The Wreck of the Bristol - November 21, 1836
The shipwreck of Bristol in Long Island, New York Nov 21, 1836
      Following are two contemporary newspaper accounts of the tragedy of
the ship Bristol, which struck a sand bar off Long Beach or Rockaway in the
early morning hours of November 21, 1836. As Benjamin Thompson put it in his
History of Long Island, (1843), "thus perished some 60 and 70 souls, almost
within sight of the port of their destination."  Approximately half of the
bodies were recovered and buried in the Sand Hole Cemetery.

      Sunday Morning News
     Reprinted in The Hempstead Inquirer, Hempstead, LI November 30, 1836.
      Available in the Long Island Collection at Hofstra University.
      On the 16th of October the ship Bristol, of New York, commanded by
Capt. McKown, sailed from Liverpool for New York. The vessel was a new one,
as we learn, this being her second voyage, and was commanded by a gentleman
long, and favorably known as an able and experienced shipmaster. She had on
board an assorted cargo, such as coal, railroad iron, crockery, dry goods,
etc. and a large number of cabin and steerage passengers.
      After a pleasant and prosperous voyage, she arrived off the Highlands
[of New Jersey] on Sunday evening last, about 8 o'clock. On making the
light, captain McKown hove the vessel to, and hoisted signals for a pilot.
About 1 o'clock, as it began to blow very fresh, Capt. McKown brought the
ship to the wind, and stood off shore, under easy sail.
      Just before 4 o'clock, on Monday morning, she struck on Rockaway
shoals, five miles west of the Pavilion -- the night, or rather morning,
being very dark and thick. She struck so lightly that little alarm was
exited on board, but in a short time the wind increased to a violent gale,
and the sea made a clear breach over her. The captain and officers advised
the passengers to go below, as they would have a better chance to work than
if they encumbered the deck..
      In about an hour, a tremendous wave struck her. Boats, bulwarks, and
everything moveable were instantly swept from the deck. The hatches, which
were well secured, burst, and in a moment the vessel filled with water.
Eighty-two steerage passengers were below, and save a few who chanced to be
close to the hatchways, none were preserved.
      Not a sound, a moan, was heard. The work of death was instantaneous.
Sixty persons were hurried, unwarned and unprepared, into eternity.
      The scene that now presented itself on deck, beggars description.
Fathers rushed around, anxiously enquiring for their children -- wives for
their husbands, and children for their parents. Every spot that could afford
shelter from the sea, was filled by some of the survivors, who lashed
themselves to the sails, the rigging, and the masts. At daylight, the crew
cut away the mainmast in hopes that the ship would lie easier, or at least,
hold together, until, the crew and passengers could be saved.
      The shore, which was about a quarter of a mile from the wreck, was
crowded with persons, looking on, but unable to afford any assistance as the
surf ran so high. The ill fated persons on board the doomed vessel saw those
who would, but could not assist them -- and their feelings may be imagined,
but not described. The vessel was hourly expected to go to pieces, and once
that work commenced, hope was indeed gone.
      Towards moon, as the tide ebbed, the surf was lower, and a boat,
manned by four gallant, hardy men, reached the wreck. This boat made two
trips, and succeeded in bringing safely to land all the females and children
that were alive. Before the boat could go the third time, the surf again
rose, and further assistance must be delayed until midnight.
      Meanwhile the ship broke in two and the foremast went by the board.
Lashed to it were the two Messrs. Carlton and Mr. Burtsall, cabin
passengers. Mr. Burtsall alone was preserved, as in falling he caught hold
of one of the bobstays, and reached the bowsprit. Soon after the mizzen mast
went. But before it did go, those who were lashed to it, and in the mizzen
top, had time to leave it, and lash themselves to the taffrail.
      When the boat first came off to the relief of the unfortunates, the
females were taken off. At second trip, Mr. Donnelly and his family, who had
been in the mizzen top with Capt. McKown, got into the boat, leaving Capt.
McKown and a servant maid still in the top. Before the boat pushed off Mr.
Donnelly declared he would not go ashore in that boat, but that the servant
maid should take his place. Capt. McKown urged himself very strongly to save
himself then, if possible; but he refused, and returned to the top, with the
captain. The servant went ashore in his stead.
      The females were landed in safety, and Capt. McKown with Mr. Donnelly,
remained on the top. While there, Capt. McKown, conversing upon the
melancholy disaster, remarked, that he feared he was undone forever and
would never be able to obtain command of another vessel. Mr. Donnelly
endeavored to cheer him up, and told him that so much confidence had he in
his conduct and capability, that if he could not procure a vessel, he would
give him one himself.
      Soon after this, as Capt. McKown had reason to fear that the mizzen
mast would go, he proposed descending, and lashing themselves to the
taffrail, to which Mr. Donnelly consented. Capt. McKown went first, and
having procured one end of the running rigging, lashed himself securely to
the taffrail. Mr. Donnelly followed, and Capt. McKown threw him the end of a
rope, but it fell short. Mr. Donnelly attempted to reach it, and while in
the act of so doing, a tremendous wave struck the vessel, and washed him
overboard. He was drowned, and fell a victim to his own philanthropy.
      All on shore thought that the vessel must have gone to pieces; but as
faint moans and cries of distress were occasionally heard, amid the howlings
of the storm, a boat put off at midnight, and reached the vessel with
difficulty. All who were alive on board, were put into her, and she reached
the shore in safety. In three or four trips, all the living had been rescued
from the watery grave.
      Capt. McKown was the last person to leave the wreck. He had been
repeatedly urged by the boatmen to save himself, but resolutely refused,
until all under his care were safe. He has saved nothing; not even the
ship's papers. All his own clothing is lost, and he came ashore in his vest
and pantaloons. He was so much bruised and injured by the washing of the
waves, that he is obliged to be taken to the wreckmaster's house. A distance
of seven miles from the wreck, where he now lies, seriously ill

