than two years before the Titanic sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic
after hitting an iceberg, the Texas-based steamship
Concho ran into something in the Gulf of Mexico on her way to Galveston.
Fortunately, whatever the Concho struck that day in June 1909 did not
tear a big enough hole in her hull to send the ship to the bottom. Even so, when
the passenger ship reached port a few days later, the story made page-one news.
“Fish Plugged Leak in Vessel,” read an article bearing a Galveston
dateline published in the Austin Daily Statesman on June 6 that year.
as it may sound, here’s what the first paragraph says:
“A large fish was
either sucked or swam into a hole two inches in diameter sprung in the bottom
of the Mallory Line steamer Concho which arrived here last night from New York
with passengers and cargo, thus stopping the leak after the forward compartment
had filled four feet deep with water.”
The sea water had badly damaged the cargo in the hold, the story noted.
ship’s crew stayed busy running the vessel’s pumps to keep the situation under
control until the fish – its species went unreported – gave its life for the greater
good and the leak stopped.
Nor did company officials have any idea what
the Concho had struck.
“A submerged derelict probably caused the damage
soon after the liner entered the gulf,” the article concluded.
in 1891, the Concho measured 329 feet in length and 47 feet across at her broadest
point. She drew 21 feet of water and displaced 3,724 gross tons. “[The] Concho
was a fine example of the plumb-bowed classical steamship that incorporated sail
and steam,” says a web site maintained by Key West artist David Harrison Wright,
a 1968 University of Texas graduate who specializes in maritime paintings. One
of his paintings, commissioned by the Key West Maritime Historical Society, depicts
the Concho steaming across the Gulf in her heyday. (To see the painting go to
The Concho, which carried
both passengers and freight, connected Galveston
with New York via Key West. During the Spanish-American war the U.S. government
chartered her to carry troops to Cuba, but after the war she returned to her regular
service on the Mallory Line.
While the unexplained damage sustained in
1909 could have had serious consequences if her pumps had failed and the fish
had not appeared in a timely manner, the Concho’s closest brush with disaster
had come nine years before. She had steamed out of Galveston
on Sept. 5, 1900, only three days before a
devastating, unnamed hurricane swept across the island city, then Texas’
storm leveled much of the community and claimed six to eight thousand lives
in what still stands as the nation’s
worst natural disaster.
Fortunately for the Concho, when Capt. Samuel
Rick observed that the ship’s barometer showed the atmospheric pressure falling
alarmingly – a sure sign of a tropical cyclone – he ordered a change of course
hoping to avoid the storm. Or, as an account in the New York Times put it after
the ship finally made port on the east coast on Sept. 12, Rick “sought safety
Despite the captain’s efforts, the Concho still encountered
the southwestern edge of the swirling storm. The vessel and her nervous passengers,
likely many of them seasick, endured gale force winds that churned up towering
day,” the newspaper continued, “with the rain coming down in torrents, the vessel
kept away from the worst of the storm.” But the following day, “the Concho was
caught in the back current. Its fury was worse than the storm itself, but the
rain helped to keep the waves down.”
Once the battered ship made it to Key West, the newspaper concluded, she had smooth
sailing to New York.
“After a long and successful career,” the artist’s
web site concluded, “Concho was sold to German interests, and scrapped in 1928.”
which first began serving Galveston
in 1866 and continued under that corporate identity until 1932, named many of
its ships after Texas rivers. The
oldest ship in the Mallory fleet when the Concho got a little help from a fish
was the San Marcos, a vessel that slid down the ways in 1881. Other river-named
ships operating out of Galveston
at various times during the life of the steamship company were the Brazos, Colorado,
Comal, Guadalupe, Lampasas, Medina, Nueces, Pecos, Rio Grande, Sabine, San Marcos,
San Saba and San Jacinto.
None of the Mallory Line vessels have survived.
All ended up either sunk or salvaged, but so far as is known, only the Concho
ever got a little help from a fish.
Cox - December
15 , 2011 column
People | Texas Towns | Columns