143rd Anniversary of the Zephyr Wreck

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You may well have walked past our Stone Column, lying in the grass on the North Side of the Museum, but do you know its story?

This 38- ton column was quarried over 140 years ago on Newcastle Island, bound for construction of the San Francisco mint on February 13, 1872, onboard the Zephyr. It never reached San Francisco however, as tragedy struck that day 143 years ago. The ship struck the rocky shore off Mayne Island in an early morning snowstorm and sank, taking the captain and another crew member with her.

The weather on departure was cold and clear but by the time the vessel had reached abeam Active Pass night had fallen and with it a storm with blinding snow and driving wind and seas. The vessel and crew "proceeded on their voyage with a fresh wind from the southeast but at about eight PM that night the wind veered from the southeast to the northeast and about one o'clock Tuesday morning the 13th ... a heavy snow storm set in during which ... from the period of sailing the best lookout was constantly kept on board, the Straits being narrow but owing to the snow storm it was impossible to distinguish the land ...".

This excerpt was taken from a deposition by George Lusk given to Victoria Notary Public Robert Bishop on February 19th after enduring a harrowing ordeal of shipwreck and survival. 

The wreck lay untouched, remaining as local lore for years until some divers from the island managed to locate it in 1976, hidden under water and sand.

The Underwater Archaeological Society of BC, under permit from the BC Heritage Conservation Branch, lifted two columns from the wreck on October 14, 1987. One was returned to the quarry site at Newcastle Island.  The second was transported by barge to Kitsilano and placed outside the Vancouver Maritime Museum.  We are very lucky to be able to share photographs of the recovery, taken by Louis Vallee. Special nylon straps were used to hoist the heavy columns out of the water.

Below you can see what a magnificent vessel the Zephyr was, and what she would have looked like at the start of our column's adventure. 

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Take a stroll through Vanier Park this weekend and see the column that lay underwater for 115 years off the coast of Mayne Island!

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This post was made possible with the help of Lynn Salmon from Nauticapedia who wrote a brilliant blog post on the Zephyr which you can read in full here, and the UASBC.

Salmon, Lynn (2012) The Wreck of the Zephyr. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Zephyr_Wreck.php

  • British Columbia Archives - call number MS-0966 textual records

Image credits:

Column photographs were taken by Louis Vallee on October 23, 1987

The Zephyr, courtesy of the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia.