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Binn's Story Of Wireless Work
by John R. Binns
New York Times, January 27, 1909
I had just turned in for a few hours after the previous day's work
when the shock of the impact shook me out of my bunk. A crunching ripping
noise followed as the "Florida's" bow crumpled up on our side. The panels and
side of our cabin fell in, one panel being smashed to splinters, but
fortunately the wireless apparatus was unhurt and remained standing.
I had a fear, however, that the aerial wires between the masts might have been
shaken down, so I hastily tested them, and most fortunately they were still
My first impression was that we had run ashore, which was strengthened when I
peered through the interstices of the wrecked woodwork of my cabin and saw a
dark object outside over which the sea was washing. This I took to be rock,
but later found it was Boat #15, which is always swung out from the ship and
which had been torn from its davits.
The First CQD Message Sent
Five minutes after the collision the lights all through the ship went out and
we were all in total darkness. I tried to make my way to the bridge in order
to report to the Captain that my gear was all right, but unable to make my way
through the wreckage, I returned to my wrecked cabin. The dynamics of being
stopped, greatly handicapped the working distance of our station, but the
accumulators were in good condition, and so I immediately sounded the CQD.
signal, which announced to surrounding ships the peril of our position.
Just then the Captain's steward came to me from the bridge and piloted me
through the debris. On the boat deck all the passengers were assembled and the
crew had already got the boats swung about, for, despite the darkness,
everything was done in an orderly and smart manner.
I reported to Captain Sealby that everything was all right with my wireless
instruments and he hastened to reassure the passengers, brave but anxious, with
this most comforting bit of news.
This having been done, I returned immediately to my cabin and had the
satisfaction of gaining the attention of our station at Siasconsett on
Nantucket Island. This is the message flashed to A.H. Glaman, the operator
The Republic. We are shipwrecked. Stand by for Captain's
This was the answer that was immediately flashed back to us:
All right old man. Where are you?
At this stage our chief officer came and anxiously inquired if I had yet got in
communication with anybody and was greatly relieved to learn that Siasconsett
had answered me. He at once hastened to the Captain to convey this
intelligence. Captain Sealby then sent me this message for transmission:
Republic rammed by unknown steamer. Twenty-six miles southwest of Nantucket
Lightship. Badly in need of immediate assistance, but no danger to life.
Five minutes later Siasconsett informed me that he had sent for the revenue
cutter Acushnet, then lying at Wood's Hole, and that it was to proceed to
assist us. Word had also been sent to the steamships "Baltic," "La Lorraine," and
"City of Everett."
I was now working under extreme difficulties, as it was very dark. I had
unfortunately broken the lever of my sending key just after the lights went
out, but eventually managed all right by holding the broken lever with one hand
and sending with the other.
The Dead Discovered
Then came the first respite I had had since the force of the crash had hurled
me from my bunk. It was now getting light, and with the first streaks of dawn
I was enabled to look about me and comprehend the damage that had been wrought,
together with the extreme peril of our position. This was more vividly brought
home to me when, glancing at the door just outside my wrecked cabin, I saw the
mangled bodies of two passengers. The light was not strong enough for me to
make out who they were or whether they were the bodies of men or women, but
both were mangled beyond recognition, and for the first time I knew that human
lives had been sacrificed in the crash of the fog-bound ships.
Capt. Sealby was on the bridge all this time, but soon after I discovered the
bodies lying near me. Dr. Marsh came along, and, after examining the bodies,
announced that both had been killed outright. Blankets were stretched over the
two still forms, and a little later they were laid in coffins. It was not
until a roll call had been made that the identity of the dead was
Sick with the horror of the scene that had been enacted before my very eyes, I
was indeed grateful for the brief respite that followed. I drew on my boots
and a waistcoat and was lucky enough to find an apple and some water at hand,
but it was bitterly cold in the cabin, for a stiff breeze was blowing through
the splintered wood work, and then, too, the blinding fog filtered all about
me, chilling me to the marrow. I was soon busy again, however, and once more
in communication with the Siasconsett station, doing my utmost to locate the
"Baltic." I could hear the "Baltic's" wireless signals as they were being flashed
to shore, but my disabled spark was too weak to reach the "Baltic's" operator.
Just as the "Florida" returned to us the "Baltic" began to pick up my signals, and
from then on I was kept busy notifying that ship of our position, and from that
time forward it was a steady interchange of messages between Tattersall and
Balfour, the "Baltic's" operators, and myself.
