is a horrible sight to look upon, and the magnifying power of the orbs through which I gaze upon it renders it all the more horrible. Fishes swim in and out among the corpses and boxes, feasting on the dead. Limbs are strewn around, having been broken off from the bodies by the continual action of the waters, which, when agitated, drive against the ugly pieces of the broken hull that stick up here and render my movements very hazardous. Having seen enough of this part of the sunken horror, I proceed toward one of the steerage cabins, in which all the women and children were drowned as they lay in their bin.

"Scrambling along the deck, guided by the rope from above, and assisted by one of the divers who has undertaken to conduct me through the wreck, I reach the companionway. If the sight in the hold among the cargo was horrible, the one that now met my gaze was ten times more so. There, lying in an immense heap, were a hundred or more bodies. They looked for all the world as if they were alive, with arms dislocated, eyes staring wildly, faces grinning as it were at you, and moving backward and forward with the undercurrent; some were dressed, many were half nude. Children were clinging to their mothers, and stout men were clasping their wives, seeming as if they met their fate with calm resignation. No description of the bodies brought to the surface could convey an idea of the horrid sight in that cabin. I close my eyes and motion to my conductor my readiness to leave. I have seen enough in that charnel house, the recollection of which will never fade. My conductor motions me toward the steerage cabin, where the men were by themselves and where there was such a rush for the companionway. Peering down into that cabin, I saw a similar picture of death. Bodies of stalwart men, old and young, were hustled together on the stairway, giving - from their distended nostrils, gaping mouths and staring, glassy eyes - some conception of the terror which seized them as they vainly struggled to reach the deck, but were prevented by the waves which swept over the ship as she heeled over, and filled the cabin. From another par of the vessel i obtained a view of the sleeping apartment."

"Here, piled up in heaps on the port side, were numbers of bodies of men, and strewn among them bed clothing of one kind and another. From continual knocking against the stanchions and sharp, jagged woodwork which is splintered and broken front the linings of the bunks, the faces and limbs of these dead are more ghastly than any I have ever seen. Imagination cannot picture anything more terrible than what was in this compartment. The flesh is torn from the faces of many of the dead; others, again, are bruised and battered about their heads and faces, which are red and bloody, and in striking contrast to the pale, livid features of others which the action of the water has not disturbed. While I stand here, another of the divers descends and commences to send up some of the bodies. He, however, is more intent upon securing the cargo than sending up the bodies, and only does so now to gain access to some boxes and trunks which are lying beneath them. Having seen enough of the horrors beneath the water on that fatal reef - horrors of the deep which will never be erased from my vision - I decided to ascend, and motioned accordingly to the men who were above in the boat, and pumping down to me the necessary supply of air to sustain life; in a few minutes I was once more at the surface, gazing upon the light of heaven and experiencing a sensation of relief at having left the chambers of death in the cabins of the ill-fated Atlantic."

A considerable quantity of the cargo has been recovered, and floated to the wrecking schooner's station near the spot, to receive what may be saved. Divers went down to the vessel, and met with varied success; but storms and bad weather deterred the progress of their operations, and threatened to break up the wreck. However, she resisted the heavy sea-lashing, and up to the last advises had not gone to pieces.

Our illustrations show various incidents and phases of the operations conducted off Marr's Island. As they are enumerated elsewhere, repetition of the captions would be superfluous. We will merely call the reader's attention to the sad vents they so powerfully depict. For instance, the engraving in which fishermen are seen grappling for dead bodies affords a view of a successful attempt to bring a drowned person to the surface of the water.

In this region the sea is so singularly clear that objects can be discerned at great depth - an advantage enabling the men in boats, while looking through a wooden funnel, to be somewhat successful in directing the grappler. Another picture, on the front page, shows our artists going to the wreck on board the Press-boat; the engraving on page 113 gives a general view of the scene of the disaster sketched from a neighboring height, and the map of the coast outline indicates the right course for vessels bound for Halifax, as well as the wrong one taken by the Atlantic.

The pictures of recovered relics and their identification waken sad recollections of the terrible calamity. Visitors in quest of' lost friends are referred to these relics when unable to recognize dear ones in the swollen, disfigured corpses before them. The body, and the relics taken from it, were marked and recorded, and by this means many people found those they came after.

