Tag Archives: salvage

Counting Wrecks: Visualizing T.A. Scott’s salvage work, 1879-1902

This summer I updated my database of T.A. Scott’s rescue and salvage work for the period between 1879 and 1902. After not thinking much about this data set for three years, I plunged back into historical newspaper databases (much expanded and improved in just a couple of years) and added more than 50 events to the database. I’m sure there are more Scott salvage jobs still hiding in obscure newspapers, but I’m feeling pretty confident I found the vast majority. All told, the database includes 247 separate rescue or salvage events. It’s not clear how many he personally supervised (contemporaries often seemed to conflate Scott the man with Scott the salvage company), but I think it safe to say he was personally involved in most. The database includes the month, year, type of vessel involved in the incident, the vessel’s name, the type of wreck (founding, stranding, ice, fire, damaged), and whether or not it was recovered or repaired. After cleaning up the database with OpenRefine, I used Excel and Tableau Public to create the initial visualizations below. I’m working up some fancier ways to display this data… look for those soon.

The first two graphs show the annual and seasonal variation in Scott’s salvage work. Marine salvage was anything but steady and the wide variation in salvage work belies just how important non-salvage activities must have been to the T.A. Scott Company. Winter and spring were his busiest salvage seasons. Summer activity was slower because there were fewer wrecks and because he focused resources on lucrative (and relatively steady) marine construction jobs. I want to plot Scott’s work against the number of reported incidents in eastern Long Island Sound to see if there is any correlation between number of wrecks/incidents and his salvage activity.


Other trends emerge as we dig into the data. Most notably, the bulk of Scott’s salvage work involved stranded schooners. Steamers and barges were tied for a distant second and an eclectic mix 13 other vessel types took up the remainder. Second, we have large gaps in the data — we do not know, for example, the “type” of wreck for 67 incidents. Possibly with further research we’ll be able to fill in these blanks. (to explore the graphs click here and here.)


More to come soon…

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Summer in New London: T.A. Scott and the New London Maritime Society

Fall is here; classes have begun. But I’m certainly not ready to give up summer, and so we’ll reminisce. Two months ago I gave a pair of talks at the New London Custom House for the New London Maritime Society. My time there got off to a fantastic start — lunch at Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock. Not only was the lobster roll divine (maybe I have been too south for too long), but I also met a direct descendant of Captain Thomas A. Scott, the Dock’s namesake and the topic of my first talk: Chasing Scott: Researching New London’s ‘Master Wrecker.’ There was a great turnout for a mid-week afternoon talk and an overwhelming interest in the man I’ve been researching for a long, long time. I think a biography would be great fun…

After making plans to connect with Scott’s heir during the New London off-season, I whiled away the afternoon in the Maritime Society’s wonderful archive. Susan Tamulevich, the director, was a wonderful host, and I look forward to going back and spending some serious research hours in their library. I also had the pleasure of meeting David Zapatka. Zapatka was taking down his amazing photography exhibit “Stars and Lighthouses”–a collection of wondrous non-Photoshopped images of lighthouses lit at night with stars in the background. I’ve looked at a whole lot of lighthouse photographs and I’ve never seen any like these.  Check them out — I’m saving up for a print.

The evening talk had another nice audience and a great discussion. I jabbered about my current book project, which I’m now tentatively calling Shipwrecks and the Making of the Modern Beach. The talk was an opportunity for me to take that difficult step back and try to give a coherent overview of the project. It was a difficult, but invaluable and has helped me immensely as I put together the book proposal.

In the next post, I’ll share some of the research and graphics I finished up this summer on the illustrious Captain Thomas A. Scott.

