All crew safe, no injuries’
After more than 60 years, the last commercial sailing ship to operate out of Bermuda has been found
By Dr Edward Harris
It is perhaps appropriate at this religious time of year (for Christians — dare one say in this PC Era) that we received word of the discovery of the wreck of a Bermuda vessel named Deliverance in the tide line of a Florida beach.
Or rather that the remains of the ship have been reasonably firmly identified as the one owned by William Blackburn Smith, of Bailey’s Bay, that struck the rocks of the town of Ponte Vedra in the early hours of 13 December 1947, very stormy conditions having prevailed for sometime prior to its demise.
Demise was not in the heavens for its human compliment, so that all ten members of the crew and the captain were ‘delivered’ from the Deliverance. “Deliverance” is a very emotive and powerful word, especially in senses given in the Bible.
It has a special place and meaning in Bermuda history, as it was the name of one of the two vessels that delivered the Bermuda-stranded souls of the Sea Venture (wrecked 1609) to Jamestown, Virginia, in May 1610.
One of the strongest senses of the word is to rescue, or deliver, people from a dangerous and unpleasant situation, and that is its sense for the men of that other Deliverance on that cold, midwinter day in late 1947, as they waited beleaguered in rain, wind and heavy waves, but in sight of salvation on that Florida strand.
While we also had a ferry boat by the same name, it is likely that the 1947 Deliverance was the last Bermuda vessel of that name to work in the carrying trade, in that instance taking 100 tons of scrap metal for sale in Florida.
You may well ask where that amount of junk iron came from in tiny Bermuda of the day, but it is possible that it included old cannon and other artillery parts from our historic forts, as word has it that an operator from Florida was in Bermuda after the Second World War (1939-45) to carry out such a business.
At present, there is no known account of what happened to the cargo of the Deliverance, but as the vessel was driven onto the beach after its encounter with offshore rocks, it was likely stripped on the shore.
That salvage would have included not only the cargo, but also most of the timberwork (deck and planking) and the spars, masts and sails (just like happened in 1862 to the Bermudian Cedrine on an Isle of Wight beach).
Like the Constellation, which wrecked here the year before and was the last commercial sailing ship to operate into Bermuda, the Deliverance may have been the last such vessel to work out of Bermuda, after the loss of which “WB” may have made do with his land-based perfumery trade.
Archaeologist Chuck Meide of the St Augustine Lighthouse & Museum and ancillary LAMP (Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program) attended several field schools at Bermuda some years ago and was familiar with the position of our first Deliverance in our heritage hearts and wrote thus.
“We first encountered the site in 2008, but on 2 January of this year there was more of the wreck exposed than ever before.
“We had enough exposed frames to have a good feel for the overall shape, length, and orientation of the wreck.
“That seems to match up to a photograph of a beached schooner we found in a local history book, without a name but dated fall 1947, but with the description the ‘ribs of the vessel are visible at low tide less than half a mile south of Mickler’s Road’.
“So even back in 2008 we were pretty convinced that our wreck was indeed the schooner in the photo and the more recent trip to the wreck in January makes us even more confident.
“Then we found two more photos of the same wrecked schooner in the collections of the Beaches Museum & History Park in Jacksonville Beach.
“The labels on these photos refined our date from the fall of 1947 to December of that year, and furthermore described the vessel as a ‘Bermuda boat’.
“We did have a list of wrecks in the area from our shipwreck database and one was the 1947 wreck of Deliverance, which was listed as a ‘British motor vessel beached in eight feet of water south of Ponte Vedra’.”
We had initially dismissed this as a candidate, but once I remembered that “Deliverance” was such an iconic boat name in Bermuda it seemed worth exploring, and an online search lead to the newspaper notification in the St Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent of the loss of the Deliverance on 13 December 1947:
“Ship Aground. JACKSONVILLE, Sunday — A British motor vessel, the Deliverance, which ran aground in heavy weather yesterday off Ponte Vedra Beach near here, appeared to be in danger of breaking up. The skipper, Captain Wilson King, and eight of the crew remained aboard the vessel, which operates a regular service between Bermuda and Jacksonville, while a ninth man swam ashore for assistance.”
The ninth member of the crew who swam ashore was William (Billy) Peniston, the mate and only Bermudian on board; he was the 21-year-old grandson of Mr and Mrs WB Smith of “Westholme” at Shelly Bay and thus helped to deliver the other members of the Deliverance to safety.
We are awaiting news from Chuck Meide to deliver to us, based upon an analysis of the timber, the word as to whether the Deliverance was both Bermuda-owned and Bermuda-built.
And thus may another small piece of Bermuda heritage arises from historical oblivion in this Easter period and while it cannot deliver us from evil, it may help a little to enhance a sense of being Bermudian in the hurricane of change that is the internet age.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480.