WAVE Good-Bye

03 May

Collision on the River. -– Saturday night, in rounding one of the bends on the Cape Fear, the steamers Murchison and Wave came into collision, but without material damage to either. On arrival at Wilmington the colored stewardess, Lottie Hollingsworth, was found dead in the cabin, but whether from heart disease with which she was afflicted, or in consequence of the collision, is not yet known here.

[Fayetteville Observer – Wednesday, January 23, 1884.]

THE STEAMER WAVE.—In common with their numerous other friends, we regret to hear of Capt. W. A. Robeson’s and his brother’s loss by the sinking of their steamer near Wilmington last week. But we were glad to hear that it is thought the larger part of the cargo is saved, and that the boat can be raised without great expense. The reported drowning of the colored cook, Ned Beebe, is a sad feature of the accident.

From the Wilmington Review of Monday evening we learn later particulars of the disaster, as follows:

The steamer Wave, Capt. Robinson, capsized in the Cape Fear at Wanet’s Landing, at 5 o’clock yesterday morning, while on her way from Fayetteville to this city, and three of those on board were drowned. The circumstances were as follows:

In coming round a curve in the river, near that place, the speed of the boat caused her to careen so that her outside guard was under the water. This caused the cargo, which consisted of between 400 and 500 barrels of rosin and spirits of turpentine, to ship to that side, the weight of which capsized the boat. Those drowned were Empie Hill, a passenger, Lucy Brewington, colored, a passenger, and Ned Beebe, colored, cook. The accident happened at an hour when all the passengers and those of the crew not employed were asleep in their berths, and all those came very near being lost. The other passengers were Messrs. Edward Lilly and E. D. Burkhimer of this city, Mr. Buchanan, of Charleston, S. C. and Miss Shepherd, aged about 14 years. Mr. Lilly was badly bruised and was saved with considerable difficulty. Messrs. Buchanan and Burkhimer came very near drowning and were saved only by super-human efforts. Miss Shepherd was in eminent peril, but she maintained the most perfect composure and coolness throughout the trying ordeal through which she was compelled to pass with an almost inevitable death staring her in the face. The door of her stateroom was locked and it was some time, and not until the water had reached above her waist, before she was rescued by the determined efforts of Capt. Robeson. After the accident Capt. Robeson started and walked to this city, reaching here at about 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and gave the first intelligence of the disaster. The steamtug Wm. Nyce was immediately sent to the scene and returned about 10 o’clock that night with the passengers. The dredging boat was sent up this morning to render such assistance in raising the Wave and securing the cargo as may be necessary.

[Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, June 5, 1884.]


— The body of Mr. Empie Hill, one of the victims of the Wave disaster, was found Wednesday night just below Turkey Point, and that of Ned Bebee has also been recovered, having been found about half a mile from Wanut Landing.

The steamer is now afloat and it is expected to get her entirely clear by this evening.  Her wheel is now about a foot out of water.

[Wilmington Star – June 7, 1884]



The Steamer Wave Upsets on the River and Three Persons are Drowned—Narrow Escape of Others—The Steamer Nyce Goes to the Rescue—The Survivors Brought to this City.

On Sunday our community was startled by the announcement of the intelligence that the steamer Wave, of the Express Steamboat Company’s line, had met with a terrible disaster and that three persons were drowned; which number, by common report, was afterwards erroneously augmented to four.  The news of the accident was brought by Capt. Robeson, Mr. Nick Carr and Mr. Bryant Watson, who left the steamer at the point where she went down.  The steamer Wm. Nyce got up steam and started about 5 o’clock for the scene of the disaster, arriving there the same evening about 8 o’clock, when the survivors were taken on board, with the exception of Capt. Jeff. Robeson and two deck hands, and brought them to this city.  We first interviewed Mr. Carr, and subsequently talked with Mr. H. D. Burkhimer, form whom we obtained the following particulars.

