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Author Topic: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?  (Read 97040 times)

Bruce Thomas

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Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« on: March 19, 2011, 08:11:27 AM »

In the current Forum and the earlier one, I have seen various places where people have mused whether the name of the Norwich City was visible in July 1937, and thus whether it might explain why in Betty's Notebook the letters NY occur multiple times.  Conversely, others question why in any other post-loss messages there's no instance of an attempt to name the island or the shipwreck as a reference for rescuers to use.

In the Ameliapedia article on SS Norwich City, one of the Coast Guardsmen at the LORAN station on Gardner Island, Dick Evans, is quoted with his recollection many years later as to whether the ship's name was visible.  Earlier in that article, there appears a detailed list of references to this shipwreck as a Gardner Island landmark.  Nowhere in that list is there a reference tied to the survey visit in 1939 of USS Bushnell.  I've just taken the time to sift through the many pages of barely legible reports made by Bushnell's captain, William B. Coleman.  Below are three extracts from his reports that make me seriously question whether the Norwich City's name was visible on the shipwreck in 1937.

My reading of the first extract below leads me to think that there was no external evidence of the stranded vessel's name in mid-November 1939.  In fact, it's stated that, "All nameplates and articles of value have been removed."  Only after information was received from someone in Samoa does Captain Coleman, a month later, report the name of the shipwreck.  Notice that the tonnage of Norwich City and the date of its grounding as given in the report are both incorrect.

From page 21 of the progress report of W. B Coleman, captain of USS Bushnell, to the Hydrographer of the U.S. Navy, dated 16 November 1939.

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The party sent to hoist an electric beacon on the stranded steamer at GARDNER ISLAND reported that the steamer apparently was once owned by the W. R. Smith Company of England, as evidenced by the firm name on crockery and old silver pieces found in the Captain's cabin with inscribed name "Normanby".  The ship is in an upright position on the coral ledge, the forward half high and dry, the after part submerged to the upper deck.  A fire apparently gutted the ship before or after stranding.  Both anchors are housed although the stoppers were released.  The hull is broken on both sides amidships and, on the port side, a huge opening extends to the keel line.  No one on the island seems to know when the steamer grounded.  From the state of deterioration of the hull and the wooden boats, it is believed to have stranded at least 3-4 years ago.  All nameplates and articles of value have been removed.  Three clinker-type boats, believed to have belonged to the ship, were found on the beach.  The ship's name had been removed but the barely legible name "BIDEFORD" was discerned on one boat.  Kodak pictures taken from the BUSHNELL, at a distance of about 1000 yards, are forwarded with this report as enclosure (A).

From the memo, Subject:  Sailing Directions Gardner Island, from the captain of USS Bushnell to the Hydrographer of the U.S. Navy, dated 17 December 1939, on the first page:

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The most conspicuous object from the sector north through west to south is the wreck of the steamer Norwich City (Sir W. B. Smith and Sons, Ltd.) which was stranded on the west side near the north point in 1931 (Information as to identity from Burns Philp Co. Manager, Tutuila).  The ship was a freighter of about 3500 tons.  She has been gutted by fire.  She stands upright with more than half her forward length on the reef.  The after portion is broken and twisted through an angle of about 20 degrees.  The foremast remains in place.

From the progress report of the captain of USS Bushnell to the Hydrographer of the U.S. Navy, dated 19 December 1939, under ITEMS OF INTEREST on page 20:

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The stranded steamer at the lagoon entrance on the west shore of GARDNER ISLAND is the "NORWICH CITY", which grounded in 1931.  The crew was rescued by two ships sent from APIA.  This information was received from Mr. MacFagen, manager of the Burns Philp Ltd., of PAGO PAGO.

I have not run across anything in the vast store of TIGHAR documents that would indicate that souvenir hunters or anyone else visited the island in the period from July 1937 to November 1939 (aside from the PISS visit in late 1937, the Kiwi Survey in late 1938, and the subsequent colonization) to make off with any prominent sign of the ship's name on its bow or elsewhere.  But it's plain to me that Captain Coleman could not identify SS Norwich City by that name from anything painted on its hull, and had to rely on information received from Mr. MacFagen in Samoa.
LTM,

Bruce
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« Last Edit: March 19, 2011, 09:07:36 AM by Bruce Thomas »
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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2011, 12:28:33 PM »

Good Post, Bruce.  Capt Coleman's report offers a reliable perspective to the identification of the Norwich City.  Although we can't determine what may have changed between July 2, 1937 and November, 1939, it seems to indicated at least that the name on the bow may not have been legible by 1939.  I have updated the Norwich City page to reflect this information.
Rick J
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2011, 08:35:45 PM »

The New Zealand Survey party photographed one of the Norwich City lifeboats washed up, apparently intact, in the shorefront vegetation right beside the "notice board" they put up. The map made from their survey shows that the notice board was erected on the shore directly in front of the shipwreck. Lifeboats are traditionally marked with the name of the vessel that carries them.
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Bill Lloyd

