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August Wilhem Behn - shipwreck Brig "Marie"

Account of the events by the lone survivor

August Wilhem Behn

He went down with the brig "Marie " with brother Captain Carl Gustav Leopold Behn.


Returning from a London business trip on board the brig "Marie" the ship went aground at Knechtssand near the island of Neuwerk, and all on board drowned. The ship's captain was his brother.

Account of the events by the lone survivor: Loosely translated from 200 year old German script by Stefan Eberhard and then adjusted by Robin Behn

A report by a survivor of the shipwreck of the ship ‘Maria’, under the command of Captain Carl Behn, originating from London to Hamburg, which crashed near Neuwerk. The report follows. He is named Hermann Harmsen, he is 20 years old and born in Hannover [Kingdom]. In order to find a job in a sugar-factory in London he went from Hamburg to London in August of this year. However his expectations were not met and he longed to return home to his fatherland. Capt. Carl Behn from the Hamburg ship ‘Maria’ had the goodness to take him back to Hamburg at no charge. On 30th October they sailed from London with a rich freight on board. Beside the nine crewmen, there were six passengers on board, three gentlemen and three ladies, two of them elderly. One lady was quite young, she had black hair, had a slender and tall figure and a nice face. During the night of 2nd November they encountered a hurricane near the isle of Helgoland. Hoping to find a pilot they approached the river Elbe. In the early morning of the 3rd of November waves of terrible size crashed around the ship. The captain gave order to drop the anchor. To the horror of everyone, the order could not be carried out as a giant wave had swept away the steersman, two sailors and a passenger and buried them in the depths of the ocean. At the same time the back and the front masts, the anchor and the hamp-ropes [tauen] were carried away and lost. The situation onboard the ship became desperate following this disaster. The ship moved violently and ran aground. Then low tide began and the sea drew back from the sandbank on which the ship had been grounded. Even though they had the isle of Neuwerk in sight, they didn’t believe there was a chance they would be rescued. They were fearful of a most desolate end coming when the hide tide would return six hours later. In the early evening an indescribably dreadful thing happened. A huge wave tore away the captain, his brother, a passenger, the young lady, a sailor and one of the elderly ladies who was about to climb a mast. The cabin was full with water. Soon afterwards the other elderly lady was washed overboard. In mortal fear the survivor put his arm through an iron ring on the deck of the ship and this saved his life. The ship then broke apart and the part on which he stood carried him towards the mouth of the Elbe. In this state, without food, all the time in the highest danger of being devoured by the waves, he was carried in out and out by the tide for 36 hours until the next noon. He was constantly thrown back and forth until a launch (boat) manned with sailors from Helgoland and Neuwerk rescued him. Although being totally exhausted and nearly dead, his joy at being rescued was indescribable.

Unfortunately the lifeboat was left in Hamburg in order to carry a bigger load. It is not certain whether the lives of the passengers on board would have been saved by the lifeboat). Even though it was not the case this time, it should be law (or became law?) that no ship should sail without this last means of rescue. It should not be the decision of a skipper to expose his crew and his passengers to more danger than necessary.


Verknüpft mitAugust Wilhelm Behn; Carl Gustav Leopold Behn

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