Forest and Stream, October 22, 1891


reprinted from Marine JournalTransportation -- Water - Wrecks

THE loss of the United States steamship Despatch opposite Assateague Island, Md., on Oct. 10, removed from the Navy a vessel with which was linked many pleasant memories, and even at her death she was on an errand of further pleasure and duty combined, having left New York that day for Washington, to convey the President, Secretary Tracy, and some officers of the Navy to the Naval Proving Grounds, down the Potomac, to witness experiments in testing some armor plate for use in the armament of new vessels. After this mission she was to have been laid up for repairs, and was soon to have been displaced by the Dolphin, now being fitted out at Norfolk as a dispatch vessel. The cause of the wreck was apparently through an attempt to line the coast too closely to avoid the heavy gale, and when her danger was discovered it was too late to work off the lee shore. She became a total wreck, though all hands were saved.

The Despatch was originally a steam yacht, called the Americus, and owned by Henry C. Smith, a Wall street broker. She was designed and built by Henry Steers, one of New York's noted ship-builders. When Mr. Smith met with reverses of fortune, in 1876, the Americus was sold to the Government for $90,000, less than half her original cost, and was renamed the Despatch. Then she served two years among the navy yards as a transport, but in 1878 was sent to Europe as a dispatch steamer for the United States minister at Constantinople during the Russo-Turkish war. In 1879 she returned with the invalids of the American fleet, and was fitted with new boilers. On Oct. 17, 1880, she became the President's yacht, and was distinguished as the first Government vessel to hoist the President's flag. Since then she has carried every President upon his official tours, and very many eminent people from abroad have dined in her cabin, including Dom Pedro, King Kalakaua, Queen Kapiolani, Chief Justice Lord Coleridge, Joseph Chamberlain, and the Count of Paris, so that her walls and tables re-echoed with gems of post-prandial oratory.

The Despatch was 200ft. long over all, 25 1-2ft. beam, 15 1-2ft. deep, and had a mean draught of 12 1-2ft. Her whaleboat and gig were used on the Greely Relief Expedition on the Bear and Thetis, her barge was named Queen Kapiolani, and the captain's gig after the daughter of ex-Secretary Whitney, the Dorothy. Her armament consisted of one breech-loading 3in. rifle.

Since Jan. 15, 1887, the vessel was under command of Lieut. Wm. S. Cowles, recognized as one of the most competent navigators and seamen of the Navy. She carried two other lieutenants, a paymaster, surgeon, and engineer officers, and a crew of some thirty men. The U. S. S. Yantic and Atlanta were sent from the Brooklyn Navy Yard at once to the scene of the wreck.

Forest and Stream
New York
October 22, 1891