Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Shipwreck "Kings County"

This week I am veering off in a different direction in the featured print.  What I have depicted here is the scene that would have greeted a person on the morning of December 11, 1936, looking over the cliffs a short distance up shore from Tiner’s Point, below Lorneville, west of Saint John (not far from where the Coleson Cove generating station was built a few years ago).

The steamship “Kings County” struck this rugged coast at 2 a.m. on December 11, 1936, in strong winds and a rough sea.  As soon as she struck the rocky bottom, a jagged hole was torn in the steel hull.  The crew quickly scrambled up on deck, but it was far too rough to launch a lifeboat.  The ship was settling deeper into the water; the situation looked hopeless.

Then, almost before anyone knew what was happening, a sturdy young man stripped to his seaman’s pants, tied a rope around his waist and plunged into the icy and turbulent Bay of Fundy. It was only a hundred feet to shore, but after five minutes he had covered barely half the distance.  With the light of the ship trained on his struggle and all sound drowned out by the roar of the heavy surf, all eyes were on the young seaman.  After ten minutes, they thought he couldn’t succeed, especially in the icy December Bay of Fundy.

He finally reached shore, was thrown back by a wave, caught the rocks and was flung back again.  As the waves lifted and dropped him, he was bumped and slammed against the rocks.  But he finally won and managed to scramble up beyond the reach of the breakers.  The ship’s searchlight showed him struggling up the rocks dragging his rope as he went.  They saw him tie the rope to a big boulder.  A collective cheer went up as he waved to tell them that the line was secure.

Settling deeper into the water, with surf and waves splashing across the deck, they quickly tightened the rope and secured it to the ship.  The more able of the crew set out hand over hand along the rope.  Then the rest came in a breeches buoy, made from a stool cradled in ropes suspended from the taut line.  Finally, with the captain being the last to leave the ship, all had made it safely to shore.

They were lost and soaked in the driving rain, but eventually found a woods road and made it to Lorneville where they were received by the hospitable folks there in their homes.

The young Norwegian was an instant hero.  Herold Hansen, whose brave swim had saved the lives of thirty-six men, was carried on the shoulders of the others when they arrived in Saint John.  They cheered him as he posed reluctantly for a cameraman. News of the wreck spread quickly and the curious by the score made their way through the woods to the cliff to see the wrecked ship.  And my painting from which this print is reproduced is my attempt to illustrate what they might have seen there.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. I'm from Lancaster (Saint John West), have been to Lorneville many times and never knew that story. I did have "Hansen" friends from Lancaster/Milford area, however. Wonder if they might be descendants. Interesting. I enjoy your paintings very much. Thank you. :) Patricia O'Brien.