Collections of Maine Historical Society. Order a copy at, item #5729

It’s been estimated that 100 ships have gone down off the coast of Cape Elizabeth, including the steamer Bohemian, shown here the morning after it sunk.

Historically, the shores of Cape Elizabeth were a dangerous place where ships could be wrecked with even the most experienced sailors at the helm. The pounding waves and gusty winds of a gale could disorient a captain and crew, pummel a ship or force it into the rocks. A gale could swamp a vessel or rip it apart at a moment’s notice. Even when the captain had an accurate grasp of where his vessel and any rocky obstacles lay, it was no guarantee of safe passage.

Lighthouses and buoys warned of the rocky ledges that stuck haphazardly into the ocean and the reefs that lay just beneath the surface of the water, but avoiding these hazards was difficult. When combined with bad weather, the area was treacherous. Any time a captain was disoriented, disaster might quickly follow.

On the night of Feb. 22, 1864, the Bohemian was heading to Portland. The first officer had just taken the wheel when a buoy was spotted directly ahead. The engines were shut off in an attempt to slow the vessel, but it was too late. The Bohemian struck Alden’s Rock, damaging the hull and ripping a gash in the engine room. Capt. Richard Borland headed the vessel toward shore, eventually reaching Broad Cove, where the disabled steamer could proceed no further due to the amount of water she had taken on.