Contributed by Pam Digges
Description: Steamer Commodore sinks at seaDate: January 3 1897
Newspaper published in: Jacksonville
Source: personally owned, bound copy
Page/Column: pg 1 / cols 1-2
The Commodore Sinks at Sea
The Little Vessel, Lost with Her Cargo of Arms and Ammunition.
Her Numerous Company Reach Land in Safety
They Are Compelled to Take to the Boats and Abandon the Sinking Vessel.
An Overload of Coal the Probable Cause.
It Is thought That when the Vessel Went Ashore in the St. Johns River, Her Heavy Shock Caused Her Seams to Open – Cubans in Jacksonville Much Distressed Over the Serious Loss – An Unfounded Rumor of Treachery.
The steamer Commodore, which left her Thursday night with an expedition for the Cuban insurgents, is now resting on the bottom of the sea, twenty fathoms below the surface, about eighteen miles northeast of Mosquito Inlet.
All of the men on the vessel, twenty-eight in number, reached the shore in safety, and twelve of them arrived in Jacksonville last night over the Florida East Coast railway. The other sixteen are still down the coast, but are expected to arrive here on a special train this morning.
The first news of the disaster was received here in a telegram to J. A. Huau from R. A. Delgado, who left here on the Commodore. This was followed by another telegram from Paul E. F. Rojo, agent of the owners of the boat. These telegrams merely stated that the tug was wrecked and asked that another tug be sent to their relief.
J. M. Barrs at once applied to C. R. Bisbee, collector of the port, for permission for the Three Friends to go to the Commodore’s assistance in charge of an officer of the revenue cutter Boutwell or under escort of the cutter. Collector Bisbeen said he could not grant permission for the Three Friends to leave port without instructions from Washington. He at once wired Mr. Barr’s request to the secretary of the treasury, but had not received any reply up to the time the men from the Commodore reached the city.
Delgado, Rojo, Blanco and the other Cubans were met at the depot by a number of interested friends who at once besieged them for news of the accident to the Commodore.
Details of the Accident.
From the accounts given by the different ones in the party, the following details of the accident were learned: The Commodore crossed the St. Johns bar at 2 o’clock Friday afternoon while the sea was running very high. As she was crossing the bar she got in the trough of the sea and came very near being swamped.
About 12 o’clock Friday night it was discovered that the boat was leaking badly. The swash of the water in the hold as the vessel rolled from side to side soon alarmed everyone on board. A panic ensued, but Captain Murphy, Stephen Crane, R. A. Delgado and one or two others soon quieted the excitement and put everybody to work on the pumps and with buckets. The steam pump was started and for two hours the water was poured over the sides in streams. The men worked with a will and in the meantime the steamer’s bow had been turned to the westward, and she was making good time toward the shore, which was estimated to be at least forty miles away, for the steamer had headed due east after leaving the bar, as she wished to keep out of the way of the cruiser Newark.
At 2:30 a.m., it was seen that the water was steadily gaining, and it was then decided to abandon the vessel.
In the Boats.
Paul Rojo, R. A. Delgado, Franco Blanco, the old Cuban pilot, and nine other men took one of the boats and left the steamer. Captain Murphy, the first and second mate, the engineer and assistant, Stephen Crane and ten men took the large yawl boat, and at 3 o’clock they left the Commodore to her fate. The night was dark and they could not see what became of her, but as she was rapidly filling with water, they are all confident that she is now resting on the bottom, and old Neptune has been supplied with enough arms and ammunition to blow up the island of Cuba.
In the darkness the two boats separated, and when daylight came Delgado, Rojo and their party could see nothing of the boat occupied by Captain Murphy and his men. The Delgado party took turns in pulling on the oars. They were delighted when they came in sight of the Mosquito inlet light and pulled hard and fast, but did not reach the shore until 10 a.m.
