Exhibits and Collections
Schooners and nor'easters, shipwrecks, and rescues! The maritime history of Boston Harbor abounds at the historic 1889 Point Allerton U.S. Lifesaving Station with engaging exhibits, a hands-on children's loft, and spectacular view of Boston Light from our observation cupola.
Special Online Exhibit:
The Samuel and Beatrice Arnold Antique Postcard Collection
Windward in Fine Style: Hull Yachting, 1880-1920
May 24 - December 13, 2013
Step into the elegance and splendor of Victorian era Hull, with an outstanding collection of photographs and artifacts from the early days of Hull yachting.
Keeping a Weather Eye : Shipwrecks and Lifesaving in Boston HarborExcerpt from the Point Allerton U.S. Lifesaving Station Log, April 8, 1894
Point Allerton U.S. Lifesaving Station and Crew, c1890, HLM Collection
The wind and sea increasing, thinking it probable the vessel would drag and part chains, sent a man with horses for our Beach Apparatus. Launched boat, taking two volunteers with us, and tried to reach her. The sea rushed in with such velocity, [we were] unable to reach her and [were] driven back to the beach where we took two more MHS crew and started anew. When nearly out to her, she commenced striking bottom, swinging around broadside, breaking the schooner some, so that we were able to get near enough for one man to jump into [the] boat. On getting nearer the second time, the remainder of the crew, five in number, jumped all at once for the boat, one man falling overboard. We were fortunate and got him. Started for shore and made a good landing.
The crew were taken to the Station and provided with dry clothing, also with food. Less than two hours after taking off this crew, the vessel went to pieces and is strewn along the beach. This schooner was the Mary A. Hood from Philadelphia for Bath, Maine with iron pipe. Joshua James, Keeper
Keeping a Weather Eye, the first new interpretation of the historic Point Allerton Lifesaving Station in more than 10 years, includes photographs, logs book accounts, newspaper articles, artifacts, and film clips, as well as interactive elements for visitors of all ages.
Changing Lives Now. The Hull Lifesaving Museum Maritime Program
Our newest exhibit highlights the Maritime Program, a unique and diverse program that preserves the 19th century lifesavers skills and ethic, while encouraging outdoor exploration and self-discovery through experiential education for youth and adult participants.
View the online exhibit.
Do You Remember the Nancy?
On February 20, 1927, during a severe northeast storm with winds exceeding 70 mph, the Nancy, of Philadelphia, was driven onto the shore. In what proved to be their last rescue in Hull, Massachusetts Humane Society volunteers, lead by Captain Osceola James (Joshua’s son), brought all nine crew members safely ashore. Salvage efforts were unsuccessful and the Nancy stood driven deep into Nantasket sands throughout the 1930s. A popular tourist attraction, adults paid 25 cents and children 15 cents to go aboard the wreck. While the unstable hull was eventually burned, savvy beachcombers say that Nancy’s keel can still be seen buried in the sands near the southern end of Nantasket Beach. Our summer exhibit will feature photographs, newspaper articles, and oral histories, as well as recent acquisitions.
125 Stories of Courage
Opening May 2014
17th Annual Sea & Sky Art Show
February 14 - March 14, 2014
The Sea & Sky Art Show celebrates the beauty of our coastal environment and the richness of the artistic community on the South Shore and beyond.
Please call or email with any questions, 781-925-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sea Dogs! Great Tails of the Sea
A traveling exhibit on loan from Mystic Seaport Museum, celebrates the special relationship shared by humans and dogs who live and work by the sea.
Lifebuoy Saves Lives!
Turn-of-the-century advertisements for Lifebuoy soap proclaimed the slogan “Lifebuoy Saves Lives” and featured images of heroic coastal lifesavers.
The Camera's Coast
A sampler of historic coastal New England images from the collections of Historic New England.
