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THE CHESEBROUGH

BY KOU OOTAKA

(Translated by Naoto Kobayashi from a speech

given in Aomori, Japan on October 5, 1997)

 

In 1889,  there was a big disaster in Aomori marine accident history at Shariki village, Nishi-Tsugaru County. The Chesebrough from the U. S., a 1500 ton sailing ship ship-wrecked and only 4 people miraculously survived of 23 crew members.

 

At dawn on October 30,,  a few people in a cabin on the beach saw a huge sailing ship which they had never seen before. The ship had run aground, the mast and sail were torn to pieces and it was just about to capsize. They also saw unfamiliar people running about in confusion on the deck of the ship.

The Chesebrough belonged to Arthur Sewall & Co. of Bath, Maine. She was a wooden boat. She left the US with a cargo of oil in March. She crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed around Africa, through the Indian Ocean and arrived at Kobe, Japan in August. The oil was sold in Kobe and then the ship sailed to Hakodate (Hokkaido, Japan). On the way the ship encountered a typhoon and suffered great damage. It took 2 days to repair her temporarily while at sea. The Chesebrough arrived at Hakodate on September 24, 1889.

 

There was no choice but to stay at Hakodate for 34 days. During this time, the crew tried to repair their boat and loaded 2300 tons of sulfur. (It was thought that this was too heavy a cargo for this ship.) Captain Peter Erickson wanted to leave as soon as possible, but the wind was still strong. He knew that a rival ship, Forestry King, had left China to come to Hakodate to also load sulfur. Forestry King was faster than the Chesebrough so Erickson needed to set sail before they did.

 

On October 28th, they left Hakodate port. The planned course was through the Japan Sea and China Sea then back to New York City. They wanted to sell the sulfur as soon as possible. After they left on the 28th at 8 P.M., the wind became stronger so they put down their anchors 2 miles away from the shore of Hokkaido.

 

The next day, October 29th, they started again at 5:30 A.M. About 5 hours later, at 10:30 A.M., when they had just come into the Japan Sea, the winds were so strong they couldn’t sail any longer. Around midnight, a mainmast broke and they drifted all night long in the storm. This storm rated with 142 mile per hour winds! But on the next day, the strongest wind was only 54 mph, so if they had waited done more day . . . perhaps they wouldn’t have had a shipwreck.

 

The people of Shariki found a ship that was smashed into pieces on the morning of the 30th. At this time, fishermen went out in a boat and rescued crew members. They brought 4 people to land. Only Mr. Boeck (an 18 year old American swimmer) swam by himself to land. When a Mr. Wilson was pulled ashore, he was thought to be dead.

 

At the village office, the mayor and a police officer received an urgent message and led village people to help the 4 survivors. They prepared 4 kimonos and made a fire to warm the survivors (some of the survivors tried to put their head through the kimono sleeve because they hadn’t worn a kimono before).

Mr. Wilson was unconscious and his body was getting cold rapidly. Policeman Kon tried to get him to spit out the ocean water he had swallowed and tried artificial respiration on him but he was still in critical condition.

 

At this time, one of the women, who had brought food from the village, Mrs. Han Kudo, 45 years old, and the wife of Mr. Yoshiemon Kudo, did not hesitate in public. She took off her clothes and hugged Mr. Wilson in the sleet to warm him up. People still say she looked like heavenly maiden. Miraculously, Mr. Wilson was revived.

 

At first it was difficult to discover the survivors’ nationality. Mr. Kon, police officer, tried by asking “Are you Napoleon?” “Are you Bismarck?” “Are you Washington?” He tried to call the names of national leaders. Then one of the survivors said “Yes! Yes!” . . . . Mr. Kon said proudly, “They are Americans!”

 

During this time, other village people prepared a cabin with 4 beds for the survivors. They also brought wool blankets. Some of the villagers offered to give them all the chickens and eggs they had.

In those days, they didn’t have telephones or telegrams, so 2 young men were selected as message runners. Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Narumi started running to the Aomori Prefectural Office. It was about 40 miles away. They left after 3 PM and they arrived at 12 midnight. They ran in sleet rain and they ate rice balls, while running, for sustenance.

 

An official in charge at Aomori Prefectural Office reported to Governor Kan Nabeshima, who was in bed. The next day, the 31st, the Governor asked police officer Mr. Yoshimura and an interpreter Mr. Nakashihi, an English teacher at Aomori teacher training school to go there with bread and wine.

After a cold night, on the 31st, the 4 survivors moved to Mr. Kudo’s house. At his house one of the survivors said, “Lamp! Lamp!” when he saw a lamp at his house and everybody was surprised. Many people visited from Ajigasawa, Hirataki and Tutsukisaku to pay sympathy. They brought lots of chicken and eggs. People and village officials showed up to pay their sympathy with presents. The survivors happily accepted all the presents, except they looked at the rice balls strangely. After an interpreter arrived, the 4 survivors felt relieved because they could finally communicate!

 

The 4 survivors wanted to go back to Hakodate as soon as possible. They stayed in Shariki village 3 nights and on November 2nd went to Aomori City. On the way they stopped for lunch at Tateoka town office. Mr. Boeck drew a picture of the Chesebrough and he gave it to the town Manager, Mr. Hara. The 4 survivors stayed at an inn at Goshogawara. After arriving in Aomori, they saw a doctor and then went to the Aomori branch of the U.S. Consulate. They left Hakodate by the ship Wakaura, and on November 14th, they visited the U.S. Consulate in Yokohama. Their reports made a deep impression on the consular officials. They returned to the U.S. by ship.

 

The Chesebrough disaster brought many unique goods to the beach (they are not novelties now). First, Shariki-people were surprised very much that the ship had a farm on board because they saw pigs and fresh vegetables. They got a headache and/or dizzy when they tasted canned fruit because it was too sweet. They liked potatoes but they didn’t like onions because they smart the eyes so they thought onions would make children lose their eyes. Therefore, they buried the onions in the ground. Now there is a big pear tree in the backyard of Mr. Nakamura of Hirataki-village. It is already 24 feet high. When the villagers had a pear, which they picked at the beach, it was so delicious that they planted it. (In those days they only had small Japanese pear trees. Every year Mr. Nakamura offered pears from this tree to the graves of the sailors who died.)

 

The villagers used the sulfur they found as a substitute match at the end of WWII, and they used the sails to make aprons. They also found a toilet seat on the beach. They thought it was a work of art so they put it in their living room as a decoration. But when some of the village people said “it’s a toilet seat! It’s a toilet seat!” they put it away out of their houses.

 

The police officer Mr. Kon and four fishermen were recognized by Governor Nabeshima. Mrs. Han Kudo’s benevolent behavior was always evaluated highly. The Governor Tadashi Sawa recognized her March 3rd in 1890. This certificate of commendation has been preserved by Mr. Izu Kudo, a descendant of Mrs. Han Kudo, and the chief priest of Takayama-Inare Shinto shrine.

 

After this disaster, village people watched the beaches for a whole month. They picked up bodies and many pieces of the ship, etc. They asked the prefectural office for the bodies and buried them respectfully. They found the body of Captain Peter Erickson several days later. He was 40 years old.

 

At the top of a hill near Takayama-Inari shrine, there is a memorial stone. Every year since the disaster, the people of Shariki hold a service for the sailors who lost their lives on that night in 1889.

We have such a wonderful human history. We won’t forget this.

 

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