Toronto Telegram, December 10, 1932
Schooner Days LXV (65)
By C.H.J Snider
Through the Snow
Dozens of identifications of the ancient wreck on the south shore of the Island, which reappears with each period of low water, have been received by The Telegram, in response to requests.
Reason for supposing this Lighthouse Point wreck to be the remains of the Jane Ann Marsh is that a pair of jib-sheet blocks, attached by their chain pennants, with the name JANE ANN MARSH cut or burned into the cheeks of their shells, were found fifteen hundred feet south of the point eighteen years ago. It was when Roger Miller and Sons were working on the waterworks intake pipe in 1914. One of their divers picked these up on the lake bottom, in about thirty feet of water.
Identification of the wreck as that of the Jane Ann Marsh is not complete, but the fate of this vessel carries an authentic story of heroism, which is here gladly given.
SIXTY-FOUR years ago last Monday morning — Dec. 5th, 1868, was the date — young William Ward stepped out from the threshold of his father's house on the Island into such a snow-storm as the toughest, hardest-bitten coonskin-coatedest westerner would call a blizzard.
Lake Ontario has long since swept over the site of this home of the Wards. It would be one thousand feet more out in the lake from the Eastern Gap, according to island topography of to-day. And a bleak place it was, that wild December morning, with the snow whirling down so thick on the northeast gale that the smoke from the roaring fire within could scarce get out of the chimney.
It was that roaring fire that sent young William forth, for it had to be fed. The woodpile was buried under drifts, and William ploughed through to the beach, where the bursting billows were likely to wash something clear of the falling snow.
Like an answer to prayer, the first thing he saw in the sand of the island shore was a stick of cordwood; then farther east another and another. The lake seemed to be sprouting cordwood. It was tossing in the undertow, it was washing up with every mounting wave, as far as the eye could see—which was a hundred yards or so when the snow squalls thinned.
Shouldering a couple of wet sticks of A1 maple William tossed them in the lee of the house, and shouted:
"Lots more where this came from. The lake's full of cordwood. Some vessel is ashore!"
Soon he was overtaken by his father David Ward, and another fisherman and a man named Hill, and big Bob Berry, black as King Cole, and champion boxer and oarsman. They dragged out a skiff from the boathouse, launched it, rowed down the sheltered water of the harbor on the Bay side of the island, and came ashore at the spot where they judged the cordwood was coming from. Here they dragged their skiff across the island to the lakeshore.
Almost overhead, seemingly, they made out the loom of masts. It was too thick to see the vessel to which they belonged, or even the water where she was stranded, although she was close inshore—in the breakers, in fact.
Big Bob Berry and young William understood one another without words.
"Come on, Bob," said William, stripping to his drawers. Bob did the same. David Ward pushed the skiff from a snowdrift into the surf and the pair sprang in. Before they had shipped their oars the boat was tossed back into the drift by a giant curler.
Twenty-one times in all those two were capsized that snowy December afternoon.
David Ward and the others waded in up to their necks to give the skiff a start, but again and again it was rolled over like a keg, and Bill and Bob came rolling up the beach with it.
After the first three capsizes they pulled clear. They got alongside the schooner. They made out she was a black two-master, laden with cordwood, her deckload almost gone, her boat smashed, and her bulwarks washed away. Her hatches were off and the wood was floating up out of her water-logged hold. All her crew; were in the rigging, seven snow-mantled bundles. They were numb with cold, but able to cry for help.
Bob Berry fended off while William Ward picked up a small cordwood stick, climbed the rigging and pounded the first man he reached. He was cased over six inches thick with ice. The man above him was almost as bad. With these two free and in the skiff, the rescuers pushed away and made a wild race for shore. If you have never been in a lifeboat you will not know that, hard as it is pulling out against the breakers, it is still more hazardous coming in with them. But Ward and Berry made a safe landing; and pushed off again.
After several more capsizes, they again reached the schooner. This time they took off three. Just as they reached the shore, a giant comber stood their boat right up on end and threw her over on top of them. All five were spilled out, washed upon the beach and dragged up by David Ward and the other fishermen.
This almost ended the effort. In falling the boat struck Berry on the head and laid his thick skull open though he was wearing a heavy woollen cap — a curious completion of his airy costume.
Bob's scalp was pouring blood and he could not rise from his knees when David Ward dragged him out.
"Don't lie down on me. Bob!" pleaded young William. "There are two men out there yet.
"I'm a black man, " gasped Bob, "but I ain't yaller, " and he staggered to his feet David Ward bound his bloody scalp with a huge red flowered handkerchief over the split woollen cap, and thus helmeted Robert again clambered into the skiff.
William Ward meantime had stripped off his underclothes and rolled in the snow to keep himself from freezing. He sprang into the skiff after Bob and, his father and the rescued sailors pushing her out she went clear of the beach and out to the wreck again. She was capsized on the way, but they righted her in the water and climbed in and reached the schooner's swaying masts. They had to cut the last two sailors from the rigging. One was snowed over and iced up that dropped like a Christmas cake between the wreck and the skiff. But it was this frosting that saved him, for he floated like a berg, and they hauled him aboard, and to shore and safety, ending seven hours' continuous work.