Joshua James (1826-1902) was born in Hull, Massachusetts, and lived his entire life in this small, seaside town. He lived to be 75, devoting 60 of those years to saving over 1,000 lives from shipwrecks at the mouth of Boston Harbor. James and the surfmen from Hull’s Massachusetts Humane Society and U.S. Life Saving Service crews were the best in the world--and renowned for their deeds. Amazingly, no one ever died in a rescue in which Joshua James participated.
Born on November 22, 1826, James was the ninth of twelve children. His mother, Esther Dill, was from Hingham, while his father, William James, had emigrated from Holland as a young man. According to lore, Joshua learned to “hear the land speak” at an early age, distinguishing among shorelines in Hull and its surrounding islands by the different sounds of waves washing against their rocky shores and shoals.
In April 1837, Joshua witnessed his beloved mother’s death in a shipwreck in Hull Gut, only a half-mile from safe harbor. He is said to have resolved then, as a ten year-old boy, to spend the rest of his life ensuring that no one else would ever suffer his mother's fate -- or his own. Five years later, in December 1841, Joshua leaped aboard a surfboat manned by the local Humane Society crew heading toward the ship Mohawk being “hammered shapeless” off Allerton Beach; he would continue to save lives for the next six decades.
Like many Humane Society volunteers, Joshua earned his livelihood from the sea, fishing, salvaging, lightering (ferrying goods from ship to shore), and transporting paving stones to Boston from Hull’s shores. In 1859, when he was 32 Joshua married his 16 year-old fourth cousin, Louisa Lucihe, of Hingham. Six of their ten children reached adulthood.
During the 19th century, the Port of Boston saw a rapid increase in shipping traffic, becoming for a time the busiest in the nation. Typically, up to 100 ships a day passed in and out of the narrow and rocky Nantasket Roads shipping channel that led from open ocean into the growing port. Since Hull is a peninsula pointing north into Boston Harbor like a protruding finger, its shores ran the length of the channel. Due to the region’s destructive Northeast storms, an inordinate number of wrecks occurred, driving hundreds of vessels ashore while putting thousands of lives in peril.
In 1876, Joshua became the Boat-Keeper of Hull’s busy Humane Society lifeboat crews. In 1890, upon completion of the new Point Allerton U.S. Life Saving Service Station, Joshua was appointed Keeper. He was 63 years old, 18 years beyond the services’ limit of 45. However, due to his unequaled lifesaving record, and considerable petitioning by townspeople of Hull and his allies in the Service, the age restriction was waived. Over the next 13 years, Joshua and his crew saved another 540 lives. To fill his shoes with the town’s volunteer lifesavers, Joshua’s son, Osceola, became the Humane Society Boat-Keeper.
On March 19, 1902, Joshua was reeling with distress over a major disaster on Monomoy Island off Cape Cod. Two days earlier, all but one of the Monomoy Life-Saving Station crew had died during a rescue attempt, drowned by the panicking wreck victims they were endeavoring to save. Ordering his men into their boats for practice early on the 19th, for the second straight day of hard drilling, the Point Allerton crew tested a new self-bailing, self-righting surfboat. After working at the steering oar for over an hour, Joshua ordered the boat ashore, and then collapsed on the sand, dying instantly. Local legend claims that the world-famous mariner uttered the words, “the tide is ebbing....” with his final breath.
The lifesavers’ extraordinary legacy, embodied in their motto, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back,” is an enduring reminder of their commitment and valiant selflessness. Joshua and his crewmates were men of profound courage, skill, and compassion, true models of heroism in their time and ours.
