The beautiful three-masted bark Melanope sped across the Seven Seas like a lovely bird in her youth, breaking speed records and building a legend of mystery, tragedy and romance.
The Melanope was an iron fully rigged ship built in 1876 by W.H. Potter & Co., Liverpool for Australian Shipping Company under the auspices of Messers. Joespeh Heap and Company of Liverpool. She was at once used for the emigrant trade between England and Australia, her passengers being a mixed lot of men and women who looked to the 'colonies' for new hope and a better future. Some had advertently or inadvertently broken the law in Britain and were off to colonize the British Empire as retribution.
At launching, her iron hull was 258 feet long, her beam 40 feet, and her depth 23.8 feet with a registered tonnage of 1,686. The Melanope was a luxuriant and well built ship, and was initially placed under the command of Captain Walter Watson. She is described by the San Franscisco Examiner, when in port for the celebration of California's 50th birthday as, "the vessel [that] stood as the brightest and gayest and liveliest of all". The Duluth Evening Herald describes her on that evening: "The lanterns flickered like fireflies along her yards. The red, white and blue fire blossomed on her deck. The rockets mounted from her bridge gleaming spasms of explosive mirth. Hers was the prize for the most beautiful decoration on a wonderous occasion, hers the glory, hers the fame." She was awarded the prize for the best decorated ship in the harbour as she sat lying in the stream off the Folsom street wharf.
The ship Melanope
, circa. 1888
However, all was not always lively and beautiful about the ship and around Melanope's past flock a host of lurid stories. Some say she was cursed ship, and sailors were frightful of spirits that were rumoured to haunt her. In her time, she became known as the ship of “Romance and Death”.
On her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Australia, when she was under tow with a full complement of passengers, Melanope's officers discovered an old apple-woman on deck peddling apples. It is not clear whether the old hag was a would-be stow-away or simply unaware that the Melanope was under way. When she was asked to leave the ship she refused. They tried to jostle her onto the waiting tug, but she wouldn't budge. Finally they moved her bodily and she was swung over the side of the ship to the deck of the tug. The old woman was livid with rage and cursed with vigor. She cursed the ship, the captain, the crew, the passengers and anyone who would ever have anything to do with the ship.
The more superstitious of the sailors who heard the hag were dismayed, and shivered as the curses fell upon the fine new ship.
Later these ravings of the old apple woman were remembered whenever misfortune struck at the Melanope. In fact all too soon the curses seemed to come true. The Melanope was dismasted in the Bay of Biscay about 200 miles off Cape Finesterre on her maiden voyage and was compelled to return to Liverpool to repair the damage done to the spars and rigging.
A letter from a passenger to his brother Mr. W.J. Black, printed in the Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 6 January 1877, details the event, the passenger writes:
"It was an awful pity, for a liner or more beautiful vessel never left the port of Liverpool, and in a fortnight she was brought back a dreary wreck. The night we let go the steamer off the Tuskar it was blowing a whole gale from S.S.W., and you can guess how pleasant that was in a new ship, and deep as a sandbarge. We managed to hammer her down nearly across the Bay of Biscay, and never had a single hour of any kind of decent weather. The rigging kept settling down on the masts, and every thing was giving and stretching frightfully.
On the sixth day out we fell in with a tremendous gale, the heaviest I ever knew at sea. We were lying to on the port-tack, with the wind at S.E., and every roll she gave, you would think the beams or sides would be jerked to pieces with the straining of the masts. The rigging was all hanging in bights, and swiftered nearly amidships, with spars and ropes and anything we could get. At 10 p.m., the night dark and rainy, the masts commenced to go; foretopgallantmast first, and topmasthead with it, then the main the same, and all the wreck of those masts, and the double topgallantyards hanging and swinging about over the lower, and the topsailyards tearing away.
The fire was flying in the darkness like flashes of lightning, the gale kept increasing, and the glass falling, and the whole scene was something terrible. Just after midnight the mizen went, all and everything above the top, right down on the lee side of the poop.
Fortunately, it was with the lee roll, and the spanker-gaff and boom went just clear of the wheel and steering gear. One thing after another kept going all that night andthe next day, and we were unable to do anything, the sea making a clean breach over her, and didn't know whether she was filling or not. All we could do was to look on at the iron spars hammering and belting her side in.
Everything was wire or iron, not a hint of rope or chain aloft, except the running gear, and some of that was wire, and could not get near to cut it. The second day we managed to cut away some of the wreck. The mainyard was swinging about aloft, without a lift or a brace, for a day and a night, and the crossjack yard also. The latter went over clear to leeward, and the main broke in the slings the upper half coming down, end on, right amidships, and the most extraordinary part of the thing was that no one was hurt. I never in my life saw men work better, or do more or expose themselves so much as they did.
Anyhow we brought her from Cape Finisterre right up under the Skerries, with the foresail, in four days. We created a great sensation in Liverpool for a day or two, nearly every one coming to see the ship. We had to discharge about 1,000 tons of cargo to rest, and the next start will be a proper one.”
Old sailors shook their heads and murmured that it was the bad luck from the old hag's venomous curses. Inspectors in port however, reported the initial trouble was probably due to bad design and over-masting. In re-rigging the Melanope's sail plan was cut down and her masts shortened by nine feet.
Despite, the initial setback the Melanope made her first successful voyage to Melbourne on 02 Feb, 1877. When she arrived, she is described in the local newspaper, the Melbourne Argus, as:
"...beautifully moulded, and her lines will show to still more advantage when she comes up out of the water, but at present she is deeply laden, a portion of her heavy deadweight cargo consisting of girders and braces for the new railway bridge over the Murray at Echua. Although of such considerable tonnage the ship viewed externally does not appear of extravagant proportions and it is not until stepping on deck that her great size is apparent. Her sheer is also particularly noticeable from the main deck, which is quite straight from stem to stern and is supposed to give the hull better stability. Another pecularity of this ship is her very taunt lower masts, but, as a rule, shipmasters are not preposed to be in favour of the new style, deeming that very llttle more speed is to be obtained from the extreme drop of canvas The Melanope has a moderate sized poop, and this, with the top-gallant forecastle, and a house well forward, are the only encumbrances on her spacious deck. The engine in the house on deck is very powerful, and drives the various winches, and works the windlass (Hartfeld's patent) with the greatest ease. It can also enable the condenser to distill 1,200 gallons of water daily. The cabin is very elegantly fitted up with polished woods, and these, with the white ceiling reliefed with gold, have a nice effect. The saloon is loftier than usual, a result of the main deck being straight, as already noted. No expense has been spared in finish or equipment, and wherever patents for the efficient working of the ship have been required they have been supplied."
