Sea Stories in Stone
Elijah Batchelder (1829-1861) and Rhoda D. Batchelder (1834-1861)
Pine Grove, Brunswick
Lost in the Irish Channel
The son of a Phippsburg sea captain, Elijah Batchelder registered at the Bath Customs House as an "American Seaman" Sept. 1, 1843. He was 14 years old, 4'11 3/4" tall, of fair complexion with dark hair and black eyes. Two years later, 16 year old Elijah had grown to 5' 5 3/4" tall when he applied for a Certificate of Protection, October 25th, 1845.
A sad ship, the 407 ton bark Tonquin, built in Bowdoinham 1852. Tragically, her entire crew died of yellow fever while anchored off Havana in the winter of 1857-1858. Then in 1861 Capt. Elijah Batchelder and his wife, Rhoda (the daughter of a Brunswick teacher), along with 11 crew members were lost when the bark sank in the Irish Channel.
It was the 8th of February, 1861, the Tonquin sailed from Lamlash Bay (Scotland) with a load of iron ore bound for Brazil. That evening, about 25 miles off the coast of Ireland, the cargo began to shift.
... and the barque was laid to, having sprung a leak...During the night the leak increased, the foretopsail and foretopmast staysails were blown away, and the foresail was burst. At 4 P.M. Saturday, Wicklow light was in sight, and the ship was one-third full of water. At 12 the captain ordered the boats out. Only one was launched, and the captain failed to get his wife into it. There were three sailors in it, and the ship rolled over and sunk the boat. The captain's wife and 11 hands were lost, but Henry Smith and Frederick Peterson drifted ashore, on the top of the round house, at Arklow on the coast of Ireland, on Monday, the 11th of February.
-Boston Courier, as reprinted in the Brunswick Telegraph, March 15, 1861
The Sailorís Grave
NOT in the churchyard shall he sleep,
Amid the silent gloom;
His home was on the mighty deep,
And there shall be his tomb.
He loved his own bright, deep-blue sea;
Oíer it he loved to roam;
An now his winding sheet shall be
That same bright oceanís foam.
No village bell shall toll for him
Its mournful, solemn dirge
The winds shall chant a requiem
To him beneath the surge.
For him break not the grassy turf,
Nor turn the dewy sod;
His dust shall rest beneath the surf,
His spirit is with God.
The Psalmody: A Collection of Hymns for Public and Social Worship. Freewill Baptist General Conference, 1853.
That March, Rhoda's obituary reported that the funeral services had taken place at Topsham's Free Will Baptist Church. "The exercises commenced with singing the 943d Number of the Hymn Book in use, and one of the most appropriate selections that could have been made." Her obituary notice, penned by "one who knew and appreciated well the character of the deceased" began
Wrecked on the coast of Ireland, February 9th, 1861, Mrs. R.B. Batchelder, aged 26 years, wife of Capt. E. Batchelder, Captain of the wrecked ship, who sank with her to her watery grave...Mrs. Batchelder left her happy home in Brunswick, September, 1860, and now appears to return no more. Amid the desolations of earth, it seems sometimes as as if an angel were let down to us, to show us what heaven is, to win our hearts to its purtiy and love...[sweet adorations of the deceased continue for several paragraphs] Clasped in each others' arms, is the last scene of their earthly life, presented to the view of their friends....
Brunswick Telegraph, March 22, 1861
Three years later, Rhoda's brother, Capt. Gilman Dresser also would be lost at sea in February 1864. One day his story may be found, but is yet unknown.
Sources: MMM Captains Index; US Census; Brunswick Telegraph, Baker
NEXT: Gardner Gray (1823-1861)
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