News from 1893: Runic I in Collision at New York


Mark Baber

Staff member
The New-York Times, 6 September 1893

The Pilot Taking Out the Huge White Star Freighter Swung Her Abruptly
Across the Bows of the Government's Boat in the Lower Bay, Causing a
Collision---No Signal of Any Sort Given---The Smaller Craft Careened and
Al­most Capsized---Passengers Frightened
Through the recklessness of the New­-York pilot who took out the White
Star Line's big freight steamer Runic yesterday, the United States
steamer Ordnance came near being sent to the bottom.

As it was, the Government's vessel sustained severe damage and lost some
of her freight, while those aboard of her were roughly shaken up as well
as frightened.

It was shortly after 10 o'clock in the morning when the Ordnance, which
per­forms service for the Quartermaster Gen­eral's Department, left Pier
3 East River. In addition to a large quantity of grocer­ies and
miscellaneous supplies piled on her forward deck, she carried a dozen
military men, reporters, and others who were going to see the test of
the new projectile at the Sandy Hook Proving Grounds.

Aboard of her were Capt. David A. Lyle, Chief Inspector of Ordnance at
Philadel­phia; Major Joseph P. Sanger, Assistant Inspector General,
United States Army; James F. Sullivan, Vice President of the Midvale
Steel Company; E. S. W. Farnum, ordnance expert of the same company, and
Henry B. Lewis, a Director in the Carpenter Steel Company.

As the Ordnance sped down the bay after touching at Governors Island,
the gentlemen on her deck noted and admired the graceful lines and
stately advance of the huge four-masted ocean steamship far behind and
to the westward of them and made guesses as to how long a time it would
take her to shoot ahead of their di­minutive craft.

Just at the mouth of the Swash Channel the two vessels were almost
abreast, the Ordnance on the starboard side and there­fore entitled to
the right of way. Suddenly, without sound of bell or whistle, the
gigantic freighter swung to starboard, crossing the bows of the
Ordnance. Perceiving the imminent danger, Skipper Timothy Sullivan
signaled to the engine room, and the screw was instantly reversed. It
was too late, however, to ar­rest entirely the impetus of the boat,
although by a quick swing of the helm she was brought around so as to
meet the big vessel with a glancing instead of a direct blow.

There was a grinding crash of timbers, and then the small craft careened
to star­board until her deck was almost perpen­dicular, and those aboard
of her clung to the guard-rail stanchions, momentarily ex­pecting her to
capsize. Had she struck twenty feet further forward of the Runic's
freeboard she inevitably must have cap­sized.

Boxes, packages, and. chairs went tumbling into the water, but the wash
of the big ship providentially caught the little one, and the suction
helped to swing her bows free and she righted as the firemen came
running up with blanched faces.

Capt. Sullivan immediately ordered the pumps to be started, and a sail
was hauled forward to be let over the bows in case a hole had been stove
in them.

A hasty examination showed that no water was making, although bolts were
sprung and supports wrenched out of place. The news was received with
gladness by all aboard, for there was not a vessel with­in a distance of
a mile, except the Runic, and the latter had run nearly a mile before
she could be brought to a atop.

Seeing no signal of distress, the big freighter did not lower a boat,
but put on steam again and began to make her way through the channel,
heading for Liverpool with her cargo of live cattle and other shipments.

The Runic is a vessel of more than 3,000 tons measurement, and the
Ordnance was a more cockleshell beside her. The name of the pilot who
took her out could not be learned last evening, but there is no
ques­tion of his responsibility. The smaller craft had the right of way
indisputably, yet the collision could readily have been avoided if any
timely signal had been given of the intention of the ocean liner to
swing so abruptly toward the Jersey shore.

Some persons who examined the Ord­nance at the Sandy Hook wharf
estimated that $2,000 at least would be required to make her seaworthy
again. The blame for the mishap was unanimously laid upon the pilot, not
on the Captain of the steam-ship.

To many of the isolated dwellers on the Government reservation sore
disappoint­ment was brought in the loss of packages consigned to them
which went overboard when the crash came. As the skipper philosophically
remarked, however, there was something more important to engage
attention just then than fishing for boxes that had gone a-swimming.

"Such navigation is outrageous," said Capt. Lyle. "It reminds one of a
big bully shoving a baby off the sidewalk."


Noel F. Jones

Yet again I feel it opportune to remark on the informed quality and detail of the reportage compared with what one might expect today.