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Forgotten Wrecks: Schooner Sea Lion (1875)

Screenshot from 2013-03-04 09:24:41

Late winter/early spring was always a dangerous time for vessels as unsettled weather and frigid conditions contributed to dozens of shipwrecks. Today’s forgotten wreck brings us back to March 4, 1875, when the Boston Daily Journal printed:

Schooner Ashore

ROCKPORT, Mass, March 4. The schooner Sea Lion of Lockport, N.S. [Nova Scotia], Capt. McCanghev, from Clenfuagos for Portland, Me., loaded with molasses went ashore about 10:00 A.M. to-day, at Rockport. The crew were saved by the use of the mortar and life lines. If the storm abates the vessel and cargo may be saved.

The Sea Lion‘s wreck was one of a dozen wrecks reported in American newspapers on that days. Some involved loss of life, but the Sea Lion was representative of nineteenth century shipwrecks along the American coastline. Further particulars about the schooner surfaced over the next few days. According to the Boston Daily Journal of March 6th:

THE WRECK OF THE SCHOONER SEA LION. The schooner Sea Lion, from Cienfuegos for Portland, stranded on the beach at Rockport, Mass., reports having sighted land on the lee bow at 10 A.M. on Thursday during the storm, when an attempt was made to work her off shore, but it was soon made evident she would not go clear, and in order to save life and property, Captain McCanghey ran for the smoothest water and let go anchors, which failed to hold and the vessel was quickly driven ashore. All hands were rescued by means of the Massachusetts Humane Society’s Life Car. A line was thrown to the vessel by the mortar, by which a hawser was hauled to shore, and the life-car was transferred to the wreck and the mariners were pulled safely through the breakers to the land. From previous exposure the captain and crew suffered intensely from the cold and sleet. The captain’s hands were badly frost-bitten.

The survivors are desirous of expressing their heartfelt gratitude to the citizens of Rockport, who rescued them, and also to the Humane Society for their wise and generous act in placing life-saving apparatus at dangerous points along the coast. The wreck lies on a gravelly beach among many single rocks, on of which has been forced through her port bilge, breaking off her keelson and floor timbers. It is doubtful her hull will be worth saving. The cargo of molasses has been discharged and landed on the beach for shipment to its destination, under direction of Captain Moses B. Tower.

I haven’t been able to find any record of the Sea Lion‘s eventual fate, a typical ending for most shipwrecked vessels.

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Forgotten Wrecks: Brig Chatham (1840)


Shipwrecks come in all shapes and sizes. Some result in the total loss of a vessel while others are but a speed bump in an otherwise prosperous career. Today’s forgotten wreck was one of those mundane shipwrecks that became commonplace along the nineteenth-century American shoreline. But intrigue lurks everywhere. Notice the end of this wreck blurb, published in The Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics on February 8, 1840. Seems odd that they would throw the whiskey over first. Maybe a few drams warmed up the shipwrecked and salvors… maybe not.

Brig Chatham of this port [Portsmouth, NH] at N. York, from Wilmington, Del. with meal, flour &c. went ashore on West Bank, Tuesday afternoon where she was taken by ice. She was afterwards towed off and up to Staten Island, by a steamer,–having lost both anchors and chains, and had to stave several bbds. whiskey to lighten her.

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Costa Concordia: One year out

Hard to believe that its been a year since the Costa Concordia ran aground off Giglio, Italy, initiating the twenty-first century’s first shipwreck spectacle. Yesterday, media outlets around the world noted the one-year anniversary of the wreck. Seems fitting that we should follow suite at Ships on the Shore.

According to this article, salvagers expect to remove the ship by the end of summer, which would put the effort just a few months behind schedule (not bad considering this is arguably the most complicated salvage job ever attempted). A crew of 430 have been working around the clock for months preparing the wreck and surrounding area for refloating the Concordia. Their cranes, barges, and salvage platforms, “creating an incongruous industrial landscape amid the pristine waters of a marine sanctuary.” (Personal aside: it’s an increasingly rare pleasure to find good newspaper writers these days. Thank you New York Times.) Locals have become irritated by these machines in their garden and others are concerned about the environmental and financial consequences of delay.

For frequent updates on the salvage go here.


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