Horrific Boon Island Wreck Has Portsmouth Link
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Page 1 of 3
Don’t ask what Captain John Deane and his shipwrecked crew of the Nottingham Galley ate for Christmas dinner in 1710. It’s a menu beyond imagining. And yet we cannot look away from the most horrifying tale in the annals of local maritime history. (Continued below)
It happened in December on a barren spit of land called Boon Island. The Nottingham Galley was lost, but all 14 crewmen miraculously survived when the ship crashed into the rocky island during a night time storm. Despite the dangers of a winter voyage and marauding French privateers, the transatlantic business trip was almost a success. The English crew was carrying valuable cordage (rope for ship rigging), 30 tons of butter and 300 cheeses from England and Ireland to Boston. They were within a day’s sail of their goal when the ship wrecked on Boon Island just six miles off the coast of York, Maine.
Cold as Hell
No bigger than two football fields, Boon is a flat mass of broken rock barely 15 feet above sea level. There is no vegetation out there other than seaweed and no life other than mussels and the occasional visiting seabirds and seals. To be precise it was a solitary seagull that the starving crew devoured raw near Christmas Day. When the ship’s cook died, the crew released his body into the sea, hoping it might wash up on the mainland and alert residents to the stranded mariners. It did not.
During an earlier shipwreck in 1682, four crewmen lived for a month on Boon before being rescued. But they were able to catch fish and birds in warmer weather. And spotting smoke on distant Mount Agamenticus, these stranded men were able to build a signal fire and were rescued by Native Americans. In the winter of 1710, however, the castaways could not build a fire and no one on the mainland or in a passing ship knew they were there.
By Christmas the 13 survivors had been lying huddled together under a piece of canvas sail on the sharp frozen ground for two weeks, semi-conscious from exposure and rotting away with frostbite. At high tide the frigid ocean washed into their makeshift tent. Some small bits of waterlogged cheese from their cargo washed ashore and they salvaged enough fresh water to cling to life. But without winter clothing or the ability to make a fire, the crew had all but abandoned hope.
Under impossible conditions a few men managed to build a crude sailboat from the wreckage of the Nottingham Galley, but it capsized in the cruel weather. Then they built a raft on which two volunteers made a last ditch effort to reach shore six miles away. But the two volunteers never returned, and by the time the ship’s carpenter succumbed to the elements, the men on the hellish island were utterly desperate.
What happened next is what makes the story a classic among New England shipwreck legends. And what happened next has never been told more fully and powerfully than in a new book by two New England authors.
BOON ISLAND continued
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