- Bogart, Charles B.
- Early warships, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
While lying to in the port, the ship conducted live exercises in loading and firing her guns. The target for the guns was provided by Bird Rock, which was located in the harbor. It was while conducting these exercises that one of the deserters, still in leg irons, committed suicide by jumping overboard.
After having laid at anchor at Porto Grande for 20 days, the word was passed on May 19 to light the fires and raise the anchor for putting to sea. Unfortunately, during the underway preparation the port anchor was slipped and all ideas of putting to sea were curtailed until the anchor could be recovered.
This, which at first had seemed like a simple operation, soon proved to be anything but that.
After seven days of diving and dragging for the anchor, it was abandoned to the sea floor since the Wachusett was running low on coal and provisions. Thus, when the Wachusett gained the sea, her coal supply was almost depleted and only a month’s rations remained on board. This normally would not have been serious as long as the ship could have touched at a Brazilian port, but since she was a persona non grata with Brazil, she would either have to return to St. Pierre or have to reach Cape Town within thirty days. It was for this latter course that Commander Townsend optioned.
The Wachusett’s luck, as usual, was bad.
Search as she might, she was unable to raise any steady breeze. As her coal was almost depleted, she was dependent upon her sails for propulsion. But search as she might under steam, she was unable to find anything but light breezes. As a result, she found herself off Cape Frio on June 19 with only ten days of rations left on board and almost no coal. With starvation staring her in the face, the decision was made to make for Brazil and trust that the Brazilian government’s attitude had changed with the Civil War now over. On June 28 the Wachusett entered the port of St. Catherine, Brazil, with ‘only three tons of coal and no provisions on board’ and placed her fate in the hands of the port authorities.
Once the ship had anchored, the officers and men were able to observe the shipping around them more carefully, and it seemed as if the Wachusett’s luck had finally run out. For it was observed that also anchored in the harbor was the greatest part of the Brazilian fleet. Preparations were soon being made on both sides for an engagement, but through the tact and patience of Benjamin Undsey, the American consul, and the local authorities, a truce was arranged until the Emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro II, could be informed of the situation. While the message was being sped to the Emperor, the Wachusett was allowed to take on food and water for her crew.
The Emperor, upon learning of the Wachusett’s presence in a Brazilian port, directed that the former edict concerning her be revoked and that she be received with the same courtesy as any other visiting warship. The ship was therefore allowed to proceed to Rio de Janeiro for fuel and provisions.
After taking on fifty tons of coal, on July 3 she sailed from St. Catherine for Rio de Janeiro where she arrived on July 7.
The Wachusett spent the next two months lying at anchor at Rio. Her officers spent their time visiting the other warships present and making excursions ashore to see the city and go hunting.
Finally, with their pockets low on cash and a need to press on to their station, the anchor was hoisted and she steamed out from Rio on September 20 1865.
Once at sea the fires were banked and the sails set for Cape Town. The run to Cape Town was to be a long and slow one as the ship’s once clean bottom was now very foul with marine growth due to her long anchorage in tropical waters.
The coast of Africa was sighted from the tops on October 19, and on the following day the Wachusett entered Simon’s Bay. Here she laid for two weeks taking on stores and visiting the other foreign warships. Much to the Wachusett’s officers’ and men’s chagrin, they learned that the USS Wyoming, which had been ordered to China three months after them, had touched at Simon’s Bay in August, two months before they reached it. Underway again with full coal bunkers, the Wachusett rounded the Cape and anchored at Cape Town on October 27. Here she stayed for a month enjoying a round of parties and excursions ashore until ordered to put to sea on November 23 in company with the USS Hartford for Batavia.
The Hartford was serving as flagship for Admiral Henry Bell, then on his way to China to assume command of the Asiatic Station. The Wachusett soon parted company from the Hartford as Admiral Bell found that the Hartford kept walking away from her. He therefore ordered the Wachusett to proceed to Batavia independently. Thus, the Wachusett continued her voyage along in the wake of the Hartford, arriving at Batavia fourteen days after the Hartford on January 11 1866.
The Wachusett, after a stay of sixteen days at Batavia where she was reprovisioned and coaled, pointed her bow toward the open sea on January 27 for Hong Kong. Before reaching Hong Kong, calls were made at Ambon Bay and Manila Bay, finally reaching Hong Kong on March 5 1866. The voyage had taken 365 days and had covered 22,484 nautical miles at an average speed of 5.5 knots. During that period the Wachusett had spent 170 days on the seas and 195 days in port.
