By Keva Hoffmann Boardman –
When I think of all the difficulties those first immigrants faced on their journey to New Braunfels — storms at sea, little food and fresh water, births of babies, walking hundreds of miles, disease and death — I shouldn’t be surprised by stories of shipwreck. But, I found a couple of tales that really made me stop and put myself in their place, again.
Viktor Bracht (Texas in 1848) tells the story of the Verein ship Karl Wilhelm which wrecked off the coast of Galveston on May 23, 1846, at the cost of “one or two lives.” Hours of digging later, I found an account of the wreck by August Santleben. He was a five-month-old baby at the time, so his story is really that of his father. The shipwreck was much worse than Bracht reported.
We made the voyage in a sailing vessel, the Karl Wilhelm … a full crew and one hundred and thirty passengers on board … making a safe voyage of seven weeks duration…those who greeted the land of their adoption with joyful expectations were destined to a watery grave when entering the harbor … the ship was stranded when passing through the channel … only thirty-five of the passengers were saved … rescued by a life-boat sent from the shore. Among them was an infant boy, about two years of age, who was thrown to my parents after they entered the boat, by someone on the vessel.
The passengers could see Galveston City just a half mile away when the ship grounded and broke to pieces. The little boy was Christian Schuchard (or Christopher Schuchardt); both his parents perished that day. The Santlebens took him with them to Castroville where he was fostered and raised by the Joseph Baden family. Christian ends up a rancher/farmer in the San Geronimo area. August Santleben and Christian, thrown together in tragedy, were forever friends.
… none of the desolate people could comprehend their losses until they congregated on the shore … the disaster fell heavily on the emigrants who had supplied themselves with wagons, farm implements and other necessaries … all were alike destitute of everything but the clothing they wore … they were thrown on the charity of strangers.
There had been an earlier shipwreck of a Verein vessel off the coast of England in March of 1846. The American barque Nahant sailed with 130 emigrants (50 children) from the port of Ghent on Nov 25, 1845. Lloyds of London records show that she made port at London on Nov 29. Storms caused the barque to stop at Ramsgate, sail out of Ramsgate, but sail back again on Jan 6, 1846, due to lost sails and damaged rigging. She was on her way again on Jan 30 but was forced into Ramsgate once more after losing the bowsprit. Repaired, the Nahant continued westward on Mar 8, stopping at Torbay (in Devon) from Mar 14-17 to wait out the weather.
At this point, you need to remember that the German emigrants had been on their journey for almost four months. They had not even made it past England! Had I been there, I would have seriously been reconsidering my decision-making paradigm.
On March 18, the Nahant “missed stays”, a nautical term for an unsuccessful tacking maneuver, which left her badly positioned in storm-driven waves. A letter, in the Verein Collections at the University of Texas, describes the gale-force winds increasing in strength and turning into snowstorms as night fell.
About 2 am with snow storm, the Nahant was driven on the rocks… The night was one of the most awful that can be imagined. The wind was howling and the waves roaring and lashing on the shores whilst shrieks of the poor creatures, with their helpless children, were heard imploring aid, the vessel rocking to and fro, her sides having been forced in and the hold filled with water.
The Nahant had been propelled onto the rocks at Poole Cove between Berry House and the Berry Head fortifications. Hundreds of citizens from nearby Berry Head and Brixham crowded to the site of the shipwreck to help with rescue operations. Lloyd’s agent, Mr. Hingston, coordinated the boarding of the vessel and the installation of large baskets, slung with ropes to the shoreline, to facilitate the rescue of the passengers one-by-one. Women and children preceded the menfolk; trunks, goods and belongings followed and were placed on the shore under the charge of the coast guard. No loss of life was reported. Lodgings for some were found at the poor house on Baker Hill, while others found sanctuary at Berry House, the nearby residence of Rev. H.F. Lyte.
His kindhearted lady no sooner heard of the catastrophe than she ordered fires to be lighted and provision made for as many as her house could accommodate. Mrs. Lyte herself managed and directed everything for their comfort.
The new day found wreckage from ships piled up against piers and breakwaters all along the coastline. The Brixham Lighthouse had been washed away. Amazingly, 34 ships survived the storm in Torbay that night.
The Nahant was refloated on April 12 and brought to Torquay where she was broken up. The Germans were taken care of until May 5 when another Verein ship, the TIMOLEON, collected them. The Timoleon arrived at Galveston Aug 8, 1846.
Did you just do the math? That was an over eight-month-long trip!
Just let that travel experience sink in for a bit.
- Collections of Marjorie Cook and Ethel Hander Geue – Sophienburg Museum & Archives
- A New Land Beckoned, Chester William and Ethel Hander Geue, p 5-6
- Texas in 1848, Viktor Bracht, p 167
- A Texas Pioneer, August Santleben, p 5-6
- The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, Jan 7, 1987; article by Mary C. Bond
- English Riviera Magazine, October/November 2015, p 20-23
- Torbay Wrecks, www.brixhammuseum.uk rootsweb – CORNISH-GEN-L Archives, West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, Friday, 27 March, 1846 — TXAUSTIN-L Archives, message “Emigrants on the Nahant and Timoleon”