The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Roberval’s Crew Are Picked Up
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), 27 Sep 1916

Full Text
Roberval’s Crew Are Picked Up
Seven of the Nine Are Now Accounted For
Float on Improvised Rafts and Picked up at 5 o’clock Yesterday afternoon by the Coast Guard Boat at Big Sandy- Two are Missing Believed Both were Drowning

The death toll of the foundered barge Roberval, wrecked off this port in the heavy gale Monday night, has been reduced to two, possibly one, as hopes are still entertained that the deckhand LeRoy, who was imprisoned in the forward deckhouse, is still alive if the derelict is still afloat. These welcome tidings are received in this city early last night when Captain S. E. Nobles, of the Big Sandy Coast Guard crew, sent word that he had picked up four survivors of the Roberval, afloat on a raft ten miles out in the waters of Mexico Bay, making seven of the nine members of the crew accounted for.

Tales of shipwrecked mariners, unrivalled in fiction, were related by Captain Peter Eligh, First Mate Joseph Parisien, First fireman Marcel Messenau, and the woman cook, Miss Delia Parent, aged thirty, upon arrival in this city at noon today by automobile from the Coast Guard station at Big Sandy, where they had spent the night.

These grizzled sailors, toughened by winds and gales, look as lightly on their experience as if it were nothing. Tossed about on a raft made up of the wreckage, the aged captain and mate, men with nerves of steel and the vigor of youth, supporting a young woman between them, were buffeted and tossed about on the turbulent waters in the darkness of night only to find as daybreak approached that the land they expected was not there. They had been driven out of sight of land by shifting winds. In the distance a mile or more away they spied the first fireman, aboard a raft, paddling toward them. When Messenau joined them, they combined the timbers of the two rafts and strengthened their improvised lifeboat. They were in the waters of Mexico Bay, off the course of vessels and steam craft, the wind driving them lake ward. The sea of the night before had flattened and the wind had shifted to the southwest and they were being floated down the lake, the atmosphere hazy and the four survivors lay stretched out on the raft, each one holding the timbers together. The first mate and the cook each had a life preserver, which they managed to pick up in the wreckage during the night. The surface of the lake was strewn with timber, but the doomed ship was not in sight.

During all of the twenty four hours afloat Captain Eligh was uneasy over the whereabouts of the Chief Engineer and the other two survivors who had left the barge in the lifeboat the night previous. He was certain that they had not reached shore alive.

All day yesterday they scanned the horizon for aid or for the sight of a passing ship and anxiously watched for the life-savers, and as the dusk of evening approached they were fearful of being driven into the lake and their frail craft swept from beneath them.

There was no time and no inclination to sleep. All their energy and thoughts were centered on how best to hold their raft together. The captain cheered all, belittled the situation and the distance to the shore, told them it would only be a few hours when someone would come to their rescue. When Captain Nobles’ lifesavers raced to them in the big power-boat, they were hysterical with joy. They embraced their rescuers and when they learned that three of their shipmates reached the shore in safety their joy knew no bounds.

The rescue took place at three o’clock and two hours later the shipwrecked sailors were landed at the Coast Guard station at Big Sandy.

Physicians were on hand and Miss Parent, the cook, was given medical attention; the others show no effects of exposure or privation. Messages home were promptly sent by phone the skipper and mate each being men of large families.

t is a tender scene in front of Parson’s ship chandlery at noon today when the two groups of survivors met. They embraced each other and in the French tongue expressed their pleasure.

Women First

Captain Peter Eligh , as he stood on the bridge as the barge took its first list shouted to the crew for the observance of the first law of the sea"Women first,"and he sent the wheelsman aft to awake Miss Parent, who had been lying down in her cabin during the afternoon. The sailor brought her safely forward, just as the ship was taking her second list, and four sailors were trying to man the lifeboat on the port side. When the captain saw the seriousness of the situation he shouted to the wheelsman to take her to the lifeboat and at that the ship took a big list to the port side, throwing three of the sailors into the sea, and the Chief Engineer bodily into the lifeboat.

