Shipwreck Anniversaries: All of the ships listed here have at least one thing in common. Athough lost in different years, all were wrecked on March 31. The ingots of tin on the SS Java, sunk in 1942, would be worth well over $8,000,000 today, and, because they are often mined together, when tin was shipped, large quantities of lead and silver bullion were frequently shipped too.
for March 31
compiled and edited by Dr. E. Lee Spence
1783: On March 31, 1783, two British frigates chased a schooner, bound from Philadelphia to Charleston ashore on Bull’s Island, South Carolina. The British then sent a party of sailors and marines on board to take possession of her, but a detachment of American troops took them prisoners in sight of their own ships. The schooner was abandoned and set on fire to prevent her from falling into the hands of the British.
1787: On March 31, 1787, the packet Thynne “fell in with the wreck of a French brig, on the SW point of Inagua; most of the crew, with part of the cargo, were gone to New Providence.”
1840: The brig C.P. Williams, bound for Tampico, “went ashore on Abaco” in the Bahamas on March 31, 1840, and “became nearly a total loss.”
1842: The steamer Anson, Captain Donnell, passed a piece of wreck north of Cape Romain, South Carolina, on March 31, 1842. The wreckage was painted white and about twenty-five feet long. It looked like one of the promenade deck carlines of a steamboat. About half an hour later Captain Donnell saw two boats inside of the inner breaker of Cape Romain. After crossing Cape Romain shoal he saw two or three other small pieces of wreck painted white.
1855: The Savannah “Daily Morning News” of March 31, 1855, reported that the steamer H.L. Cook, bound from Macon, Georgia, to Savannah, was snagged about 50 miles above Darien, Georgia. The steamer was expected to be a total loss, but her cotton was expected to be saved in a damaged condition. The people were saved. She was was carrying 565 bales of cotton when she was lost. Her bow was reported to lay on a sand bank, with her stern in about 18′ of water. (Note: The H.L. Cook was a sidewheel steamer and had a wood hull. She was built at Macon, Georgia, in 1842. She had one deck and no masts. She measured 109′ in length, 25′ in breadth, 5′ in depth of hold, 123 gross tons; and 65 net tons. She was issued “Permanent Enrollment #6” at Savannah, Georgia, on September 1, 1848.)
1899: The State Department was informed by the American consul at Nassau that the brig Tarifa, of New York, Captain J. W. Brown, was stranded “on Moselle Shoal, Bahamas, on March 31 (1889), while bound for Vera Cruz with a cargo of crude oil. The ship is a total loss, but the crew of nine and part of the cargo were saved.”
The brig Tarifa was built in 1872 at at Millbridge, Maine, and was owned at New York, New York, by Charles H. Ryan. She had a wood hull, 129’ in length, 37.6’ in breadth and 17’ in depth of hold, with 2 decks and 2 masts. She was 533.08 gross tons and 506.43 net tons. Her official number was 24912 and her official letters were J.L.R.H.
“The United States Government has given notice, that Mr. Groninger, Master of the British schooner Julien, has reported that the wreck of a steam-vessel lies on North-East Reef, Grand Turk Island. The wreck on North-East Reef is in an upright position, and presents the appearance of a vessel anchored off Grand Turk Island, and may mislead vessels proceeding southward through Turks Island Passage. The danger is increased when the sea does not break on the reef, and has already caused the stranding of two vessels in light winds and smooth sea. Note: The position of the wreck on the reef is not given.”
1916: The British steamship Achilles, 7,043 tons, bound from Australia to London via South Africa, where she is believed to have picked up a shipment of gold and silver, was torpedoed by U-44 and sunk 90 miles west-northwestward of Ushant, France, on March 31, 1916. Her other cargo consisted of cereals, wool, general produce, tin, and other strategic metals.
1942: The British vessel Java, 1321 tons, was scuttled in the Irrawaddy River in Burma, on March 19, 1942. She was carrying 350 tons of tin ingots, which would be worth about $8,400,000 today.
NOTE: This is by no means meant to be a complete list of the vessels lost on March 31, as there have been thousands of ships lost for every day of the year. All of the above entries have been edited (shortened) come from various editions of Spence’s List™. The original lists usually give additional data and sources. Those lists are being updated and are or will be made available for a fee elsewhere on this site.
© 2013 by Dr. E. Lee Spence for composition, content and compilation.