CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine (NEWS CENTER)- The Maine Irish Heritage Center is noting the 150th anniversary of Maine's worst ship wreck in terms of loss of life. On February 22, 1864 the Royal Mail Ship Bohemian was wrecked after hitting Alden's Rock and being run aground at Broad Cove.
The Center will commemorate the event with a lecture by historian Matthew Jude Barker the author of a new book entitled, "The Irish of Portland, Maine." The event will be held at 2 P. M. on Saturday, February 22.
The Bohemian was a 298-foot vessel that had three masts and a steam engine that turned a single propeller. It was arriving five days late after a difficult crossing from Liverpool. There were a number of Irish immigrants among the 317 passengers and crew.
"It was Washington's Birthday, Tar Bucket Night," said Barker. "They used to celebrate Washington's birthday with bonfires all over the area."
Barker points out that there were similarities between the Bohemian and the Titanic. "None who paid a heavy sum to board in England to come over to America drowned," he said. He did point out that while five crew members died, most of the forty-two who did lose their lives were Irish immigrants.
Many of the victims' bodies went unclaimed and now lie in Portland area cemeteries.
Nathan Leapfrog of the Maine Maritime Museum points out that many of these survivors "were stranded on the shores of a New World with nothing except the clothes that they stood up with."
Lipfert points out that some of the immigrants were headed for Canada via the Grand Trunk Railroad and that it was someone ironic that their remains are in Portland, which was only a stopover.
One of the immigrants did well. John E. Fitzgerald did well becoming a power political figure and lawyer in Boston. He often returned to Portland for political events even though he lost a sister in the tragedy.
The greatest loss of life in a maritime incident along the coast of Maine occured on April 23, 1945. The German submarine U-853 sunk the Eagle-56 killing 54 members of her 67-man crew.