The Valencia Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailThe Valencia was equipped with six lifeboats and a smaller working boat. These seven boats could hold up to 181 people. Just enough to accommodate the 178 crew and passengers aboard.  There were also three life rafts on board which could hold up to 18 people each, though one slid off the ship and was lost.  

The Valencia Disaster

 Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail1. The Valencia Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail2. The Voyage Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail3. The Boats Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail4. The McCarthy Boat Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail5. The Bunker Party Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail6. On the Valencia Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail7. The Rafts Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail8. The Turret Raft Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail9. The Rescue Ships Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail10. The Aftermath Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail11. The Survivors Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail12. The Lost 

The West Coast Trail

Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailPrologue Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail1: The West Coast Trail Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail2: When to Hike & Fees Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail3: Trailheads Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail4: Getting There Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail5: Considerations Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail6: Campsites Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail7: Shipwrecks Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail8: Routes

Captain Johnson was quick to act after the initial collision and ordered the engines in full reverse in an attempt to back the crippled ship onto the shore which was now thought to be close behind the ship.  Moments later the ship collided with a rock shelf and held in that position.  Frank Lehn, freight clerk on the Valencia vividly described what happened in an interview that appeared in the Victoria Daily Colonist on January 27th, 1906.  “When the ship first struck there was wild excitement.  The screams of men, women and children mingled in awful chorus with the shriek of the wind, the dash of the rain and the roar of the breakers.  It was pandemonium.  The shouts of the officers could hardly be heard and the rush of the passengers as they ran hither and thither created confusion which for a time seemed uncontrollable.  Women came from their staterooms half clad, dragging children by the hands or clasping babies to their breasts; men clad only in their night attire sprang from their births and rushed to the boats, only to be beaten back by the officers and sailors, who were doing their best to restore order and control of the 140 odd people.  Children became lost from their mothers; wives lost track of their husbands; all ran here and there, seeking for each other and for safety.  God only knows how many were swept away as soon as they reached the deck.  Great seas broke over the ship as soon as she struck the second time, and when she drifted back on the reef stern on, the seas raked her from fore to aft, carrying everything before them.  Never have I seen such waves.  They appeared to be as high as the masthead.  One after another in rapid succession they rolled over us and people were carried away in bunches.  Their agonized shrieks could be heard above all the fiendish roar of the wind and sea.”

Moments after the Valencia backed onto the reef the captain then ordered the lifeboats lowered to the saloon rail in preparation for launching.  It appears that during the first hour of the wreck that six of the seven lifeboats were launched quickly, not properly manned by crew and not even properly filled.  Two or three of the boats had one end fall due to snapped or cut ropes, throwing dozens into the sea to drown and smashing the boats against the ship.  Nearly all the witnesses later testified that the captain never ordered the boats lowered and most simply recalled that someone ordered the boats lowered.  What we know for sure is that the boats were lowered very quickly after the wreck.  Many of the crew were assigned specific boats to take charge of and some found their boats already dropped.  There are quite a few survivors that each saw a glimpse of the boats being launched during this first horrific hour and combined they produce a pretty good, though vague picture of what happened.  The Valencia's six lifeboats were located three on each side.  The 1,3 and 5 were on the starboard side or right side of the ship if facing forward.  The port side, or left side had the 2,4 and 6 lifeboats.  The Valencia in the picture here, shows the No.2, No.4 and No.6 lifeboats clearly on the port side.  No.1, No.3 and No.5 are not quite visible on the starboard side.  Boat No.7, was a smaller working boat and it was located further back on the ship behind the No.6 and No.5 lifeboats.  The forward four lifeboats, 1,2,3 and 4 were located on the fiddlers deck.  Below the fiddlers deck were the forward cabins and to the left of the cabins was the chart house, then the bridge and furthest left in the picture below was the pilot house.  The No.5 and No.6 lifeboats were on top of the after house of the hurricane deck.  The three life rafts were also on the hurricane deck.

