September 25, 1868: The Alexander Nevsky hits a sandbar. The ship was part of the expansion of the Russian Imperial Navy built in response to US naval expansion and Great Britain’s Royal Navy. The ship was designed by Americans and carried American armament. She was a 51-gun screw frigate and one of the two largest ships in the squadron visiting the US in 1863. The squadron stayed in America for seven months even though the country was in the midst of a Civil War. The ships visited Washington, DC and even anchored in the Potomac River. During this time, Alexander Nevsky had some engine trouble and had to return to New York for repairs.
On this day, the ship was sailing back from Greece. The ship had been part of the contingency sent to help George I of Greece celebrate his wedding to Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia which had been held in October 1867. On board the ship was Grand Duke Alexei, son of Tsar Alexander II. The ship was travelling by sail and both the admiral aboard (who had trained the Grand Duke) and the captain had miscalculated the ship’s position due to drift in a storm. The ship struck the sandbar and was in immediate distress. The masts as well as some of the ship’s cannon had to be thrown overboard to keep the ship from immediately capsizing. They fired a gun and fishermen from the small village of Thyboron in Jutland, Denmark, came out and saved all aboard, except for five men who had died trying to reach land via a lifeboat.
The ship eventually sank in 60 feet of water only about 300 feet from the shore of the tiny village. Both the captain and the admiral were court-martialed for their role in the disaster. They were convicted of dereliction of duty. It was then the tsar intervened and granted a pardon to both men since they had been faithfully serving in the navy for many years.
The Grand Duke was 18-years-old at the time of the wreck. He was the fourth son of the tsar and was destined for a naval career. He began his military training at the age of 7. His personal life included an affair and possible unsanctioned marriage to Alexandra Zhukovskaya. Her father was a poet and not an aristocrat which was a problem. She was also the illegitimate child of the poet, which made matters worse. She and the Grand Duke had a son in 1871. The tsar refused to acknowledge the child and refused to grant any title to the mother, which would have given their son some standing. In 1883, Alexander III (the Grand Duke’s brother) finally gave a title to the now teenaged boy.
I’d much rather be a woman than a man. Women can cry, they can wear cute clothes, and they’re the first to be rescued off sinking ships. – Gilda Radner
Often undecided whether to desert a sinking ship for one that might not float, he would make up his mind to sit on the wharf for a day. – Max Aitken
It sounds mercenary and it smacks of rats leaving the sinking ship. But get real, when everyone is bailing out, you don’t want to be the last man standing. – Robbie Fowler
His style has the desperate jauntiness of an orchestra fiddling away for dear life on a sinking ship. – Edmund Wilson
Also on this day: The Supremes – In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court.
Fasssssst – In 1997, a new land speed record was set.
Lots of Water – In 1513, Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean.
Spread the News – In 1690, the American colonies got their first locally printed multi-page newspaper.