Stranded October 9th, 1897
286 feet Length, 38 feet Beam, 24 feet Deep
Owner: SS Hesperides Company, LTD (R.P. Houston &Co.)
Builder: 1884 by R & J Evans and Company, Liverpool, England
Depth: 35 to 40 feet
Location: SE edge of Outer Diamond Shoals
of the Shipwreck
The Hesperides was a steamer of British registry, home port of Liverpool, England, Official Number of 87978. She was built in Liverpool by R&J Evans & Company in 1884. Constructed on Iron, the ship was 2404 GRT and had 2 decks. She was 286.5 feet in length, 38.3 in the beam and 24.3 in depth with five main bulkheads. The steamer was powered by an engine, also made in Liverpool by G. Forrester & Company, that has two cylinders - one 33" in diameter, the other 66" - with a stroke of 48". This steam engine could produce 182 HP and could move the ship along at 11knots under power. Even though she was steam powered, the Hesperides carried sails and was schooner rigged.
According to the Lloyd's of London registry, the vessel was owned by the S.S. Hesperides & Co. (R.P. Houston & Co.). She was involved in "The Plate Trade" a vessel which carried cargo and passengers between the River Plate Ports in Argentina (to include Buenos Ayres) and the markets of Europe.
The ship left from St. Jago de Cuba (Daiquiri, Cuba) for Baltimore, Maryland on October 4th, with a crew of 24 and was transporting a cargo of 1394 net tons of iron ore or "pig iron". She ran aground upon the Diamond Shoals on October 9th, 1897, and was stranded there.
According to the ship's log, at noon on October 8th, the Hesperides should have been 202 miles away from Cape Hatteras and the Diamond Shoals. Based upon the believed location of the vessel, the ship's master, Captain Owen Williams, set a course to pass at least 20 miles to the East of the deadly shoals. He did not expect to be at the latitude of the shoals until 1PM on the 9th at the earliest. The weather and seas were exceptionally calm as Hesperides made her way North in what she knew to be deep water, so no soundings with the lead line were made. The Hesperides continued on her course of North by 3/4 East True, as a thick fog developed. In the early morning of the 9th, the ship suddenly struck upon the shoals, stuck fast, and was stranded.
The thick fog continued throughout the day of October 9th, preventing the surfmen on the beach from sighting the ship until the next morning. Though the ship was firmly aground with six feet of water in the engine room the crew was in no immediate danger, as she could not sink any further. When the surfmen from Hatteras arrived, they had to convince the Captain, and reported owner of the vessel, to abandon the ship as there was no hope of freeing her from the death grip of the sands of the shoals. The entire crew of 24 persons were successfully rescued and taken ashore by lifeboat. The ship was declared a total loss valued at $70,000 (a great deal of money in 1897) not including the cargo which was valued at $30,000.
On October 28th and 29th, 1897, the British Naval Court convened a trial at the British Consulate in Baltimore, MD, which tried the facts of the shipwrecks and actions of the Master and First Mate, Morris Jones. The court heard testimony and examined the ship's log. It was determined that a strong current set the Hesperides West of her course and into a position to strand upon the shoal. They also cited that the calm weather and fog did not allow the crew to notice the crossing of the Gulf Stream edge or the approach to the shoals as they steamed closer to shore. In the end, the trial board determined that both the Captain and the First Mate (who was on watch at the time of the stranding) had conducted themselves properly. Both Mariners were returned their Naval Certificates at the conclusion of the investigation and returned to duty.
The shipping line replaced the lost Hesperides with another steamer that was built in 1899, which they also named Hesperides. The second Hesperides took over the same trading routes as her predecessor and was also lost at sea. On April 25th, 1917 (WW1) the second Hesperides, on a voyage from Buenos Ayres to Liverpool with general cargo, was sunk by the German submarine U-69 commanded by Ernst Wilhelms, 130 miles NW of Fastnet.
She now sits in approximately 35 feet of water well up in the shallows of the shoals and is able to be dived only on days when the ocean swell is light and navigation in this area of the shoals safe. The Hesperides has remained in fairly good condition having been run aground on the shoals and suffering through innumerable storms and the relentless assault of the ocean.
The large bronze steering quadrant rises to within six feet of the surface as does the top of the steam engine (photo of the quadrant is shown to the left). It is wise to approach this wreck with caution so as not to have your dive boat join her on the bottom. The intact bow with anchors and winches, the ship's engine, boilers and stern section all remain and are contiguous, well defining the confines of the wreck site. On days when the water is clear, the entire ship is visible from the boat deck and the various sections and features of the wreck can be very clearly viewed.
bow of the ship sits with just a very slight list to the port side and
rises from the sand about 25 feet. Anchor chain runs off the Port
side leading to a large anchor in the sand near the wreck that is often
covered by the sand. Another smaller anchor is still sitting on the
foredeck and is pictured in above. The photo to the right
shows the port side of the bow as she sits in the small wash. The
spadefish in this photo are normally in abundance on the site.
Inside the confines of the bow section are the remains of the winches and the structures of the ship and contents of the forward cargo hold, all of which are covered to various degrees with hard and soft corals and other forms of concretion. The level of sand filling this space changes depending upon how much was deposited or removed by the last storm.
Just aft of the bow section is where you will encounter the steam engine, still standing vertical and firmly on it's bed. A photo of the engine, taken from the boat, is shown to the right. The engine rises 20 feet or more from the bottom, the top coming close to the surface and it towers over the two boilers that lay nearby. One boiler is still in the original position, but the Starboard one has rolled out into the sand nearby.
stern of the Hesperides ends with two features that are very interesting
to see, the large four bladed propeller and on the topside of the hull the
bronze steering quadrant that turned the rudder system. The prop and
rudder are pictured to the right and the quadrant photo is shown above.
On either side of the vessel is the debris of the deckhouses and other hardware that has fallen away over the years. Most of the wooden structures have been consumed by the sea or drifted off and the heavy iron and machinery has sunk into the fine sand bottom, but occasionally some are exposed from the sand near the wreck and can be seen.
Being on the shoals, the wreck site is sometimes subject to high current and I have observed 2 knots or more crossing this wreck on occasion. The standard direction of this current in the summer months is from the Starboard side of the wreck and usually from the starboard bow towards the stern. This coupled with the potential for surge if there is any swell running can make even this shallow dive somewhat of a challenge. But, this a challenge that is well worth the effort as bottom times are incredible and there is a wide variety of sea life on this wreck as well as the occasional artifact. It is an excellent wreck for photography due to the shallow depth and large amount of available light.
effect of being on the Diamond Shoals is that in the winter the wreck is
sometimes covered by very cold Labrador Current waters. These cold
green nutrient rich waters allow large numbers of Mussels to grow on this
wreck site over the winter. This all changes as the summer
conditions return; the shoals are bathed in the warm Gulf Stream water and
the reef complex fish of Sheephead and Triggerfish return in large
numbers. They, along with the Northern species like Black Sea Bass
and Togs, make short work of the mussel population. Somehow, the
corals that inhabit this site do not seem to suffer from the cold waters
and appear to thrive again each summer.
Diving the Hesperides is a great deal of fun and something that should not be missed if the conditions allow a trip to the Diamond Shoals. The wreck still looks like the Hollywood version of a shipwreck with colorful sea life and identifiable components, plus the depth allows a long exploration.
Some information about the wreck and the shipping line can be found at this British wreck site.
Additional photographs and information can also be found on Paul Hudy's web page about the SS Hesperides.
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Copyright © 2003 Last modified: November 17, 2022