The schooner was the Jane Ann Marsh, of Port Hope, Capt. Burns, bound for Toronto with a cargo 150 cords from the Bay of Quinte. Her cargo was intended for the Royal Mail line of steamers which then burned cordwood in their furnaces. She had been stranded at ten o'clock the night before, when the snow shut out the lights. The first sea that smacked her after she grounded the stove in her yawl boat. The crew burned flares, and took to the rigging when the high piled deckload began to wash away. The captain and one man had been in the rigging all night — sixteen hours, when rescued. The other five had huddled in the cabin until washed out by the seas that flooded it.
William Ward was awarded the first Royal Humane Society Medal awarded in Canada for this rescue, and he deserved it. A public subscription raised the sum of $500 for the five rescuers, and David Ward was also given a Bible, which cost $75.
William Ward became lifeboat coxswain, and had one hundred and forty-two human lives to his credit when he died a few years ago.
This Jane Ann was one of a family of black-and-lead color sister vessels, built up the shore at Marsh's Creek, and rigged and registered in Port Hope, three miles away. Marsh's Creek is almost a forgotten name now, and Port Hope has not seen a sailing vessel since the Julia B. Merrill went away to be burned at Sunnyside. But in their time the Marsh fleet made that harbor ring.
The Marsh wives and daughters and sisters gave the names to the vessels, but it was a shipwright named Collins who built them all.
There was the Jane Ann, of 256 tons, entered as early as 1849 in Port Whitby harbor records with a cargo of ploughshares and hardware from John Kerr in Montreal for Jas. Rowe and Co.
There was the Caroline Marsh, a clipper-bowed fore-and-after launched April 27th, 1852, and trading everywhere between Quebec and Chicago until she was wrecked at Oswego in 1890. She was then carrying coal for the Toronto waterworks.
And there was the Sarah Ann Marsh, a "barque," a three-master, square rigged on the foremast, with a topgallant sail, and lower and middle staysails from the mainmast and a horse box. She was a great lumber carrier; so much so that after she could not be held together otherwise she was "frapped," or wound round and round with chains across the deck and under the keel, and went on carrying lumber. According to an Owen Sound paper she was lost there in 1883, and her bones lie west of the harbor entrance. But according to Capt. Frank Jackman kept on creaking in her chains with lumber for Oswego until she was dismantled in that port and a dance hall was built on her hull.
There were other Marsh schooners apparently, a Nellie Marsh, burned about 1895; and a Mary Janet Marsh (which may be a confusion with the Jane Ann); and still another sister, name unknown, which was renamed the Wm. Cawthrie. She may have been the mother of the Marsh race, for the Wm. Cawthrie was wrecked in October, 1844, at Scarboro Beach, either coming from Kingston with a general cargo for Toronto or loading stave-bolts off the Highlands. Mr. Len. Marsh, of 87 Applegrove Ave., Toronto, is a nephew of the original shipowner; but to date Major Lou Marsh's friendly pick and shovel have not put in a claim on whatever buried treasure lies on Lighthouse Point.
Now the Jane Ann Marsh was wrecked two miles to the eastward of the point. It was there that William Ward discovered her and rescued the crew. Mr. Frank Ward, his son, still a resident of the island, and a substantial citizen of Toronto, says that his late father pointed out the bleaching remains on Lighthouse Point some years before his death, saying that few remembered the Jane Ann Marsh, but he would never forget her; so Frank assumed that this wreck was hers.
Such articles as jib-sheet blocks could be carried by the seas along the lake bed for miles from where the schooner drove ashore. But it would be remarkable for the whole bottom of the vessel to work itself along the island shore from east of the present Eastern Gap to west of the lighthouse, two miles away. Usually when a craft gets "on", as sailors put it, in Lake Ontario, she stays "on" until she breaks up. And besides the framing and planking of this mystery wreck are lighter than one would expect in a vessel of 256 tons register.
The Acacia, a Fore-and-after Like the Jane Ann Marsh
Capt. Byron Bongard, of Cherry Valley, kindly lent The Telegram this beautiful painting of his schooner, Acacia, which he sailed for thirteen years. The Acacia became a tow barge in 1910 and is now a dismantled hulk in Sackett's Harbor. She was very much like the Jane Ann Marsh, mentioned below, but smaller. The Acacia, according to the Dominion Register, was built at Smith's Falls for Alfred Ayearst, Kingston shipowner, in 1873, and measured 153 tons register. She rated A-1. She was 102 feet 3 inches on deck, 24 feet 2 inches beam, and 9 feet 6 inches deep in the hold; about the same dimensions as the mysterious wreck on the Island; apparently a little larger. The Jane Ann Marsh, registering 256 tons, was larger still.