S/V Brontes served San Salvador in 1920’s, sank twice, killed two captains

MAILBOAT NAME: S/V The Brontes (aka “Brontes”)
PAST NAMES: not known – probably there were none
DIMENSIONS: 42 tons, sailing schooner, not known but capable of carrying 30 passengers, officers and crew, official # 151268


BUILDER: not known

EARLY CAREER: presumably always served San Salvador and islands en route in short career 1921-1926

BAHAMAS CAREER: was serving San Salvador, Rum Cay and Exuma Cays up to July 1926
CAPTAINS: Captain W. P. Syles and Captain Burrows – both of whom died while serving on her
OWNER/S: not known
FATE: wrecked and sank on Exuma Cays near Highbourne Cay in a hurricane of late July 1926
NOTES: The “Daily Mail,” London, UK, Friday July 30, 1926, reports correctly that The Brontes was overdue and presumed lost: “Nothing was known of the fate of the government mail boat Brontes, which proceeded for San Salvador shortly before the inrush of the storm.”

From the extraordinary book “The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1926: The Story of Three of the Greatest Hurricanes to Ever Affect the Bahamas,” by Wayne Neely, published in 2009, pages 127 –
128, describe the mail boat The Brontesleaving for San Salvador at the outset of the 1926 hurricane:

“Including the crew, there were 30 persons on board, among them Rum Cay’s Commissioner Mr. T.A. Greenslade’s wife, four other members of his family, and the wife and children of H.A. Varence, the schoolmaster at Roker’s Point, Exuma. At the time of The Brontes departure, the hurricane was quite some distance away – only approaching Hispaniola. The captain of The Brontes, W.P. Styles, was a much admired figure in the maritime life of the colony. Renowned for his reliability as a mailboat captain and exceptional skill as a sailor, he was in the words of sir Etienne Dupuch, a “very, very valuable mariner.” The Brontes, then, was a ship that had many lives because a year before the hurricane, it had sunk between Graham’s harbor and Riding Rocks (Cockburn Town), San Salvador, taking its then captain, a man named Burrows, to his grave.

By the time The Brontes got to south Eleuthera near Powell’s Point they started to experience some deteriorating weather conditions of the storm. So they decided to wait out the storm at Powell’s Point but the weather conditions deteriorated so fat that they decided to outrun the storm – a move that they would soon live to regret. The problem, however, was not one of direction but of timing. As fate would have it, Styles had waited too late, as a result he was not able to outrun the storm but rather the direction of movement of his ship took him directly into the heart of the storm. A pastor from Wemyss Bight, just south of Powell’s Point, would later report seeing The Brontesscudding past the settlement, apparently steering for the Exuma Cays.’ 

Two hours later the weather had deteriorated so badly that he ‘didn’t think the captain would be able to go through the Cays.” At some point on that Sunday night, The Brontes, probably after broaching, would be smashed to pieces somewhere in the Exuma Cays, hurling its 30 passengers and crew into the unforgiving sea. Sadly, there would be no survivors. Pieces of the wreckage would later turn up at Beacon Cay in the Exumas. A few days later a search party from Cat Island would make a gruesome discovery at Highbourne Cay (Norman’s Cay according to another account). Two women, one of them the wife of Commissioner Greenslade, lay dead on the beach. 

Describing the scene in gratuitously morbid detail, Arthur’s Town Commissioner Duncombe would note their bodies were “swollen, one having her head bound up in the usual manner for keeping out the draught and the other having sand all through her hair, the former was more swollen than the latter and her face was bursting open, the skin mostly peeled off.” Fearing contagion, the search party buried the bodies right away. Another body or two would turn up in the ensuring days but for the rest of The Brontes passengers, captain and crew, would forever be lost to the merciless waters of the Atlantic.”

 The Biloxi, Mississippi paper “Daily Herald” of 2 August 1926 reported in part that: “The bodies of two unidentified women and two negroes were found on Highbourn Key. Fear was expressed that many of the bodies believed lost [sic] er Brontes bound from Nassau to [sic] at sea would be found.”

Under the heading “Hope Gone for Nassau’s Sponge Fleet,” the Hammond Indiana “Times” of Saturday, July 31, 1926 reported as follows:
MIAMI, FLA., July 31 (U.P.):  The fate of 150 persons still missing from Nassau as a result of the hurricane there probably will be known today, according to word from the Bahamas port. An all-day search by ships which survived the storm failed to reveal any trace of the
sponge fleet or the two mail boats which have not been heard from since Sunday. Today the task of visiting off-lying islands in the hope of finding survivors is expected to be completed. Nassau has almost given up hope for the sponge fleet, which sailed from the harbor a week ago today before the storm broke and has not been heard from since. Hope is still held out for the mail boats Brontes and Albertine Adoue, with 60 persons on board, however.
Meanwhile, the Bahama cities have set about the task of cleaning up debris and rebuilding homes.”

Source: www.newspaperarchive.com