The steamer was rounding a sharp curve or point in the river, about twenty-two miles above this city, at or near John Wanut’s Landing, about half past 5 o’clock on Sunday morning, just as the sun had commenced rising, when she keeled over too far on one side, and the water began to pour in over her guards, when the freight, consisting of barrels of naval stores, boxes, crates, etc., was shifted from the starboard to the port side, which had the effect to turn her over.  She rested on one side, with the upper part about two feet above the water, and the lower part apparently on the bottom, for a few minutes, when, being relieved of the greater part of the cargo, she gradually uprighted and settled down in about twenty feet of water, having one hundred casks of spirits of turpentine in her hold.  In the meantime the stancheons had broken loose between the cabin and the main deck, and the former, with hurricane deck and pilot house attached, left the hull and settled down on the boiler and part of cargo of rosin at the side of the boat, a portion of the hurricane deck being out of the water.  The passengers were mostly in their berths when the alarm was given.  They consisted of Messrs. E. Lilly, N. Carr and H. D. Burkhimer and Miss Katie Shepherd, of this city.  Mr. J. A. Buchanan, of South Carolina, Mr. Empie Hill, of Bladen, Mr. Bryant Watson, of Fayetteville, and Lucy Brewington, colored, of Fayetteville.  The passengers got out as best they could, Mr. Lilly and Mr. Burkhimer both having some difficulty in getting their doors open.  Mr. Burkhimer also got his hands badly cut in trying to escape by a window and when he finally succeeded in getting out by the door the water was up to his waist.  Miss Shepherd was rescued from her berth by Capt. Jeff. Robeson and placed in a position of safety on the hurricane deck.  Mr. Burkhimer, upon reaching the deck, thinking the boat was about to go to pieces, jumped overboard, and himself, Mr. Buchanan and the colored steward were carried away from the boat about one hundred yards and landed among a parcel of rubbish, where they remained until Capt. Robeson sent a boat and took them off and put them ashore; Mr. Burkhimer sustaining himself with a spirits cask under one arm and a plank under the other and Mr. Buchanan clinging to a piece of the engine house.  Mr. Burkhimer says that Mr. Hill was some distance lower down the river and he heard his call three times for help after which he threw up his hands and sank.  The fireman, when he awoke, was completely submerged by the water.  Mr. Lilly, who had jumped overboard in the first excitement and confusion, was assisted upon the hurricane deck by Capt. Robeson and others.  As soon as possible the survivors were all landed on the shore and repaired to the residence of Mr. John Wanut, by whom they were very kindly treated.  It was ascertained that Mr. Empie Hill, aged about 25 years, a nephew of the late Adam Empie, of this city; Ned. Beebe, the colored cook, aged about 50, and Lucy Brewington, colored, of Fayetteville, aged about 30, were drowned.  It is a wonder, considering the number and quantity of barrels, boxes, rubbish, etc., that was drifting about, and among which many of the men were at one time struggling, that more lives were not lost.  There was very little excitement among the crew and passengers, and the coolness displayed by all, and especially by Capt. Jeff. Robeson, was one reason why so many were saved.

Among the few articles saved from the wreck were two boxes of eggs, and these served to help out in furnishing the large number with dinner and supper.

In the meantime Capt. Robeson, Mr. Carr and Mr. Bryant Watson had started for the railroad station at Northwest, a distance of about five or six miles, hoping to meet the train on the Carolina Central road, but reached there about ten minutes too late.  They then started to walk to Wilmington and reached there about 12 o’clock, when they dispatched the steamer Nyce to the assistance of their shipwrecked friends and comrades, and she returned about 10 o’clock Sunday night with all of the passengers and crew except those named as staying by the wreck.  Yesterday the dredging boat was sent up to see what help could be rendered.  At last accounts the cargo of naval stores, or a portion of it, was drifting off.

Mr. Lilly, who was quite badly bruised, lost his valise, pocket book containing about $50 and a gold watch chain.  Miss Shepherd’s trunk drifted off, but was picked up by persons on a raft and was taken off by the steamer Nyce as she came up Sunday evening.  Mr. Burkhimer was considerably bruised and cut by glass, and got a sprained ankle.

This is the first accident of a serious nature that has happened on our river for a long time.