The Valencia Lifeboats

Lifeboat No.4 Smashed, No Survivors

From various fragments of eyewitness reports, it appears that the No.4 boat was the first of six boats lowered in the first chaotic minutes of the wreck.  Freight clerk Frank Lehn gave a horrifically vivid account of the No.4 boat, which he refers to as the port amidships boat. “When order was somewhat restored, Captain Johnson gave the order to get out the port amidships boat.  The men worked with a will and risked their lives a dozen times over in the effort to get the craft launched.  They would cling to their ropes while a great wave swept over the wreck, and as soon as the water subsided would get to work on the craft again.  As soon as it was free from the ship and hanging in the davits a great breaker smashed her to kindling wood and carried away some of the sailors who were handling the craft.”

Other Valencia survivors remember glimpses of boat No.4.  Sam Hancock, the chief cook on the Valencia was just going to bed on the night of the wreck.  Just before midnight he heard the ship strike and quickly got out of bed and dressed.  Five minutes later the Valencia stuck again.  He heard the call for all hands on deck and rushed to his station at boat No.4 which was being lowered.  He attempted to climb down into it and looked down to see it slammed into the side of the ship and smashed, drowning all on board.  Max Stensler, a fireman on the Valencia remembered helping to lower the No.4 lifeboat to the saloon deck, where Captain Johnson had ordered it fastened.  He believed that someone had cut the ropes causing the boat to fall into the water and smash against the ship.  Passenger George Harraden saw the ropes break on one lifeboat that was likely the No.4.

Lifeboat No.7 Smashed, Only Carrick Survived

Lifeboat No.7 was likely the second boat to be launched from the Valencia. The No.7 was the small working boat located the furthest back on the ship and launched on the starboard side.  With the Valencia’s bow facing out to sea, the starboard side is the right side of the ship.  Thomas Carrick, first assistant engineer, was in charge of lifeboat No.7. and later recalled that he was in it with two seamen, three firemen, an oiler and a couple of passengers and, “someone evidently cut the tackle away and this precipitated us into the water.”  In another interview Carrick recalled, “She turned turtle and a powerful wave hurled the overturned boat against the Valencia’s side with terrific force.”  He describes how one crewman on board, “was struck by the gunwale of the lifeboat, jammed against the ship’s side, and, with broken neck, staring, glassy eyes he sank into the maw of the growling sea.  This frightful calamity happened under the eyes of all on board.  With whitened faces all stood frozen with fear.  I was in the at boat, and when I felt myself swallowed by the sea I cried to God in by misery.  It seemed ages while I was being hurled and crashed about by the huge breakers.  Somehow I grasped a line thrown over the side and was hauled aboard.”  Carrick was the only survivor from lifeboat No.7.

Timothy McCarthy, boatswain on the Valencia recalled, “No.7 was a wrecking boat and was small.  She was in charge of Assistant Engineer Carrick.  As she was lowered, one end became unfastened, and the people in her were spilled into the sea, all losing their lives except Carrick, who was pulled on board by his shipmates.”  A.H. Hawkins, a passenger on the Valencia saw the No.7 boat launched and declared that, “the small working boat was dropped into the water on account of the breaking of the tackle.”

James Willits, a passenger that escaped on the Topeka Raft recalled in one sentence the disastrous launching of the No.7 and No.1 lifeboats.  “Two of them on the weather side were launched and were smashed like eggshells as soon as they struck the water.” 

Freight clerk Frank Lehn, in an interview referred to the second lifeboat launched as the “port quarter boat”, which was the No.6 boat, which we know from other accounts was launched successfully.  Lehn must have meant the No.7 boat, the working boat, located just behind the starboard quarter boat, the No.5 which was launched the following morning.  The No.7 is likely the one he saw and described as repeating the same performance as the No.7 and was “crushed against the vessel’s side, breaking like and eggshell.”

Lifeboat No.1 Overloaded, Cockbilled Two Rescued.

