U.S. Coast Guard Awards
Silas H. Harding
George W. Randall
Winslow A. Amazeen
Ephraim S. Hall
Selden F. Wells
Awarded 10 January 1889
On the morning of 20 November, the schooner Oliver Dyer went on the rocks near the Jerry's Point (NH) Station (First District). The following account of the disaster is from the report of the investigating officer, Lieutenant Charles F. Shoemaker of the Revenue Marine, assistant inspector, Third Life-Saving District:
"It appears that the schooner Oliver Dyer anchored at 1.30 A. M., of November 25th, just inside the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor and about one-half mile northeast of Jerry’s Point Station. The wind at that hour was northeast, weather cloudy. The vessel was of Saco, Maine, from Weehawken, New Jersey, bound for her home port, coal laden, and with a crew of five men; the wind being ahead, she put in here for a harbor, but, owing to the strong ebb tide and scanty breeze, was unable to reach the upper anchorage."
"The wind began to breeze on at sunrise of the 25th; and at sunset was blowing a howling gale from northeast, with a thick snow-storm, while a tremendous surf had grown upon the shore. Keeper Harding, fearing that the vessels at anchor in sight of his station (of which there were three, including the Dyer) might drag their anchors or part their chains if the gale. continued during the night, at sunset displayed from the staff at his station the international code signal M T (signifying, ‘Lookout will be kept on the beach all night’) to notify those on board the vessels that help would be at hand if required. Throughout the night a vigilant watch was maintained by the keeper and his crew. Before dark, as a precautionary measure, the keeper took a heaving-stick, with a long drift of line attached, to the patrol-box upon the shore and deposited it there to be dry and ready for use. At 5.45 A. M. of the 26th, Surfman Robinson, while on the north patrol, descried a vessel dragging her anchors, fired his Coston signal, and hurrying to the station gave the alarm at 6. Keeper Harding at once called all hands, and then, with Robinson, ran to the shore. Arriving there (about two hundred feet from the station), he discovered that the vessel reported had been brought up by her anchors, just clear of the breakers, about four hundred yards from the station, and two hundred yards off shore, where she was laboring heavily. The first thought, notwithstanding the huge surf, was to launch the boat, it being at hand upon the beach, but as the attempt was about to be made the keeper saw the schooner’s head fall off to the southward and the vessel driving before the gale, indicating that her chains had parted, and with this came the inevitable conclusion that she must strike upon the ragged ledges east of the station, about one hundred and fifty feet off shore, and, therefore, that the only hope of rescuing her people lay in the gun and line. Accordingly the beach-apparatus was hurried to the scene, and meantime the vessel had stranded upon the ledges. As the-gun was about to be charged, a tremendous sea caught the vessel upon her broadside and lifting her bodily threw her thirty or forty feet inshore. When the vessel struck upon the ledges the crew took to the fore and main rigging. As soon as the schooner brought up on the rocks the sea boarded her entire length, fore and aft, forging her shoreward and making clean breaches over her. The first sea washed a man from the main rigging forty feet above the deck. The keeper says: The truth is that when the first seas went over that vessel there was nothing of her in sight but her top masts and lower mast heads, and it is a miracle that every soul was not washed into the sea. ’It was thus seen that the gun and line could not be successfully operated, as the crew on board could not handle lines if thrown to them, so continually were the vessel’s decks swept, and besides the vessel was rapidly coming on and had now worked shoreward to within fifty or seventy-five feet of a huge flat rock, which, although almost constantly swept by heavy breakers, was the only spot from which there was the least hope of rendering aid. Harding took in the situation on the instant, dropped everything else and had recourse to the heaving-stick and line which he had judiciously placed the night before in the patrol-box near by. The rock indicated above, was reached by the life-saving crew between seas, and then a man who had jumped from the wreck was seen struggling in the water. One of the life-saving crew (Surfman Hall, it is believed) jumped to the rescue and was helping him out, when, just as the rest of the crew were getting hold of him, a huge breaker washed the rescuers and the rescued together off the rock. Fortunately they fell upon the inshore side, or all would have been swept out by the undertow and drowned; they, however, clung to the ragged edges of the rock, tearing the, flesh upon their arms until the blood ran, and when the sea receded, they regained their footing. While this was going on the vessel’s cook jumped overboard, and Surfman Randall seeing him in the water jumped to the rescue and caught him as he was being washed out by the undertow the second time, and landed him. Two men now remained on board the wreck. The heaving-stick, with the line attached, was thrown to them, and when they got hold of it, the other end of the line was fastened to the hauling part and, by keeping the bight on shore, the sailors were enabled to haul aboard a double line and provide themselves with a single part each. Keeper Harding then hailed and told them to each make the part he held last around his body, under the armpits, and jump overboard. This they did, and both were landed. Having thus rescued all in sight, the keeper sent Surfmen Randall and Amazeen to the rock to see if they could get sight of the man washed from the rigging. Nothing daunted by previous experience at this dangerous spot, the brave fellows had just succeeded in gaining a footing upon the rock, when a big sea took them off their feet. Amazeen caught hold of Randall, and, as the sea rolled back, they clung to the rock and were saved. Their escape was narrow indeed, and when recovered from their peril by the rest of the crew they were far gone with exhaustion."
Thus have I recounted the details of this disaster, and told of the service rendered by the Jerry’s Point life-saving crew. Within thirty minutes from the stranding the four survivors were safe at the station and eared for. That the fifth man of the Dyer’s crew was lost was owing to no fault of the life-saving crew, but solely due to a power that human endeavor could not stay, nor mortal man combat. It is not often that life saving crews are called upon to perform service under such circumstances as environed this case, but this crew was equal to the emergency, and under the able leadership of Keeper Harding performed prodigies of heroism seldom equaled. Every man in this crew came within an ace of losing his life, from the keeper down; so that while they were doing their utmost to save the crew of the wreck, they were in turn saving the lives of each other. Harding was washed from the rock and saved by Randall; A mazeen and Randall were washed from the ledge and dragged almost lifeless from the seething smother; all hands were tumbled from the rock by merciless breakers and rescued each other. Every time they went to that sea-combed rock upon, their errand of mercy it was a forlorn hope, but they led it and conquered.
It should be stated that the weather was piercing cold and the ground was covered with slush and ice. The man who was lost, Giuseppe Puez, was said to be an Austrian. He fell from the rigging into the sea outside of the schooner when she first struck, and was not seen afterwards. Although the station men diligently searched for the body for several days no trace of it could be found. The four survivors, after being taken to the station. They received shelter and care for two days. The vessel and cargo became a total loss. The surfmen, however, saved the personal effects of the sailors.
On the recommendation of Lieutenant Shoemaker, and after a full review of the testimony, the Secretary of the Treasury awarded a gold medal to Keeper Harding and each of his men, in recognition of their heroism.