The following is a list of money and valuables found on the bodies, and held by Mr Edmund Ryan, a magistrate:

No. 1. Frances Machaward, stewardess, 5 sovereigns and $2.05 in silver.
No. 2. Mrs. Davidson, 82 1/2 sovereigns, United States paper $181, letter of credit from the London and County Bank Company on Falkner, Bell & Co., San Francisco, in favor of Mrs. Laweston Davidson, and £150.
No.. 3. Christopher Moore, 5 sovereigns, $226 United States paper, draft drawn by the Hibernia Bank at Liverpool on Messrs. Harnett, Hares, Hambrey & Lloyd, London, for £100; silver watch and chain.
No. 4. John Croke, 36 1/2 sovereigns, 37 cents, silver, deposit-receipt of National Bank at Kilkenny, dated 17th of March 1873, for £150.
No. 5. Unknown, a silver watch.
No. 6. Unknown, £5 Bank of England note.
No. 7. Unknown, 15 gold twenty-franc pieces and a silver watch
No. 8. Unknown, $81 United States paper, and a lot of keys.
No, 9. Unknown, 15 sovereigns.
No. 10. Unknown, a S20 gold piece and 5 sovereigns.
No. 11. Unknown, $12.50 in gold, a silver watch and a pin.
No. 12. Unknown, 6 sovereigns.
No. 13. Unknown (woman), 50 cents
No. 14. Unknown (man), 4 1/2 sovereigns.
No. 15. Unknown (woman), 55 sovereigns.
No. 16. Unknown (man), a $20 gold piece.
No. 17. Mr. Hosford, $25 in gold and $3 in sliver.
No. 18. Unknown (man), $50 in gold and $2 in silver.
No. 19. Unknown (man), $140 in gold and $120 in silver.
No. 20. Unknown (man), 5 sovereigns and 50 cents silver.
No. 21. Unknown (woman), 1 sovereign.
No. 22. Mrs. Ann Smith, of 513 West Street., 5 1/2 sovereigns
No. 23. Unknown (man), $47.75 in United States currency, a silver watch-chain and a gold locket.
No. 24, William Williams, l pistol, 9 sovereigns, l chain, $2.25 in silver, and one lot of German manuscript, including a draft for 10 Prussian thalers.
No. 25. Robert H. Eccles, 21 sovereigns.
No.26, An unknown woman, 7 sovereigns, 1 plain ring, 1 bunch of keys, and 1 silver chain.

The following articles were picked up:
Three silver watches, with common chains; six plain gold rings; one emigrant passenger's ticket for two, dated at London, and good from New York to Chicago via the New York Central and Great Western and Michigan Central 1 Railroads; one emigrant passenger's ticket from Chicago to Nebraska, with checks attached: a bill of exchange drawn by William M. H. Hayward, dated March 4th, 1873, on George Harris, Land Commissioner, Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company, Lincoln, Neb., payable to the order of' George Fletcher, for £100; a marriage certificate of Joseph Booth Haywood and Hannah Hooley, of Lower Broughton, Lancashire, dated February 26th, 1873.

All the above articles were delivered to the Collector of Customs by Mr. Ryan.

The following articles were saved, and delivered by S. P. Christian:
Lot 1. Two rings supposed to belong to Albert Sumner, one being a signet marked "S" and the other a plain one marked "From Allan to Albert."
Lot 2. Taken from a vest, five twenty franc gold pieces, two ten franc pieces, one five franc piece and one silver watch.
Lot 3. Two post-office orders, Nos. 462 and 463, for $40 each, drawn in Rockland, Me., and payable to Amanda Richards, Surrey, England; a receipt by J. W. Lawrence, Boston, for $46.40, from John Richards, dated September 21st, 1872, for a draft on the Metropolitan Bank for £8 sterling.
Lot 4. A silver watch, marked on the paper inside, "Mr. Hawkins," and showing that it had been cleaned and repaired at Bridgetown, Totness, England.

Besides these, there are various articles in the hands of Mr. Longard, another magistrate, who has refused to give them up to the Collector. The brig D. W. Hennessey has been chartered to take to New York the goods already recovered, from the wreck.

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