Timothy McCarthy, boatswain on the Valencia recalled the third boat launched, the No.1 boat, “…was at once filled to overflowing with screaming, maddened people, and when the davits broke because of the great weight, they were spilled into the sea, and lost before our eyes.” Martin Tarpey, quartermaster on the Valencia and was in charge of boat No.1, recalled, “After 25 or 30 people entered, overloading her.  Something carried away and all were thrown into the sea.”

George Harraden, a first class passenger on the Valencia that escaped on the raft picked up by the Topeka recalled sending his mother off on what was likely the No.1 boats.  He was asleep at the time of the accident, having retired about 9pm.  He had spoken to the first officer earlier, who told him that they expected to get to Victoria about 3am.  When he came out to the deck he heard someone say “Lower the boats to the saloon rail.”  He then went and found his mother in the social hall.  He then heard someone call the ladies out to get in the boats.  He told his mother to go and get in, which she did, and it was the last he saw of her.  He did not know if she went from the port or starboard side.  He saw one of them capsize, and it appeared to him that she gave way at one end and turned completely over.  There were lines thrown over to try to rescue the passengers, but he could not say if any were brought back.” 

Another witness to the launching of the No.1 boat was fireman John Segalos, “The Officers and crew passed out life belts to everybody and orders were given to man the boats.  Ah! It was terrible, the darkness, the rain, the crashing of the wreck, the roar of the boiling surf that swept from end to end of the vessel.  Panic seized many, there was a blind rush in the black fog to get to the boats.  At about 12:30 I saw a boat loaded with 25 people crash from the davits and everyone fall into the sea.” 

Lifeboat No.2 Launched and Disappeared.

The No.2 boat was probably the fourth boat launched and little is known about it.  What is known is that it was successfully launched and was heading away from the ship.  The Valencia’s searchlight was trained on it as it made its way to apparent safety, when the ship’s power went out and it was never seen again.

Lifeboat No.3 Launched, Flipped, Smashed, Seven Survivors

The first four lifeboats launched were complete disasters resulting in nearly all the passengers drowning.  The No.3 boat, the fifth boat launched, managed to get away from the Valencia for a short distance with fifteen people on board.  The No.3 boat was the largest of the lifeboats and the only wooden one, the rest being metal boats.  Valencia passenger Frank Campbell, who was travelling with his wife and 16-year-old stepdaughter, remembers the chaos when he arrived on deck shortly after the ship struck.  Everyone was rushing around in all direction with no discipline from the crew as lifeboats were being loaded with passengers.  Campbell’s wife went to boat No.3 and asked the crewman in charge, Frank Richley if she and her daughter could get in.  He replied, “certainly”, and stopped some men rushing to get in and helped them in.  Mr. Campbell got on the boat himself and heard someone shout “lower away”.

With sleet and rain falling, they struggled to get the four oars in place and Campbell’s stepdaughter noticed water filling the boat.  The plug hole in the bottom of the boat was open and water was pouring through.  Albert Willis, a 17-year-old American sailor, heading for Seattle to report for duty on the battleship Philadelphia put his hand over the hole and stopped the freezing water from pouring in.  As they to rowed away from the starboard side of Valencia and into the darkness.  Campbell saw then that he was on a boat with people that knew nothing of seamanship. 

They managed to row a couple hundred metres despite the wooden oarlocks snapping and the oars had to be used less effectively as paddles. Moments later one of the oars was lost and the boat veered towards the surf crashing violently into shore hidden in darkness.  Campbell recalled thinking that the shore was close and they just needed to ride through the surf to get there.  What he didn’t know was the shore was a jagged, solid rock shelf.  The surf smashed the boat against a wall of rock and flipped over.  Campbell fell out one side and his wife and daughter out the other.  He never saw them again.  He found himself clinging to an oar and being pulled out by an enormous breaker coming in.  Suddenly someone grabbed him, desperately trying to save himself.  Campbell shouted to him to take part of the oar as the breaker lifted them up and threw them onto the reef.  The tremendously powerful undertow was pulling them back out and Campbell grasped a crevice with all his strength.  He felt at that moment that if he let go, he would be dead.  He remembered that terrifying moment of struggle to hang on while the other man was pulled out and never returned.  In the seconds before the next breaker would crash down, Campbell crawled up the solid rock shore beyond the breakers and collapsed to the ground.