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2011, 09:07:47 PM »

  But it's plain to me that Captain Coleman could not identify SS Norwich City by that name from anything painted on its hull, and had to rely on information received from Mr. MacFagen in Samoa.
That is a conclusory statement that is inconsistent with the written observations of Dick Evans in 1944.  If Dick Evans could read the name on the bow in 1944, why could it not be read in 1939 or 1937?
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Bruce Thomas

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2011, 06:55:29 AM »

That is a conclusory statement that is inconsistent with the written observations of Dick Evans in 1944.
I'm not aware of any contemporaneous "written observations of Dick Evans in 1944."  Dick Evans posted in the TIGHAR Forum on May 9, 2001: "As I recall the name could be read on the bow of the ship (1944) although it was not very plain."  That's 57 years after the event that he "recalls" this memory that would have been fed, and led, by statements and queries in the Forum.  (And not to forget -- In that same posting in 2001, Mr. Evans also had a memory of visiting the bridge of the Norwich City that Ric at the time gently corrected him about.) 

On the other hand, Captain Coleman's report is contemporaneous, at the time of the visit of USS Bushnell in 1939.  It leaves a distinct impression that identification of the shipwreck was of importance to him and his ship's mission, but that it was something that would take communication with outside parties to learn. 
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All nameplates and articles of value have been removed.  Three clinker-type boats, believed to have belonged to the ship, were found on the beach.  The ship's name had been removed.
With crockery, etc., bearing the older name of the ship (Normanby), I wonder how long it had borne the new name of Norwich City.  Well, at least for as long as to make that ill-fated visit to Vancouver in 1928, nearly 18 months before the shipwreck, when the name is plainly visible in pictures.

One would certainly think that the sign posted beside the lifeboat by the Kiwis in 1938 would identify the shipwreck by name.  (But of course, that would be more than a year after the event in July 1937.)  Unfortunately, I can't read what's on the sign by looking at the picture that TIGHAR has.  And, I don't know of any transcription of it.  Had it even survived a year's worth of weather between the survey of the Kiwis and the arrival of the Bushnell?  All I'm saying is that reading Captain Coleman's reports leads me to think that he didn't seem to be able to definitively name the shipwreck at the end of 1939 until obtaining some kind of communication from Mr. MacFagen in Samoa. 
LTM,

Bruce
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« Last Edit: March 20, 2011, 07:06:53 AM by Bruce Thomas »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2011, 09:32:50 AM »

In order to impeach the credibility of Dick Evans, you will have to submit more than just conclusory statements. Thus far your argument is not convincing.

It's not a question of impeaching Evans' credibility.  We all remember things wrong.  All anecdotal recollections are suspect unless corroborated by hard evidence (contemporary written sources, datable photographs, identifiable artifacts.)  Emily Sikuli's wonderful story of her father pointing out airplane wreckage on the reef was somewhat corroborated by 1953 aerial mapping photos that appear to show a debris field of light-colored metal on the reef downstream of where she said the wreckage was in 1940/41.  The as yet unidentified object sticking up out of the water at the reef edge in the 1937 Bevington photo is in the same spot Emily marked on the map. If forensic analysis of the object shows it to be consistent with some part of the Electra it will be strong corroboration of Emily's anecdote.

If we're going to assess the probability of whether it was possible for Earhart and Noonan to know the name of the ship, we need to do it with hard evidence.
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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2011, 01:08:42 PM »

The build name Normanby was changed to Norwich City by Board of Trade Minutes 2544 in 1919 and The London Certificate "was given up and cancelled on 24/4/19" according to the  Ship's Register at Bideford.   
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2011, 01:33:25 PM »

The build name Normanby was changed to Norwich City by Board of Trade Minutes 2544 in 1919 and The London Certificate "was given up and cancelled on 24/4/19" according to the  Ship's Register at Bideford.   

So any paint job on the ships life boats would have been roughly at the same time.  What is meant by removed? I'm sure from past experience of looking at wooden craft that the marking nethods are either paint or fire branding for the markings though now thinking about such a broad statement the image of some form of plaque comes to mind on some boats.

Me thinks that without photo evidence this may not be able to be answered.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2011, 04:34:17 PM »

Could the name of the ship aground on the reef at Gardner be determined by Earhart and Noonan in 1937?
It is tempting to interpret the repeated occurrence of "N. Y., N.Y." in Betty's notebook (remembered by Betty as standing for "New York City") as "Norwich City," but if there was no way for AE and FN to know the name of the ship that interpretation is incorrect.