Captain Watson was a capable master, having commanded previously two other ships in the same line, Eurynome and Antieope. He spoke enthusiastically about her sailing capabilities, and on her second voyage after the dismasting, reported that the Melanope "behaved handsomely", and despite some minor weather setbacks arrived in Melbourne with "without a mishap of any kind or even the loss of ropeyarn, so to speak". She made 53 days on her run from Cape Verde to Cape Otaway, which at the time was one of the fastest performances every done by a sailing vessel. When the winds were strong and from the right quarter the Melanope was able to log 15 knots comfortably. On her best day's run of the voyage, she covered 324 knots.
The Melanope's good fortunes ended with a series of mishaps, on 8 January, 1882 when 82 days out from Liverpool she came through the Heads and ran aground at Pope Eye's shoal, about 400 yards north of the buoy marker. Once again she was surrounded in controversy, as the Pilot Loissau, who Captain Watson had placed in command of the ship to bring her in, was charged by Watson with drunkeness which he felt contributed to the grounding of the ship on the shoal.
"I much regret having to make a charge of drunkenness againt Mr. Amedee Loiseau (Pilot), he having come on board the ship Melanope from the cutter outside the Heads, on the night of the 8th inst. in a state of drunkennss. After which and while in his charge, the vessel got on shore on the Pope's Eye shoal; I beg respectfully to request that you will take the necessary steps to have his conduct on the above occassion inquired into. Heavy expenses having been incurred in getting the ship off."
I am, Sir, &c.., &c.
and addressed to the Pilot's Secretary, on 14th January.
"(Signed) WALTER WATSON."
The Pilot defended himself claiming that his years as a "man-o-war" sailor in the Royal Navy had caused him to have an unsual, rolling and staggering gait, and slurred manner of speech. Therefore to a mere stranger, it might appear that he was addicted to drunkeness but for those that really knew him his mannerisms were was caused by his long years of service at sea. He blames the ship's grounding on the mysterious parting of the anchor chain, when the first anchor was dropped just outside the shoal. The belief of the Pilot was that a link was improperly welded.
Captain Watson provides a good account of the events in his testimony at court:
Walter Watson, master:
Came to pilot station about 10 p.m.; hove tooon port tack. Pilot shortly after came on board; I was standing on the top of the poop ladder when he came up; he first staggered against me; he then, whilst holding on to the poop rail, said "Good morning, Captain" and shook hands with me; I looked at him and at once concluded he was intoxicated. I asked him what he would do with the ship; he said he would tell me by-and-bye; he then staggered aft towards the man at the wheel, and asked how the helm was; was told hard down; the ship was with main and mizen topsails to the masts; he told the man to keep the helm hard down. Seeing the state he was in l went down below for blue lights for the purpose of signalling another pilot but did not do so immedately. I had been off the poop five minutes when the 2nd officer came to say the pilot wished to stay the ship; I went up; there was no spanker hauled out or foresail set. Pilot gave the order to put the helm down ; the ship came up in the wind, and then fell off again. I burned two blue lights within an interval of two or three minutes between them; I am not quite sure whether it was before or after the second time of attempting to stay the ship.. My reasons for not burning the blue lights sooner were that I knew we must wait fully two hours before going in, and thought he might by that time recover himself, the ship being in a perfectly safe position. The cutter did not return to us.
Captain Watson could have taken another pilot onboard, and that was his objective in burning the blue lights. By putting out the lights, it had been hoped that the cutter would reach them with a different pilot.
About half-past twelve I calculated would be about slack tide; thought the pilot would be better then, and allowed him to point her for the Heads; seeing that he got the ship into position with two lights in one, allowed him to point -- proceed with her, the night being very fine. Outside the Heads one time when he attempted to stay her, I told him I must have my ship handled better than this, and I a shall report you when l get to Melbourne.
The pilot told me he would take the ship in at four o'clock; had he not been more sober when he went to take the ship in than when he came on board, I would not have let him take her in I made a record in the log-book.
( Official Log-book produced.)
As we entered the wind drew more easterly and became much lighter the yards were sharp braced up. I then saw there was no chance of her fetching the South Channel. It was some time before the pilot began clewing the sails up; after they were all clewed up the helm was put down to the best of my recollection. All sails were clewed up before the anchor was cockbilled. The pilot was then aft. I asked him if he did not want the anchor cockbilled -- the order was then given to do it. Shortly after the anchor was let go the chain ran out moderately at first, and suddenly there seemed to come a heavy strain on the chain. I could not account for it at the time as I had no idea we were so close to any shoal. I afterwards though the ship's head took the bank directly the first anchor was let go; that I consider was the cause of the chain snapping.