The passengers were successfully transferred to the "Florida," and not a single
mishap occurred to mar this perilous work. The fog lifted for a few minutes
shortly before noon on Saturday, and I happened to look out at that moment and
saw the "Florida" with her bow gone almost to the bridge, the majority of her
remaining plates forward of the bridge, being in ribbons and twisted beyond
About 2 o'clock I realized for the first time than I was hungry and Douglas, my
steward, who had been running to and from the bridge all morning with messages
for and from the Captain, was able to get a bite of food and a cup of coffee
for me, which I devoured while sending and receiving messages.
The Lorraine Gets in Touch
Early in the afternoon the Lorraine was able to read us, and we began
to give her steering directions, but it was very difficult for her navigator to
find us on account of the blanket of fog that enveloped the sea. The hours of
the afternoon dragged slowly, and they were filled with anxiety for the Captain
and all on board. Darkness set in early, superinduced, of course, by the thick
weather. The most anxious hour of the day was at about 6 o'clock in the
evening, when Captain Sealby heard, only faintly, the explosion of a bomb in
the far distance. He at once communicated with me and I made inquiries,
learning that the "Baltic" had been exploding bombs in an effort to apprise us of
her whereabouts. We, too, had been exploding bombs, but exhausted our supply,
and, from now on, had nothing but our almost exhausted and fast-weakening
wireless apparatus to which we could pin our hopes of rescue.
The "Baltic" then informed me that she had but a solitary bomb left, and arranged
with us that this would be exploded at a certain moment. This was done, and as
we heard the faint rumble there was no further doubt in our minds that the
Baltic would soon find us as we tossed about, marooned, as it were, in the fog,
and not knowing how long we could remain afloat.
Capt. Sealby took the direction from which the sound came, and so I was then
able to give the "Baltic" Capt. Sealby's orders as to which course the sister
ship was to steer to reach us.
These steering directions Capt. Sealby changed at times in accordance with the
change of sound direction, and a little later we heard the "Baltic's" fog horn
blowing faintly, and this increased in volume as she lessened the distance
between us. Occasionally we fired rockets, but they cold not be seen through
fog although, a little later the "Baltic's" siren was heard so plainly that we
know the ship was close by. Realizing this, Capt. Sealby issued orders that
the "Baltic" be told to proceed as carefully as possible, as she was now too
close on our port side to be safe.
The "Baltic" at Hand at Last
I had just communicated this message when I heard a cheer and I at once
realized that these sounds of rejoicing could not come from our men, as only
Capt. Sealby, the officers, myself and the crew were aboard our ship, and they
were all busily engaged in standing by the boats. Looking aft through my
splintered cabin I made out the "Baltic" quite near the stern of our ship, the
fog having again lifted somewhat. She was a blaze of light and as I sat there
in my little cabin the thought occurred to me that the most beautiful sight in
the world is a ship at sea, especially then that ship is needed to supply a
link between life and death. Time and again it occurred to me, as I worked
away in feverish haste, a mere machine voicing the words of our gallant Captain
who so heroically watched over the safety of those who had intrusted their
lives to him, that the end was near; that it was only a question of how long
the ship could withstand the wound that pierced her very vitals, and I had
practically resigned myself to the fate that every seafaring man has before him
at some time in his career. I never expected to see New York again and as I
sit here writing this narrative it all comes back to me like a terrible
Come to our leeward and take up our boats. Have Lorraine and Lucania convey
This message concluded with the words: Wireless now closed.
The Captain then sent word to me to come forward from my cabin as soon as I had
sent the message off. Reporting to the Captain, I was told to take to the
boats with the officers and the crew who were about to be transferred to the
"Baltic." By that time the weather had cleared to a considerable extent, but a
heavy swell was running. After a stiff pull we reached the "Baltic," whose
people gave the heartiest kind of a cheer as we came alongside. Our sailors
were about to respond to the welcome when Mr. Williams, the second officer, who
was at the tiller, said: "Now my heartiest, steady, Keep cool and let them see
us come up in good style!" And without a word, we ran in alongside the
As soon as all the sailors and officers were aboard, with the exception of
Capt. Sealby, Chief Officer Crossland, the boatswain, and a boat's crew, who
were standing by the ship, Capt. Sealby megaphoned to Capt. Ranson of the
Baltic, asking him to go to the assistance of the "Florida" and "leave me, as I
Perilous Transfer Successful
When the "Baltic" came alongside of the "Florida," the "Baltic's," and "Republic's"
officers and sailors, using the "Republic's" boats, began to transfer the
passengers from the disabled "Florida" to the "Baltic." This task was extremely
difficult and perilous, as there was a heavy swell running, with the sea
momentarily increasing, causing the boats to bump violently against the
gangway. The greatest difficulty had was in inducing the women passengers to
leap at the right moment.
