The sinking of the Bouquet

On April 12th, 1906 the Bee Line Transportation Company’s 123 foot long steam tug Hokendauqua left Hoboken New Jersey with five barges in tow.  The five barges, also operated by the Bee Line Transportation Company, were loaded with coal and destined for delivery to coal dealers in Providence, Rhode Island.  The last in the tow, laden with 590 tons of nut coal consigned to John R. White & Sons, was the compartment barge Bouquet.

The tug and tows had an uneventful passage along the East River and nearly all of Long Island Sound, however, as the tug and tow approached Block Island Sound a strong southeasterly was blowing and made for a nasty sea.  At 11 o’clock on Saturday night, while in the West Race, the Bouquet signaled that she had sprung a leak and needed assistance. The Hokendauqua, acknowledged her signal, but kept on her course.  The master of the Hokendauqua, Captain George Robinson, concerned for his other four charges later said that he “could not abandon the rest of the tow out there with a lee shore and the sea as rough as it was.”  Five hours later off  Quonochontaug Rhode Island the Bouquet would signal again, however, this time she signaled they were about to abandon ship.

All had gone well for the Bouquet and her captain, George Gardiner of Providence, as they made their way down Long Island Sound at the bitter end of a half mile long tow.  However, on Saturday night at about seven o’clock, when abreast of the Bartlett Reef Lightship, Captain Gardiner, sounding the well pump, discovered the rod showed a great deal more water then was normal. Captain Gardiner and his crewman, Patrick Maguire also of Providence, took to the pumps.  This however, proved futile as the pump could not keep up with the making water.  It was soon apparent that they would need assistance or they would certainly founder.

Captain Gardiner tried to communicate the Bouquet’s dire trouble to the Hokendauqua and the other four barges by waving lighted lanterns.  When this effort failed to elicit a response, flares were made by pouring oil on rags wrapped around sticks and waving them from atop the deck house which was located approximately amidships. Eventually, when almost all hope had left the crew of the foundering vessel, a few barges ahead on the tow signaled with red lanterns their acknowledgement of the Bouquet’s trouble.  The Hokendauqua also signaled her awareness of the situation with a few short blasts of her steam whistle, but to the dismay of the Bouquet’s crew there was no indication a rescue would be attempted.  The Hokendauqua kept to her course, the speed of the tow never decreased, and it looked as if the Bouquet and her crew would be left to their own devices.

By this time the drag put on the Bouquet’s towing hawser by the water logged barge was tremendous, and around 11:30 p.m., the hawser finally parted.  As the lights from the Hokendauqua and four barges disappeared into the east, a feeling of despair came about Captain Gardiner and Patrick Maguire.

The Bouquet was wallowing in the heavy sea and the men expected her to sink from under them at any moment. Managing to lower their nineteen foot dory from the top of the deck house and into the water off the stern of the barge, the men waited for the barge to sink or daylight to come and allow them to get their bearings.  Daylight came first and seeing the shore four miles off to the north they took to the dory as the nose of the Bouquet dipped and slid away below the surface.  It was a long pull in icy rough seas as they made their way toward Quonochontaug Beach.  Fortunately they were able to find a favorable location on the beach and made a safe landing in the surf, but the ordeal wasn’t over.  After making the perilous landing they then had to trudge two and a half miles down the cold wind swept beach where they eventually found the Quonochontaug Life Saving Station.  They could finally rest while being warmed, fed, and cared for by the life saving stations crew.

While the crew of the Bouquet was working to save their own lives the Hokendauqua and her remaining four tows made their way around Point Judith and into the safety of Newport Harbor.  As the Hokendauqua pulled into Newport the captain of the Bee Line barge Banjo, William H. Gardiner, father of the Bouquet’s captain, noticed that the Bouquet was missing from the line.  Knowing the perils of the towing trade he feared that his son had been lost and rowed over to the Hokendauqua for news.  At the time, Captain Robinson was having a bad time of it with the other barge captains who accused him of abandoning their friends to a terrible fate.

Upon learning that the tug could not provide any news of the Bouquets ultimate fate, Captain W. Gardiner wasted no time in making his way home to his family in Providence before the news reached them.  Upon arriving in Providence, and before proceeding home, he inquired if any news had arrived about the wreck.  Captain Gardiner then learned that his son and Patrick Maguire were safe and sound at the life saving station.  Elated at the news he then hurried home to his wife and daughter to bring them the news of the wreck and its fortunate end.

The Bouquet was 306 gross tons, 127 feet long, 29 foot in breadth, 11.3 foot in depth, with a stem bow, round stern, a crew of two, and constructed of wood.  She had three cargo bins with a forward bin capacity of 201 tons, middle bin capacity of 280 tons, and after bin capacity of 162 tons for a total capacity of 643 tons.  The Bouquet was built in Perth Amboy New Jersey, also her homeport, for the Lehigh Valley Transportation Company in the year 1881.

Mark Munro, 2007