As one can imagine, wooden ships and fire do not make for a good day at sea. Cargoes of case oil, charcoal, guano, and lime were prone to catching fire, spontaneously combusting or smoldering. Numerous vessels met their demise carrying these cargos.
The ship RAPPAHANNOCK of Bath, under the command of Captain Wiley Rogers Dickinson, carrying a cargo of soft charcoal spontaneously combusted while traveling from Liverpool to San Francisco around Cape Horn on November 2, 1891. The ship was just two years old. Capt. Dickinson had his wife and two daughters Grace and Bessie on board the vessel.
The vessel made it to Cumberland Bay, on the northern end of the South Pacific Island of Juan Fernandez about 400 miles off the Chilean mainland, where she was completely destroyed. The crew of three mates, 26 men, the Captain and his wife and two daughters took refuge on Robinson Crusoe Island, and were eventually rescued by the Chilean Government steamer HUEMIAL, which took them to Valparaiso, Chile.
Bessie Dickinson was given a Chilian Flag by Manuel Carera, on November 25, 1891, the morning she and the others of the left the island. As they were about to get into the boats, Manuel came running to the water’s edge where Bessie was standing. “Missy’, he said, ‘so many people ask Manuel for this flag’, clasping it to his breast,” so many offer Manuel money, but I do not give it to any of them.’ He pushed the flag into Bessie’s hands ‘I give it to the little Missy, so that someday when she is far away she will look at this flag and think of Manuel way down in these South Pacific Oceans. Maybe you will come back, maybe we will never see you, but you think of Manuel’. He brushed the tears from his eyes, as Bessie caught his two hands, her own eyes bright with tears at the unexpected gift, ‘Some day Manuel I hope we see you again, you’ve been so good to us. I don’t know what we would have done without you to help. I’ll always keep your flag.’ She ran down to the boat while Manuel stood there, a typical Robinson Crusoe, rugged as the hills that rose high in air back of him.”