Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2009

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Incident At "Whale's Back" Lighthouse

By Jim Claflin


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We recently picked up a number of early newspapers and in

one was a most interesting article describing a near disaster at Whaleback Lighthouse.

Jeremy D’Entremont notes on his web site that “…Whaleback Lighthouse marks the approach to the harbor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The first Whaleback (also called “Whales Back”) Lighthouse was built in 1829-30. Following storms in 1869 which caused cracks in the foundation, a new lighthouse tower was erected in 1872 The 50-foot tower, which remains to this day, was constructed of granite blocks dovetailed together in similar fashion to Minot’s Ledge Light in Massachusetts and the Eddystone Light in England. In 1878, a new cast-iron tower was built just to the north of the 1872 lighthouse to serve as a fog signal house. The tower, about half as tall as the lighthouse, was surmounted by a long iron tube and a third-class fog trumpet.”

On November 15, 1849, the Christian Mirror Newspaper in Portland, Maine, published a fairly lengthy article describing a life-threatening incident and the resulting rescue involving the recently assigned keeper of the lighthouse — Keeper Captain Jedediah Rand, and his daughter, 13 year old Elizabeth Jane. I thought that you would enjoy reading the account as I did:

Incident at Whale’s Back Light House

“Near the entrance of Portsmouth harbor, about a mile and a half south-east of Fort Constitution, this light house rises amid the waves, showing nothing of the rocky basis upon which it is reared, except at low water. Being open to the ocean, the storms beat heavily against it, at times throwing the spray over the lantern, and sweeping the sheathing from its side. In one of these storms, even the stout heart of Joseph L. Locke, a former keeper, quailed, as he told us afterwards, when he heard the waves dashing furiously around his isolated tenement, the mad ocean forbidding his departure and threatening every moment to engulph the whole concern. The Light house, however, is never without its tenant, or without numerous applicants when a vacancy is expected.

A few months since Capt. Jedediah Rand, of Rye, was appointed keeper. It not being a desirable place for a family, he has usually kept one of his children with him, making a change every few weeks, each desirous for an opportunity to visit the romantic resort. Early in September came the turn of his only daughter, Elizabeth Jane, a young lady who had been three years in her teens.

After spending three weeks with her father, on the 25th of September they prepared to go to the main land. The boat was lowered in which they proposed to go to Newcastle, and the daughter seated awaiting her father, when a high sea upset the boat, and she was thrown into the ocean, Her father sprang in, swam to his daughter, caught her, got on the bottom of the boat, and drew her up by his side. In a few moments, another sea turned the boat over right side up, and threw them again into the ocean. The daughter sank —her anxious father caught her as she came up, swam with her to the boat, got in himself, and while endeavoring to get her in, another sea again turned the boat bottom up-leaving them in the ocean, Again the young lady sank, and when her father reached her as she came up, was so exhausted that she could make no further effort to sustain herself. Once more on the bottom of the boat her father held her by the right arm and kept her head above water, but was unable to prevent the surf beating continually over her. Here hope of rescue departed from her, and she looked upon death as inevitable. “Father, do I not love you,” said she at this moment; and “I want to go to heaven” — were her last expressions before she became insensible. The cry for help was heard on board a schooner which was going at that critical hour out of the harbor. A boat was instantly despatched from the schooner by Capt. Frisbee, and in a short time the father and daughter were relieved from their perilous position, taken into the boat, and brought to Newcastle. The father sitting on the side of the boat laid his apparently lifeless child across his knees, with her face down, and as the boat proceeded she vomited and revived so as to speak before reaching the land. And notwithstanding the perils she had undergone, her attachment to her father led her to choose to return with him to his post of duty that afternoon, rather than remain with strangers separated from him.

Capt. Rand expresses great gratitude to Capt. Frisbee, of Kittery, and his men, for their prompt and efficient aid, in that hour of peril.

There is much need of a breakwater at this lighthouse, as it is very difficult to land or depart when the sea runs high.”

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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling (508) 792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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