Steamer Clotilda went ashore at Wells Beach on December 13, 1870.
The steamer ran into rough seas that caused her heavy cargo to move. Her Master, Captain Young, put into Dublin, Ireland where 100 tons of coal was dropped in around the cargo to prevent further shifting. As a result of the considerable delay Clotilda’s destination was changed to Portland, Maine.
Contemporary accounts of the Wells Beach accident were published in the Eastern Argus and the Bangor Daily Whig & Courier. A statement of the “material facts” is also included in a subsequent lawsuit filed against the ship and her cargo by Nathaniel Lord Thompson of Kennebunk. It appears in Volume 1 of Reports of Judgments of Hon. Edward Fox U.S. District Judge for Maine District First Circuit, “The weather at the time was stormy, dark and foggy, and blowing a double reef top-sail breeze with a heavy sea. The beach is of sand, quite flat, affording very poor holding-ground, and is at the head of Wells Bay, exposed to the full force of the winds and waves. The vessel went on at a low run of tides, near high water, and the sea broke heavily over her stern, she being fast in the breakers”. Clotilda’s stern, rose and fell digging her deeper and deeper into the soft sand.
The officers went ashore and found lodgings at the house of Mr. Owen Davis, who lived nearby. Robert Cleaves of Kennebunk approached the captain and offered his services to salvage the cargo. Young proposed to pay 1/4 of the shipped value for the discharge of the cargo on the beach above the spring tides to make the ship lighter and easier to get afloat. Cleaves accepted the proposal and the same evening a written contract was signed. Cleaves paid his men $2.00 per tide and ox teams with drivers were paid $4.00 per tide to unload all the soda, and glass, a portion of the sails and about seventy-five percent of the ferry parts. As the cargo was removed the lightened steamer moved 500-600 feet up the beach and turned broadside to the water with some of her hull being 13 feet deep in the sand. 150 tons of that sand worked its way into the ship. Having done all he could Cleaves assigned his contract with Young to Captain Nathaniel Lord Thompson of Kennebunk.
Thompson released the ship and her remaining cargo to the underwriters who, in March of 1871, hired the New York Coast Wrecking Company to get Clotilda afloat. An article in the Eastern Argus published July 7, 1871 described their Herculean task. “The wreckers first had to cut her round so that her stern would point off shore. By the aid of two steam pumps, a steam winch of great power, and four anchors weighing 4,000 pounds each, one 20 inch and three 16 inch cables they turned her and hove her 1,000 feet to where she floated. Five times these heavy anchors were hove home and had to be replanted. As fast as they moved her down the beach they had to fill her with water to keep her from breaking up. On the full spring tide of the second month they expected to get her off, but their anchors failed. It was very difficult to work upon her as she listed so that cleats had to be nailed upon her decks for the men to walk upon”. The steamer finally floated off on June 29, 1871 and was towed to Union Wharf in Portland. Clotilda was not in good condition after sitting on Wells Beach for six months. The Eastern Argus reported, “She is the picture of a wreck: rusted, woodwork off, smoke stack and lower masts standing, dismantled and decks encumbered with the wrecking paraphernalia.”
The steamer was repaired and then sat at Union Wharf under the control of the United States Marshall for almost another year pending Nathaniel Lord Thompson’s lawsuit but was finally cleared from Boston for Liverpool, England in May of 1872.