Upward of 2,000 people were transferred during the night, and the greatest
credit is due to our officers and seamen for the magnificent and cool manner in
which they conducted this most arduous undertaking, as it was it was only their
strenuous and unceasing efforts that prevented loss of life. Cowards? Not a
bit of it! Never, and I mean it absolutely, was there a braver lot of men
whose courage was put to the most crucial test. They came through the trying
ordeal with colors flying, and reflected wonderful credit upon that most
splendid and bravest of masters, Capt. Sealby.
Our officers and crew had no sleep Saturday night. I was more fortunate,
having snatched a few hours rest in one of the cabins. The following morning
the "Florida" (she had a very perceptible list to port Saturday night) had
righted herself somewhat and her Captain apparently had decided to go to New
York without assistance.
The "Baltic" steamed back to the "Republic," and Capt. Sealby shouted across asking
for volunteers to go and stand by the "Republic." The officers, many sailors, a
cook, and one or two stewards, including Chief Steward Stanyar and the second
class chief steward, the saloon steward, and myself, all went over, which
including the Captain, who had remained aboard all night, made thirty-eight of
us all told.
Arriving on board, I tested my wireless apparatus, found it to be all right,
and so reported the same to the Captain, who at once made wireless inquiries
for the tugs that had been sent to our assistance.
By this time the "Furnessia" had arrived and had been standing by; then the
Florida came alongside of the "Republic," remaining there as a safeguard for
those of us left on our ship and the "Baltic" took up her journey to New York
with her tremendous burden of human freight. As she steamed by our stern,
where our Captain and officers had assembled, every living soul aboard the
Baltic gave us a hearty cheer.
After seeing the "Baltic" vanish from view, I bethought me of my wrecked cabin,
and later, nailing up some blankets around the rent sides, I soon made it more
habitable, and was able to keep sheltered from the chill air. Once more I was
ready for business.
The volunteer cook had prepared us a meal, and this we had just partaken of
when the revenue cutter "Gresham" arrived. She took one of our lines on board,
and, steaming ahead, commenced to tow us, with the "Furnessia" attached by two
lines to our stern, to steer us.
Ordered to Abandon Ship
At about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon we had shipped so much water that Capt.
Sealby decided to order the crew to the boats, and transfer them to the
"Gresham." I had put a box of cigarettes at my side, so that in case we left in
a hurry I could snatch them up, but so unexpectedly did the order come that I
forgot to take them, and, being somewhat addicted to the tobacco habit, and
with nothing to smoke, my pangs became more and more acute as the night wore
One of the officers then ordered me to the boat, Capt. Sealby and Second
Officer Williams remaining on the fast-settling "Republic."
This time we were taken aboard the Gresham. Reaching across the stern of the
Gresham were two steel hawsers, which were attached to the "Republic's" bows.
Capt. Perry then ordered that a nine-inch rope hawser be attached to that end
of the steel hawser, and then paid out until the rope was wrapped around the
bit of the Gresham. An axe was laid alongside of the rope hawser, so that in
case the "Republic" settled further or sunk the rope could be cut, and thus set
free the Gresham. A boat was lying alongside the Gresham, ready to rescue
Capt. Sealby and Williams in case it was necessary.
At about 5 o'clock the derelict destroyer "Seneca," under command of Capt.
Reynolds, came along, and put a line aboard the Gresham and helped the latter
tow the "Republic." Two hours later we missed the lights of the "Furnessia." At 8
o'clock a signal was sent up from the "Republic" and the Gresham's hawser was
severed. The crew was in the lifeboat, and the searching was playing upon the
spot almost before the rest of us, who were standing around, could realize it.
We caught one fleeting glimpse of the poor "Republic's" bows, which were shown up
by the searchlight. After that we saw no more of her.
Cheers for Sealby and Williams
A heavy seas was running and every man standing on the Gresham's quarter-deck
was straining his eyes to follow the movements of the little boat that was
casting about in search of Capt. Sealby and Second Officer Williams. On
account of the high sea running we could not make anything out, and it was an
anxious time we spent until we finally hailed her and learned that Capt. Sealby
and Williams were safe. Rousing cheers were given and it was with the
heartiest of warm welcomes that we received the two men on board who had last
trod the decks of the "Republic."
The officers of the "Gresham" and the "Seneca" are men and sailors in every sense
of the word, and too much praise cannot be bestowed upon them for the part they
played in the stirring incidents that have just closed, and the treatment they
accorded us while under their care.
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