W. C. Richardson


W. C. Richardson

Wreck of  the W. C. Richardson


By James Donahue


The official report said the freighter W. C. Richardson foundered after striking Waverly Shoal, just outside the Buffalo harbor, during a severe winter gale. But one news report gave a completely different story.


The ship was lost on Dec. 9, 1909 while standing off shore, waiting for the storm to abate. The 354-foot-long steel vessel was carrying flax seed from Cleveland to Buffalo and probably was making what would have been its final trip of the season.


While owners attempted to keep a lid on the information, a reporter for the Buffalo Evening News apparently coaxed an unidentified survivor to give a full account of just what happened. It was an exciting story of skill, daring and disaster.


The Richardson and another steamer, the William A. Paine, arrived at Buffalo during the height of the gale. Rather than risk entering the harbor in heavy seas, the two vessels anchored off shore to wait it out.


The boats were both taking a terrible pounding and the seas were rolling over their decks. Trouble developed when a fireman on the Richardson opened a steel door leading from the engine room to the deck. He opened it just as a large and powerful wave struck the ship. The force of the water slammed the door back on the man, knocking him down the ladder. Before his ship-mates could get the door closed again, another wave tore it from its hinges.


After that, the seas began flooding the engine room and the after part of the ship. As the water gained, the stern of the Richardson started to settle. Some crew members braved the storm and made their way to the bow, which was still afloat. Mrs. John Bransford, the cook, lost her grip and was swept away by the seas to drown.


Four sailors launched a lifeboat in an effort to escape. Their frail craft capsized so they also drowned. Killed were second mate E. J. Cleary, Detroit; deckhand Ed Gransey, Toledo; fireman Sidney Smith and chief engineer S. E. Mayberry, both of Kingsville, Ohio.


The 20 remaining members of the Richardson’s crew were left in the forward part of the sinking ship, thinking their hours were numbered. They told of using bedding, brooms and anything they could find as fuel in a small stove just to keep warm. While the ship still had steam up, they sounded the whistle letting people in Buffalo know they were in trouble. Tugs were dispatched.


In the meantime, the skipper of the Paine saw what was happening and used his boat to save the crew.


This man, identified only as Captain Detliff, moved his vessel “a boat’s length from the Richardson, and in 48-mile-per-hour winds, let the Paine’s bow swing until it touched the steamer.” The moment the Paine’s bow was up against the Richardson’s side, the crew jumped to safety.


Before the storm ended, the Richardson sank. Several attempts to salvage the wreck failed.


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