With all of the difficulties in researching in Ireland, I have been pretty lucky, however there are things I need to figure out to make the story of Bartholomew Oliver come full circle. After I had worked with Marie in the tax valuations at NEHGS and I had left, she searched Bartholomew Oliver of Galway and found some rather fantastic results. He was interviewed in the British Parliamentary papers. The nature of this interview is that Parliament was dealing a lot with commercial shipping and were determining whether the port of Galway was suitable for commercial trade in terms of the hazards of the sea and overall port conditions. Many mariners were interviewed, being asked how they would navigate the waters and under what conditions, based off their past experiences sailing these areas.  Bartholomew Oliver had been a master mariner and pilot in Galway for 16 years at the time. [1] His answers to the questions are detailed, suggesting he is knowledgable of these waters. Oliver appeared in the Parliamentary papers again, on trial, at a court in Quebec, for violating recent immigration laws. When he arrived in Quebec, as captain of the St. John, a 200 ton brig, he had too many passengers on board his ship, some unregistered, and when the ship arrived many people were sick, he did not have a licensed medical practitioner on board. At his hearing, he was acquitted, for the court believed his claim that he was unaware of the laws since they were recently passed. [2]

This prompted me to research St. John and found some rather interesting stuff. The St. John sailed out of Galway on 7 September 1849, heading for boston with over 100 passengers. The voyage had been quite pleasant and the night before there arrival, they were in celebratory and with good reason for the passengers, as they had left behind the Irish Famine and a life full of starvation, disease, and death. On an early sunday morning, the ship was in the Cape Cod Bay, where the ship was caught in a fierce storm, driven into Cohasset Bay. By the time they arrived, the relatively small ship’s sails were in shreds and Captain Oliver had little control. Captain Oliver tried to “wear away” up to another brig and dropped both anchors. But the brig was dragged regardless, it was driven into the rocks on Grampus ledge by fierce waves and winds, blowing holes in the hull and drowning all those under the deck.


Captain Oliver, his first mate Henry Comerford, and other crew got onto the jolly boat, but was soon swamped since 25 more passengers tried to get on. People perished just trying to abandon ship.  Oliver, seven crew members, and only one passenger managed to reach the long boat to shore. Over 100 Irish Immigrants and Passengers died in this tragedy.

The news was heard all around Massachusetts, citizens from Boston came down just to be in shock of all the dead, mutilated bodies on the rocks. Even Henry David Thoreau, who was in Boston, made his way down to Cohasset, only to meet this,

” several hay-riggings and farm-wagons each loaded with three large, rough deal boxes. We do not need to ask what was in them. The owners of the wagons were made the undertakers. Many horses in carriages were fastened to the fences near the shore, and for a mile or more, up and down, the beach was covered with people looking out for bodies, and examining the fragments of the wreck. It was now tuesday morning and the sea was still breaking violently on the rocks. There were eighteen or twenty of the same large boxes I have mentioned lying on a green hillside and surrounded by a crowd. The bodies which had been recovered, twenty seven or eight in all, had been collected there.”




You can’t help but consider the merits and character of Captain Oliver, what kind of captain abandons there ship? In my opinion, he seems a little crooked.

[1] House of Commons, The Sessional Papers Printed by Order of the House of Lords, or Presented by Royal Command, in the Session 1852-3 Arranged, Vol. LXVII. (1853), 32: digitized by Google Books.

[2] House of Commons, Parliamentary Papers, 1850-1908,Volume 13, (H.M. Stationary Office, 1854), 42.




Copyright (c) 2015 by Jake Fletcher