Saturday, February 26, 2005


In search of a ship's identity

By Christopher D. Roberson
February 23, 2005

Paul F. McCarthy stands on what is
believed to be the wreck of the "Emma"
on Damon's Point.
(Photo by Paul F. McCarthy)

While the identity of a wooden barge abandoned in the North River almost 90 years ago may never be known for sure, Marshfield resident Paul F. McCarthy is pretty sure he knows the vessel's name.

McCarthy, an amateur marine archaeologist, told a crowd of about 50 people at the South Shore Natural Science Center recently that the ship is likely the "Emma."

McCarthy discovered the wreck three years ago near Damon's Point, and thought it was an old wharf. Curiosity gave way when he learned that it was the outline of an old commercial sailing vessel.

His search for the vessel's identity, led McCarthy to question local residents, harbormasters, and wreck divers for any information they may have had concerning the ship. Preliminary indications were that the ship could have been a gundalow, a rum runner, a sub chaser, or a barge.

During his quest, McCarthy discovered a 1972 article published in the Marshfield Mariner describing an old sailing vessel which had been towed onto a mussel bed in the North River and burned to the waterline on the Fourth of July, 1915. In addition, he found the stump of a mast with burn marks still visible.

He said that the stump measured 23 inches across and originally held a 90-foot mast. After further study, McCarthy found that in 1960, the Town of Marshfield voted to remove the wreck. The vote was later overturned by the state and recorded as a protected site.

"One hundred years from now, this will be an artifact of great importance to people," he said.

Built in 1882 at the D. Brewer Shipyard in Portland, Maine, the "Emma" was constructed as a three-mast schooner before being rigged as a sloop barge in 1900. With a crew of three, the vessel was used for the local transportation of coal.

According to McCarthy, the ship, in its original state, measured 127 feet long by 31 feet abeam.

"I was very impressed with the size," he said.

After being towed into the North River in 1912 and abandoned, the barge was burned during the summer of 1915.

McCarthy, a Marshfield resident of 33 years, explained that it was a New England tradition to burn old hulks on the Fourth of July.

"These things would burn for a week if it didn't rain," he said.

However, three years passed before a wreck report was filed with the Collector of Customs for the Port of Boston.

McCarthy said that by law, all wrecks had to be reported to the state. Records indicated that the "Emma" was the only American wooden barge burned between 1912 and 1918, hence McCarthy's reason to suspect it.

In a postcard of Boston Sand and Gravel in Scituate, a barge can be seen in the background resting in the North River. McCarthy said the photograph was taken between 1912 and 1915.

"To break up a ship like that, you'd have to do it by hand," he said. "It's a massive job."

McCarthy added that the location of wreck, off Damon's Point in Marshfield, rests on the Marshfield/Scituate line. He said that the location was favorable as there was minimal activity on the river at that time.

"When you're looking for a wreck, it doesn't look like much," he said of the vessel, which is buried in 20 feet of mud. An oval-shaped series of planks, replaced now by dry-rotted stumps, are all that is visible.

"This thing was pretty well covered up," said McCarthy.

With the assistance of a few friends, he was able to take a number of measurements on the wreck. However, excavating the vessel proved to be difficult as well.

"The mud is like wet cement," he added.

During the Feb. 9 presentation at the science center, McCarthy also displayed a number of slides of old New England shipyards.

"This was a labor-intensive, low-paying occupation," he said of the shipbuilding trade. Workers were allowed three shots of rum each day for the aches and pains that accompanied such a physical job. Oak was brought in from Maine and the southern states to construct the ships while yellow pine was used for decking.

According to McCarthy, six months was required to build each ship. Noting the skilled craftsmanship, he said that the keel of each vessel was held together by copper and bronze, which would not be harmed by the ocean. "These wooden boats were subjected to incredible stresses in the water," he said. In terms of size, McCarthy added that the hulks of the decommissioned schooners would fill with water as the tide went in and out providing children with an ideal swimming area.

In addition to the Emma, other ships of the time included the Cora F. Cressy of Percy & Small Yards in Bath, Maine, the Luther Little of the Read Brothers Company in Somerset, and the Hesper of Crowninshild Shipbuilding in South Somerset.

To aid in his on-going search, McCarthy asked the crowd of more than 50 for any information or photographs pertaining to the wreck. Although the search has been a tedious process littered with dead ends, McCarthy still incorporated a fair amount of humor into his presentation.

"There's probably a good size anchor out there if anyone wants to go get it," he joked.

The slide show and presentation is part of the ongoing series sponsored by the North and South Rivers Watershed

Association, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and Mass. Audubon. Lectures will be held at the science center every Wednesday evening through March 30. Upcoming lectures include "Controlling The Canada Geese," "A Closer Look At Nature," "Reinterpreting The Life of Joshua James," and "The Invasive Plant Crisis In New England."

Anyone with additional information or photographs pertaining to this wreck are asked to contact McCarthy at (781) 834-7863.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?