On the Unfortunate Pacific

George Jordan


Cemeteries are interesting places. They are full of bits of stories and interesting artwork. This stone with the relief carving of a ship can be found in the Town Cemetery in Thomaston, Maine. I've seen a few ships on gravestones but the sculptural qualities of this one are unusual. Read the inscription and you will find that it marks a death but not the location of the man's remains, not uncommon with sailors. A little research provides an interesting story.

Captain George Jordan, born in Thomaston in 1813, was the son of Ebenezer Jordan, also a ship captain. In fact, there have been many Jordan captains in Thomaston and in Maine and quite a few were named George making this man hard to track. He married Betsy Masters of Bath and had three children. He may be the George Jordan who captained the Midas out of Rockland, and he may have sailed to California during the Gold Rush. We do know that late in 1855 he sailed to Coxhaven, England where he sold his ship. Jordan then booked passage home to America on the famous steamship Pacific. It was a fateful trip.

The Pacific was one of four wooden steam-powered ships built with US government subsidies by the Collins Company of New York to compete with the British Cunard Line for transatlantic trade. The 281' wooden ship, launched in 1849, was driven by two paddle wheels on opposite sides of the ship and powered by side lever engines. It carried about 300 people in luxurious accommodations. But surely our Captain Jordan was more interested in the technology and the fact that the Pacific set records that surpassed the Cunard Line in transatlantic crossings both west to east and east to west.

The fateful final voyage of the Pacific began on January 23, 1856 in Liverpool. It set sail with 45 passengers including George Jordan and 141 crew members. The captain, Asa Eldridge, was skillful and quite famous, but the engineer was new to the ship. And that was it; the ship left port and was not seen again. No one even looked for it until it became overdue in New York. 

The fate of the Pacific remained unknown until a message in a bottle was found about five years later on the coast of the Hebrides. It read:
On board the Pacific from Liverpool to N.Y. - Ship going down. Confusion on board - icebergs around us on every side. I know I cannot escape. I write the cause of our loss that friends may not live in suspense. The finder will please get it published. W.M. GRAHAM

Does this all sound familiar? A fast and famous luxury ship crossing the Atlantic is sunk by icebergs? The Pacific is often mentioned as a harbinger or omen in Titanic lore.

In 1991 divers claimed to have found the remains of the SS Pacific in the Irish Sea barely 60 miles from Liverpool. 

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