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The Samoa Hurricane of 1889.

This site is being relocated, and the original you have presently reached will be maintained rather infrequently. Before long, when the new site seems pretty stable and is being found by Google, I shall put automatic redirects on each of the pages of this old site. In the meantime, you could click this link to go to the new one: grahamhague.com. Sorry about this!

USS Vandalia Crew Stories

The American National Flag, 38 Stars, Navy Ensign

The data here is generally gleaned from published sources. I have had only one contact so far with any descendants of USS Vandalia crew, and that one as you will see below has a mystery surrounding it. In all cases, the information presented here is given in good faith but should not be considered as factual.

If you have any data, and especally images, of USS Vandalia's crew and you would like to share this with the world, or at least, those interested in the Samoa Hurricane, please feel free to contact me.

I have searched the The United States National Archives Catalog and cannot find an index or reference for a crew list of USS Vandalia at Apia in 1889. If any visitor to this site knows of such a crew list, please contact me and let me know.

The images below are from American Naval History and Heritage Command unless attributed elsewhere.

If you are an American visitor to this page, please take the time to visit the page The Men Who Perished on which appears an image of the American Flag. It is intended to be the version of the flag flown on the American ships at the time of Samoa in 1889. I wish to be sure that the version I have chosen (from many versions I found on the web!) to be the correct one, and any help I could be given would be gratefully received. It is described as the "38-Star Navy Ensign, valid 1877 to 1890". I have included a small image at the top of this page. If you think I might have got it wrong, please contact me and let me know! I am British and am not sure about these American things.

Paymaster F.H. Arms, USN (?-1889)

"Paymaster Arms was appointed from Connecticut in 1864, and had been on duty on the Vandalia since May, 1887. His family reside at the Crawford House, New London."

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried in Annapolis.

Sources: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889, and San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


Lieutenant James W. Carlin, USN (1844-1900)

James W. Carlin, USN c.1888

James W. Carlin was born in 1844 in a log cabin that is thought to have stood on the southeast corner of the square in Carthage, Illinois. In 1862, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the 118th Regiment and fought in the Civil War, inlcuding the battle of Walnut Hills. In 1864, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1868.

Commander Carlin served for over 30 years in the navy. A high point in his career was his bravery during the hurricane at Apla, Samoa in 1889, as an officer serving in the USS Vandalia. Carlin died of typhoid fever on December 13, 1900.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

See more about this officer at this web-site, from which these details and the image were obtained.


Yeoman B.F. Davis, USN (?-1889)

"One of the lost, Ben Davis, is understood to be a relative of a wealthy family somewhere in the East, but was disowned for marrying a girl his inferior in social position. When his wife died Davis came on to San Francisco, and only a few weeks ago [before the storm] signed as a seaman on board the Vandalia."

What a sad story.

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


Thomas G./C. Downey/Dowey, USN (?-1889)

He was a short, stout man. He was a mason, and Odd Fellow, and a Red Man and visited the different lodges while in Vallejo. He was described as being very jovial, good-natured, and full of jokes and stories.

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery.

Sources: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891 and Find a Grave.


Seaman G. Gorman, USN (?-1889)

"George Gorman, one of the crew of the Vandalia, was well known among Pacific Coast seafaring men. He has a family living, it is thought, either in Vallejo or Benicia."

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


Chief Engineer Albert S. Greene USN, (?-1896)

Engineer A.S. Greene

His birth date is unknown, but his first naval appointment was his commission as a Third Assistant Engineer from New York on 17 February 1860. His details on the American Naval History and Heritage Command web-site (NH 72209) were contributed by presumably a relative, but strangely do not mention his time on USS Vandalia. He died 8th March, 1896.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

Details courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command.


E.M. Hammet/Hammar/Hammer, USN (?-1889)

This very brave man volunteered to try and swim a line ashore from USS Vandalia and drowned in the attempt.

