Norfolk Landmark, October 11, 1891

The Steamer Despatch Wrecked and Fast Going to Pieces on Assateague Shoals.

Transportation -- Water - WrecksInfrastructure -- Public - Government : Life-saving serviceWeather -- Northeast storms

Her Officers and Crew Landed Safely and Cared For by the Life-Saving Men. She Encounters a Dense Fog and is Driven Ashore.

Baltimore, October 10. The Despatch went ashore last night in a heavy gale on Assateague shoals, on the east coast of Virginia, about sixty miles northeast of Cape Charles. As the shoals stretch out to sea for many miles and the ship struck on the outside, is it not known exactly in how great peril she and her crew are at present. It is impossible to reach the ship from shore at present.

New York, October 10. The Despatch left New York yesterday bound out for Washington, D.C. She was under the command of Lieutenant W. E. Cowles and had a full complement of men on board. Immediately after leaving New York bay the steamship ran into foul weather. There was a bad wind, and an ugly sea was running. It was decided to keep the steamship under the coast, thus to escape any bad weather that might have been kicked up further out by the hurricane from Bermuda, which has been making things disagreeable and dangerous in the Atlantic. A bad fog came up with night fall, and so the Despatch slowed down considerably, although even at that she was going at a fair speed. The weather continued to grow worse, and when the vessel struck was blowing, it is reported, quite a mean gale. The sea was running high, with a decided land swell. The vessel struck, it is reported, head on. The shock came some time on toward midnight. Immediately the sea swept over her, knocking her broadside on the shoals. The Despatch's commander immediately let loose the anchor, but this did not strike until after the waves had beat her well up on the shoals. It is impossible to say now what damage was done to the Despatch. Communication with the vessel is difficult and almost impossible. A bad storm is reported and there is danger that she may be worked up further. The wind is also reported against her from the north, northeast. It is impossible to reach her from shore, but it is hoped communication with her by means of sea tugs from Philadelphia will soon be established. Until then it will be impossible to say definitely how her commander lost his bearings and permitted her to go ashore.

Washington, October 10. The Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service to-night received a telegram from the keeper of the life-saving station at Assateague, Va., saying the U.S.S. Despatch was broadside on the shoals and fast going to pieces. Her officers and crew were safely landed, and are now being cared for by the life-saving men. The Despatch left the New York navy-yard yesterday, and was on her way to this city, where she was to take on board the President, Secretary Tracy and some officers of the navy and convey them down the Potomac to witness experiments in testing some of the armor plates for use in the armament of the new vessels. She was expected to arrive here Monday, and after taking the President down the river was to have been probably placed out of commission, as she is old and in much need of repairs. It is impossible to learn here any particulars attending the vessel's going ashore, but it is surmised by naval officers that in her endeavor to hug the coast closely to avoid the heavy gale she got too close in shore, and when her position was discovered it was too late to work off with a northeast wind driving her shoreward.

The Despatch has been used for years past as a dispatch boat for the President and the Secretary of the Navy, and when not employed in this capacity has been used to convey stores and ammunition to and from navy-yards along the coast. She was built in 1874, and some years later purchased by the Government from Henry C. Smith, a New York stock broker and yachtsman for $98,000, and afterwards remodeled for the purpose her name indicates. Her length was 174 feet, beam 25 1/2 feet, with a tonnage of 800 tons and a mean draft of thirteen feet. Her speed was about twelve and one-half knots an hour. Her battery consisted of one three-inch breech loading rifle, used mainly for saluting purposes.

Her officers were Lieutenant W. S. Cowles, commanding; Lieutenants York, Noel and R. T. Mulligan, Paymaster Heap, Engineer Ogden and Passed Assistant-Surgeon Gatewood, with a crew of seventy-five men. The Despatch was soon to have been displaced by the Dolphin, now fitting out at Norfolk as a dispatch boat.

Lewes, Del., October 10. The United States steamer Despatch, ashore on Assateague Shoals, is totally wrecked. All the crew are safely landed and housed on the beach.

Norfolk Landmark
Norfolk, Virginia
October 11, 1891