The second anchor was let go immediately. She then took a heel, and I was sure she was on the ground; her heel was on the bank, but her bow was afloat until eventually she brought up on the bank. I heard no one order the man to heave the lead. I heard no soundings given. I saw no one in the chains, and I was not off the poop from the time we came in the Heads till we grounded. After we grounded I took the lead and sounded round the poop; found 18 feet on the lee side the bilge was on the bank; wind, by this time, well from eastward. About daylight the two missen topsails were set and spanker hailed out, topsails laid aback; wind then more from eastward. We run a kedge out on starboard quarter and attempt made to get her afloat, heaving at the same time on bow chain, proved a failure, the castings on winch end smashing. We had the steam tugs at her, but could not get her off; afterwards we got lighters, and after taking out a few tons the Albatross towed her off on the evening of the 10th instant about 10 o'clock. We then anchored in deep water, and next day came up to Hobson's Bay. I have been to this port over a dozen times, but do not know the channels well enought to take a ship through myself. He did not anchor so soon as most other pilots have done, after coming though the Heads. I had no leading marks, nothing but my own knowledge to guide that we were getting too far up towards the channel; outside the Heads one time I told him I must have my ship handled better than this and I shall report you when I get to Melbourne. I do not think the chain was bad; the chains have been proved to 115 tons.
I account for the breaking of the chain by the ship's heel being on the ground, and her bow swung round by the tide. I think the sails were clewed up rather quicker than ordinary before the anchors were let go. I still think the ship touch the bank when the first anchor was let go; there was a suddent strain came on the chain which I could not otherwise account for. We were a long way inside the red buoy, it was about 3/4 mile to southward of us. The lead line was passed up the after hatch; the lead had not been used before I sounded.
The Pilot Amadee Loiseau was immediately suspended but then under appeal was reinstated in July, 1882 . However, a few years later, on 10 May 1885, he "accidently" drowned off King's Island. The family claims that he faked his death in order to avoid prosecution for bigamy.
Amadee Loiseau was the drunk pilot whose mishandling
caused the grounding of the Melanope on Pope's Eye Shoal.
Shortly after her grounding, on May 5th, 1882 the Melanope was sailing on a beautiful bright moonlight night, and was approaching the Rangoon river. The master of the S.S. Caribrooke had just brought his ship to anchor in 6 fathoms of water with the intention of heading in to Rangoon in the morning with the aid of the pilot. The master had a big beautiful riding light hoisted to the height of about 20-25ft and turned in for the evening. At 12:30am he was aroused by the chief officer, that reported a large vessel was closing in on them. He immediately went on deck and observed a large vessel on his port bow steering as if to cross the steamer's bows with very little canvas on. Orders were given immediately given to start the compressor in order to pay out anchor chain, the engines were started shortly after with the order for full astern, although some 90 fathoms of anchor chain was let out, it was too late to avoid a collision. The Melanope stood on course and drifted down on the steamer broadsides and struck the bow of the Carisbrooke with such force that her broadside amidships on the starboard side came right across the Carisbrooke's stern, resulting in serious damage to Melanope, which was cut down from sail to the water's edge.
Captain Watson claimed that he was deceived by the moonlight, and thought the Carisbrooke was underway, he also miscalculated the strength of the tide that was estimated to be running at 3 1/2-4 knots.
The chief commisioner of British Burma concluded that Captain Watson performed a dangerous manouever by attempting cut across the bows of the Carisbrooke; in that he without cause mistook a steamer at anchor for a steamer underway; and that he grossly miscalculated the force of the tide outside a harbour which he had previously visited many times. The consquence of his misconduct or his incompetancy, was that the master, on a clear moonlight night, with abundant sea room, and every circumstance in his favour so mismanged the ship under his command that he brought her against the bows of another vessel lying at anchor, got her cut down to the waters edge, and very nearly caused her complete destruction. The Court making allowance for Captain Watson's good character, the little damage to the Craisbrooke, and serious damage to the Melanope, inflicted no punishment. Indeed the damage to the Melanope was significant, she had four upper plates cracked and crushed, one frame broken, one frame bent, one beam bent, and bulkwarks and stantions carried away; the estimated damage was at nearly £600 (approx. $100,000 in 2015).
An artist rendition of the Melanopefrom the San Francisco Chronicle, 1888
In early 1883, the Melanope switched hands to the White Star Line, and came under the command of Captain Thomas Read. When the Melanope arrived in Melbourne in February, 1883, she was laid up at the Sandridge Railway Pier. On March 16, the cook and steward, Joeseph Payne, assaulted Mr. Ellis who was the chief officer of the ship. According to court testimony, Mr. Payne refused to execute an order by Mr. Ellis. After a few mintues, Mr. Eliis went to the pantry, and again told the steward to go forward and get some more soup. He again refused, whereupon Mr. Ellis put his hand on his shoulder and again advsied him to do as he was told, whereupon Mr. Payne setup upon him with a knife and fork, stabbing him several times in the head and neck. The injuries while serious were not life threatening and Mr. Payne was order to pay restitution or face jail time of four weeks.
A few months later, in August, in Geelong, across the bay from Melbourne, Mr. Ellis was found lying on his back in a pool of blood in a vacant lot off Myers Street, across from Mr. Grahams Bible Depot with a bullet hole through his head. He was consider a "stranger" in Geelong and it was assumed that he had came from Melbourne. Witnesses said that when they found him, he was "insensible and breathing stertorously". He was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness and died shortly after. Mr. Ellis was identified by the engineer, Alexander Wharton, who had been on the voyage from Liverpool.
He described Mr. Ellis as a man of means with a brother who was a secretary for some building society in Liverpool. He says that "the deceased was rather eccentric on the voyage, as he would sometimes be very versatile and at other times quite retired." However, he did not appear suicidal. The only clue to Mr. Ellis' identity was a fly-leaf from a notebook that had the address of a boarding house in Melbourne that Wharton had given to him on the voyage. Mr. Wharton, said that he noticed the addresses in the newspapers, which led him to come to Geelong. At the scene, there was a large pool of blood whilst a large caliber, five chamber Colt pocket revolver was found lying by his right hand side, with four chambers loaded, and one empty where the bullet discharged that was later recovered from the head wound. The revolver appeared to be perfectly new, and the case for it was found in Mr. Ellis' overcoat pocket. The resident next to where Mr. Ellis was found heard no report or pistol fire, but at about half-past nine, a young boy who happened by, heard the pistol shot, and came running to the scene where he found Mr. Ellis struggling in the grass. He raised the alarm, and hailed a local cabbie for help. Mr. Ellis is described as a "well-built man of middle-age" and was "of dark complexion with black hair, wears side-board whiskers, slightly tinged with grey, the chin and upper lip being clean shaven, the forehead being completely bald. He was repectably dressed in light tweed trousers, diagonal serge overcoat waistcoat and coat, and a Chesterfield overcoat. He also wore a flannel shirt, lace-up boots , and a half soft felt hat, and in his pockets there was a brown silk handkerchief, while attached to his shirt sleeves were found two studs, the bases of which were fourpenny pieces." There was no sign of a struggle or any marks on the body, so the police and the medical examiner reported the death as a suicide.
