News from 1875: Baltic I Rescues the Crew of Oriental

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
I know this is a couple of days late---the rescue described
here took place on 18 November---but after 127 years, I'm not sure that
makes much of a difference.

The New-York Times, 9 December 1875


An interesting story of a noble work of humanity, performed by the
officers and seamen of the White Star steamer Baltic on her last trip
from New-York, is told in a private letter from a passenger of the
Baltic to a friend in this City. We append the letter, which was
written on board the steamer, off Queenstown, November 22:

On the night of the 18th, when we were rolling and tumbling about in a
heavy sea, some signals were seen to the northward that our first
officer at first mistook for a steamer, but being undecided as to what
the signals meant he called the Captain. By that time the Baltic had
got out of sight of the supposed steamer. Capt. Gleadell, fearing it
might be a wreck, at once turned the ship out of her course and made for the
lights. It was no steamer but the ship Oriental of North Shields, from
London, bound to St. John, dismasted and in a sinking condition. The
crew were making signals by burning tar in a barrel on her deck. This
gave her somewhat the appearance of a steamer in the distance. The
life-boat was launched and Chief Officer Irving took command and,
notwithstanding the wreck was rolling and plunging in a frightful
manner, the sixteen men on her decks were taken off in two trips
without the slightest accident. The management of the boat was a
perfect mystery to us landsmen. It looked as though they were sure to
be dashed to pieces at any moment. When the crew came on board, which
was about 3 A. M., the steamer then having been having been waiting for
three hours, the rescued Captain told Capt. Gleadell that ten men had
deserted the ship in two boats the previous day at noon. Their leaving their comrades
without boats was a most dastardly act of selfishness. The weather had
been so bad the whole day and night that there seemed no chance of
finding there poor wretches alive. However, when Capt. Gleadell heard
this story he said he would stay by the wreck till daylight, and not
give up till a thorough search was made. The night was clear, and we
had the light of the moon and the light from the wreck, which had caught
fire from the tar barrel after the crew left and was now a mass of
flames. We should have thought it was a beautiful sight, from an
artistic point of view, had not the peril of those men been in our
thoughts. The Baltic kept slow steam up and went round and round the
wreck in gradually increasing circles till daylight, hoping to find the
missing boat. At daylight the Baltic was pointed to the south-west, the
direction the Captain of the Oriental last saw the boat steering, and
about 8:30 a tiny flag was seen occasionally jumping up from behind a
large wave. In a few minutes the boat was alongside, and by careful
management her crew got out and she taken up on the davits forward,
where she is now, a relic of the good ship Oriental. It seems the men
left the ship in two boats, but one of them became disabled and they all
got into one. Had it not been that we were blown a few miles out of our
course by the gale of the day before we saw the wreck, (during which we
lost five sails, blown to ribbons by the gale,) we never should have
seen it at all, and the twenty six men saved---her entire crew---would
have been lost in a day, at the most. Such acts of kindness and
humanity I think should be greatly noticed, as it is no small matter to
stop a great steamer in a heavy sea for eight or ten hours, and alter
her course for the almost hopeless chance of picking up a small boat
that had left nearly a day ahead. There was very little chance of the
boat being on top of the water anywhere, as the weather had been so bad
that no one would have thought a small boat could possibly have survived
the night.

The passengers have all joined in a letter for publication, a copy of
which I inclose [sic], and when the matter comes before the “Humane
Society,”￾ I think Capt. Gleadell will great that great prize of the
British shipmaster, the gold medal for saving life. He deserves it, I
think, as he has now saved fifty persons in all from wrecks during the
past three years:

Following is the letter of the passengers:

OFF QUEENSTOWN, Nov. 22 1875

The passengers of the steam-ship Baltic, of the White Star Line, wish
publicly to express their appreciation of the humanity and seamanship of
Capt. Gleadell on the present voyage from New-York in going to the
relief of the sinking ship Oriental, bound from London to St. John,
New-Brunswick. There was a heavy sea running at the time, and Chief
Officer Irving showed skill and judgment in bringing sixteen men from
her deck in two trips without accident. On learning that ten men had
taken to a boat some twenty hours previously, the Captain cruised for
several hours until he found and rescued them, thus saving the lives of
twenty-six men who must otherwise have speedily perished.

