An Inhuman Captain: (Sympathy letter to Mrs Balcom from A. D. Whidden follows below this article)


The schooner Dreadnought arrived at this port last evening (29 Aug 1878), at 6 o’clock, having in tow the schooner Volant of Bear River, Nova Scotia, which had been seriously injured in a collision with an unknown vessel. The Volant bore her flag at half mast in consequence of the loss of her captain and steward. We are indebted to the mate, and a passenger for the following particulars.

The Volant: Capt. (Abraham1) Balcom, left this port Thursday afternoon for Annapolis, N.S., with a small cargo of flour. The vessel is 75 tons burden and owned at Bear River. She had a crew consisting of captain, mate, steward and two men, and two passengers: one a young man, a bricklayer, bound for Halifax, and the other an Indian. About 10 P.M., when off Seguin, with lights burning, and a good look out, a large three-masted schooner was seen, bearing down on the Volant a few hundred yards distant. The strange schooner was hailed, and every effort made to avoid a collision, but in vain. The three-master, which was going at the rate of six knots an hour, struck the Volant on the starboard side, a little aft of amidships, a glancing blow, cutting down all the railing, and carrying away the mainmast and rigging. At the same time the jib boom raked the group standing at the wheel of the Volant, consisting of the captain, the Indian, and the steward, who was at the helm, knocking them overboard. The mate crawled forward on his hands and knees to the look-out in the bow, expecting every minute to be struck by the falling spar.

As the vessels collided, the other hand and the bricklayer ran up from below, and the latter threw a line overboard and then jumped into the chains of the strange vessel assisting them to cut away from the wreck. Some of the stranger’s crew lowered a boat and picked up the Indian and took him aboard their vessel, but as soon as the captain had cut his craft free he compelled
the bricklayer and Indian to return to their own vessel, although he did not know the extent of the damage he had done, and then fled away, the only damage his vessel had received being the loss of the jib boom.

The captain and steward were heard but a moment after they were knocked over-board. The captain sang out, “Keep her to,” and the steward, “My God.” The captain was 45 years of age and leaves a wife and two children at Annapolis. He is said to have been a fine man. The steward, George Isles, was a married man also, belonged to Bear River. After cutting away the hamper, the Volant managed to keep off shore until 10 o’clock yesterday morning when the Dreadnaught met her and towed her to Portland. It is thought the name of the three-master was the Lottie M. Kimberly, but no such name is to be found in the Records. It appeared to be an ice schooner bound to Boston.

From the Portland, Me., Advertiser, 7 Sep 1878

1 Update as of Feb 04, 1999. The name of the deceased Captain was Abraham Balcom (1833-1878), son of John Balcom(b?) and Catharine Lowe.  Abraham married Rachel Maria Woodbury (1832-1919), daughter of Elisha Woodbury (1802-1881) and Nancy Clark Harris (1812-1903). The woman who provided the article is his great-great-granddaughter.
Source: Stuart Balcomb

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The following sympathizing letter to Mrs. Balcom was received a few days later:

PORTLAND, Me., Sept. 1, 1878

Dear Mrs. (Rachel1) Balcom,

You no doubt have learned of the sad news ere this of the death of your beloved husband, as I telegraphed my son to advise you and Mr.Hains immediately. Now I shall try to explain the cause as near as I can. I was at the wharf and cast off his line on Thursday evening last about 6 o’clock. He waved goodbye with his hand, in his usual cheerful way, and that evening about 10 o’clock, an unknown vessel, bound to the westward, ran into the Volant, struck her on the starboard side, carrying away her mainmast, sails and rigging attached, swept Capt. Balcom, the Cook, and Indian overboard. The latter was picked up by the boat of the unknown schr. and put on board the Volant. The schr. then left her without making the least enquiry about the state she was in. They did not know her name, where she was bound, or where from. A fishing schr. fell in with her next morning and towed her into Portland, where she now lies. I will take care of your late husband’s private articles, and send them to you.
And now, dear Mrs. Balcom, what shall I say. No words of mine can be of any comfort to you in this, your great time of need. How frail are all earthly helps in these dark hours. But there is an unseen power which the spiritual eye can behold, and we are invited, and He has promised that “if we will come to Him, He will in no wise cast us out.” God grant that you may have strength given you from above to meet this great trial, and may you and your family be blessed by Him who has promised to be a Father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow.

I may say a great deal to you about the many pleasant hours I have spent with your departed husband. Our business intercourse has been very pleasant and satisfactory to me. His kind and genial nature to others made him many friends. I never knew him so lively and well as he was this time. He seemed to have so much hope in the future, but (alas) how short-sighted we all are.

How true it is, we know not what a day or even an hour may bring forth. It was only about four hours from the time I let go his lines until they were run into and he was no more. We all feel very sad over this dreadful affair, and can sympathise with you

Your affectionate friend,
A. D. Whidden