On May 23rd, 1886 when rounding Cape Horn, the Melanope fell in with a hurricane, and was partially dismasted, losing her masts, sailing gear, and had her bulkwarks smashed in.
The scene of the San Francisco fire in 1888.
The Melanope was in port and served as a mustering station.
Her masts towering above the smoke.
On September 9th, 1888 the Melanope was in port in San Francisco when a great fire ravaged through city streets and did nearly $1,000,000 in damage (approx. $25,000,000 2015). It is said the when the fire broke out on East Street, there was only a handful of men on board any of the craft. At first, it was thought that the fire would be incapable of spreading to the wharves, but soon it became apparent that flames were rapidly spreading eastward, and the masters and the ship owners became very alarmed, and every man that could be induced to take hold was pressed into service. When the fore-top-gallant sail of the bark Detroit caught on fire there were only three men on board, but within five minutes the rigging was swarming with others who understand their work, and their Sunday dress clothes did not prevent them going into action to do good and effective work.
The local newspaper reports that the Melanope and the Quickstep soon became mustering stations, and a large number of men swarmed aboard each vessel in case of an emergency. Several other ships were towed out of the harbour, and that gave them a clear run in case they needed to evacuate quickly. When it was finally seen that the majority of the damage was over, the excitement quieted down, but the watch for the night was increased and the Melanope's pumps were put in "ship-shape and Bristol fashion".
In June 1889, when the Melanope was in port in Melbourne, a young lover's quarrel nearly ended in tradegy. A young woman name Elizabeth Johnson, aged 21, and her fiancee a young man named Coleman, who was a well known member of the Melbourne soccer team, came down to the pier with a series of friends. A throng of visitors had gathered to hear a performance by the Williams Brass band. The two lovers clambered aboard the Melanope and entered one of her cabins, and then shortly after an argument had ensued. The story, from what could be gathered in court was that Coleman wished to get away from her to join his mates, so he went ashore by hiding in one of the houses on deck and from thence to the pier by the way of the forecastle. Miss Johnson went to search for him, and seeing this a number of men and sailors on board began to make fun of her futile efforts to find Coleman. This with Coleman's apparent desertion goaded her into attempting to take her own life. She ran to the end of the pier and jumped into twenty-eight feet of water. At the time it was blowing a half-gale and the seas were fairly rough and if it had not been for the actions of a young midshipmen, from the ship Avoca, who saw her jump in she would have surely drowned. After a bit of a struggle, he brought her to a waterman's boat which had put off to the rescue. She was taken home by her friends, and was later to appear before the local bench on charges of attempted suicide.
In November, 1891, Captain Read, took command of the ship Bengal. He was just eleven days outwardbound from Liverpool, laden with salt for Calcutta when Captain Read suddenly died, and the first mate, Mr. Deane took command. All went well until the 23rd March 1892, when the Bengal struck on the Long Sand, to the west of Palmyras Shoal, and had to be abandoned.
The Melanope then passed into the hands of Captain Richard Walter Neville, who took command in 1892. A native of Belfast Ireland, born in 1854 received his captains papers in Liverpool in 1881. He was known amongst the crews that sailed with him as "old Neville". Under Neville's command the ship is rumoured to have encountered some bizarre instances: there were reports of wild fights and parties, fierce gales, S.O.S messages in bottles, a revolution and collision in Brazil, and severe cyclones.
On November 12th, a message in a bottle was found in Samoa, by Mr. C.H.L Treoney at Apiang, Gilbert Islands. Captain Neville threw the bottle overboard on an outbound voyage to San Diego on October 28th, 1892 in lat. 1 degree 38 min north and longitude 176 degree 54 minutes west. The bottle travelled 228 west by south in just 19 days. Corked bottles had been used for years by mariners, as the means by which the fate of some unfortunate vessel was made know the to world. Captain Neville had sent the bottle, as the ship encountered a series of fierce storms and cyclones.
The Melanope had left Newcastle, N.S.W. on October 6th bound for San Diego, the wind had freshened from the north, and for several days towards the end of October, the Melanope was tossed about in a terrific gale. Captain Neville reported that the wind was blowing with terrific violence, and the Melanope was pounded by several terrific squalls, and mountainous seas, in which several of her sails were blown away and damaged recieved about the decks. One squall after another pounded the Melanope, for nearly a month, she braved the raging seas, eventually limping her way into port, in early January, 1893.
The Melanope then made her way to Imebitba in Brazil, in early 1894. Only a year earlier, a yellow fever epidemic had begun to ravage the coasts of South America. It began in Santos, and is described in a medical report dated July 29, 1893 as, "an epidemic which for its protracted duration and fearful number of victims is, perhaps, unparalled in the history of the disease.... it seems there is no abatement in it's fury, and the daily mortality into the hundreds. "
News of the plagues reached America when Captain Holland and the brig Ordilla arrived in Philadelphia, in July 1893, with only himself surviving on a literal "ghost ship", with all other members of the crew succumbing to yellow fever. The brig arrived in the plagues-strickern port on May 25, 1892 with a load of locomatives and was docked three hundred and forty-two days before her cargo could be unloaded.