The following is a list of the officers and crew of the Wave:  Capt. W. A. Robeson, master; Capt. Jeff Robeson, engineer; Dallis Austin, assistant engineer; Ned Beebe, cook; Sam Williams, steward; Horace Williams, fireman; Sam Dunn, Charles McIntire, John Smith and two others, deck hands; Archie White, 1st pilot; Wm. Roberts, 2nd pilot.

Archie White, colored, one of the pilots, was active in picking up those in the water and displayed much zeal and courage.

[The Wilmington Weekly Star – June 7, 1884]


— The body of Mr. Empie Hill, one of the victims of the Wave disaster, was found Wednesday night just below Turkey Point, and that of Ned Bebee has also been recovered, having been found about half a mile from Wanut Landing.

The steamer is now afloat and it is expected to get her entirely clear by this evening.  Her wheel is now about a foot out of water.

[The Wilmington Star – June 7, 1884]

Steamer Wave at Wilmington.

The Steamer Wave which met with such a severe accident two weeks ago on her down trip from this point to Wilmington, has been raised, and towed into the latter place where she will be pumped out and the necessary repairs added.  The Wave is one of the smartest little boats that ever plied the upper Cape Fear.  Her speed was never surpassed.  Her owners deserve great credit for the enterprise, they have displayed in raising and getting her to Wilmington.  The dispatch with which this result was accomplished was truly wonderful.  We shall soon expect to hear her whistle at this wharf.

[The Sun – Fayetteville, N.C. – Tuesday, June 17, 1884]

— Capt. Jeff Robinson and his carpenters came down on the steamer D. Murchison, yesterday, for the purpose of making necessary repairs upon the steamer Wave, which will be hauled up on Capt. Skinner’s marine railway to-day.

[Wilmington Star – June 19, 1884]

The pilot boat GRACIE and the schooner MARY WHEELER are on the ways at Capt. Skinner’s shipyard, for overhauling, and painting.  Repairs to the hull of the steamer WAVE have been finished and she is now afloat, with carpenters busily engaged putting on the upper deck.  The WAVE, by the way, was the first vessel taken out of the water on the marine railway after the completion of the work of reconstruction that had been in progress at the yard for about three months.  During that time the railway was rebuilt from its foundation throughout, with new irons and cradles, and is now complete and substantial in every particular.  A new house has been built over the engines and boilers, and other improvements have been made.  We noticed a large lighter being built at the yard for the steamer BLADEN.

[Wilmington Weekly Star – August 1, 1884]


— The river is very low and the water is still falling. So steamboatmen report.

— The steamer Wave, which met with a serious disaster up the river some months ago, which necessitated extensive repairs, has now commenced her regular trips again having arrived here from Fayetteville yesterday morning, and left on the return trip at 3 p. m. The Wave has been remodeled in a measure, being lighter and more roomy than before. The gentlemen’s cabin and dining room have been completed and workmen are now engaged in putting up the ladies’ cabin.

She draws less water than before the accident and is believed to be a stronger and better boat in every way. The engine room is open, in accordance with the custom of steamers on many other rivers, instead of being inclosed as heretofore, and will remain so all summer, or as long as the weather will permit. The boat is being thoroughly repainted and will present a handsome appearance when completed. She is commanded by Capt. Jeff Robeson.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Friday, August 29, 1884.]


— The main shaft attached to the wheel of the steamer D. Murchison has been out of order for some time past, and a new one has been ordered to replace it and will probably arrive in a few days, when she will be laid up for a short time and the Wave will run her schedule.

— On one occasion during the trip of the steamer Wave between this city and Fayetteville – the first since the late disaster – she made 14 miles in one hour and seven seconds. Her machinery is in perfect order, she runs smoothly, draws less water and makes better time than before the accident.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Tuesday, September 2, 1884.]


— The steamers Wave and D. Murchison arrived from Fayetteville yesterday. The latter was due on Saturday, but did not reach here until yesterday afternoon about 5 o’clock. It seems that she and the Wave got stuck on the shoals near Elizabethtown, and stayed on them about ten hours, finally getting off some time during Sunday, and then the Murchison had a good deal of trouble before she finally got over all the shoals. The steamer Murchison will not return to Fayetteville at present, but will go on the marine railway for a general overhauling and repairs, repainting, &c.; and in the meantime the Wave will run her schedule.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Tuesday, September 9, 1884.]