Important Dates in Joshua James’s Life
* Born: November 22, 1826
* Mother Died: April 3, 1837
* First Rescue: December 15, 1841, The Mohawk
* Medal: 1850, Humane Society Bronze for rescue of crew of French brig L'Essai
* Humane Society Keeper: 1876 (at 50)
* Medal: 1885, Humane Society Silver Medal for "brave and faithful service of more than 40 years in the lifeboats of the Humane Society," and $50
* Rescues: Great Storm of November 25-26, 1888; 29 men, 6 ships
* Medal: Humane Society Gold Medal for Great Storm o f 1888
* Medal: Congressional Gold Lifesaving Medal for the Great Storm of 1888
* Opening of Point Allerton Station: March 1890 (at 63)
* Rescues: Ulrica, December 16, 1896
* Rescues: Portland Gale of November 27, 28, 1898; 20 lives, 4 ships
* Died: March 19, 1902 (at 75); 540 people assisted in 13 years at Point Allerton
Nantasket, Massachusetts Humane Society Surfboat
Nantasket was part of the network of volunteer lifesavers and rescue equipment maintained along the Massachusetts coast by the Humane Society. Designed by Joshua James’ older brother, Captain Samuel James, Nantasket was styled to handle the heavy surf off Hull’s Nantasket Beach. In several important ways, Nantasket differed in design from standard surfboats of the day, and at first officers of the Humane Society believed the design would not succeed. Built by George Lawley & Son in Boston in 1887, the boat was very large; 29 feet long with ten rowing stations and plenty of room for passengers (rescue victi ms). She had a big, bluff bow, a high, slender stern, and lots of sheer, allowing her to plow through heavy seas while remaining exceptionally maneuverable when heading home through the surf.
Nantasket's performance in the Great Storm of 1888 soon quieted the experts’ doubts. On November 26, 1888, five men clung to the icy rigging of the schooner H.C. Higginson, which lay with decks under water 150 yards off Nantasket Beach. While several unsuccessful attempts were made to affect a breeches buoy rescue, the new Nantasket was towed up the Weir River and hauled over the barrier beach at Black Rock to the ocean. Joshua James and his volunteer crew already were tired from three difficult rescues during the previous day, including the use of Nantasket to save seven seamen from the Bertha F. Walker. Nantasket was launched, but forced back to shore 45 minutes later with two holes driven in her sides. After applying temporary lead patches to the surfboat, the Hull volunteers successfully reached the schooner through tremendous seas. Joshua Jam es modestly described the rescue, saying, “The principle danger in effecting this rescue was from the heavy sea running... It is my opinion that no other boat, except the one we had, could have gotten up alongside of the vessel as far as the main rigging where the men were.” The rescue of the Higginson earned the lifesavers Congressional Silver Life Saving Medals. Later that same day, the crew in Nantasket rescued a single person stranded in the brig Alice.
In 1909, a Massachusetts Humane Society document listed Nantasket as the “largest and finest in the Society’s fleet.” She remained in service until 1935, making her way, courtesy of officials in the U.S. Coast Guard, to the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia, in 1939. On the 18th of May, 1985 Nantasket was joyfully drawn through the streets of Hull and returned to a permanent home at the Hull Lifesaving Museum.
Nantasket’s record also includes:
* the 1889 rescue of seventeen survivors of the wreck of the tug H.F. Morse, three miles off shore
* the 1894 rescue of seven men from the Mary A. Hood, less than two hours before the vessel broke apart
* the 1896 rescue of seven seamen from the English schooner Ulrica using a line shot out from shore to guide the boat after the seas had capsized her, a rescue which earned the Humane Society’s Silver Lifesaving Medal
* the 1898 rescue of three crewmen stranded on Black Rock after loss of their vessel Lucy A. Nichols during the Portland Gale
Great Storm of 1888
On the morning of November 25th 1888, Joshua James spotted six schooners anchored in Nantasket Roads, a half mile southwest of Boston Light. The first to run aground in the mounting storm was the Cox and Green, which struck rocks in mid-afternoon, half a mile from the Humane Society’s boathouse at Stony Beach. The breeches buoy was used to rescue all eight sailors aboard.