Captain Holland's descriptions of the port are heart wrenching. Thousands had been stricken with the diesease and died. Business was at a complete standstill, and forty-five vessels were moored in the Santos River without their crews. The Braziliian and South American Banks were both closed with all their employees afflicted with the diesease. At the American Consulate, Charles Wadsworth, the American vice-consul had died, all the clerks were dead, and the consul, a Mr. Barry, was also afflicted forcing it's closure. Holland describes that three large hospitals had been established to take care of the ill, but patients were dying more rapidly than their bodies could be disposed of.
The Melanope, at the end of 1893 planned to sail from Cardiff to Rio De Janiero north of Santos which by now had become known as the "port of death" with a cargo of patent fuel. Her trouble began when the Melanope arrive in Rio De Janiero. The outbreak of yellow fever had gripped the port, the Melanope was not immune, and a young irish sailor, Walter William Burke died and was buried ashore. The outbreak of diesease and revolutionaries prevented the Melanope from discharging her cargo. During her stay at Rio, it was reported that the ship was fired upon by the revolutionaries, but fortunately no one was hurt. Eventually the Melanope was ordered to Imedtiba, a small port north of Rio. She sat there for months, in the shallow waters whe she was grounded several times, and the barnacles and seaweed grew on her hull as she languished waiting to discharge her cargo. In March 1894, at Imeditba, her trouble in Brazil continued when she was involved in an incident with the Norweigan Barque Solveig.
According to the statement of claim, the Solveig, a small Norweigan wooden barque of 206 tons, under the command of Captain Andersen, at 7 p.m. in the evening of March 3rd, 1894 was at anchor partly laden with a cargo of coffee and bound for Cabrio Frio and Rio De Janiero.
It was a clear evening with no wind or tide, but there was a moderate swell from the southeast. The Solveig was riding to her starboard anchor, with her anchor light well illuminated with a good anchor watch being kept.
The Melanope was at anchor ahead of the Solveig, about 1 1/2 cable distant, and bearing a little on the port bow. In these circumstances, those on board the Solveig observed that the Melanope was dragging her anchor, and was rapidly drawing down upon them. Cable was slacked away on board the Solveig until she was close to the breakers of Paysandu Rocks, and her helm was put hard to port, but the Melanope continue to drive down upon her, and with her starboard quarter struck the Solveig's jibboom. Afterwards, she passed down her port side and swept away the Solveig's rigging and did further damages. The Melanope then brought herself up and the two ships swung together for considerable time, until about 10 P.M. when they were hauled clear. At an inquiry, it was determined that the Melanope was improperly anchored, had an improper amount of anchor scope let out, allowed to drag her anchor, and those on board had neglected to keep clear of the Solveig, by letting out her second anchor.
Several years later, the New York times, writes about one of the sailors who had been under Neville's command on the Melanope. The newspaper reported on a benefit for sailors, at a small mission at Tenth and Washington streets in New York, at Christmas in 1894. It states:
"The rough-coated toilers of the sea began to straggle in about 7:30 o'clock.The sweet-faced secretary of the association, Miss Emma Bangs, greeted each with a cordial handclasp and a pleasant word. The seats were soon filled, and there was an address by the missionary C.E. Wilson.
He hinted at a surprise for those present. This took the shape of small 'comfort bags,' one of which was presented to each man.
The useful little gifts were supplemented by presents of knitted articles, and then refreshments, consisting of tea and cakes were served. From the conversations from some of the recipients of these kindly little attentions, a reporter for The New-York times gathered that this unhonored and unsung mission was doing much good in its unobtrusive way.
'It's old Neville of the Melanope I wish could see me now,' was the regretful wish of a broad shouldered, leathery-skinned mariner, whose throat was encricled by a muffler and whose cap was tucked under his arm. He looked doubtfully at the cake when it was offered to him, and was as awkward with his tea-drinking as a landsman is with a marlin-spike.
'Its him I like for to see me now, drinking tay in a respectable manshun like this, and this on a Christmas night. An' highsterrickly sober. There is the rale wonder of it. It's oversparred I was last Christmas, and choking mad with thirst before that an' look at me now.'
And the reformed Mariner spilled the rest of his tea down his neighbor's boot leg, chewed meditatively on the end of his grizzled mustache, and lent himself to introspection.
In 1896, the Melanope made a run to Port Louis in the the City of Mauritius. On her way out of Newcastle, she collided with the bark Serina that was moored in the stream and awaiting for sea. The Serina lost her bowsprit and sustained other minor damage. The Melanope uninjured, continued on her voyage. On the return trip, several of the crew members grew ill from "Mauritius Fever", and one unfortunate sailor, Patrick McCarthy died on the voyage back to Melbourne. When the Melanope landed in port the health inspector came aboard and ordered several of the other sick sailors, including the steward to the hospital.
In early 1897, in Portland, Oregon, Captain Thomas took over command of the ship. On his first run from Portland to Queenstown he encountered a ferocious gale and the Melanope was severely damaged. She had her wheel smashed, her wheel box, stern post, port and starboard lifeboats lost, and her sails were also blown out. Her third officer, twenty-on year old Mr. Samuel Barrell, fell from the upper mizen-topsail yard into the sea. Due to the rough nature, no effort could be made to save him. He was a native of Rothwell, Dumfriesshire.
The Melanope then came under the command of Captain John R. Craigen, who had a reputation as an usually skillful and accomplished navigator. A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, his soul yearned for adventure in far lands, and for that knowledge which comes with a wide experience. So he went from his books to the wharves, and from the wharves to the decks, and he soon smelt the salt ale of the ocean's untamed domain. He grew to have the look which comes with a self-satisfied independence, and the bearing which comes with command. He became part of Old England's naval reserve and in 1885, obtained the rank of lieutenant and was the third officer of the steamship Australia. He mixed with the men who have made the "right little tight little isle" mistress of the sea; and from them learned the tricks and blandishments of social experience. He served on the Australia for eight years, and was well remeber in the ports in which it visited. Popular with his shipmates, he was known as a womanizer who had troubled female hearts in every port in which he touched and a dare-devil when ashore.