— Intelligence was received here yesterday to the effect that the steamer Wave had sunk near Whitehall, on her way down to this city.  It is supposed that in consequence of the low stage of the water in the river she had run on a snag, which caused the accident.

[The Wilmington Star – December 2, 1884]


— Capt. S. W. Skinner went up the river yesterday on the steamer Excelsior, with two steam pumps and a gang of hands for the purpose of raising and floating the steamer Wave, sunk at Whitehall.  From Capt. Jeff Robinson, who came down for assistance, we learn that the Wave lies close in shore, with the freight deck out of water.

[The Wilmington Star – December 4, 1884]

— The steamer Wave arrived here early yesterday morning, and was hauled up on Capt. Skinner’s marine railway for repairs to her hull, etc.

[The Wilmington Star – December 7, 1884]

Steamer Wave Explodes Her Boiler and Sinks.

Yesterday afternoon shortly after 3 o’clock, a heavy explosion shook the offices and other buildings about the wharfs and created widespread alarm for a few moments, as no one knew what to make of it. Some thought the deadly dynamite had begun its work in their midst. There were some, however, who were witnesses to the sad cause of the terrible concussion, and soon it was known that the steamer Wave, on the line between this city and Fayetteville, had exploded her boiler and almost immediately sunk. She was lying at the time of the accident near Mr. A. A. Willard’s wharf, on the west side of the river, nearly opposite Messrs. Worth & Worth’s wharf, and soon tugs, yawls and other small craft were taking excited crowds to the scene of the disaster. Crowds also lined the wharves and eagerly awaited tidings from the wreck, and as one and another of the boats would return to this side of the river the persons on board would be quickly interviewed.

First along it was reported that all hands on board had gone down with the boat, but later information places the loss of life at only three. They were Neill Jessup, a stevedore; Jim Stedman, an employee; and Kitty Harvey, the cook—all colored. The injured were Perry Cotton, pilot, and Dave McPherson, a deck hand—both colored. They were both badly scalded; both of them were taken to the Marine Hospital. All the killed and wounded were residents of Fayetteville, except Cotton, who is said to live here at present.

Mr. J. D. L. Smith, engineer of the boat, says he had just come from the boiler, and was sitting in the engine room when the explosion occurred. He says there was plenty of water in the boiler and not too much steam, the pressure being only eighty pounds. He saw the three persons drown whose names are given. A boy named Turner had one of his ears blown off, and received several gashes about the head. The flue of the boiler was found after the accident on top of a warehouse several hundred feet distant.

The boat was taking on fertilizers and there were about four hundred and fifty bags on board, which all went down with the wreck. The bags had been wheeled across a flat to the boat, and at the time of the accident the flat was being loaded.

Mr. J. G Wright, shipping clerk for Messrs. G. W. Williams & Co., was on the boat, and he and the engineer sprang on the flat. Mr. Wright was slightly hurt. Mr. Smith had to feel his way out of the room, which was quickly filled with a dense smoke.

Part of the boiler in its upward flight struck the top mast of the schooner Nellie Potter, lying close to the boat, and broke it off. The smoke stack was blown to atoms. The furniture went down with the boat, but a good deal of it was subsequently fished out. The boat went down in almost one minute after the explosion. Several persons jumped into the river besides those that were drowned.

Mr. L. B. Love, assistant engineer, got jammed between the cabin of the boat and a schooner and made a narrow escape from being carried down with the wreck. One of his hands was pretty badly bruised.

At the time of the accident Capt. Jeff Robeson was on this side of the river, attending to some business.

The boat is a complete wreck, the hull, it is thought, being broken in twain. She was owned principally by Capts. W. A. and J. D. Robeson, but Smith, the engineer also owned an interest in her. She was valued at from $8,000 to $10,000, and was insured for $5,000. Much sympathy is felt among the many friends of the owners on account of their loss, and much regret is felt at the loss of life.

Mr. Robert Sweet, of Mr. Willard’s establishment, was on the boat at the time and was blown into the water, from which he was rescued, as he could not swim.

