Daily Iowa State Press
Iowa City, Johnson, Iowa
March 24, 1899
A LIFE -SAVING SHOT
History of the First Ever Fired Here for that Purpose
A twenty-four-pound shot, with a short chain attached, now lying on the
table of General Superintendent Kimball of the life-saving service, recalls a
noted occurrence long since forgotten to many people. The Washington Star says
that this ball is the first ever fired in the United States for the purpose of
saving life. After performing its noble service it lay for more than twenty
years at the bottom of the sea.
On December 26, 1849, the British ship Ayrshire sailed from Ireland, bound
for New York, with two hundred and two persons on board, mostly immigrants,
seeking homes and fortunes in the States. In those days transatlantic steamers
were not numerous, the first regular line, the Cunarders, having been
established only nine years before, and thousands of immigrants were transported
in sailing packets.
Six week later the Ayrshire was off the port of destination in a northeast
tempest, which rolled and pitched her about with great fury.
About midnight of January 12, 1850, she struck bottom with terrific force,
heeled over toward the beach and the sea began to sweep over her sides. Many of
her passengers were women and children, who were either crowded into one of the
small deck-houses, or lashed to the bulwarks and rigging to prevent their being
swept away. The night was dark and bitter cold, and despair reigned on board.
However, about two hours after she struck, the half-frantic company beheld
a flash of light inshore. Then they heard a sound as of a muffled cannon, and a
moment later a heavy iron ball came crashing on board. That was the ball above
referred to. Attached to it was a life-line.
A larger line was soon drawn to the ship by the sailor, and then came the
life-car-at that time a new untried device. It was a small iron boat, covered
over, so that it was very nearly alike on both sides and having in the top and
opening through which persons to the number of six could crawl and shut
To some of the more timid the remedy seemed almost as bad as the disease,
but all save one were taken to and without the smallest mishap. The person lost
was a Mr. Bell, whose sisters and her daughters had been place in the car, when
he insisted on accompanying them. As there was no room inside the car, he
undertook to cling to the outside of it, and as a matter of course, was washed
off and drowned.
Soon after the storm was over the bulk of the wreck began to settle in the
sand and was finally covered. There it lay for twenty-three years, till a heavy
gale set up a strong current along the shore that dug away the sand and once
more exposed the skeleton of the wreck. A party of wreckers were soon on board,
and in searching the cabin, they came across the old mortar ball.
There was no doubt of its identity, and it was returned to the
companionship of the little mortar which had sent it whizzing seaward on its
errand of humanity more than twenty years before. Since the recovery of the
ball, it and the mortar have been on exhibition at all the great interstate and
Cathy Joynt Labath
Iowa Old Press
Ireland Old News