Capt. John R. Craigen commanded the Melanope
As captain of a merchant ship he was known as a gallant who could catch and hold any woman's glance and stir almost any womans heart. Craigen had a reputation as a dashing handsome young captain with a penchant for charming young women. While in New York, he gained the eye and fancy of a wealthy divorcee. Her name was Nannie Estelle McKee (Buckley). Her father was Benjamin Calhoun Buckley who was at one time chancellor of the state of Mississippi and her god father was L.Q.C. Lamar, who was a member of President Grover Cleveland's cabinet. She grew up in Virginia, and in her southern home it was said that she was a proficient linguist, an accomplished musician, an expert horsewoman, and a good rifleshot. She ran in tight social circles, and it is said that her acquaintance among public men in Washington was extensive.
George M. Munro, was Nannie Estelle Buckley's first husband, and together they had a daughter, who was in her teens when she met Capt. Craigen. After living together a few short years, she secured a divorce from Munroe, and a short time later married John C. McGee who was a mounted policeman in New York. Although, it was claimed to be a mock marriage in a social setting, it turned out to be very legitimate. While she awaited divorce proceedings, she returned to her father's estate in Virginia and met Capt. John J. Fell, and after a brief courtship she moved to No. 54 Essex Avenue in Orange, New Jersey where she had a handsome home over in East Orange, New Jersey known as "the Oranges". At that time, it was the sort of area where the drive dipped up and down under over-arching elms and maples navigating through stately mansions with decorative gardens, and well manicured lawns that were fresh and green. The household cheer was very generous. She lived with Captain Fell in their East Orange home for nearly five years and had a boy, who was four years old when she met John Craigen, and was living at the Orange residence. Together, the couple purchased and invested in a small hotel in West Orange.
In early in January, 1897 Chancellor McGill, of New Jersey, annulled the marriage of Nancy Estelle McGee, "falsely called" the chancellor wrote, "Nancy Estelle Fell" to Capt. John J. Fell, a resident of Orange. The grounds for annulment of the marriage was the discovery that it was solmenized two days before the bride had been divorced from John C. McGee, who is said to be a mounted policman in New York City. Nannie McGee claimed that she was duped into marrying Fell, in that prior to her marriage he had told her that he had contacted her lawyer and that her divorce was finalized. She claimed to have been "tricked" into the marriage for six years. She also said that they had been arguing constantly since 1895, and that the marriage had fallen apart.
At the time of the annulment Capt. Fell professed to be entirely ignorant of the proceedings, and even after the filling of the chancellor's decree claimed that he lived in the same house with his wife and they appeared in public together, and were apparently on good terms. Even after her anulment of her marriage to her third husband she remained with her son in East Orange, for some time.
Meanwhile, in East Orange, rumours had been circling that she had married Capt. Craigen, and attempts were made to dispel the rumours with postings in the local paper using her former married name as Nancy Estelle McKee claiming that her marriage to Craigen was a "myth".
While there had been rumours of her marriage to Capt. Craigen, it was not until the record was filed in the bureau of vital statistics in New York that the facts came to light. The records show the marriage was solemnized on February 4, 1897 by the Rev. W.T. Bush, pastor of the Forty-fourth Street Methodist Church whose residence was at 463 West Forty-fourth street.
The bridegroom gave his name as John Ramsey Craigen, his age at thirty-six and declared that he was a widower and the son of James and Helen Mason Craigen. The bridge gave her age as thirty, and stated that the marriage was her second one. Mrs. Joseph Connan, of New York, and William H, Conover, a Newark lawyer were the witnesses.
Mrs. Craigen said to reporters at the Washington Times, "I won't say I am married and I won't say that I'm not married. If I am Capt. Craigen's wife, I am, indeed, a fortunate woman. He will make a model husband. He is the most charming man I ever met. He is tall, handsome, has deep blue eyes, is strong and brave; he is in every sense a woman's protector." Later she admitted to the marriage, and said that Capt. Craigen had gone to England.
A year after her marriage anullment to Fell, and her annoucement of her marriage to Craigen, Captain John J. Fell died, he had been ill nearly three weeks before his death. In the meantime, Mrs. Cragen had continued to operate the lhotel property in West Orange, and had become financially vested and resided there.
Craigen at the time, appears not to be aware of Nannie's previous marriages. Nancy McGee herself reported that it was only her second marriage to the vital statistics office. It is said, that later that year when he found out of her marriage to her former husband(s) he immediately left East Orange. There are some that argue that the marriage to Craigen was completely legal and legitimate and that he had just tired of the relationship, and simply used it as a means to dispose of her.
However, as far as his time and inclinations were concerned, Captain Craigen considered himself a free man, and an eligible bachelor. In any event, a year prior to his marriage to Nannie McGee, his ship had entered the port of Vancouver. It was here, while his ship rode at anchor, that he first met Miss Emma Mabel Taylor, who was a young lady that had been born in England to a wealthy family. She had been educated in Paris and Berlin. It is said that her parents had died, so with means, education, refinement of character, and social daring she had set out along with her maid to view the world.
She is describe in some accounts as, "..quick at tennis and sure at golf. She swam with easy stroke and guided her horse with a commanding hand... she was suple and lithe of body, quick of eye, dark hair, proud in walk, fresh complexion, and daring in demeanour."
At Vancouver, the young English girl, at the age of 19, with her continental education and romantic ideas, met the dashing gallant Scottish sailor, -- a man of impressive bearing, and manner of command. The two were well matched and hit if off right away. She did not at once take ship with him, but they had a secret understanding to meet in Liverpool.
In early 1897, soon after his marriage Capt. Craigen set sail for England, and rendevoused with Miss Elma Mabel Taylor. It was here that Miss Taylor brought him home and introduced him to members of her family, and announced that she intended to marry the dashing captain. Her familly scoffed at the notion of a near penniless sailor marrying such a wealthy and young girl. There was nearly fourteen years in age seperating the couple. However, their meeting had grown into an ardous love affair, and the captain and young girl is rumoured to have eloped.