The name on the memorial is "Hammar"; JP Dunning's account and Admiral Kimberly's Report both quote "Hammer" and I found a newspaper article that quoted "Hammet". I presume they all refer to the same person - I hope one day a visitor will be able to resolve the issue of this gentleman's name.


Seaman J. Hanchett, USN (?-1889)

"John Manchett was recently employed on one of the ferryboats running across San Francisco bay, and signed as a recruit of the Vandalia."

I cannot find this name on the memorial, and presume it should read John Hantchett and that the source is in error.

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


William Howat/Howatt, USN (?-1889)

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Cook Ah Keau, USN (?-1889?)

Intriguingly, it is possible that Ah Keau from USS Vandalia actually survived the storm. I have had an e-mail from a Samoa family, whose tradition has it that an ancestor, whom they knew as Ah Kiau, swam to shore from USS Vandalia when she sank, liked what he found, and decided to stay and start a family. I guess he may have realised the American Navy would not take a very tolerant view of that idea, and to allow himself to be presumed drowned shows great presence of mind to me!

Details courtesy of Lani Young


Seamen J. & T. Kelly, USN (?-1889)

"John and Thomas Kelly were employed in the navy some time before going to Samoa. It is believed that their relatives reside in this city [Los Angeles]."

This seems to imply they were related, possibly brothers.

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


Nicholas Kinsella, USN (?-1889)

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Seaman C. Kraus, USN (?-1889)

"Charles Kranz was also known here, and previous to entering the navy it is believed that he worked as a deck hand on one of the steamers plying between San Francisco and Yaquina."

I haven't been able to find this name on the memorial, and wonder if it should be C.H. Kraus.

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


Frank Lissman/Lassman, USN (?-1889)

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Naval Cadet J. A. LeJeune, USMC (1867-1942)

John A. LeJeune

Naval Cadet John Archer LeJeune became a Marine Corps officer and was later the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1920-1929. Today, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, bears his name.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

Learn more about this officer at this web-site, from where I also obtained the image. I could find no way of contacting the site to ask permission to use it; if there is an issue doing so, contact me and I'll remove it immediately.


First Officer Lieutenant Commander Henry W Lyon, USN (?-?)

He took command of USS Nipsic when she returned to Hawaii after the temporary repairs effected at Apia.


Aylmer Montgomerie, USN (?-1889)

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and was reported in the source link below as being buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery. However, this link: Find A Grave suggests he was buried in a separate plot.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Paymaster's Clerk J. Roche (or Roache), USN (?-1889)

"Paymaster's Clerk John Roche was appointed from Ilion, N. Y. He was 28 years of age and a man of athletic build. His nearest relative is J. Jeffrey Roche, who is a poet and assistant editor of the Boston Pilot."

The name on the memorial is "Roach" and is, I think, an error.

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery.

Sources: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889, and San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.


Captain Cornelius M. Schoonmaker, USN (1839-1889)

Captain Cornelius M. Schoonmaker Schoonmaker Grave

Captain Schoonmaker is shown far left, c.1880/1881. The men in the photograph around his grave near Apia (soon after the storm, his body was later repatriated to the States) are (from left to right): Mr. Hart, news correspondent; Mr. J.P. Dunning, Associated Press correspondent, who reported on the storm; Unknown; Ensign John H. Gibbons, of USS Vandalia; Chief Engineer Albert S. Greene, of USS Vandalia; two unidentified men; and Captain Norman H. Farquhar, Commanding Officer of USS Trenton. I would suspect one of the unidentified men to be the U.S. Vice-Consul, William Blacklock, and another is thought to be Lieutenant Carlin of USS Vandalia.

Details courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command.

Cornelius M. Schoonmaker was born on 2 February 1839. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in September 1854 and, following graduation in June 1859, served for about two years off the African west coast. In May-September 1861, during the first several months of the Civil War, he was a junior officer on the steam frigate Minnesota and participated with her in the capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark. From late 1861 until after the end of the Civil War in 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker was Executive Officer of several ships, including the gunboats Wyandotte and Octorara, monitors Manhattan and Catskill, and the cruiser Augusta. While in the Manhattan, he took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 and in the subsequent campaign to capture Fort Morgan.