They landed a couple of miles above the lighthouse and walked down the beach, reaching the lighthouse at 10:30 a.m. They were taken care of by the light keepers and then sent across to New Smyrna, where they took the train for this city, arriving here at 6:45 p.m.
Nothing was heard of Captain Murphy and his fifteen companions until 8:30 last night, when a telegram from New Smyrna was received saying they were trying to effect a landing through the surf, but that they were experiencing great difficulty. A later telegram said that the party had landed and that they would reach Jacksonville today on a special train.
Crew and Cargo.
The papers show that Captain Edward Murphy was master of the vessel and that Frank P. Grain was first mate; Felix de los Rios, second mate; James Redding, chief engineer; Ed B. Ritter, assistant engineer. The crew was as follows: Franco Blanco, . B. Montgomery, Paul E. F. Rojo, Julio Rodbar, Ramon Hernandez, J. Hernandez, Wm. Higgins, Jose Fernandez, Murray Nobles, Manuel Gonzalez, Miguel Fernandez, Jose Alvarez, Buenafestusa Singy, Emelio Marquis, Joseph Dehancy, Gravier Marbury, Modesto Leon, Santiago Diaz, Luis Surra, P. D. Pernercousi, W. A. G. Smith, R. A. Delgado and Stephen Crane.
The manifesto shows the cargo and value of the same to be as follows:
203,000 cartridges………. $2,030
1,000 pounds giant powder………. 200
40 bundles of rifles………. 1,400
2 electric batteries………. 50
300 machetes………. 300
14 cases of drugs………. 350
4 bundles clothing………. 135
The cargo was shipped by Henry P. Fritot to Salvadore Cisneros, Cienfuegos, Cuba.
The loss of the Commodore and cargo is a severe blow to the Cubans, and last night they were very much discouraged. There was some talk of treachery on board the vessel, but those in the party that arrived here could not tell anything definite about it. It is expected that when Captain Murphy arrives more details will be learned.
The sinking of the Commodore will cause considerable delay to the Cubans who were taken off No Name key by the steamer Dauntless Friday.
The Dauntless Successful.
W. A. Bisbee, owner of the Dauntless, yesterday received the following telegram from Miami:
“The steamer Dauntless rescued a large body of men and a cargo from No Name key. Many of the men were in a helpless condition. The Dauntless will wait and meet the Commodore and deliver the men and cargo to her. Will return as soon as we meet the Commodore, probably Friday.”
This confirms the reports received from Key West Friday night, stating that the Dauntless was anchored off No Name key Friday afternoon, taking on men and cargo.
The Cubans here are very much concerned over the report that many of the men are in a helpless condition. It is not believed that any of them were wounded when fired upon by the Spanish patrol boat off the Cuban coast, but that their condition is the result of exposure on No Name key. The key is a deserted island, and the men have had no protection from the weather for the past ten days.
As soon as the Dauntless can be communicated with she will be ordered to bring the men to Jacksonville.
Three Friends Still Detained.
The Three Friends is now being thoroughly over hauled and repaired. Her boilers were cleaned yesterday and the tubes will be repaired tomorrow. Some work is to be done on the bar and then, if permission is secured she will be used in towing on the bar.
Collector Bisbee says there is no truth in the report that the Three Friends has been released from custody, and the officer of the revenue cutter taken off her. He said that he had instructions from Washington to take the Three Friends in custody and that at his request Captain Kilgore had placed an officer in charge of the Three Friends. When the cutter went down the river the officer was taken on board, as there was no necessity of him staying on board the Three Friends, for the filibuster could not get out of the river without being stopped by the cutter. Upon returning to port the officer was again placed on the Three Friends and is still in charge of her.
The Newark Arrives.
The United States cruiser Newark arrived off the St. Johns bar from Key West at noon yesterday, and will remain there until further orders are received. She no doubt met the Commodore early yesterday morning, or may have passed after that vessel went down. The Boutwell will go out to the Newark today to carry the mail.