While in England, the Captain received word that his wife in America had become seriously ill, and needed help with raising her son, and taking care of affairs until she had a chance to recover. At once, Captain Craigen returned to East Orange, where he nursed Nannie McGee back to good health. In the interim, Emma Taylor had become despondant, and impatient for his return and sent a cable questioning his delay in New York. Nannie McGee is reported have intercepted the cable, and a scene developed into an argument and at this time it is supposed that Craigen used the marriage to her former husband as a reason to end his relationship with her.
He then returned to London to pay homage at the feet of the dashing young girl. Elma Taylor then hatched a plan to keep the Captain she so dearly loved away from the claims of his legitimate wife in "the Oranges", from the clamours and auspices of English society, and far from the reaches of the prosecution of the law based on the seventh commandment for bigamy.
She purchased a small bark, Delta of 900 tons, hired the dashing captain, and the two sailed away to South America. The plan was to enter the coastal trade, and occasionally dip into European ports. They fitted out the bark like a pleasure yacht, and paid more attention to pleasure than profit. Still, they were able to make a little money from their ventures, and the Delta proved to be a handsome vessel.
Elma Taylor considered this the realization of her dreams of romance. Wherever they touched and entered society they shone there, careless as the winds that wafted them along, free as the birds that followed in the Delta's wake.
Their social triumphs soon awakened greater ambitions and they longed for a prouder ship. It seemed the perfect plan, to those that knew them she was a respectable ship owner, and he was a gallant and noble captain under her employment, and their relationship was one necessitated by their mutual business together. However, to those that didn't know them, they were Mr. and Mrs. Craigen, a ship captain and his young wife, travelling the seas on a extended honeymoon. A larger ship would provide the wealth for their lavish and spend-free lifestyle, appeal to the gallant captain's appetite for adventure, and had the added benefit of being capable of extended travels that would keep him far away from the reaches of the "other" Mrs. Craigen.
Just a few days after Easter, on April 6, 1899, Miss Taylor purchased the ship outright for £6,250 (approx. $31,000) which is approx. $810,000 in 2015 and presented it as a gift to the dashing sea captain. Built like a clipper, the luxuriant ship advertised as "fast and commodius" was considered a bargain, and the purchase considered a stroke of business genius.
The couple painted the Melanope white, and fitted her out like a pleasure yacht as they had the Delta. The pair dreamed up schemes of mechandising and trade. The ship was successful, and Craigen with a lavish hand spent the money as quickly as it could be earned.
In most of the ports when they came to harbour it was supposed that the free-spending and idyllic couple had millions at their back. So the extensive drawing rooms, and doors of upper societal living were open to them, and it seemed a very joyous and dear affair. The middle aged captain and young miss Taylor were having the times of their lives.
An artist rendering of the Melanope painted white
as she would have appeared circa 1899-1901
In the fall of 1899, the pair decided to take advantage of the recent failure of the French Panama canal project. There was alot of scrap iron available strewn along the excavation, for a fraction of the price - it could be easily scavanged and sold for huge profit in the United States. It was an opportune moment as the Untied States was eyeing the failure, and there was interest in attempting another project.
The French effort was to a large extent doomed to failure from the beginning for two main reasons: diesease, and lack of engineering. The most serious problem of all, was tropical disease, particularly malaria and yellow fever, which had been running rampant in South America. Since it was not known at the time how these diseases were contracted, any precautions against them were doomed to failure. For example, the legs of the hospital beds were placed in tins of water to keep insects from crawling up; but these pans of stagnant water made ideal breeding places for mosquitoes, the carriers of these two diseases. From the beginning, the project was also plagued by a lack of engineering expertise. In May 1879, an international engineering congress was convened in Paris, with Ferdinand de Lesseps at its head; of the 136 delegates, however, only 42 were engineers, the others being made up of speculators, politicians, and personal friends of de Lesseps. Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was in charge of the construction of the Suez Canal, was the figurehead of the scheme. His enthusiastic leadership, coupled with his reputation as the man who had brought the Suez project to a successful conclusion, persuaded speculators and ordinary citizens to invest in the scheme, ultimately to the level of almost $400 million.
However, de Lesseps, despite his previous success, was not an engineer. The construction of the Suez Canal, was essentially a ditch dug through a flat, sandy desert, and presented few challenges; but Panama was to be a very different story. The mountainous spine of Central America comes to a low point at Panama, but still rises to a height of 110 meters (360.9 ft) above sea level at the lowest crossing point. A sea-level canal, as proposed by de Lesseps, would require a prodigious excavation, and through varied hardnesses of rock rather than the easy sand of Suez.
A less obvious barrier was presented by the rivers crossing the canal, particularly the Chagres River, which flows very strongly in the rainy season. This water could not simply be dumped into the canal, as it would present an extreme hazard to shipping; and so a sea-level canal would require the river, which cuts right across the canal route, to be diverted.
So the happy couple with their savvy business sense realized that the time was right, as capatalists and governments circled the French failure like vultures. A popular American politican, Theodore Roosevelt, the Governer of New York, was pushing congress to seek to build a new route through Panama learning from the French failure.
The blissful couple on October 12th, 1899 set sail in the Melanope from Newcastle, N.S.W. to Panama with 2,250 tons of prime Duckenfield coal.
Craigen and Taylor as usual, devoted themselves to their books, their music, and their love-making, leaving the mate to run the ship. They had an easy but slow run to Panama, and arrived on Feb 6, 1900 a week before Valentines day.
At Panama they registered at the local hotel and enjoyed their usual entertainment, social gatherings and dining, while their ship discharged the coal and was loaded with a cargo of iron. After a couple months in port, Captain Craigen was met by the news on file with the American consul that they had received a cable and some documents from East Orange. The packet contained a duly attested legal document, informing him that Mrs. Craigen had once again become ill, would require an upcoming operation, and demanded his return. Along with the documents, was a copy of a marriage certificate showing that the only lawful Mrs. Craigen was a resident of East Orange, N.J. and that consequently the beautiful girl registered as Mrs. Craigen at the Panama hotel was an imposter, a social outcast.