The Wachusett remained at Hong Kong until March 15 when once again in company with the Hartford she got underway for Macao. At Macao she spent a pleasant interlude before steaming up the Pearl River to Canton. Here she remained from April 6 to April 16, exchanging visits with Chinese officials until ordered to proceed to the Gulf of Chihii. The orders cutting short her visit to Canton were the result of an outbreak of banditry in the area around the Gulf.
In compliance to these orders, the ship cleared the Pearl River on April 18 1866 bound for Shanghai. The voyage was undertaken under an ill omen, for on the morning of April 19 one of the Wachusett’s men was lost overboard in heavy seas. Immediately a boat was lowered to rescue the man, but it was soon in trouble due to the heavy seas. When it attempted to come about to return to the ship, it was swamped and the men thrown into the sea. Two more boats were then lowered which, under trying conditions, rescued the crew of the swamped boat but not the man originally lost overboard. In returning alongside the ship, the two boats were so battered in the attempts to hoist them aboard as to become unseaworthy and were thus abandoned to the sea.
The omen, however, proved to be false and the Wachusett arrived safely at Shanghai on April 24. After reprovisioning and coaling, the ship sailed again on April 29. Once again, turning her bow north, the Wachusett steamed for the Gulf of Chihii. Entering the Gulf on May 3 1866, she tied up at the city of Yingtsze on the following day. As soon as the gangway was lowered, she was boarded by the American consul who reported that a strong group of bandits, under the leadership of a Chinese named Hon, had entered the area killing and robbing, and numbered among his victims were some Europeans and Americans.
The local mandarins claimed that they were powerless to stop the killing and looting, and thus the consul informed Commander Townsend it was up to the Wachusett to restore order. The consul further informed Commander Townsend that Hon was boasting that as soon as the river froze he would cross it to destroy the city and capture any American warship in the harbor.
Commander Townsend, upon receiving this information from the American consul, ordered that part of the crew be armed and landed. These men were then put through infantry drills to encourage the local mandarins and populace to resist Hon. To impress upon the people the power of the Wachusett, a gunnery drill was held in port and target exercises held in the harbor. To counterbalance this show of naked force, and to give the local mandarins an official reason for the Wachusett’s presence to report to the central government, the ship undertook a survey of the port and boxed the channels and anchorages.
With the coming of June and the banditry continuing with no effort being made by the local mandarins to suppress it, Commander Townsend decided to take matters into his own hands. On June 25 Commander Townsend landed one hundred armed sailors under the command of Lt. Jack Philip, the Executive Officer, with orders to capture Hon. In pursuit of these orders, Lt. Philip undertook a night march to a nearby village rumored to house Hon’s headquarters. Dispersing his men, Lt. Philip surrounded the village in silence and then launched a violent surprise dawn attack. Except for some minor resistance, Lt. Philip’s men soon carried the village, netting not only the bandit leader, Hon, but his two sons and many of their men.
The captured bandits were marched in chains to the Wachusett where they were taken on board and locked below. Commander Townsend then began preparations to sail to Shanghai to try to execute the bandits. This action, however, led to immediate protests by the local mandarins who feared for their lives if Hon and his men were executed by Europeans at Shanghai instead of by themselves. The mandarins, therefore, quickly promised to try to execute Hon and his men.
Commander Townsend, fearing that once the local mandarins received custody of Hon would either free him or allow him to escape, at first refused to hand him over. After several meetings between Commander Townsend and the local mandarins, however, it was agreed that if the mandarins offered certain guarantees, Hon would be turned over to them for trial at Yingtsze. These conditions being met, Hon and his men were landed, and the Wachusett, her mission accomplished, set sail for Teng-Chan-Fu which was also suffering from attacks from bandits. Upon the arrival of the ship at Teng- Chan-Fu on July 12, Commander Townsend went ashore to visit the local mandarins and demand that action be taken against the bandits. To back up this demand, a detachment of armed men was landed from the Wachusett. When on the following day Commander Townsend returned to see the local mandarins and learn of their decision, he found that they had all decamped during the night. After a week of fruitless efforts to find and return the mandarins to their offices, Commander Townsend decided to wash his hands of the whole matter and set sail for Shanghai after causing the Americans to look foolish in the eyes of the Chinese.
The Wachusett dropped her anchor at Shanghai again on July 26 1866. While her men enjoyed a well-earned liberty ashore, she was recoaled and provisioned. On August 10 the men were called to quarters for getting under way. Their destination this time was Hankow on the Yangtze River, to which they carried the American Consul General and his staff. The trip was to be anything but the holiday junket that the officers and men of the Wachusett thought they were setting out on. The weather turned extremely hot as they started upstream with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees being recorded each day.