In June 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker became Navigator of the sloop Juniata and, after promotion to Lieutenant Commander, was her Executive Officer. In 1867-70, he served as Navigator of the Asiatic Squadron flagship, USS Piscataqua (renamed Delaware in 1869). He received instruction in the emerging field of "torpedo" warfare in 1872, then was given command of the dispatch vessel Frolic. Commander Schoonmaker served at the New York Navy Yard in 1873-74, and was Inspector of the Eighth Light-House District, at New Orleans, until 1878. He took command of the new gunboat Nipsic in 1879, taking her to European waters in 1880-81.

Schoonmaker was stationed at the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1882-85 and received promotion to the rank of Captain in October 1886. He became Commanding Officer of the steam sloop Vandalia, on the Pacific Station, in 1888, and died in the Samoan Hurricane on March 16th, 1889.

Captain Schoonmaker is buried at Wiltwyck Cemetery, Kingston, Ulster County, New York, USA. See the web-site Find-A-Grave for more images of this officer and his grave. It is very difficult to read the inscription on the memorial, but his daughter, Elizabeth Van Wyck, appears to have sadly died aged just 15 years, in either October 1880 or 1889, I think the latter.

If family members object to me using these images, they should contact me and I'll remove them immediately.

Details courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command.


Lieutenant F.E. Sutton, USMC (?-1889)

"Lieutenant of Marines Francis E. Sutton (whose name was erroneously given as Hilton) was appointed to the Naval Academy from New York in 1877. He graduated sixth in the class of 1870, and, after his course, returned to the academy for examination for promotion and passed second. On his application he was appointed Second Lieutenant of Marines, being the first graduate of Annapolis to enter the marine force. He was promoted to be First Lieutenant, March 9, 1888, and been stationed at Mare's Island. He had just been detailed to command the Marine Guard of the Mohican, but the Vandalia sailing suddenly for Samoa before the arrival of her commanding marine officer, Lieutenant Sutton took his place expecting to fall in with the Mohican on the cruise. His father is a resident of Rome, N. Y. At the Navy Department Lieutenant Sutton was regarded as having been one of the brightest and most intelligent officers of the Marine Corps, and his loss is greatly deplored."

Source: The Los Angeles Herald, 31 March 1889.


USS Vandalia Survivors Present at Apia on 16th March, 1889

E. AmbroseSeaman 
W.E. BowenMachinist 
C. BoyleSeaman 
J.W. CarlinLieutenantLater Commander
CarolePrivate of Marines 
J. ColemanSergeant of Marines 
Dr. Cordeiro  
C. EggartCaptain of Top 
J.H. GibbonsEnsign 
A.S. GreeneChief Engineer 
Dr. J.H. HarveySurgeon 
JensenOrdinary Seaman 
J.A. Le JeuneNaval CadetLater Commandant of the Marine Corps
H. KraydenQuarter-Gunner 
H.W. LyonLieutenant-CommanderLater Admiral
MelvilleFireman 
J. MohlSeaman 
E. MooleNaval Cadet 
E. O'NeilSeaman 
P. NeilsonOrdinary Seaman 
C.S. RipleyEnsign 
L.A. StaffordNaval Cadet 
A. SteenFireman 
H. WebsterEngineer 
A. WelchCaptain of Top 
H.A. WileyNaval CadetLater Vice Admiral

Sources: JP Dunning account dated February 1890 (Do a "FIND" for Samoa); Admiral Kimberly's Special Report dated 16th April, 1889; Alexandria Gazette, Volume 90, Number 204, 19 August 1889.

USS Vandalia crew USS Vandalia crew USS Vandalia crew USS Vandalia crew