Norfolk Landmark, October 13, 1891

Gone to Pieces, the United States Steamer Despatch a Total Wreck.

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

The Officers and Crew Fed and Sheltered by the Life-Savers. The Steamer Condemned one Year Ago. A Court of Inquiry to Determine the Responsibility for the Accident.

Washington, D.C., October 12. Lieutenant Cowles, Commanding the United States Steamer Despatch, has telegraphed to the Secretary of the Navy from Assateague life-saving station that all the officers and crew of that vessel are safe on shore, and all the boats except one cutter. The Yantic has arrived at the scene of the wreck, but has been unable so far to render any assistance. When Lieutenant Cowles makes his official report of the case, the department will appoint a court of inquiry to determine the responsibility for the accident.

The Despatch is known to have been in a very poor condition for the last two years, if not longer. Her hull is said to have been very much decayed, and her engines were almost entirely inefficient. Chief Naval Constructor T. D. Wilson, in his 1890 report, said: "The Despatch will probably last only a year, unless extensive repairs are made on her." Some few repairs of a minor sort were made soon after Mr. Wilson's report was published, but the vessel has not been in a really sea worthy condition, and it was thought that she would be put out of commission early in the Autumn.

The department has not subjected the vessel to any hard service since her unseaworthiness became apparent, her sole duty being that of a yacht for the Secretary of the Navy. She carried one three-inch breechloading rifle, but no machine or rapid-fire guns, her two twenty-pounders having been removed in 1888. The full complement of the Despatch consisted of six officers and seventy-five men.

The Despatch was last brought into public notice March 17, 1890, when she ran aground at Cedar Point, in the Potomac river, sixty miles below Washington. Secretary Tracy and a party of his friends were on board at the time, but they suffered no inconvenience. President Arthur used the vessel as his private yacht during his Administration, and he made all his many visits in the vessel's cabin. Secretary Tracy has used her extensively throughout the last Summer visiting the naval stations along the North Atlantic coast.

Assateague Shoals are sixty miles from Cape Charles, bearing about northeast by north from the Cape Charles light. The shoals lie just off Assateague Island, which almost adjoins Accomac county, on the Maryland boundary of Virginia.

Both the Navy Department and the superintendent of the Life Saving Service received advices from Assateague this evening that the Despatch has gone entirely to pieces. The officers and crew are being fed and sheltered as well as possible at the life saving station.

Norfolk Landmark
Norfolk, Virginia
October 13, 1891