Captain’s sons who wanted to go to sea learned on ships commanded by their father’s friends and colleagues. It was a sad day when a ship went down with young men aboard. The story of the wreck of the ELIZABETH is one of loss for four Searsport families. Her master, Captain John Herbert Colcord, was travelling with his wife and two children, who were saved, although he died. Also drowned were James Edwin Herriman, 17-year-old son of Captain James Herriman, and Nathan Philip Pendleton, son of Captain Nathan Pendleton. Earlier, James Locke Pendleton, son of Captain James Gilmore Pendleton, was killed falling from the ELIZABETH’s rigging. The Colcords had a long history of trading in San Francisco Harbor, and when the ship went down, Captain Colcord’s loss was felt in his hometown of Searsport and that of San Francisco. A set of resolutions of regret for the untimely death of the Captain, and expressing the high esteem in which he was held, was drawn up by the principal merchants of San Francisco, engrossed and framed, and after being exhibited in the old Merchants’ Exchange, was presented to his widow.
Chief officer W.C. Barclay gave the following account of the loss:
We arrived off San Francisco… Feb. 21, 1891. Despite the offer of two tugs to tow the ship through the Golden Gate, Captain Colcord proceeded under sail until 2 pm, when she was nearly through the Golden Gate, and the wind shifted, heading her off. The tug ALERT, which had followed the ship in, offered to tow us for $50, which offer Captain Colcord accepted … As soon as the tug started ahead, the hawser parted and the ship commenced to drift in towards the shore…The tug came up again and wanted us to take his hawser on our quarter to tow the ship off stern first, as the Captain thought we were setting in shore. As the ship was paying off all right, Captain Colcord ordered the tug to pass the hawser over the bow and go ahead, which was done and proceeded towards the city….The ship at this time was drifting steadily to leeward, there being a strong and increasing breeze and the tug being unable to make any headway. At about 4pm the ship struck heavily on Four Fathom Bank or Potato Patch, the tug still towing and whistling for assistance. Soon after striking, the hawser broke or was cut away. Part of the ship’s keel floated alongside and the ship commenced to leak badly….The tug RELIANCE now came to us and the ALERT went away. Captain Colcord ordered the second cutter launched to carry his wife and two children to the tug, but she swamped under …with three men in her, they being picked up by the tug. The dingie was then launched with mate Barclay and two men…Captain Colcord persuaded his family to get in the boat. They were taken on board the RELIANCE and the dingie again returned to the ship. By this time the ACTIVE had passed her hawser to the ship, she having worked over the bank…Captain Colcord decided to get the ship into the harbor and beach her, if a suitable place could be found. The RELIANCE made fast to the ACTIVE and towed ahead of her but the ship drifted steadily leeward all the time, the wind having increased to a heavy gale. Captain Colcord ordered…the long boat turned over…Mr. Barclay went forward and seeing the ship was close in to the breakers, launched the boat at once, put three men in her and ordered the second mate and boatswain not to allow the boat to leave the ship until he returned with the master. Mr. Barclay then went aft to get the Captain, who had been injured in the side…but…the ship’s stern struck and she swung around broadside to the beach, with heavy seas breaking over her, it being about 7 pm…Captain Colcord was told that the boat was ready and that it was time to leave the ship. He at first demurred, saying he was too much hurt to help himself, but he was finally persuaded to make an attempt. While Mr. Barclay and one of the crew were assisting him along the main deck, a heavy sea came on board and injured him so that he died. Mr. Barclay then went forward and found that the boat with 13 men in her had left the ship and could not return, leaving 9 on board. We secured ourselves as well as possible forward. About 8 pm the masts commenced to come down and the ship to break up, driving us out on the bowsprit. A heavy sea washed us overboard and only Mr. Barclay succeeded in reaching the shore alive. Four of the men from the longboat also got ashore. The tugs had disappeared in the darkness.”
Of the 29 persons on board, 18 were lost.