Craigen was distraught over the news, his joyous scheme was up and he was once again torn between his duty to Nannie McGee in East Orange, N.J. and his beautiful mistress. He immediately brought the news to Miss Taylor as she sat with her dressmaker at the hotel to prepare for the evening's social events. In a state of panic, wild-eyed, white of face and with sweat upon his brow he spilled the news of his wife's revenge, and they would be forced to leave Panama, as bigamy was and still is considered an indactable offense in the United States, and subject to criminal prosecution. In the United Kingdom, a person guilty of bigamy is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
The couple were now outlaws and fugitives at sea. It would be nearly impossible with such a large ship to enter any port unnoticed, and the law would be waiting for them in any port in the Western hemisphere. Craigen would be compelled to return to East Orange, and his only hope was that he would be able to return to Miss Taylor at some point once his legal affairs were in order.
As the story goes, Elma Taylor hardly winced at the news and made light of the situation, she reassured the Captain that everything would work itself out - she was owner of the Melanope and had the papers of the ship and it was safely out of the grasp of his wife. He was the captain of the ship in her employ and it would be difficult to prove otherwise. Once they set sail and arrived in San Francsico, he would be able to set his affairs straight. Miss Taylor ignored the news entirely and went about her business as if nothing had come to light. The captain soon put the troubling news aside, and it was back to business.
However, unbeknowst to Craigen, the fever that had plagued the French Panama canal project and had already begun to take its grip on the young mistress. Her condition became worse, and she collapsed on Good Friday April 13th. That evening as she prepared herself to meet the Captain in the galley for dinner, she succumbed to the diesease. Captain Craigen was summoned to her quarters, and as she fell unconscious in the arms of Captain John R. Craigen, her life began to slowly flutter away. She was brought ashore to the hospital and was confined to bed. The Melanope's departure was delayed in hopes that she would soon recover, but the fever had a strong grip and after only a few days she died.
The Melanope fully laden with her cargo of scrap iron, finally left for San Francisco on May 22nd. The Captain was heartbroken, had lost his sense of reason, and immediately fell into a state of despair. He was reported to act like a madman, drinking himself into a drunken stupor nightly. In addition,the Captain refused to take the medicine the ship's doctor had prepared for him as he also began to feel ill. He is rumoured to have muttered, "Charlie, I'm a sick man," he said to the mate, "now that she is dead, I hope I shall not reach port alive."
His wish was soon fulfilled and it was recorded in the log that on the morning of June 13th, he died at sea, at age 39, from the effects of fever and dysentry. Although dark rumours circulated amongst the sailors surrounding the circumstances; some old timers said the mate murdered him, and others claim he committed suicide. In any event, according to the ship's log the dashing captain was buried at sea. The mate read the service, "I am the resurrection and the life," and the body of Captain John R. Craigen was cast into the deep at 9 degrees 32 min north latitude, and 86 degrees 14 min west longitude.
Shortly after the Melanope was midway through the voyage, a couple of dispatches arrived in San Francisco for Captain Craigen. The first one, was to inform the Captain that in late May, at the beginning of the voyage home, his dear mother had died in England. The second, stated Nannie "McGee" Craigen, had not long outlived her rival, and on July 17th, while the Melanope was still at sea, she passed away from the complications of her surgery at a hospital in New York, and she was to be buried in Mississippi.
The first part of the voyage out of Panama was marked by light winds and calms, but from July 2nd to July 9th there was a severe gale, reaching near hurricane force winds that forced the vessel to heave to. The voyage from Panama to San Francisco took 78 days. It took so long that the vessel was reported to local authorities as overdue.
The first officer, Mate Charles Green brought the ship into port on August 9th. However, the ownership of the ship became contested between the Government, the heirs of Miss Taylor and John Craigen and her cargo of 1,050 tons of scrap iron and contents were tied up in court with no money to pay the sailors.
However, it was known that John Craigen and Elma Taylor kept all their money aboard ship, and it was expected that there certainly had to be profits from the sale of the coal. When the ship set sail from Panama, Captain Craigen was supposed to have carried with him a bag containing several thousand dollars in gold.
Several sailors aboard ship reported witnessing the gold, and an investigation to locate the missing money was ordered by the attorneys Drury and Lynch representing the estate of John Craigen, and a citation was issued commanding Mate Green to appear in court and answer to the allegations of the missing gold.
John Baumkirk and William Belle were brought to the witness stand and claim that shortly after Craigen had died they were looking down through the skylight into his cabin, while they were musing about the short and unfortunate life he had on board the vessel. With great surprise, they saw Mate Green sitting at the table counting pile of gold.
The amount of gold the sailors saw was estimated in court to be about $6,000 but there was no actual way of knowing, all they knew was that there was a large pile of it.
"I looked down through the skylight and saw him counting gold -- I am sure it was gold," reported Baumkirk. "Three other sailors who recently shipped again and are now at sea saw him count the gold. I could not tell whether or not it was English or American coin, but I could tell that it was gold."
Sailor Belle took to the stand and corroborated Baumkirk's story. He told in detail how they watched him count the coin through the skylight, and when the work was over they went back to their duties.
Charles Green admitted to the court after a lengthy examination that it was indeed customary for Captain Craigen to carry considerable treasure on board the vessel. However, in this instance, he denied the accounts of the sailors and claimed that if they saw him handling coins it was most likely a few souvenir coins and nothing more. The case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.
A month later, as the Melanope lay in the San Francsico harbour, California celebrated its fiftieth birthday. The Melanope was finely decorated her out by her crew as tribute to her dead captain and mistress. To the Melanope, went the first place prize for the best decorated ship in the harbor, as she sat anchored in the stream, Japanese lanterns twinkled brilliantly from her yard arms.
The scene on the bay during California's Birthday Celebration on Sept. 8, 1900
The Melanope won first prize for the best decorated ship in the harbour.