The result was that by the time the ship reached Hankow, many of the crew were sick and a few were dead of heat stroke. Among the dead was Commander Townsend who succumbed to the heat on August 15. Lt. Jack Philip, the Executive Officer who then succeeded to the command of the Wachusett, ordered that preparations be made for getting under way as soon as Commander Townsend was buried. Thus, the Wachusett turned her bow downstream on August 18 bound for Yokohama, Japan, where Lt. Philip hoped that a change in climate would revitalize the crew.
The change in climate worked as Lt. Philip had hoped and the crew was soon recovering from its complaints. During the time that the Wachusett lay at Yokohama from August 23 to September 13 1866, she received a new captain, Commander Robert W. Shufeldt, late of the Hartford. Shortly after he assumed command, Commander Shufeldt was ordered to proceed to Nagasaki to receive US Government dispatches for forwarding to Hong Kong. The Wachusett carried out this order, arriving on September 20 at Nagasaki where she received on board not only the US dispatches but all other mail bound for Hong Kong and Europe. These she carried with her when she sailed on September 24 and safely deposited them at Hong Kong on September 29 1866.
The Wachusett spent the remainder of the year at Hong Kong and Macao. Here she acted as escort to all American merchant ships proceeding through the area. This was necessary as the area was suffering from an increase of pirate attacks on merchantmen To counteract this growing problem, the Wachusett also undertook numerous routine patrols up and down the Pearl River and among the islands along the coast between Macao and Hong Kong. These duties ended on December 29 1866 when she was ordered to proceed to Shanghai and report to the American Consulate.
Upon arrival at the Consulate on January 1 1867, Commander Shufeldt received orders to proceed to Korea and demand that the king punish those subjects of his who had murdered the crew of the American trading schooner, General Sherman, during September 1866 on the Pign Yang River. In compliance with these orders, the Wachusett left Shanghai on January 11 for Chemulpo, Korea, where she arrived on January 23 1867.
The Wachusett spent the next six days cruising off the coast trying to contact one of the local mandarins to carry a message to the Korean king.
When the Wachusett finally did contact one on January 29, she was met with rebuke from the mandarin with regard to the General Sherman and a demand that the Wachusett leave the Korean coast. In reply Commander Shufeldt presented the mandarin with a letter demanding an explanation of the attack on the General Sherman and the punishment of those involved. If these actions were not carried out, the letter threatened that the US Government would take it upon itself to punish those responsible by the landing of US forces. In order that the local mandarins might offer an explanation to the people on the Wachusett’s presence, she set about to survey the Ta-Tong River.
No answer to these demands was ever forthcoming from the king, but through questioning of various people found along the Korean coast, it was soon established that the crew of the General Sherman had been killed by natives acting on their own and not by the direction of any mandarin. The reason given for the attack was that the Korean coast had been under constant raids by Chinese junks and that while the General Sherman was of American registry, her crew was Chinese.
Thus, the villagers had either mistaken the General Sherman for another raider or were just avenging themselves on the nearest Chinese. With this answer Commander Shufeldt had to be satisfied, and he set out to return to Shanghai as no representative of the king would communicate with the ship. Before leaving Korean waters, however, the Wachusett surveyed Port Hamilton, an island off the northern coast of Korea, for possible use as a naval or coaling station. The Wachusett dropped anchor at Shanghai on February 5 1867.
The Wachusett remained at Shanghai until February 24 when she got under way for Hankow which was reached on March 6. The purpose of her visit was to provide protection for the Europeans in the city and provide mediation between the Chinese forces engaged in a civil war in the area. All attempts at mediation, however, were a failure. The ship, therefore, withdrew from the scene of the fighting and started downriver on March 14. The trip was a slow one as she was ordered to follow the march of the rebel forces along the river. Thus, she did not reach Shanghai until March 30.
The Wachusett was to remain at Shanghai either at anchor or providing local escort to American merchant ships in the area until August 26 1867, when she received orders to return to the United States. These orders were the cause of much rejoicing on board the Wachusett as it was now over two years since they had left Boston. Before proceeding home, however, the Wachusett had to call at Hong Kong for formal detachment from the Asiatic Squadron.
Thus, the ship did not begin her homeward passage until September 5 1867, when she sailed from Hong Kong flying a two hundred and fifty foot homeward bound pennant. Her return voyage, covering the same path she had travelled on her way out, was to be a much speedier voyage. This time there were no long stays in ports or deviations from the shortest trek home. After a voyage of one hundred and fortyseven days, she reached New York on January 29 1868 and was placed in reserve.
The Wachusett was to spend most of the remainder of her life in reserve except for brief commissionings with the European and Pacific Squadrons. She was stricken from the Naval Register in 1887 and sold at the Mare Island Naval Yard on July 30 1887.