San Francisco Man Details the Horror of the
|Charles G. Bennett, of 2771 Twenty-fourth street, San
Francisco, a passenger, remained on board the 'Clallam' until she sank. Bennett recalled what was
probably one of the most thrilling and pathetic incidents of the wreck. This was the action of a
man unknown to Bennett who, after his wife and two children were drowned before his eyes, became
frantic and plunged headlong into the sea. Whether he also drowned or was afterward picked up,
Bennett does not know.
In Bennett's opinion there was some misunderstanding between the officers of the ill-fated vessel and those in charge of the tug 'Holyoke' over signals at the critical moment, and this fact Bennett believes, resulted in the loss of many lives among those who stayed with the doomed ship who might otherwise have been saved. Bennett speaks in the highest praise of the action of the crew on the tug 'Sea Lion', who, he says, rendered every assistance possible from the moment they arrived on the scene.
Bennett saw a lifeboat capsize with its load of women and children, and was a spectator to the fearful struggle of the helpless occupants of the boat, as she was swallowed up in the trough of the sea as if a mere feather. Bennett is an old man and has traveled extensively but the harrowing scenes which took place before the 'Clallam' finally went down unstrung him completely. It was with effort that he could bring himself to recount the things which he witnessed and the experiences of himself and other survivors who clung to the life raft from which they were finally rescued.
"When the vessel became disabled all the male passengers worked heroically to launch the lifeboats," said Bennett, "and the first was reserved for the women and children. It was loaded with difficulty. An angry sea was rolling, but this boat cleared the ship and rode the waves for about ten minutes. Of a sudden it got into a trough of the sea and before the passengers on deck could realize it, they saw its load of humanity engulfed in a sea which was running eighteen feet high.
"The sight was a terrible one, and we could plainly hear the screams of the helpless women and children, and they floundered about for a few moments before they sank. The wind screamed about us and wafted their dying cries on deck where stood two score of brave men, who gazed at their death struggle, powerless to lend a helping hand.
"The second boat to be launched lived but a short time longer than the first. It contained a mixed load of men and women, mostly the former. The boat was tossed about by the waves as if it were a cork, and went down in the trough of a swell with all its occupants. Some may have afterwards gotten on rafts but if they did I am not aware of it. So far as I know not a women or child survived.
"When I realized that the third and last boat launched was about to meet a similar fate, I turned away, unable to witness another such terrible end. I stayed with the doomed ship, and, together with the remaining passengers, did all I could to bail the water out of her hold.
"When the 'Holyoke' took hold of us it was with a line fully an eighth of a mile long. She towed us towards Port Townsend, the passengers on board meantime bailing water out of the hold. When it became apparent that the vessel was doomed some of the crew signalled to the 'Holyoke' to abandon the tow and come alongside. Either through a misunderstanding of the signals, or failure to comply with them, I do not know which, the greatest loss of life on board the 'Clallam' occurred. The 'Holyoke' did not respond and the vessel began to list. We then realized that our only chance was to take to the water and the majority jumped into the sea in their life-preservers. I was in the water about five minutes before I got hold of a life raft. After clinging to this for half an hour the 'Sea Lion' came alongside and took me aboard. There were half a dozen other passengers on the raft with me, and all ere gotten aboard the tug."