Strange Disappearance of The Bavaria’s Crew


By James Donahue


There is a bizarre mystery behind a mishap involving the lumber schooner Bavaria that happened on May 28, 1889. The ship’s crew of eight men disappeared without a trace minutes after the vessel broke away from its towing barge in the midst of a storm on Lake Ontario.


The Bavaria survived the storm. It drifted ashore, upright, on Galloo Island in the Duck Island chain. But the boat’s entire crew disappeared and was never seen again.


The master of the steam barge Calvin, that had the Bavaria in tow with a line of two other lumber hookers, said the tow line parted at about 6 a.m. He said the Bavaria was the middle vessel in the line of three vessels in tow, and was trailing behind the schooner Valentia. A third vessel, the Norway, was in tow behind the Bavaria. When the line between the Valentia and Bavaria broke, the Bavaria drifted off to ram the Norway.


The collision was slight enough that neither vessel sustained hull damage, but the jar toppled some of the Norway’s head gear. Nevertheless, the crew of the Norway made sail and brought their crippled ship to the lee of one of the nearby islands. There they anchored and waited out the storm.


The Bavaria, however, broached, fell into the trough of the seas, and remained there. As he watched, the Calvin’s skipper said nobody made any effort to raise sail or turn the craft about. As the seas rolled across the deck, he said he could see that the Bavaria was starting to take on water.


Sensing the vessel was in some kind of trouble, the Calvin turned around and drew abreast of the Bavaria where the captain hailed the boat, expecting Capt. John Marshall and his crew to help attach a new hawser. But there was no response. The drifting schooner appeared deserted.


The Calvin stood by, blowing its whistle until the Bavaria drifted too close to Galloo Island, and eventually grounded.


When the storm abated, the passing schooner Armenia saw the Bavaria aground and anchored off shore. A small boat was sent to it to investigate. They found the schooner intact and in good condition, but nobody on board. The lifeboat was missing suggesting that the crew abandoned ship. The sailors from the Armenia said they found Captain Marshall’s clothes, a great deal of cash and his papers still intact in his cabin, which added to the mystery. A captain did not voluntarily leave his ship without his papers.


The Bavaria’s life boat was later found floating, upside down, a few hundred feet away from the ship. It was concluded that for some unknown reason the Bavaria’s crew abandoned ship within minutes after the line parted, making no effort to raise sail and save the vessel. According to the theory, the hapless sailors didn’t get far before their boat capsized and all were drowned.


But their bodies were never found. And why did an experienced sailor like Captain Marshall choose to abandon a seaworthy ship and take his chances in an open boat in the midst of a gale? Did the collision cause him to believe his vessel was going to sink? According to the report, the Bavaria’s hull was sound, and the vessel didn’t even sustain damage to its masts and upper works in the collision.


The Bavaria was a wooden schooner equipped with masts and sails and the crew was trained and capable of raising sail and bringing the vessel out of harm’s way. It was laden with a cargo of lumber, so the worst that could happen was that the ship would fill with water and become, in sailor’s vernacular of the day, “waterlogged.” It would not sink.


Lost in addition to Marshall were the mate, Felix Compau and sailors John Snell, William Owens, Arthur Boileaw, Alexander Berry, Elias King and the cook, Beila Hartman.


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