Daily Event for October 25, 2005

October 25, 1836: The SS Royal Tar was destroyed off the coast of Maine. Royal Tar, also known as "The Zoo Ship" was on a voyage from St. John, New Brunswick to Thomaston, Maine. Two days into the voyage the captain, Thomas Reed, noticed the sky was becoming very ominous so he decided to put into port at Eastport, ME. After two days he decided to resume his voyage even though the weather was still unfavorable. The Royal Tar was, it seems, overloaded. She was carrying 85 passengers, 21 crew and an assortment of circus animals. (several big cats, Arabian horses, two camels, monkeys, assorted reptiles and an elephant named Mogul) Another problem on the little ship is that three of the ships five lifeboats were left behind in New Brunswick to make room for the cargo.

After departing Eastport the winds increased to gale force and Reed attempted once again to head to shore. This time the coastal inlands. But there was another problem, the ships boilers were failing. A leak in one of the boilers had allowed the water level to become too low and the boiler overheated. The wooden supports that reinforced the deck where the elephant stood caught fire. The crew tried to contain the fire but failed. The captain decided not to tell the passengers that the ship was on fire because he did not want to start a panic.

Several crew members took one of the two lifeboats and headed for shore, leaving over 100 people only 1 lifeboat. The passengers were finally told that the ship was burning just as they were sitting down for a meal. The strong winds fanned the flames and soon the whole ship was burning. Capt. Reed tried once again to head for land, but began drifting out to sea. The last remaining lifeboat was the only hope of saving anyone so Reed took the boat and stationed it near the burning ship. Passengers jumped into the sea and were taken aboard the lifeboat.

As for the animals, many were thrown overboard in the hope of saving some of them. The big cats were left in their cages because it was thought their release would endanger the survivors. Mogul the elephant was in a total panic, but finally jumped into the sea. One report claims a passenger, who would not part with his money, paid with his life. His pockets filled with silver dollars, he sank like a stone as soon as he hit the water.

Soon a revenue cutter came along and took aboard the people Capt. Reed had rescued, but since the cutter was carrying explosives the Captain would not approach the burning ship. Capt. Reed made several trips back to the Royal Tar to rescue as many people as he could. In all 74 people survived. The Royal Tar drifted out to sea and finally sunk. Capt. Reed was hailed as a hero for his rescue efforts. (but I might point out that he had made several bad decisions which ultimately cost the lives of 32 people)

Mogul the elephant did not survive, his carcass washed up on shore several days later. I do not know at this time how many of the other animals survived.
© 2005 Michael W. Pocock