USS Nipsic in the Samoa Hurricane of 1889.

USS Nipsic Crew Stories of the men present at Samoa during the Hurricane.

The American National Flag, 38 Stars, Navy Ensign

The data here is generally gleaned from published sources. I have had no contact yet with any descendants of USS Nipsic crew. In all cases, the information presented here is given in good faith but should not be considered as factual without independent verification.

If you have any data, and especally images, of USS Nipsic's crew and you would like to share this with the world, or at least, those interested in the Samoa Hurricane, please feel free to contact me. I have searched the The United States National Archives Catalog and cannot find an index or reference for a crew list of USS Nipsic at Apia in 1889. If any visitor to this site knows of such a crew list, please contact me and let me know. I found a page of Lieutenant Richard G. Davenport's diary which lists the officers of Nipsic when he joined the ship in November, 1887, and have included a table of these men who were most probably, still present at Apia.

The images below are from American Naval History and Heritage Command unless attributed elsewhere.

Please Note: Any visitors to this site who object to the images of family members being portrayed, please contact me and I will remove the images, and/or the details, immediately.

Where there is a photograph of a crew member, please DO NOT use the image for anything at all, without first asking my permission using the contact form. If I do not know the family contact, then I will not be able to give permission for its use. If I do know of a family contact, I will ask them if they give permission, so in the contact form, please give details of how and why you wish to use the image. If they are agreeable, or indeed if not, I will then reply to your enquiry. This is not intended to be awkward or unfriendly, I think it is simply good courtesy to ask first.

If you are an American visitor to this page, please take the time to visit the page The Men Who Perished on which appears an image of the American Flag. It is intended to be the version of the flag flown on the American ships at the time of Samoa in 1889. I wish to be sure that the version I have chosen (from many versions I found on the web!) to be the correct one, and any help I could be given would be gratefully received. It is described as the "38-Star Navy Ensign, valid 1877 to 1890". I have included a small image at the top of this page. If you think I might have got it wrong, please contact me and let me know! I am British and am not sure about these American things.

Quick links:

Naval Cadet William C. Cole, USN, (1868-1935).

Commander William Cole, USN c.1916, after surviving the Samoa Hurricane of March 1889 on USS Nipsic.

William Carey Cole, was born in Chicago, Illinois on 23rd August 1868 and was appointed a naval cadet on 5th September 1885. He graduated from the Naval Academy on 7 June 1889 after the storm, returning then to USS Nipsic. In 1907, as Lieutenant Commander, he became navigator of the newly commissioned USS Kansas. In 1919, he served as Assistant Attaché in the London United States embassy, and later Assistant Chief of Naval Operations in Washington. He retired with flag rank on 1st September 1932 and died at the Naval Hospital, Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, on 28th May, 1935.

The image is snipped from one held at the American Naval History and Heritage Command.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

Details courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command and Wikipedia.

Lieutenant Richard G. Davenport (1849-1926) USN.

He was born 11th January, 1849 and started naval service on 13 June 1865 with a practice cruise on USS Macedonian, followed by a number of other practice ships. His first navy ship appears to have been USS Sabine in 1869. He joined USS Nipsic on October 10th, 1887, as navigator, although his diary record shows 1st November 1887, and left July 26, 1890. The records of his naval service finish with USS Castine December 8th, 1896, but as he was later Commander and then possibly Rear Admiral there seems to be later data missing. In May, 1898, he seems to have been Lieutenant Commander in Key West, Florida, possibly on USS Suwanee, immediately prior to the Spanish-American War. The historical data for this man is slightly ambiguous. He died in Washington on May 30th, 1926.

A great many pages from Davenport's diary can be viewed on American Naval History and Heritage Command web-site. They consist of his hand-written notes and often an image of the ship concerned.

Davenport did later have a public disagreement with another officer on Nipsic at the time, John L. Purcell, reported in the Indianapolis News newspaper cited below. You need to move to the top of the fourth column of the central page - the transcription on the left is not very accurate.

Details courtesy of the Arlington Cemetary Website; American Naval History and Heritage Command (do a "SEARCH" for "Davenport"); Indianapolis News.

Apprentice First Class Joshua Heap, USN (1870-1889)

Joshua Heap was born in Wallasey, England, on December 15th, 1870, the fifth of nine children. His mother was Elizabeth (formerly Ambler, nee Robinson) and Samuel Heap (a local Police Sergeant) was his father. He enlisted in the United States Navy in November 1885 aged just 14 years, and was described as having a florid complexion. It is not known how or why he came to go the States so young and join the US Navy. Most navies of the time had sailors from many nationalities.