Captain Eligh grabbed Miss Parent, who was hanging on to the rail at the bow and carried her over to the cabin where he told her to hang on to the iron railing running around the cabin structure and at that the stern of the ship sunk and the woman was thrown over the starboard side into the lake the captain grasping several timbers as he slid down the deck. Over the side he leaped landing in the water, within a few feet of where the young woman went down. He grabbed her as she came up, and hauled her to the surface. He ordered her to throw her arms around him and hang on while he gathered some boards to make a liferaft. A few feet away the first mate was struggling to get enough wreckage to make a raft, and above them in the deckhouse of the doomed ship which was looming fare above the water, appeared in the window the blanched face of the young deckhand LeRoy. He tried to holler to them, but the wind and roar of the sea drowned his voice.

The mate swam over to the captain and cook, and while the captain worked the young woman hung on to the tail of his coat. Raft after raft was built only to be scattered by the seas. On the other side of the ship the chief engineer, second engineer and wheelsman and first fireman managed to get the battered lifeboat free of the barge. Three of the men clambered aboard and the fireman said that he would rather take his chances on the wreckage and swam to the lumber.

The second fireman, who had been down in the firehole, managed to reach the deck just as the ship plunged under and he stood on the port side for a minute bewildered, when a pile of sliding timber struck him in the back and head knocking him into the sea and he drowned . His body could be seen about five feet below the surface of the water when the three sailors started on their pull away from the wreck.

Captain Eligh and the mate in the meantime picked up two life preservers and placed one on the cook, the mate donning the other. The shadows of night were falling and they were being drifted apart in the wind and sea. The face in the deckhouse was hardly discernible and the sailors in the lifeboat were disappearing toward the Oswego light. An inky darkness quickly settled over the waters. Again and again the captain and mate attempted to construct a raft by laying tiers of the thirteen foot timbers, but they were demolished by the waves. The wind drove them away from the wreck and the ship gradually disappeared in the gloom of the night. Finally they managed to get a raft that would hold and for hours they lay side by side in the darkness.

A discarded beacon

One of the life preservers was equipped with an automatic light which would illuminate by pulling small rings on the side. The captain endeavored to use it to signal their distress. He tugged and tugged but it would not light. Finally disgusted, he hurled it far out into the waters and to their amazement it lighted up brightly, but to them it was of no avail, at the wind and sea swept them away from their discarded beacon. The light burned brightly on the waves and they watched it for hours as it became fainter and fainter in the distance.

Found Companion also afloat

During the early hours of the morning the sea ran down and to their pleasure and surprise they saw a human form clinging to another raft half a mile away on the waters, and as he paddled closer they saw it was the firemen. He, too, had his difficulties in the night, but young and stalwart he overcame them. He made ten attempts to build a raft, one after the other breaking up. Finally he got on to the water cask and he floated on it during the night, endeavoring to paddle with a board toward the lights of Oswego, which loomed up in the distance, but the sea kept driving him in the course of the survivors on the raft.

When the sea ran down he abandoned the rolling cask and made up a raft of floating timbers and when he joined his shipmate they combined the rafts.

Captain Eligh said that it was only the course of a few minutes when the barge was stuck the fate blow to the time she foundered. With her first list he ordered the crew on deck and they made a vain attempt to cast of part of the deckload, but the heavy seas made the work impossible. Captain Eligh believes that the Oswego Coast Guard crew in their search did not go far enough into Mexico Bay or they would have run upon them early Tuesday morning. He said the life savers would possibly have found them if they went further in the shore waters. At daybreak Tuesday the shore was plainly visible, but with the shifting of the winds they were driven into the lake. The skipper entertains little hope of the Roberval being afloat. The Roberval sank five years ago under twelve feet of water in the Ottawa river and was raised. The wheelsman who was one of the survivors who reached Oswego is the lifeboat has been in three shipwrecks, having been aboard the Roberval when she sank before. The captain, cook and crew are at the Danio.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
27 Sep 1916
Personal Name(s):
Nobles, S. E. ; LeRoy, Theodore ; Eligh, Peter ; Parisien, Joseph ; Messenau, Marcel ; Parent, Delia
Richard Palmer
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.6208384878489 Longitude: -76.60916828125
Creative Commons licence:
by [more details]
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Roberval’s Crew Are Picked Up