Ear: Great Republic

The steamer Great Republic, with more than 1,000 passengers and crew aboard, ran hard aground on Sand Island off Ilwaco, Washington, while en route from Portland to San Francisco on April 19, 1879.

The three-masted ship, launched in 1866, was a sidewheel steamship with three decks. She was 380 feet long, 50 feet wide and was a well-made vessel built of wood and braced with iron. At the time, she was the largest passenger vessel on the West Coast.

Since it was a clear night when the grounding happened, there was an inquiry. Capt. James Carroll accused the pilot of ignoring his order to "Port your helm and put it hard over, as I think you are getting too near the island."

Be that as is may, it was low tide, they were stuck fast, and a storm was coming in. The 896 passengers safely disembarked but the crew stayed aboard, hoping they could refloat the ship at high tide.

But when the storm arrived, the pounding waves quickly began breaking up the vessel, so there was no choice but to abandon ship the next day. It was as the last boat left that disaster struck; a steering oar broke, making the boat overturn, and 11 died. The vessel's cargo, contents and the passengers' possessions began washing away, and the ship fell apart, a total loss.     

A diver trying to unsnag a fishing net in 1986 rediscovered a massive wreck, originally thought to be the Isabella, wrecked in 1830. It is now believed to have been the remains of the Great Republic. (bit.ly/GrtRepub01, bit.ly/GrtRepub02)

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.