(Signed) Thomas A. Painter, New-York; W. H. Spencer, New-York; W. S.
Reid, Lower Canada; John W. Blake, New-York; F. W. Ittmann, New-York;
Lonis Selig, New-York; Charles Webster, New-York, and many others.


Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The Times, 27 November 1875

Sir,---It appears to me that a short narrative from an eye-witness of a
rescue at sea reported in your Shipping Intelligence of Wednesday last
may not, perhaps, prove uninteresting to the public on both sides of the

Shortly after midnight of the 18th inst., as the White Star United
States' mail steamship Baltic, which left New York on the 13th inst.,
was under steam and canvas, and going at about 14 knots an hour, the
attention of the officers on watch was attracted by what appeared to
them to be the masthead light of a steamier some miles off. The proper
look-out was kept, and on passing the light, at some five miles to the
starboard of the Baltic, the officers to whom I have before referred
observed the absence of the regulation lights which are hoisted by
steamers at night when on a voyage. They at once communicated with
Captain Gleadell, the commander of their ship, who, thinking that
something was wrong, gave orders that his course should be altered in
the direction of the light. As the Baltic approached the object for
which she was now making it became evident to all of us on board that
the strange sight was caused by a blaring tar-barrel on a hull to which
only one mast remained attached. We had 245 passengers and a crew of
considerably over 100 hands on board, and I need hardly say that great
was the excitement among us. The night was fine, but a very heavy sea
was running. Nearly every one was on deck, as our engines were stopped
at within about a quarter of a mile of the wreck. Captain Gleadell, with
his officers, was on the bridge, and he gave the order for Mr. Irving,
the chief officer, to man one of the boats and proceed to the floating
hull, for the purpose of ascertaining whether there was any one on board
of it. The half-hour during which the boat was away was to us a time of
the deepest anxiety and interest. Mr. Irving and his crew worked
gallantly through the great Atlantic waves, and did so, it need scarcely
be observed, at imminent peril to their own lives. Happily, they
returned safely with the captain and 15 of the crew of the Oriental, for
this the wreck proved to be. She was a sailing vessel of some 1,800 tons
burden, and had sailed from London for St. John, New Brunswick, about
three weeks before. On the 16th inst. she sprang a leak, and, gradually
becoming waterlogged, she settled on her port beam-ends, during the
forenoon of the 17th inst. On that day the captain got out his four
boats; one of them was swamped, though without loss of life; and
another, with ten men, by some means got parted from her companions,
which remained about the wreck until it was reached by the boat of the
Baltic. When brought on board the Baltic, the captain of the Oriental
had no knowledge of the position of his boat with the ten men; but
Captain Gleadell, being of opinion that there was still a hope of
rescuing these seamen, resolved to move about gently until daylight.

By between 4 and 5 a.m. the tar-barrel to which I have before referred
communicated its flames to a number of others and to all the inflammable
material of the ship, and awfully grand was the sight of the huge fire
rising, as it were, from the depths of the ocean and illuminating the
vast waves for many miles around.

All through the small hours of the morning Captain Gleadell caused blue
rockets to be sent up from the deck of the Baltic. These were seen by
the crew of the missing boat, and, at 7 a.m. we saw them a few miles
off, and had the pleasure of taking them on board very soon after. Their
boat was hoisted on board also, and after a delay of about eight hours
from the time the Baltic had steamed towards the wreck we pursued our
course to Queenstown, which we reached on the evening of the 22d. The
crew of the Oriental had suffered severely from the cold during their
exposure, but owing to the attention paid them by Mr. Clarke, the purser
of the mail steamer, they were quite well before many hours, and were
all landed at Liverpool in sufficiently good condition to enable them at
once to proceed to the Sailors' Home.

I have the honour to be, Sir, yours,


London, Nov. 26


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