His body was repatriated to the United States in June, 1891, and buried on the 27th June with 18 others in a row at the Mare Island Navy Cemetery. He was just 18 years old when he died. His Find A Grave entry sadly does not show a picture of the grave marker.

Sources: Details and links courtesy of Helen Payne, and San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 25, 25 June 1891.

Commander Dennis W. Mullan, USN (184?-1928)

Commander Dennis W. Mullan, USN, after surviving the Samoa Hurricane of March 1889 on USS Nipsic. Dennis W. Mullan was born in Maryland, probably in the early 1840s. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from Kentucky in September 1860 and graduated in 1863, receiving the rank of Ensign in October 1863. For most of the rest of the Civil War he served in the screw sloop Monongahela in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, taking part in operations along the Texas coast and in the August 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay. In 1865, he served in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron on board USS Malvern. Promoted to the rank of Master in November 1865, Mullan served on the Pacific Station in 1865-67 in the gunboat Mohongo and in the cruiser De Soto in the Atlantic in 1867-68. During this time he advanced in rank to Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander.

During 1868-1871, Lieutenant Commander Mullan was assigned to the gunboat Monocacy in the Far East, where he participated in the 1871 assaults on Korean fortifications. After service at the Mare Island Navy Yard, he returned to Asian waters in 1873-76 in the gunboat Saco. He was Executive Officer of the gunboat Adams in the Pacific during 1879-1881 and served as an observer during the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru. During the mid-1880s, Commander Mullan received torpedo instruction, then commanded a force of monitors stationed on the James River, Virginia. In 1887, he became Commanding Officer of the gunboat Nipsic, taking her around South America on an eventful cruise that climaxed with the Samoan Hurricane.

Commander Mullan served as a Lighthouse Inspector from 1891 into 1894, then commanded the screw sloops Marion and Mohican in the Pacific until 1896. He was in charge of the Navy Yard at Pensacola, Florida, in 1896-97 and retired from active duty in July 1901. Commander Dennis W. Mullan died at Annapolis, Maryland, on 17 December 1928.

On a slightly discordant note, this web-site gives details of a court-martial for drunkeness. Of course, this is something that can affect even the best of men, and I don't hold it against Commander Mullan in any way. It doesn't alter the regard I hold for him for his long-standing career.

Commander Mullan has been singled out in certain sources (e.g. Hoyt in "The Typhoon that Stopped a War") as having failed to perform to the highest traditions of the US Navy, and many of his crew as being a thoroughly disagreeable lot. For more details, please refer to the link to USS Nipsic. I think it is important to record that Mullan played a very difficult role in the months leading up to the crisis; before he had any support from Kimberly, he was often the sole American military representative in an old, underpowered vessel with a difficult crew and an extremely belligerent consul (the 'hawk' Mr. Leary, eventually replaced by the much more diplomatic Blacklock) facing off against vastly superior German forces - and he performed the dual roles of tough militarist and sensitive diplomat in a tense situation extremely well. Admiral Kimberly seems to have taken dis-satisfaction at an action of Mullan's when, during an attempt to return the partially repaired Nipsic to Honolulu, he abandoned the attempt and returned to Apia. I think Mullan will have had good reason for doing so, and to think badly of him for not risking more American sailors seems unfair.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

Details originally courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command now removed. See this web-site.

Ensign John L. Purcell, USN (?-?).

John L Purcell USN, after surviving the Samoa Hurricane of March 1889 on USS Nipsic. This man performed very heroically during the storm, especially after he and the crew had managed to get ashore from USS Nipsic. He patrolled the shore with other officers and helped drag men in the waves to the shore, saving their lives. He made valiant attempts to get a line to USS Vandalia, but which were sadly unsuccessful - but not for want of trying. He received especial praise from Rear-Admiral Kimberly when the latter made his reports to the US Secretary of the Navy. He later became a Lieutenant on USS Osceola and served during the Spanish-American war in 1898. I have no other history for this officer.

Purcell did later have a public disagreement with another officer on Nipsic at the time, Richard G. Davenport, reported in the Indianapolis News newspaper cited below. You need to move to the top of the fourth column of the central page - the transcription on the left of the page (page 7) is not very accurate.

If family members object to me using this image, they should contact me and I'll remove it immediately.

Details courtesy of American Naval History and Heritage Command; Admiral Kimberly Report; JP Dunning account; Indianapolis News.

Medal of Honor, Navy Convention, Medal of Honor Society Web-Site 2016. Awarded to Robert Taylor who survived the Samoa Hurricane of March 1889 on USS Nipsic.

Quartermaster R.H. Taylor, USN (1870-1956).

Quartermaster Richard H. Taylor was the only American awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the hurricane. The citation simply states: Serving on board the U.S.S. Nipsic, Taylor displayed gallantry during the hurricane at Apia, Samoa, 16 March 1889. He was born September 8, 1870 in Staunton, Virginia and died March 24, 1956. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery Brighton, Massachusetts.

This web-site Find-A-Grave shows some images of his grave and the cemetery.

This medal image is the "Navy Convention" Medal of Honor. Taylor was USN, but his record is also on the Army site. The image was kindly sent to me by a lady at the Congressional Medal of Honour website (link below) and is the 1862 version rather than the modern one I incorrectly used before. Many thanks, Laura!

Details courtesy of U.S. Army Center of Military History and Wikipedia, image provided by Medal of Honor Society Web-site.

Please note that around April 2017, the link to the US Army web-site doesn't want to connect. This is hopefully a temporary issue.

Frank Wright, USN

A visitor to the site has in his possession a walking stick with an engraved silver disk in the top, marked: "Frank Wright U.S.S NIPSIC 1873-1914 from Robert Moran". It is therefore a good guess that Frank, and possibly even Robert, were Nipsic crewmembers. Certainly, Frank would appear to have been on board the vessel at Samoa.

Details courtesy of "Colin".

USS Nipsic Crew Members Present at Apia on 16th March, 1889

John BradleyChief Boatswain's Mate 
Brooks CasonQuartermaster Gunner 
S. T. BrownePay Clerk 
John CallahanQuartermaster 
G. W. CallanApprenticeDrowned.
William CampbellPrivate of Marines 
W. C. ColeNaval CadetLater Admiral
J. Corrine(?)Past. Assistant Paymaster 
William CosgroveBoatswain's Mate 
Richard G. DavenportLieutenantLater Rear-Admiral
Dr. E. Z. DerrPast. Assistant Surgeon 
C. A. DoyenSecond Lieutenant of Marines 
H. A. FieldEnsign 
T. G. FilletteLieutenant of Marines 
H. C. FisherFirst Lieutenant of Marines 
H. E. FrickPast. Assistant Engineer 
J. GillSeamanDrowned.
W. W. GilmerEnsign 
GruppSergeant of Marines 
G. W. HallChief EngineerSurvived the storm, but died on the journey back to the United States.
G. C. Hannus(?)Lieutenant 
John M. HawleyLieutenantLater Rear-Admiral
J. HeapApprenticeDrowned.
T. JohnsonStewardDrowned.
H. P. JonesEnsignLater Admiral? Requires confirmation to be the same person.
D. P. KelleherCoal HeaverDrowned.
A. J. KierstedChief Engineer 
J. LaneSeaman 
D. P. McCartneyChief Engineer 
F. McCurleyCommander 
R. G. MitchellLieutenant 
D.W. MullanCaptainLater Commander
H. PontseelCoxswainDrowned.
John L. PurcellEnsignLater Lieutenant.
John A. ShearmanLieutenant 
R. H. TaylorQuartermasterAwarded the Medal of Honour for his heroic actions during the storm.
J. A. TobinPast. Assistant Engineer 
W. WatsonFiremanDrowned.
H. WebsterPast. Assistant Engineer 
Frank Wright Possible crew member.
W. P. WhiteEnsign 

Sources: JP Dunning account dated February 1890 (Do a "FIND" for Samoa); Admiral Kimberly's Special Report dated 16th April, 1889; correspondent "Colin".

Richard G. Davenport's Diary of other officers probably present (some duplicates in the table above)

W. C. ColeNaval CadetLater Admiral
J. Corrine(?)Past. Assistant Paymaster 
C. A. DoyenSecond Lieutenant of Marines 
H. C. FisherFirst Lieutenant of Marines 
H. E. FrickPast. Assistant Engineer 
W. W. GilmerEnsignLater Captain, Navy Cross
G. W. HallChief EngineerDied on journey home
G. C. Hannus(?)Lieutenant 
A. J. KierstedChief Engineer 
D. P. McCartneyChief Engineer 
F. McCurleyCommanderActing Volunteer Lieutenant on USS Selma. Image removed by Navy History site.
R. G. MitchellLieutenant 
J. K. SeymourEnsign 
J. A. TobinPast. Assistant Engineer 
H. WebsterPast. Assistant Engineer 
W. P. WhiteEnsignLater Lieutenant Junior Grade? Requires confirmation to be the same person.

Sources: Lieutenant Richard G. Davenport diary NH 43829.

USS Nipsic
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