The Jason and its Sole Survivor
Originally published in the Cape Codder, Dec. 11, 2015
Over the long history of shipwrecks on the outer beach of Cape Cod, there have been occasions where the term “sole survivor” can be applied to members of a lost vessel.
This situation certainly applied on Dec. 5, 1893, when the British ship Jason ran aground on the sand bars near the Pamet River Lifesaving Station in Truro.
Samuel J. Evans of Raglan, England, was the only member of the 26-man crew who lived through the ordeal. Evans, an apprentice clad in a life preserver, tossed about the waves after the ship struck the bars, clung to a bale of jute and managed to get to the beach, where he struggled ashore toward the lantern of a Pamet station surf man.
The Jason had been at sea for 10 months, setting sail for Boston from Calcutta, India, on Feb. 15. The 1,512-ton ship, loaded with 10,000 bales of jute, barely survived a cyclone in the Indian Ocean in April, but made it to Port Louis, Mauritius, where it was overhauled and repaired.
In September, the Jason resumed its voyage, only to meet up with foul weather again, this time near Bermuda. The ship went on through numerous squalls and gales, passed Georges Shoal (about 100 miles east of Cape Cod), and headed westward.
This course, taken just after midday on Dec. 5, “proved to be fatal as it was ill-advised,” according to the U.S. Lifesaving Service report. Gale force winds out of the northeast were increasing, and the early winter rain was quickly changing to snow and sleet.
By late afternoon, the Nauset and Cahoon Hollow stations had already spotted the Jason, and the Lifesavers up and down the beach of the Outer Cape began to prepare for the worst. According to the report, the Jason “was last seen by the day patrol, with upper topsails set, just off the three lights of Nauset, holding up to the windward with remarkable strength.”
Somehow, the vessel made it as far north as Pamet, but was here where the surf man burned his Coston signal, followed by a report that the ship had indeed struck the bar.
The sailors eventually “fled to the mizzen shrouds,” and after a few towering waves hit the ship, the mast toppled over, and eventually the crew members were washed overboard. Evans was swept shoreward, then back toward the rigging before being washed back to the beach, clutching the jute bale. Evans, wearing only underclothes, was nearly helpless when he was recovered. He was taken to the station, wrapped in hot blankets and treated.
Try as they might, the 16 surf men from the Pamet and Highland stations were unable to find any other survivors. “The fury of the surf was so overwhelming that none of the men … even so much as entertained the thought of attempting to launch the boat,” according to the USLSS report. “It was out of question, absolutely and beyond all possibility of cavil.”
Evans remained with the Lifesaving Service for several days, and eventually was taken to the British consul in Boston, which arranged for his transport back to England. Evans’s father, William Evans, wrote to the USLSS, thanking them for their efforts, and noting that “it is probable that he will again be sailing from England in February, I trust on a more favorable voyage.”
Even though Evans somehow defied the odds on that fateful day aboard the Jason, his status as “sole survivor” would not last for long. In 1949, Cy Chase of North Eastham recalled for The Cape Codder that Evans’s “sailing days came to an end. He fell out of a bunk and broke his neck.”
Don Wilding is a lecturer, tour guide, and author of two books: "Henry Beston's Cape Cod: How 'The Outermost House' Inspired a National Seashore," and "A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod." His "Shore Lore" column appears weekly in the Cape Codder.