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115 Years Ago This Week: Famed Iredale Shipwreck Hits Oregon Coast

Published 10/26/21 at 4:46 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

115 Years Ago This Week: Famed Iredale Shipwreck Hits Oregon Coast

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(Astoria, Oregon) – Monday, October 25 marked exactly 115 years ago that the barque Peter Iredale ran aground near Warrenton and has ever since been an Oregon coast landmark. It's also one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the entire world. (Above: the Iredale in 1951, courtesy Oregon State Archives)

Yet it was 115 years ago today – October 26, 1906 – that the news of this dramatic stranding hit the world, starting with the Morning Astorian's first edition of that day. According to their reports – and plenty of subsequent historical accounts – those wee hours of the morning of October 25 were stormy and raucous. The four-masted Peter Iredale was on her way into the mouth of the Columbia River after coming from Mexico, a British-based ship made mostly of steel. This was her ninth time coming into town, according to the rather tedious logs of incoming ships that were routinely published in newspapers at the time.

It was at 2 a.m. that Captain H. Lawrence first saw the lights of Astoria, but due to the gale and windstorm swirling around them this view flickered in front of him, making it an uneasy route in. Lawrence stuck to his training and decided to wait until daylight to try and enter, however the wild conditions caused him and the crew to lose their bearings in the night and with just a few moments notice they found themselves about to ground on the beach.

One crew member screamed “breakers dead ahead” from a lookout, and Lawrence immediately gave the order to steer the ship away. In these conditions, the wheel wouldn't work properly and within minutes the crew was struck with horror at the sound of the boards beneath their feet grinding onto land.

Courtesy Columbia River Maritime Museum

By this time it was 7:45 a.m.

The jolt was gargantuan: everything onboard went flying the direction of the stop. The masts snapped off with the enormous force, and even the anchors and chains mysteriously went flying off the ship, later found quite a ways away.

Evacuations were swift, but massive waves swamped over the vessel and crewmen as they fled, leaving little time to grab belongings or other valuables. Meanwhile, just a tad up the Oregon coast, a rescue team was already arriving from Point Adams before they'd even finished leaving the ship behind. (Photo: the Iredale in 2001)

Everyone onboard made it safely off the ship, including two stowaways.

While waiting on the beach to be ferried to Fort Stevens for medical treatment, the men were quickly joined by a crowd of over 100 residents, according to the newspaper. Word spread quickly in an age before telephones, and plenty showed up to lend assistance. Not needing any help after all, the crowd instead turned their attention to sharing their bottles of booze with the relieved crewmen, and the ensuing party on the beach is legendary.

It was here that Capt. Lawrence famously toasted the ship goodbye with a hearty swig.

Photo courtesy Oregon State Archives: a rarely-seen shot of the Iredale before its demise

Two crewmembers got so drunk they could not make the train to Astoria the next day.

The British naval court held an inquiry on the wreck less than a month later and found Lawrence and his crew not guilty of any wrongdoing or negligence, and in fact he and the officers were commended for their efforts.

Plans were to salvage the ship at the time, but weeks of wild conditions persisted and eventually the ship was permanently embedded in the sand and had tilted to the left. It was then considered a total loss. During World War I, most of its parts were removed, and after that its tired and old bones were left to rust on this north Oregon coast beach. See the full story Wrecking the Peter Iredale: How Oregon Coast History Played Out in 1906

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Courtesy Columbia River Maritime Museum

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