NOAA Finds Lost 19th Century U.S. Coast Survey Steamer

MarineLink.com
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. The painting, now at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va., is scheduled for restoration. (Credit: The Mariners' Museum)

More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, government and university maritime archaeologists have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA.

The Walker, while now largely forgotten, served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast ‒ including Mobile Bay and the Florida Keys ‒ in the decade before the Civil War. It also conducted early work plotting the movement of the Gulf Stream along the Atlantic Coast.

Twenty sailors died when the Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, 10 miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner off New Jersey. The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest single loss of life in the history of the Coast Survey and its successor agency, NOAA.

“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”

Built in 1847, the Walker was one of the U.S. government’s first iron-hulled steamers, and was intended for the U.S. Revenue Service, the predecessor of the United States Coast Guard. Instead, the Walker and some of its sister steamers were sent to the U.S. Coast Survey.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, said that Walker represented the transition from sail to steam for government vessels, “reflecting the enduring need of the United States to harness the power of new technology to promote its maritime interests.”

“Coast Guardsmen are always saddened by the loss of life at sea and especially so when those lost were working to make the lives of other mariners safer by charting the waters of the United States,” Papp said.

The U.S. Coast Survey is NOAA’s oldest predecessor organization, established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to survey the coast and produce the nation’s nautical charts. In 1860, as the Civil War approached, the Coast Survey redoubled efforts to produce surveys of harbors strategically important to the war effort along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The New York Herald, in reporting the Walker’s loss on June 23, 1860, noted that a “heavy sea was running, and many of the men were doubtless washed off the spars and drowned from the mere exhaustion of holding on, while others were killed or stunned on rising to the surface by concussion with spars and other parts of the wreck.”

The Walker wreck site initially was discovered in the 1970s by a commercial fisherman. The wreck's identity has been a mystery despite being regularly explored by divers. Resting 85 feet underwater, the vessel’s identity was confirmed in June as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers; Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archaeology student at East Carolina University; and retired NOAA Corps Capt. Albert Theberge, chief of reference for the NOAA Central Library.

While in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys after Hurricane Sandy for navigation safety, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson sailed to the wreck site and deployed its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems. Hydrographers searched likely locations based on analysis of historical research by Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

A NOAA Maritime Heritage diving team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship, which was found still pointing toward the Absecon lighthouse, the final destination of a desperate crew on a sinking vessel.

“The identification of Walker is a result of excellent collaboration with the local community,” said James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “We look forward to working with our local partners to share Walker’s story with the public in a manner that both promotes educational dive tourism and protects this nationally significant wreck and gravesite.”

NOAA’s intent is not to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.

“We want to enhance the dive experience and support the dive industry with enhanced access to this wreck,” Delgado said. “New Jersey is home to some of the most accomplished wreck divers who not only understand history and wrecks, but who have also been in the forefront of wreck exploration. We look forward to working with them on the Walker.”

noaa.gov
 

  • Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

    Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

  • NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)

    NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)

  • After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)

    After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)

  • Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

    Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

  • Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)
  • NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)
  • After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)
  • Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)
Maritime Reporter July 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

News

GasLog Orders Two LNG Carriers

GasLog Ltd. today announced that it has ordered two new 174,000 cubic meter LNG carriers from Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. ("Hyundai") in South Korea.

Injured Woman Rescued on Lake Washington

Coast Guard, Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, King County Sheriff’s Office and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel rescued

Jonathan Appointed LOC Group's London MD

In line with LOC’s continual global growth and strengthening of the senior management team,  Britain has been appointed as Managing Director of the London operation.

Marine Science

VARD SeaQ Bridge gets Lilaas touch

‘Finger-grip’ vessel control offering precise tactile feedback may seem radical for those accustomed to conventional levers, but the combination is proving a

Harper Government Invests in Naufrage Harbor

The Honorable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced today an investment to improve safety and working conditions for fishermen at Naufrage Harbor, Prince Edward Island.

Contship Italia Signs Iran MoU

Contship Italia Spa, also on behalf of Eurogate GmbH & Co. KGaA, KG, recently signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) with Sina Port & Marine Company (SPMCO),

Coast Guard

Injured Woman Rescued on Lake Washington

Coast Guard, Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, King County Sheriff’s Office and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel rescued

Boxships Collide in Port Klang, Malaysia

The container ships MOL Empire and Northern Democrat collided at around 1430 LT Aug 1 in Westport harbor at Port Klang, Malaysia, reportedly while mooring.   Container or containers fell overboard,

Five Rescued from Yatch in Solent, UK

Five people have been rescued from the Solent after their small leisure boat suffered engine failure and began taking on water.   The occupants of the boat made

Government Update

Contship Italia Signs Iran MoU

Contship Italia Spa, also on behalf of Eurogate GmbH & Co. KGaA, KG, recently signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) with Sina Port & Marine Company (SPMCO),

Boxships Collide in Port Klang, Malaysia

The container ships MOL Empire and Northern Democrat collided at around 1430 LT Aug 1 in Westport harbor at Port Klang, Malaysia, reportedly while mooring.   Container or containers fell overboard,

Missing Person Rescued Near Brackettville

On July 31, Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) agents and CBP Office of Air and Marine rescued a man who was reported missing the previous morning.

Ocean Observation

Polarcus Secures New Contract

Polarcus Limited sign a new contract with an unnamed client in terms of a marine 3D seismic project where Polarcus' Right Band technique used  for broadband data acquisition.

NMDC Breaks Several Records on New Suez Canal Project

UAE dredging and marine construction firm National Marine Dredging Company (NMDC) has announced the completion of the New Suez Canal project.   The $8bn (£5bn)

Shanghai 6th Best Shipping Center Globally

Shanghai has moved up the rankings of the world’s top shipping centers to sixth place, surpassing Dubai thanks to Free Trade Zone regulations and the Belt and Road Initiative,

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.3781 sec (3 req/sec)