The first people who are known to have visited the island following the Earhart disappearance were Maude and Bevington and the 16 Gilbertese delegates evaluating Gardner for possible future settlement.  They were there for three days in October 1937. In his journal, Bevington refers to the ship only as "the wreck."  If he knew its name he didn't consider it worth mentioning. When Maude wrote his official report of the expedition a month later he referred to the wreck as the "Norwich City." The report was written on Ocean Island, the headquarters of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony - not a place where I would expect Maude had access to information about Gardner Island.  

The next people to arrive were the New Zealand Survey party in early December 1938. Their later reports correctly name the ship as "Norwich City" but we have no contemporary diary or journal.  They did photograph one lifeboat on the shore near the sign they put up. The boat appears to be in good condition. There is no reason to think that the sign made any reference to the shipwreck.

The next people to arrive were the first Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme (PISS) work party on December 20, 1938. Maude was with them and we know that he knew the name of the ship by then.  He was there at the same time as the Kiwis so if they didn't already know the name of the ship he could have told them.

Captain Cole of USS Bushnell was there nearly a year later in November 1939.  He's an American and, as far as we know, he's had no contact with British or New Zealand authorities so he doesn't know squat about the island he's supposed to survey.  In all probability, none of his people speak Gilbertese and very few, if any, of the colonists speak English so he's really starting from scratch. His report contains some interesting information.


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The party sent to hoist an electric beacon on the stranded steamer at GARDNER ISLAND reported that the steamer apparently was once owned by the W. R. Smith Company of England, as evidenced by the firm name on crockery and old silver pieces found in the Captain's cabin with inscribed name "Normanby".

According to the Lloyd's Register 1928/29 the ship was built by W. Gray & Co. in West Hartlepool, England in 1911 as "SS Normanby" for the St. Just Steamship Co., Cardiff, South Wales.  In 1919 she was sold to the Reardon Smith Line and her name was changed to "SS Norwich City."  Reardon Smith was also located in Cardiff but registered their vessels out of Bideford across the Bristol Channel due to some post-war scandals associated with ships registered out of Cardiff (fascinating stuff but not relevant to the current discussion). It's not surprising that there would still be "crockery and old silver pieces" inscribed with the ship's original name.

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No one on the island seems to know when the steamer grounded.  

How could they?  The ship had gone aground nine years before they got there.

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From the state of deterioration of the hull and the wooden boats, it is believed to have stranded at least 3-4 years ago.

Actually it was ten years ago.  Apparently the condition of the wooden boats wasn't all that bad.

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 All nameplates and articles of value have been removed.

The implication is that there were nameplates but they have been removed and he has reason to think there may have been articles of value that have ben removed. Coleman is there in November 1939.  The island has been inhabited by a growing number of settlers for nearly a year. It would be surprising if the settlers didn't relieve the wreck of anything they considered to be of value. If they took nameplates it must be that the nameplates were somehow of value.

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 Three clinker-type boats, believed to have belonged to the ship, were found on the beach.  The ship's name had been removed but the barely legible name "BIDEFORD" was discerned on one boat.

This is important. The boats had almost certainly originally been labeled "SS Norwich City   Bideford".   We have no way of knowing who removed the name (if anyone) but there does seem to be a high probability that the ship's name was present and legible on at least one of the three boats two and a half years earlier at the time of the Earhart disappearance.  I think the "Norwich City" interpretation of "N.Y., N.Y." in Betty's Notebook is still a valid possibility.

But here's another question.  Norwich City carried four lifeboats. Where is the fourth boat?

« Last Edit: March 20, 2011, 04:42:11 PM by Ric Gillespie »
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Bill Lloyd

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2011, 08:26:04 PM »

In order to impeach the credibility of Dick Evans, you will have to submit more than just conclusory statements. Thus far your argument is not convincing.

It's not a question of impeaching Evans' credibility.  We all remember things wrong.  All anecdotal recollections are suspect unless corroborated by hard evidence (contemporary written sources, datable photographs, identifiable artifacts.)  Emily Sikuli's wonderful story of her father pointing out airplane wreckage on the reef was somewhat corroborated by 1953 aerial mapping photos that appear to show a debris field of light-colored metal on the reef downstream of where she said the wreckage was in 1940/41.  The as yet unidentified object sticking up out of the water at the reef edge in the 1937 Bevington photo is in the same spot Emily marked on the map. If forensic analysis of the object shows it to be consistent with some part of the Electra it will be strong corroboration of Emily's anecdote.

If we're going to assess the probability of whether it was possible for Earhart and Noonan to know the name of the ship, we need to do it with hard evidence.
The forum entry by Dick Evans is more properly considered first hand account and direct testimony to the fact that he saw the name on the bow of the ship in 1944, not “anecdotal recollections“.  Evans was not just telling a story or providing heresay, he was providing his first hand knowledge to the discussion and unless you can somehow discount his veracity, it is improper to dismiss his information as “suspect”. 

