Nov. 27, 1898: The steamship Portland sinks in what comes to be known as the Portland Gale, resulting in the deaths of about 200 people, including 63 crew members. The ship is bound from Boston to Portland when the storm strikes off Cape Ann in Massachusetts, causing New England’s worst maritime disaster of the 19th century.

The exact number of victims – estimates range from 193 to 245 people – is uncertain because the passenger list goes down with the vessel.

When the storm strikes, it drives many ships to shore, wrecking them in Boston Harbor. In Portland, the Daily Eastern Argus newspaper mistakenly reports that the steamer Portland had not ventured into the storm and is still at its dock. By Nov. 29, the news that it had sunk emerges and bodies of the victims begin washing ashore in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of Cape Cod.

The Argus reports that the Portland was a relatively flat-bottomed coastal vessel that was not built for ocean voyages and was too top-heavy for turbulent weather. In Portland, the steamship company’s general manager blames the ship’s captain, saying that because of predictions of a severe storm, he instructed the captain not to leave the dock until he received weather reports about the danger subsiding.

The site of the wreck is discovered in 1989, confirmed in 2002, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and visited by divers in 2008.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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