      The Hempstead Inquirer
      Hempstead, LI November 30, 1836

      Wreck of the Bristol

      Unluckily for us, our paper went to press last week before we had
heard a syllable in relation to the dreadful loss of human life by the wreck
of the Bristol. Had we received information in time, we should have
proceeded to the spot in order to have collected all correct particulars.
Numerous accounts both true and untrue, respecting the wreck have been in
circulation during the past week. It is one of the most dreadful disasters
in the annals of shipwreck that have ever happened.
      We observe from numerous accounts, pretty much all the blame is
attributed to the indifference manifested by the New York pilots. They are
undoubtedly at fault, -- but we understand from an individual who has
conversed with some of the crew of the ill-fated vessel, that on Monday
morning, after being unable to procure a pilot, the captain gave orders to
the officer on watch to stand off shore, and to remain on a certain tack two
      It seems the officer must have slept on his watch, as, when the ship
struck the bar off Rockaway, they had been four hours on the same tack. The
captain came ashore in his vest and pantaloons, which shows that he must
have retired to his berth.
      We have been assured by one who is experienced in matters relating to
the ocean that, when near port, and especially in the [most] critical time,
it is not customary for the captain of a vessel to be off his vigilance. It,
therefore, seems that if the officers had been properly on the alert,
notwithstanding the negligence of the pilots, the Bristol would have been
saved, and the consequent destruction of human life avoided.
      The number of bodies that have been already floated ashore is
variously stated. Some of the papers have made it out as many as sixty --
but it must be an exaggeration -- not more than twenty at the most.
      Too much condemnation cannot be bestowed upon the conduct of certain
lawless individuals who have visited the wreck for purposes of plunder --
perhaps murder, as represented in some of the New York papers -- though we
believe the accounts are distorted. -- That men so utterly nefarious should
exist in a country boasting of the elevated state of society as this, is
most disgraceful. It is the heart-felt desire of every one who possess the
least moral capacity, that these wretches may be apprehended and visited
with severe and condign punishment.
      On Thursday last, the United States Marshall, of New York, dispatched
a number of deputies to the scene of the wreck, for the purpose of
preserving such property as might float ashore. Three miscreants, caught in
the act of plunder, were arrested and taken to the city. -- They were
examined before the proper authorities on Monday last. We are happy to state
that ample means for the apprehension of those worse than pirates have been
instituted; and that all who have been engaged in such lawless scenes are
likely to be arrested and punished accordingly. We since understand thirteen
individuals have been arrested, and are now in custody.
      Other references:

Thompson, Benjamin F. - History of Long Island, 2nd ed., vol. II,
Gould Banks & Co., NY, 1843, pgs. 268-274. 
Available in the Lynbrook Public Library.

Rattray, Janette Edwards - The Perils of the Port of New York, 
Dodd, Mead & Co., NY, 1973, pgs. 54-7.

This is an extract from the information found @: