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Rescue at Sea | Article

Rescuers and All Aboard

Jack Binns

Jack Binns
When the American luxury liner, "Republic," collided with the Italian cargo ship, "Florida," in the icy waters off Nantucket, Jack Binns became a hero. As the "Republic" began to sink, the twenty-five-year-old wireless operator sent the distress call that brought the rescue ship, "Baltic." 

Born John Robinson Binns in Lincolnshire, England, in 1884, "Jack" grew up an orphan. His father died only two days after his birth and his mother died a year later; the boy was raised by his paternal grandmother. At the age of fourteen, Binns began studying telegraphy. He went to work with the British Post Office when he was eighteen. Three years later he began working for the British Marconi Company, where he was assigned as wireless operator aboard the White Star liner "Republic." 

On January 22, 1909, the "Republic" departed from New York harbor, bound for southern Italy. At 5:30 the following morning, in the fog-shrouded waters off Nantucket, the "Republic" was struck by the Italian cargo ship "Florida." The "Republic" suffered a puncture to its hull and began to sink. 

The collision killed two of the "Republic's" passengers and damaged Binns' wireless. But Binns quickly made repairs and began to transmit the distress signal -- CQD. Although his signal was weak and he worked from batteries alone, Binns reached the Siasconsett wireless station on Nantucket. He stayed at his wireless for the next 36 hours, sending signal after signal from his frigid, water-swamped cabin. Eventually, the "Baltic," another White Star liner, came to the rescue. 

When Binns arrived ashore in New York, he was surprised to find himself the focus of mass adoration. A ticker tape parade was held in his honor. He was offered contracts to perform on the vaudeville circuit. A song and a short film were made about him. No longer simply "Jack," he was now "CQD Binns," certified hero. 

The attention was upsetting to Binns. He successfully sued Vitagraph, the company who made the film about him, for invasion of privacy. He testified before Congress about the need for mandatory wireless coverage on ship, but Congress failed to act. Discouraged, he returned to England. 

Jack Binns worked as a wireless operator until 1912, when he turned down an assignment aboard the ill-fated "Titanic." He returned to America, where he began a new career -- journalism -- the day before the "Titanic" sank. 

Binns continued his work in journalism until World War I, when he joined the Canadian Flying Corps as a wireless instructor. In 1924 he began work for the Hazeltine Co., an electronic engineering firm. He became the company's chairman of the board in 1957. Two years later, he died, at the age of seventy-five.

Jack Irwin
When the "Republic" and the "Florida" collided off the coast of Nantucket on January 23, 1909, the "Republic's" wireless operator, Jack Binns, broadcast the distress messages that saved the day. But without Jack Irwin, the shore-based wireless operator who received the distress calls and helped direct rescue efforts, all might have been lost. 

On the day of the collision, Jack Irwin was working a solo midnight-8 am shift at the Marconi wireless station on Nantucket. Since there were very few ships scheduled to send in reports, Irwin had spent most of his shift quietly, reading and napping in a chair. But at 5:30am, Irwin received an unexpected message from the "Republic." "I heard faint signals and paused to listen," Irwin later recounted. "...it flashed upon me in a second that there was a ship in distress." 

Irwin issued a call to all ships with which he was in communication, directing them toward the "Republic," which had begun to sink. The "La Lorraine," a French vessel, answered first. It was 180 miles away from the "Republic." Then the "Baltic," only 80 miles from the sinking ship, responded. It changed course and headed for the scene of the disaster. 

For the next seventy-two hours, Irwin, who was joined by three additional operators at 8am, turned his wireless into a relay station between the sinking "Republic" and the rescue ship "Baltic." Thick fog shrouded the seas, severely hampering the "Baltic's" search for the accident site, but Irwin's persistence paid off. The two ships eventually found each other, and all but two of the "Republic's" passengers, a man and woman who had died in the collision, were safely returned to shore.

Mary and Eugene Lynch
The dense fog that enveloped the Italy-bound "Republic" as it sailed out of the New York harbor was the thickest either of the Lynches had ever seen. Mary Lynch said to her husband, "It's as if we are walking blindfolded among a lot of trolley cars, with no one to put out a hand to guide us." The Lynches were headed for Italy, their first trip abroad. 

The evening before they began what was to be a three-month European vacation to visit Italy, France, and Germany, Mary and Eugene Lynch were given a going-away party by Jeremiah J. McCarthy. The celebration was held at New York's Algonquin Hotel. Friends of Mrs. Lynch later recalled that Mary had expressed certain misgivings about the journey-saying she had heard it was "bad luck" to sail out on a Friday. 

The Lynches, wealthy and well-known residents of Boston, Massachusetts, at the time (1909) had been married for twenty-six years. After working diligently for twenty years in the wholesale liquor business, Eugene Lynch owned a mansion-style home in Boston in which he and Mary lived. He had profitable real estate holdings in New York as well.  

On the evening of their departure, as the couple said goodnight, Mrs. Lynch spoke fearful words to her husband: "Don't let the fog hurt me, will you, Gene?" He responded to her anxiety, and attempted to dispel it. "Be a good girl and go right to sleep," he said. "It is nonsense to think that any harm will come to us." 

That night, the bow of a cargo ship, the "Florida," rammed into the Lynches' first-class cabin on the "Republic." Mary Lynch died shortly after impact. Mr. Lynch sustained broken legs and head injuries; a few days later he died from his injuries in a Brooklyn, New York, hospital. Although Mary Lynch's body had been placed in a hermetically-sealed casket while the "Republic" was still afloat, it eventually sank with the ship.

Guglielmo Marconi
While he was confident that wireless radio waves could be sent from hilltop to hilltop and from ship to shore, Guglielmo Marconi still had to prove it to the skeptics. When he did, the world's communication systems were changed forever. 

Guglielmo Marconi's interest in physics began at an early age. When he turned thirteen. Annie Jameson, Marconi's mother, enrolled him at the Technical Institute in Leghorn, Italy. When she saw his enthusiasm transforming into dedication, Ms. Jameson hired private tutors. In 1893, at the age of nineteen, Marconi began studying under physicist Auguste Righi of the University of Bologna. From Righi, who was a neighbor of the Marconi family, Guglielmo learned the theories of Heinrich Hertz and James Clerk Maxwell. 

Hertz had relayed radio signals within his laboratory, thus proving wireless transmission possible. Marconi's goal was to liberate wireless from the laboratory and deliver it to the world. In 1896, Marconi's cousin, Henry Jameson Davis, introduced him to the Engineer-in-Chief of the British Post Office, William Preece. Through Preece, the 22-year-old Marconi began giving demonstrations of a wireless apparatus. He patented his wireless the following year. In 1898 Marconi founded Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited -- the world's first radio factory, based in Chelmsford, England. Fame was now just around the bend. 

In September 1899, Marconi traveled to America to demonstrate his wireless technology. His assignment: to give up-to-the-minute reports of the America's Cup yacht race, being held off the coast of New York. From the deck of an observation yacht, Marconi used his wireless to report the progress of the race to a wireless operator at the "New York Herald." As each update reached the newsroom, editors' awe intensified. Never in history had an event been tracked in this manner. The next issue of the "Herald" proclaimed: "Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Triumphs." 

For Marconi, fame meant continued experimentation -- and continued success. During the early 1900s, he formed the American Marconi Company, as well as the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Ltd. He also filed patent No. 7777, for Improvements in Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy." These improvements, based on the research of Sir Oliver Lodge, allowed Marconi's wireless stations to transmit over several wavelengths, thus reducing interference. In 1901, Marconi engineered the first transatlantic wireless transmission. In 1909, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his contributions to wireless telegraphy. 

For Marconi, the quest for invention was never-ending. In 1913 he introduced innovations that made radio wave reception and transmission exceedingly efficient. He sent the first radio message from England to Australia in 1918. His experiments with increasingly shorter wavelengths for radio transmission included microwave research that led to the development of radar. Marconi's work transmitting radio signals across the Atlantic to developing short wave theory is what lie at the foundation of today's long-distance radio communication systems. Marconi died in Rome in 1937.

