Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Internet & Island History

Last night I took a late evening walk. My thoughts turned to technology -- cell phones, satellite radio, the Internet -- and I was thinking how liberating it would be to give them all up. Simplifying my life would also save me money! But then I was reminded of some of the benefits of modern technology. As our readers know, I publish a monthly on-line newsletter where I share local island history and stories. Last year I published the story of the wreck of the Ariosto which happened on Christmas Eve, 1899. Every now and then I wonder what happened to Captain R. R. Baines, master of the Ariosto, but I've never learned anything more than what I've heard locally about the wreck.

Imagine my surprise several days ago when I received an email from Capt. Baines' great-great grandson! He knew little of the Christmas Eve wreck, though he had heard about it, and knew the name of the ship. So he "googled" Baines and Ariosto, and discovered my on-line article. It turns out that he lives in Chile (I believe Capt. Baines was from Antwerp, and his vessel from Great Britain), and he has several pieces of silverware from the Ariosto. He loves history, and is a retired Naval officer, and now a yacht captain.

I am hoping he will send me photos of the silverware (engraved with the name of the ship) and of his great-great grandfather. I am also looking forward to learning how his family emigrated to Chile, and any other stories of Captain Baines.

So I finally decided that technology, especially the Internet & email, can be very helpful. Without it our grasp of Ocracoke Island history would be more limited. I am now working on a second volume of island history and stories which will include an account of the wreck of the Ariosto. I'm hoping the story will be richer and stronger after corresponding with Captain Baines' descendant. Look for it sometime late next year.

If you are still looking for holiday gifts you can go to our on-line catalog by clicking here.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Artists' Colony that operated on the island more than 65 years ago. You can read it here.

To read about Philip's new book, Digging up Uncle Evans, History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island, please click here.


  1. Anonymous4:33 PM

    Wait a minute your story is from what you heard? Is it not documented-- was there not an article published in the New York Times? Date line cape Henry Va Dec 24th 1899. I found one and your version says the captain ordered the 21 sailors into the life boat the NYT article says otherwise-- just curious -- Did i misunderstand your account?

  2. What an interesting article in the NY Times. I had never seen that before.

    It may well be that Captain Baines did not order his crew into lifeboats. I probably assumed that he did because he was the captain, but maybe the NY Times is correct. Although I wonder how they knew that detail (the article was written just the day after the wreck, and Capt. Baines was still on Ocracoke Island).

    My sources were local tradition, a locally published article from a short book, "The Story of Ocracoke," and most importantly, my great-grandfather's official shipwreck report, penned just days after the incident.

    I do not have his report in front of me, but I will get it out and re-read it in the next day or so. As soon as I have some extra time (maybe next week, or maybe after Christmas) I will scan his report and post it on the journal.

    However, if I remember correctly the NY Times article is wrong about several details. E.g. the life savers pulled at least one man out of the water (he had been in one of the lifeboats that capsized) by joining hands and wading into the breakers. Another seaman was able to swim ashore. And one was brought ashore after he was thrown into the water and then got entangled in the shot line. I believe only five men were brought ashore by breeches buoy, not eight as reported in the NY Times.

    At any rate I will re-read the shipwreck report (it is the most reliable document we have because it was written by the keeper of the station and he directed and took part in the rescue) and make any corrections on my web page to reflect the best available information we have.

    Thanks for alerting me to the NY Times article.

  3. A few more comments about the Ariosto:
    -- I have three primary sources from which I got my information (Capt. J.W. Howard's wreck report [dated Mar . 4, 1900], Keeper Burrus' wreck report [he and his crew from the Durants Station on Hatteras also responded to the rescue, and his report is dated Jan. 20, 1900], and Capt. J.W. Howard's official deposition regarding the wreck and rescue [dated Dec. 30, 1889]).
    -- According to these sources, there were 30 crew members, including Captain Baines from Antwerp
    -- the "circumstances of the loss" are listed as "ordered to man boat..."
    --the ship's pinace was capsized, and the ship's lifeboat was swamped
    -- one crew member was brought ashore after he became entangled in the shot line
    -- one crew member was rescued by the life savers joining hands and entering the surf to pull him to safety
    -- one crew member was able to swim to shore
    -- and six crew members (the captain and two [or three] who remained on the vessel, + three [or two] others, the report only says "several") who managed to be hauled back on deck after their life boat overturned
    -- 21 drowned that night.
    -- I am going to rely on the primary documents for the most accurate information about the wreck of the Ariosto.

  4. One more thing: the ship's boat mentioned above is a pinnace, not a pinace. I just misspelled it. Sorry.

  5. Anonymous6:18 AM

    What about the reasonable prudent man doctrine? What would the training be typical for that time i.e. how to respond under such conditions could (shudder) the "official" documents been falsified that is re-told in one way to CYA -- I think it would be interesting to compare oral history -- like that t.v. show where the historians research an event isn't it on the Discovery -- History Detectives --- or history channel anyway, several sources to corroborate a version would be the reasonable prudent man way

  6. Anonymous6:30 AM

    I don't mean to be picky as I was researching the telegraph --as when it was invented and put into use-- the telegraph practical use as early as 1837 -- the steamer wreck, it was a steamer what did they look like ??? it was in 1899 your post dates it at 1889 in a comment -- i guess that is a typo -- I know I am not an editor but gee ---this country had been through the Civil war and all and Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln -- merry Christmas mr president I present you Savannah or words to that effect back in the 1860s soo a timely publication of a ship wreck the following day is NOT unusual all the news that is fit to print Page Two

  7. Anonymous6:54 AM

    CYA the ship captain report not the rescuers account however, that could be to a certain extent based on the info provided by the ship's captain who could be covering his ass

    the lost lives did survivors get benefits and only if say the captain ordered such and such I find this intriguing hows about you??

  8. The date above (in the third comment) should have been Dec. 30, 1899 (not 1889), of course.