River View Cemetery, Part 3

Dear Liza,

As you know, I love questions.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love cemeteries. They always seem to ask more questions than they answer!IMG_0098.jpg

For example, in one section of River View Cemetery were nearly a dozen headstones with a man’s name, another name in quotation marks, and the date the man died. Sometimes the word “drowned” was included.

Robert Wilson, for example, was 27 years old when he “drowned”, so we figured the Embleton was a ship he was serving on.

There was also the headstone of a young man named Joseph W. Curling, also “drowned” on the Embleton.But he died November 20, 1888.img_0105.jpg

I started looking in old newspapers for the Embleton. This ship had it rough.

In 1885, the Embleton, a British merchant sailing ship, stopped in Acapulco, Mexico, to deliver coal. Apparently it picked up some diseased fresh water, because a few days out of port, the sailors began to sicken and die. Captain Payton continued up the Pacific coast of South America for his home port of Tacoma, Washington.

By the time the Embleton reached Tacoma, only two men, two ship’s boys and Captain Payton were still alive, having guided the ship with less than half of her usual crew. An official inquiry found the Captain blameless and the remaining crew heroic in their efforts. The ship was cleaned and returned to duty.

But this brings the question. If Robert Wilson was on the Embleton in January 1885, he was on a ship of sick and dying men. How did he “drown”? Who was keeping track of how the men died? “Drowned” was not included on every headstone of a sailor who died on duty, so why this one?

And as to Mr. Joseph Curling, he became crew of the Embleton five years after the disastrous infection. I can’t find any evidence as to when he came on board, but his November 20, 1888 date of death is odd. That entire month, the Embleton was on the Willamette, between Portland and Astoria. Did he simply fall overboard and drown?

Later, in 1890 to 1891, the Embleton took almost two years to cross from Scotland to Tacoma. Even back then, that was really slow. There were several news articles expressing concern, including one titled “Is She Still Afloat?”

Like I said, questions. You gotta love ’em.

As you might guess, the Embleton itself ended badly. Sailing across the Irish Sea in a dense fog in July 1900, it was hit midships by the liner Campania, cut in two, and sank with all but seven men. Some ships just can’t catch a break.

Hopefully I will have happier news tomorrow.


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

One thought on “River View Cemetery, Part 3”

  1. Even if the ship had re-provisioned fresh water further north (though mostly all desert until northern California) the parasites were by then well established in the crew. I lived in Guatemala for a year, between ’81-’82 (during the revolution — yuck!) I got a case of Giardia. It was miserable. I could see how a crew could dehydrate, especially having to replenish the bacteria thru their only source of water. Moral of Story: We got it SO EASY here and now, that don’t never stop countin’ yo’ blessin’s!


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