In the first half year of 1899, fate had already racked up its share of tragic drownings. A handful of families, in Exuma and Andros, were grieving the bitter losses of fathers, brothers and sons.
Drownings were, if truth be told, an occupational hazard on islands where fishing and sponging were major industries. There was a certain expected number of such annual tragedies. A deep indifferent sea, combined with unpredictable ocean swells, never seemed to disappoint the actuaries.
On 13th April 1899, in Exuma, a father and two sons, drowned. Jacob Clarke 50, Samuel Clarke 15 and Joseph Clarke 12 —all Spongers—drowned.
In Fresh Creek, Andros, Dobrie Scott 22, and John Scott 12, both Spongers, drowned on 22 May 1899.
Then a storm tragedy struck…
By the end of August 1899, the entire Bahamas colony would be reeling in horror and grief, from an unimaginable loss of life. A devastating hurricane made its way towards the Islands, striking with full force on the 12th August.
In all, hundreds were said to have been lost. Bodies lay under debris. Bodies were swept out to sea.
The hurricane of 12th August 1899…
The Caribbean hurricane of August 1899, had already claimed hundreds of lives in the southern West Indies, before it struck The Bahamas.
154 persons were lucky enough to be recorded, officially recognised, as having died in the storm. I say lucky because, there were probably many others, living in the Out Islands, who were not documented. These unnamed and unrecorded would remain lost to history.
What is particularly interesting, is that all the names recorded as drowned, were all men and boys, except for one mulatto female planter, Mary Brown, 49, from Northern Andros.
Of the 154 (including the 15 washed up on the Berry Islands) persons officially numbered, there were 53 mulattoes recorded as drowned. They all came from one area, the Northern District of Andros.
These 154 persons ranged in ages from 9 years old Andrew Forbes, a sponger, from Exuma, to the Simon Demeritt 70, a seaman, from Fresh Creek, Andros.
TEN, from Eleuthera, drowned the night before
On 11th August, 10 people drowned in Eleuthera. This may have been as a result of the hurricane’s outer bands moving into The Bahamas.
Bodies wash ashore in the Berry Islands – Levi Smith buries 15 and leaves 2 to the elements
The following is a brief note written by Levi Smith in 1899, after a number of bodies washed ashore in the Berry Islands. They would have travelled many miles, pushed across the sea by strong currents, from Andros or Exuma.
Levi Smith says two couldn’t be buried. He would come back later, after enough time, to rake up the bones.
“Sir this is the list of drowned men drifted on the Berry Islands Cays after the hurricane the numbered of 15 sir that all buried except 2 could not be handled by no one. After long time I will go an rake up the bones an berry them Sir if my life last so long your aged servant Levi Smith.”
“I Sir I don’t no if i don write to acquaint you concerning of these men if so Sir I beg you to excuse me for write you your servant Levi Smith. The gale was on the 12 August. Nothing more I can state to you concerning these drowned men on the Berry Islands Levi Smith”