Of course to determine the weight given to his report there should be some corroborating evidence.  There were others with him that could provide input but I suspect they are no longer with us.

Evans made several forum entries that were quite informative and you seemed to have agreed with his recollections of what he was relating as to Tides at Niku

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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2011, 10:07:00 PM »

... Norwich City carried four lifeboats. Where is the fourth boat?

Up in the jungle, covering the cache? 

Used to ferry people to the rescue ship?

Used to move camp, so abandoned elsewhere?
LTM,

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2011, 05:55:35 AM »

The forum entry by Dick Evans is more properly considered first hand account and direct testimony to the fact that he saw the name on the bow of the ship in 1944, not “anecdotal recollections“.  Evans was not just telling a story or providing heresay, he was providing his first hand knowledge to the discussion and unless you can somehow discount his veracity, it is improper to dismiss his information as “suspect”.

I know and like Dick Evans, but any first hand account and direct testimony he - or you - or I - offer of events that occurred decades in the past is subject to error. I do not dismiss anecdotal recollections.  They are a vital starting place in the search for hard evidence.  Dick's anecdotal recollection of seeing a metal tank used as a "water collection device" somewhere on the north shore was the clue that set us on the path that eventually led to the discovery of the Seven Site, but the tank that is there is quite different from the tank he originally sketched for us.

Books have been written about Tom Devine's first hand account and direct testimony of seeing the Earhart Electra burned by the Marines at Aslito Airfield on Saipan in 1944.  I have no reason to think that Tom Devine is any less admirable in character than my friend Dick Evans.  I could fill several pages of this forum with the names of honest, well-intentioned people who have provided first hand accounts and direct testimony to TIGHAR researchers which, upon investigation, has proved to be flawed or just flat wrong.  Some have also proved to be accurate.   The point is, there is no way to tell how accurate a person's memory is, so I treat all recollections as suspect until corroborated. 
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2011, 06:50:55 AM »

Up in the jungle, covering the cache?

Maybe.

Used to ferry people to the rescue ship?

Probably not.  The account of the rescue is quite detailed and makes no mention of using any of the NC lifeboats.

Used to move camp, so abandoned elsewhere?

Ditto


If the fourth boat was not there, I think the most likely explanation is that it never left the ship and was consumed in the fire.  

If it DID wash ashore, then it's missing.  I can think of a couple of other things that are missing.  The mariner's sextant from the box that was found by Gallagher.  And Fred Noonan.

Think about it.  It's July 10th. They've been on the island for eight days. They've lost the Electra. They've seen the Colorado's planes come and go. Hope for rescue is slim to none. Fred Noonan is a highly experienced mariner. He has a nautical sextant, almanacs and charts.  If he has recovered sufficiently from any injury he may have sustained in the landing and if there is a seaworthy boat available it would seem to be the most logical thing in the world for him to take whatever water and provisions he could assemble and set off to get help. It wouldn't make sense for both of them to go. It would double the amount of water and provisions needed. (Here Amelia, you keep the box for carrying stuff and the lens from the inverting eyepiece for starting fires.  I won't need them.)

Now let's say that we knew that Norwich City carried only three lifeboats and we had Captain Coleman's report that all three were washed up on the island and looked like they had been there only 3 or 4 years.  We might be wondering why Noonan didn't take one of the boats and go for help. But Norwich City had four lifeboats and in 1939, for whatever reason, one of them was missing.

It's an untestable hypothesis but I can't think of anything we know that negates it.



  
« Last Edit: March 21, 2011, 07:30:16 AM by moleski »
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #13 on: March 21, 2011, 07:10:23 AM »


But here's another question.  Norwich City carried four lifeboats. Where is the fourth boat?


I've scanned the text and strained my poor eyes at the photos but can't see 4 lifeboats. Though there seems to be some interchange between life boats and life boat reference the starboard side.

Captain Hamers report to the board of enquiry states single boats both side Hamers Report

Lott's Report also only mentions one boat per side.

TIGHARS own research paper refers to the remaining lifeboat after the port boat becomes unusable.

Is there something that I've missed that references four lifeboats?

« Last Edit: March 21, 2011, 08:11:36 AM by Chris Johnson »
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Monty Fowler

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Re: Could AE and FN have known it was named "Norwich City"?
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2011, 09:12:43 AM »

Looking at photos of the Norwich City taken at various times, including her unfortunate brush with the drawbridge in Canada (I think, at work and don't have references handy) there were quite clearly four boats on board - two smaller ones mounted on each side of the bridge wings and two larger ones on either side of the deckhouse aft of the bridge. The boats mounted aft are half again as large as the ones on the bridge wings, but without something of a known size it's hard to give a length estimate for any of them. Suffice it to say that getting ANY of those launched at night, in high seas, and with the ship exploding and burning around you, would not be easy given the boat davit technology of the day and the (probable) level of crew training in that procedure. 
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