Albert Willis remembered being thrown to the shore and pulled back into the ocean three times.  The fourth time his pants snagged on a rock and possibly saved his life.  He used the few seconds before the next wave came crashing down to scramble up to safety.

Somehow a total of 7 men survived from lifeboat No. 3 and ended up finding each other along the shore at the base of near vertical cliffs about 250 metres north of the Valencia.  The seven survivors were Frank Campbell, Tony Brown, George Beledhos, Yosuki Hosoda, Michael Hone, Charles Samuels, and Albert Willis.  Among the drowned were the wife and stepdaughter of Frank Campbell.  These seven men crawled out of the ocean and huddled together under the freezing rain at the base of a hundred-foot cliff. 

Lifeboat No.6 Launched, Flipped, Smashed, Two Survivors

The last boat launched during the first night was the No.6 boat with nine people on board.  Frank Bunker, his wife, 4 year old daughter Dorothy, 2 year old son Frank, fireman Frank Richley and four others.  He recalled after the boat he was in was launched and they got away from the side of the steamer they had no difficulty in navigating into the open sea despite the cold, dark and stormy weather.  They managed to get a couple hundred yards from the Valencia before being caught by a breaker and casting most on board into the freezing ocean. Frank Bunker, his wife and son managed to survive, though Dorothy was never seen again.  Moments later the boat, caught in another breaker was thrown again.  This time the boat smashed into the reef.

Frank Bunker managed to survive by crawling out of the surf and clinging to the base of a cliff.  The rest of his family were never found. “When I reached shore after being thrown from the boat and losing my wife and children I was dimly conscious, almost unconscious in fact. I dimly remember being sucked out by the undertow, and finally got strength enough to grasp a rock and then I crawled along at the edge of the water looking for my wife and children. I then crawled up and tried to get above the high water mark. I heard a shout and knew that someone else had escaped. It was Richley, the fireman. I crawled toward him in the darkness, and soon we heard halloos and knew that others were on shore. Soon nine of us got together and lay on the rocks. I guess it was about 1 o’clock in the morning, and pitch dark, with rain and sleet falling fast. We huddled up one against the other on the rocks in the bitter cold to keep ourselves warm, and shivered until daylight.”

Frank Richley, fireman would later recall, “I got on board No.6 by climbing over the rail before it was lowered.  There were nine men and a woman and children.  Could not say how many passengers of this number.  There was a mast, sail and oars in my boat.  Mr. Bunker and his wife were on board.  We were in the boat about 30 minutes.  Could not say how many oars were in use.  We were trying to keep her head to sea.  The current carried us right into shore.  We were capsized and righted up.  I only saw Mr. and Mrs. Bunker at that time.  She was in the boat and Mr. Bunker assisted me in.  A few minutes after she capsized again in the surf and hit the rocks, throwing us all out.  The side of the boat was smashed in.  I climbed up on the shore where Bunker, Campbell, a coal passer, Willis, Tony Brown and two other members of the crew were assembled.  Some had reached the shore from other boats or were washed up.” Continued: 4. The McCarthy Boat

The Valencia Disaster

 Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail1. The Valencia Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail2. The Voyage Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail3. The Boats Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail4. The McCarthy Boat Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail5. The Bunker Party Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail6. On the Valencia Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail7. The Rafts Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail8. The Turret Raft Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail9. The Rescue Ships Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail10. The Aftermath Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail11. The Survivors Shipwreck on the West Coast Trail12. The Lost  

The Valencia was a 252-foot-long passenger steamship built in 1882 in Philadelphia. She served as a passenger ship on the East Coast or North America until 1898 when she was sold to the Pacific ...
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