William J. Mooney
By January 22, 1909, wealthy banker W. J. Mooney of Langdon, North Dakota, had traveled around the world three times. That evening, he and his second wife, Oakella, set sail on the White Star liner "Republic" for the beginning of what would have been W.J's fourth trip around the globe. But their voyage ended in disaster when the Italian steamer "Florida" collided with the "Republic." Only two of the "Republic's" passengers wouldn't survive the crash. One of the dead was W.J. Mooney. 

William J. Mooney was a true North Dakota pioneer. Along with business partner Pat McHugh, he founded the town of Langdon in North Dakota's Cavalier County. Mooney became Cavalier County's first lawyer, first banker, and first judge. He owned stock in the Land and Townsite Company, which managed land in the towns of Langdon, Milton, Osnabrock, and Edinburg. W.J. also served as president and principal stockholder in a number of North Dakota banks, including Cavalier County Bank, the W.J. Mooney State Bank, and the First National Bank. He was even the local postmaster. 

W.J.'s wife Elizabeth, the first woman to live in Langdon, arrived in 1885; their house was one of the first to be built in the area. W.J. and Elizabeth had three sons, John, Charles, and Willie. But within a few short years, Mooney lost most of his family. Elizabeth died in 1888. Charles and Willie, still just children, died not long after. 

W.J. married a second time, to Oakella G. Griffith, in 1902. Some seven years later, on January 22, 1909, the Mooneys left New York on board the White Star luxury liner "Republic," bound for the Mediterranean on the first leg of a journey around the world. The Mooneys traveled first class, taking a stateroom on the "Republic's" upper deck. 

At 5:30 the following morning, in dense fog off Nantucket, the "Republic" was struck by the Italian steamer "Florida." The Mooneys' stateroom was located precisely at the point of impact. W.J. Mooney was mortally wounded in the crash; Oakella Mooney survived. W.J.'s body was placed inside a lead casket on board the "Republic", but before the casket could be transferred to a rescue vessel, the "Republic" went down, carrying W.J's body with it. Oakella, who never remarried, died from influenza twenty years later.

Captain Inman Sealby
Captain Inman Sealby tried to go down with his ship, but couldn't. As the surging Atlantic engulfed the sinking luxury liner "Republic," the force of the waters churned Sealby out of the ship and into the open sea, where he was rescued. Minutes before his ship sank, Sealby had declared, "While a stick of my steamer is above water I will be at my post." He had stayed true to his word. 

Inman Sealby, who was forty-six as he stood upon the deck of the sinking "Republic," was born in Maryport, England, in 1862. He came to America with his family at the age of ten, living in Vineland, New Jersey, and working as a farm hand. As a teenager, Sealby became an apprentice on the sailing ships of the White Star Line. He spent the next twenty years at sea, eventually rising to the rank of captain.  

Sealby's first command was in 1896 aboard the "Coptic," which sailed a San Francisco-China route. He then commanded the "Persic" and the "Suevic," England-Australia liners; the "Corinthic," an England-New Zealand liner; and the "Crotic" and the "Canopic," which sailed from Boston to the Mediterranean. Sealby had been the "Republic's" captain for only seven months when it collided with the New York-bound "Florida" on January 23, 1909. 

The "Florida," a cargo ship carrying Italian emigrants, was thirty miles off course and blinded by fog when it rammed into the "Republic." Both ships were damaged, and the "Republic" began to sink. Sealby ordered all passengers transferred onto the "Florida," where they waited until a rescue ship arrived. With the exception of Mrs. Mary Lynch and W.J. Mooney, who both died in the collision, the "Republic's" passengers survived the wreck. While Sealby made headlines and became a hero in the eyes of the public, White Star Lines held a different opinion. Sealby was fired for the loss of the "Republic." 

In the fall of 1909, Sealby began studying maritime law, which he practiced in San Francisco, California, until World War I. He then returned to the sea, serving as a transport captain with the Merchant Marines during the war. He later served as a member of the United States Shipping Board, until his retirement in 1930. Upon retirement, Inman Sealby returned to Vineland, New Jersey, his boyhood home, living there until his death at the age of eighty.


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