The schooners Nellie Potter and Alice Hearn were in the immediate vicinity of the boat and Capt. Pennswell, of the former, says he was badly shaken up. He rushed from the cabin as soon as he thought safety would admit of it and saw the three persons  drown—Wilmington Star.

[The Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, March 12, 1885.]

The Wreck of the Wave.

There were no new developments yesterday in regard to the ill-fated steamer Wave, which was wrecked by a boiler explosion on Thursday afternoon.  None of the bodies had been recovered up to yesterday evening, and as the boat had on no freight except guano at the time of the accident, the wreck has been disturbed by no efforts to save cargo.  The two men at the Marine Hospital—Perry Cotton, the pilot, and Dave McPherson, deck hand—were reported as doing as well as could be expected.  It is now quite certain that only the three persons named in yesterday’s report perished by the accident.

[Wilmington Weekly Star – March 3, 1885]

Not Recovered.

Nothing thus far has been seen or heard of the bodies of the three unfortunate colored people who lost their lives by the explosion on the steamer Wave, which took place on Thursday, the 5th inst., if we may except a rumor to the effect that some fishermen had found some mangled portions of the remains of a man some miles below the city, and that there were some marks by which they were known to be those of Neill Jessup.  This rumor, which was being circulated some two or three days ago, could not be traced to a responsible source.  It has been ascertained to a certainty that the three persons mentioned were the only ones that lost their lives.  No attempt to raise the wreck has yet been made.

[Wilmington Weekly Star – March 20, 1885]

New Steamboat.

The attention of our readers is directed to an “ad” in this issue of the new Steamboat Excelsior, which will run in the place of the ill-fated Wave.  May better success attend it than its predecessor.  Mr. James DeL. Smith is an experienced boatman, and we sincerely hope that success may attend the Excelsior.

[The Sun – Fayetteville, N.C. – March 25, 1885]



The Steamer Excelsior


Leave Fayetteville on Wednesday and Saturdays.  The customers of the Wave and all who have freight is solicited.  Cheap rate from Wilmington to Bennettsville.

For freight and passage apply to

J. DeL. Smith.

P. O. Box 44, Fayetteville, N. C.

[Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, March 26, 1885]

The Excelsior Burned.

The steamer Excelsior, which has for a week or two past been on the dry dock in Wilmington undergoing repairs, on last Wednesday the 22nd, the boat was relaunched and at about 1 p.m. commenced her journey to Fayetteville.  She proceeded only a short distance on her journey, and had arrived opposite Point Peter when the dreadful cry of fire!  fire!! Rang out from every side and the flames were rushing through the hatch.  The vessel having been on the dry hock was almost like tinder, all efforts to stay the wild career of the fire proved futile.  The Murchison and the tug Alpha came to her assistance and rescued the crew, but were unable to save the boat from the devouring elements.

The crew were able to save only a small portion of their own baggage.  In one hour from the time the cry of fire rang out, the vessel had sank.  No lives were lost and no one suffered any serious hurt.  The Excelsior was building up quite a handsome trade and its prospects were bright.  Its owner, officers and crew have our sympathy in this hour of disaster.  The damage to the boat was estimated at $2,500, to the cargo at $200.

[The Sun – Fayetteville, N.C. – April 29, 1885]

NOTES:  The fate of the schooners Nellie Potter and Alice Hearn, which were “nearby” at the time of the Wave’s sinking:


FORTRESS MONROE, June 17. — The schooner William Hines, from the West Indies, for Baltimore, rescued the Captain, his wife, and the crew of the schooner Alice Hearn, from King’s Ferry, for Philadelphia.  The Alice Hearn had foundered at sea.  The crew were taken to Baltimore.

[ The New York Times – 18th June, 1887]


The ship Marlborough arrived yesterday from London.  She had on board the crew of the schooner Nellie Potter, which was abandoned in a sinking condition on March 2 in latitude 25 degrees and longitude 63 degrees.  Capt. Bache of the Nellie Potter says that she was not insured.  She measured 111 tons and was built in 1862.  She hailed from Washington, N. C.

[ The New York Times – 14th March, 1890 ]

The Cape Fear River Steamers

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