The British Ayrshire ran aground off Squan Beach, New Jersey, in January 1850. But the passengers and crew had reason for hope: Congress had begun funding the construction of life-saving stations along the coast of New York and New Jersey two years before.
The sea was too rough to launch a surfboat, and the local wreckmaster decided to use his station’s life-car instead. Hauled between the shore and the wreck on ropes, the enclosed boat made 60 trips to the wreck over two days and rescued all but one of Ayrshire ’s 166 passengers and 36 crew.
Between 1790 and 1873, the U.S. Patent Office granted 163 patents for an amazing variety of life-preserving boats, rafts, clothing, and other gear. Many of them were invented with an eye toward the rise in passenger travel: life-preserving bedsteads, berths, buckets, bucket rafts, buoys, capes, chairs, stools, dresses, doors, garments, hammocks, mattresses, and even a “life-preserving hat.” Few of these inventions enjoyed practical success.
Joseph Francis made a name for himself in the 1840s and 1850s manufacturing light and sturdy iron lifeboats and other nautical gear. His boats were constructed using grooved metal plates.
Francis traveled extensively promoting his inventions and was honored in several countries. French Emperor Napoleon III gave him this snuff box in 1856. President Benjamin Harrison presented this Congressional medal to him in 1890.
On September 3, 1857, the steamship Central America left Panama for New York City with nearly 600 passengers and crew. Nine days later, the vessel sank in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the deadliest peacetime shipwreck in American history. Four hundred twenty-five people perished in the wreck. And tons of California gold went to the bottom.
The wreck horrified and fascinated the American public and helped spark a financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857. Without the gold on board, several New York banks were unable to pay their creditors. Rediscovered in 1987, the wreck was later salvaged.
If you make the waters in your book rough enough it could prevent any rescue attempts and kill the majority of the crew by dashing the ship and any attempted life boats on the sharp rocks. A lower level hurricane would be a very easy way to accomplish such a task. Hope I helped in someway.