My Norwegian grandfather was a seafarin’ man, he served as First Mate on a sailing ship called the St. Paul, also called the “Hell Ship” for reasons I have yet to uncover. He sailed out of Ballard for the Bering Sea many times, the last time was in 1910. For me the seafarin’ gene never kicked in.
I like the dry land, but I am continually fascinated by those that have made their living on the sea and the many shipwrecks that have occurred along the coast of the West End of Clallam County.
The Prince Arthur
On the evening of Jan. 2, 1903, a ship’s officer aboard the Prince Arthur, a Norwegian bark that had been at sea 50 days from Valparaiso and on its way to Port Blakeley, most likely mistook a light on shore for the Tatoosh Island Beacon, causing the ship to turn east into what he thought would be the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Instead the ship turned into the rocky shoreline of Clallam County at about 5 p.m. that afternoon in heavy weather — the ship had no chance.
In spite of her iron construction, the ship began to break up. An attempt was made to lower the ship’s lifeboats but it was useless, waves were breaking over most of the vessel. Of the 20 men on board — 18 Norwegians and two Danes — only two men made it off alive.
Sixty years later in an interview survivor Christopher Hansen, living in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the time, could still recall hearing the voices of his fellow shipmates calling for help from the foamy surf, and knowing there was nothing he could do. After dragging himself away from the waves hitting the shore, he fell asleep on the beach near what he described as a primeval forest.
It would be the next day when Hansen would discover that also surviving the wreck was the ship’s carpenter, a Dane named Knud Larsen.
Walking along the isolated beach the two found some barrels of flour and butter washing up in the surf, they also eventually found the 18 deceased crew members.
Hansen also sadly remembered removing a pair of boots off of one of the departed. His own boots had been lost in his swim ashore and he knew he would not make it far in the rough terrain without suitable footwear.
After heading inland and then deciding their best bet for rescue was along the beach, they spotted smoke from a Norwegian timber cutter’s cabin. After a perilous ride in an Indian canoe and several other modes of transportation Hansen was back in Norway promising his mother he would never go to sea again, within a year he was back on another ship. Hansen and Larsen never saw each other again.
It took five days for news to get to Clallam Bay that the Prince Arthur had foundered. The Norse Club of Seattle launched a delegation to go retrieve the bodies and return them for proper burial, but due to advanced decomposition it was decided the dead should be buried near the beach and a location for a monument was chosen on the Norwegian timber cutter’s claim.
A few months later the 10-foot tall granite monument was put in place with the epitaph “Here lies the crew of bark Prince Arthur of Norway foundered January 2, 1903,” and the names of the dead sailors; also included were the names of the two survivors.
Eventually one of the Norwegian timber cutters left the area and the other died in 1933 but his family continued to pay taxes on the property, where the monument was placed, until the Olympic National park took over the property.
Through the years various groups and local residents have worked to keep the moss and brush from overtaking the monument.
Initially, the National Park Service designated the grave site as the Swedish Memorial, but later corrected it to the Norwegian Memorial, when in fact it maybe really should be the Norwegian/Danish Memorial or maybe it should just serve as a reminder to all that just like the weather life and death are unpredictable.