Archie King
previous page     BC Lists     Clallam Index
from the Victoria Daily Colonist, 13 Jun 1952

by B.A. McKelvie

Passing of Archie King, pioneer wireless operator at Port Alice, recalls one of the great tragedies of the sea on the British Columbia coast, the sinking of the steamer 'Clallam', off Victoria, on Jan. 8, 1904. Just how many lives were lost may never be known, as there was no complete list of passengers, but the number was probably in the vicinity of 60, as roughly 54 names were placed on the roll of dead.

Archie King was only 15 at the time. He was the cabin boy on the ferry steamer that operated from Seattle to Victoria via way ports on Puget Sound. He played an heroic part in an effort to save passengers.

The 'Clallam' was placed on the run the previous year. She was then a new vessel. Captain Roberts, her master, was also financially interested in the steamer, and that fact was later alleged to have induced him to take unnecessary risks. A subsequent marine inquiry at Seattle and an inquest at Victoria established that necessary repairs had not been made to the steering equipment, the power pumps or three deadlights that were damaged.

*    *    *
It was 12 o'clock noon when the 'Clallam' headed out of the shelter of Port Townsend to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. A gale was blowing. The vessel was crowded with passengers, many returning from holiday visits to U.S. Some 55 were listed, but it was known that there were some who were not counted, while small children were not all included in the estimate. The crew numbered 33.

The 'Clallam' bucked out into the gale that increased in fury as she slowly made towards the center of the strait, but with the uncertain strength of the rudder. It would have been dangerous to attempt to turn and seek the comparative shelter of the Dungeness shoals.

At last she approached the Vancouver Island shore. The houses of Victoria could be distinguished. It was thought that the shelter of Victoria's harbor would be shortly reached. Then - the engines stopped.

Now the steamer started to drift helplessly in the heavy seas, wallowing broadside away from Trial Island towards the San Juan group. A jib sail was hoisted, but it had little effect. Now Captain Roberts decided to land his passengers while still within rowable distance of land. Three lifeboats were filled with women and children, and a few men who went into the boats to aid the crew members. There was no panic. One boat capsized as soon as it got away from the lee of the 'Clallam'; a second in which the plug had been left out, went down,, and the third's gear fouled and the unfortunate occupants were spilled into the sea. All drowned.

From the rooftops of Victoria's higher buildings and from the waterfront men watched helplessly with glasses this awful tragedy. Indeed the helpless struggle of the doomed vessel could be seen. There was not a single vessel, either in Victoria harbor or Esquimalt with steam up that could be sent to the rescue.

*    *    *
It was late at night when the powerful tug 'Richard Holyoke', out of Port Townsend, found the sinking vessel. A line was passed on board and an attempt was made to tow her to shelter and safety, but the strain was too much, and she started to list. Then the tug 'Sea Lion' arrived. Farther and farther the stricken 'Clallam' veered over; those on board now clung to the starboard rail, and then climbed up on the side.

One or two at a time, Archie King recalled, they were washed over. He assisted in launching a raft, and cutting it free. Then, as the tow rope was severed and the tugs closed in to attempt rescue work, those on the ship's side had to take the meager chance of throwing themselves into the sea, to avoid being sucked down by the foundering 'Clallam'. Just how many perished then is also unknown. But some were lost.

How many perished may only be guessed at, but of those saved 15 were passengers - not a single one being a woman or child - while 22 of the crew were picked up. Archie King, the brave cabin boy, was the youngest survivor of the wreck of the 'Clallam'. Now he has joined his shipmates.
previous page     BC Lists     Clallam Index     Top