A Davenport Connection: The Sinking of the S. S. Schiller Part II

The S. S. Schiller sailed away from Hoboken, New Jersey in fine weather.

The Davenport group settled into their respective cabins or steerage areas. Mr. Kircher, Mrs. Klemme, Mrs. Hansen and daughter, Mr. Paulsen, Carl (Charles) Frahm, William Frahm, and the Haase family were assigned first or second class cabins. Mr. Roschmann, Mr. & Mrs. Gutsche, Mr. Goetsch, Mr. Bonhoff, and Mr. Nissen all had steerage accommodations.

The first few days at sea were met with calm weather, but things began to change around May 4th. Fog had become an issue as the ship sailed towards its first destination of Plymouth, England. By the evening of May 7th the Schiller was sailing towards the Isles of Scilly in a turbulent sea and nearing high tide.

The fog was so thick that evening that Captain George Thomas ordered the masts to be taken in and the motors cut to half speed. Fog bells also began to be rung on ship. Passengers joined the crew on deck to help search for the lighthouse on Bishop’s Rock that would help guide the boat around the islands and surrounding reefs.

But unknown to anyone on board, the ship had moved off course. Instead of sailing around the islands, they were aimed right towards them.

At 10:00 p.m. the Schiller struck the Retarrier Ledges.

Captain Thomas attempted to free the ship. He was successful—but just as the ship began to move, it was hit by three large waves in succession smashing into the nearby rocks. The ship began to list immediately.

Six cannon blasts were sent out in the hopes of rescue from nearby St. Agnes or St. Mary Islands. They were heard, but ignored as it had become common for ships to fire cannon shots as they passed the islands to signal safe passage. After the powder became wet, signals and rockets were shot off, but likely not seen due to the heavy fog.

Carl Frahm gave an account of the sinking to a London correspondent of the New York Herald. The article was picked up internationally and appeared in the May 11th, 1875 Davenport Democrat. Mr. Frahm stated that some filled lifeboats made it into the water, but were quickly swamped or smashed into rocks. Others were crushed by falling smokestacks and a few had not been maintained and were found to be unseaworthy. He saw three go into the water.

One, he said, was only filled with crew who refused to return to the ship.

By midnight, Mr. Frahm reported that the fog lifted briefly. The elusive lighthouse was seen along with waves sweeping over the listing ship carrying victims into the sea. Then the fog returned. For safety, women and children were moved into the deck-house. At 2:00 a.m. a large wave swept the roof off the deck-house and all inside thrown into the water and on to surrounding rocks.

At 3:00 a.m. Captain Thomas was swept into the sea as he tried to save others on deck. Passengers began to cling or tie themselves to the main mast and foremast. Mr. and Mrs. Haase were seen clinging to the main mast, each with a child in their arms. At 5:00 a.m. the fog began to break and survivors continued to call for help. At 7:00 a.m. the main mast fell into the sea while the foremast fell at 7:45 a.m. taking those who clung to them into the sea as well.

Soon after, two boats from St. Agnes appeared, having been sent out by locals who had begun to wonder about the noises they had heard in the night. They picked up the few survivors and returned to St. Agnes to raise an alarm. The boats that responded picked up the few remaining survivors and the bodies of those who perished.As more bodies washed up on nearby shores they were buried in the Old Town Churchyard on St. Mary’s. The widower of one of the victims would later fund a large monument to grace the graves.

Of the 254 passengers and 118 crew members only 37 survived, 36 men and 1 woman. Of the seventeen Davenporters who boarded the ship, only Carl Frahm survived. The citizens of Davenport were devastated at the loss of their family and friends.

Carl Frahm continued on his journey and studied in Germany for one year before returning home to work in the family brewing business. He married Ida Schwenn in 1876 and became a well-respected business man in the community.

On the morning of January 25, 1881 Mr. Frahm woke early and claimed to not feel well. He soon lapsed into a coma and died. He was 26 years old. His cause of death was credited to apoplexy.* Mr. Frahm’s obituary stated he had developed severe asthma resulting from the two hours he spent in the freezing water before being rescued on the morning of May 8, 1875. He had never recovered his health fully. He and his wife had no children.

Mr. Frahm was buried in Oakdale Cemetery in the family lot not far from a headstone that was placed in memory of his brother William. Carl was the only member of the fateful Schiller party to be buried at home amongst friends and family.

But the residents of Scilly had taken such care with the survivors and dead that in both World Wars, the Germans would not bomb or attack the islands out of respect for what had taken place that fateful May night in 1875.


To read Part I please click here.

(posted by Amy D.)


*Apoplexy was a medical term usually associated heart problems or death that resulted soon after loss of consciousness.


–          The Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1875.

–          The Davenport Democrat, May 11, 1875.

–          The Davenport Democrat, January 25, 1881.

–          www.seabreezes.co.im for S. S. Schiller statistics.

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