Even before the last man was brought ashore from the Cox and Green, at about 8 pm the Gertrude Abbott was driven onto the rocks a half mile further up the beach. The lifesavers were able to set out in their surfboat only after darkness had fallen. At the wreck, the surfboat was maneuvered under the ship’s bow, and as the smaller craft was lifted by the cresting waves, the eight sailors leapt one by one from the rigging into the boat. The surfboat R.B. Forbes, with 13 crowded aboard, repeatedly filled with water and swamped once while returning to shore. Most of the oars were lost and one man was washed away and reclaimed before the surfboat itself was smashed on hidden rocks near the shore in a rescue that Joshua James called “miraculous.” All nine surfmen who affected this rescue were awarded the Treasury Department’s U.S. Gold Life Saving Medal, the highest possible award.
At daybreak on the 26th, the surfboat Robert G. Shaw set out from the protected launch at Pemberton Point toward the Bertha Wa lker. The volunteers thus avoided some of the dangerous seas they had encountered going out to the Gertrude Abbott, but had to face an exceptionally difficult six and a half mile row to the wreck. Seven sailors from the ship were brought safely ashore by 9 am, all but the captain and first mate who had drowned during the night.
Late in the morning of the 26th, word came that the H.C. Higginson was sunk between two ledges at Nantasket Beach, near the Bertha Walker. While the new surfboat Nantasket, designed by Samuel and Joshua James, was being towed up the Weir River and hauled over land to the ocean for use, men from the Cohasset Humane Society and the U.S. Life Saving Station at North Scituate at tempted to reach the ship with the beach apparatus. However, debris fouling the lines rendered the breeches buoy useless, and the Cohasset and Scituate crews left the wreck site. The Hull crew launched the Nantasket on her maiden rescue, but was forced back to shore 45 minutes later with two holes driven in her sides. After applying t emporary lead patches, the Hull volunteers successfully rowed out to the schooner. The ship's steward had died during the night, and the captain and mate had been swept overboard. It was said that the captain was too obese to climb the rigging, and that his mate had refused to leave him to perish alone. With the Nantasket at the Higgingson’s stern, the seamen stranded at the ship's bow lashed themselves to the tangled breeches buoy lines and leapt into the sea to be pulled to safety.
By the afternoon of the 26th, the winds were easing, but the sea was running more heavily than ever. The schooner Mattie E. Eaton was driven so hard ashore that the crew was able to walk to safety at low tide. The brig Alice was abandoned at sea, but late on the 26th, the tireless Hull crew retrieved a salvager who had been stranded there when his dory was swept away. This was the last rescue of an extraordinary 36 hours, during which 28 Hull men had worked in five crews to save 29 lives along the town’s shores. This storm lead to the construction, one year later, of the Point Allerton U.S. Life Saving Station.
Point Allerton US Lifesaving Station
The Point Allerton US Lifesaving Station was constructed in 1889.
Keeper William Sparrow commanded the Point Allerton Station through its transition to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. Point Allerton Station is one of the busiest and most distinguished in the Northeast.
Crews from “P.A.” guarded the Harbor in both World Wars, and, with Scituate, responded to the 1956 grounding of the Italian freighter Etrusco off Scituate. Point Allerton crews worked tirelessly to save lives and minimize destruction during the devastating Blizzard of ’78. Performing search and rescue, conducting drug interdiction, and escorting hazardous tankers are only some of P.A.’s routine port security duties.
The new Point Allerton Station was commissioned on April 18, 1970. It is home to 35 active duty and 25 reservists, a 47-footer, 41-footer, and three 25-foot, fast-response safe boats. In 2000, Point Allerton Station assumed command of Station Scituate.
In 2003 Point Allerton’s CWO2 Patrick Higgins initiated the founding of a national award honoring longevity and outstanding performance in boat operations. The Joshua James Ancient Keeper Award celebrates those who exemplify the legendary tradition of Point Allerton’s first Keeper.
While Point Allerton’s scope of duties and equipment continue to evolve, the ethic and dedication of the 19th century lifesavers lives on.
Circa 1889 Circa 2009
The museum's collections number more than 5,000 objects, and continue to grow. Our collections include United States Lifesaving Service and Massachusetts Humane Society artifacts, a beach cart, the c 1887 surfboat Nantasket, lighthouse artifacts, including a rare 1903 Fourth Order Fresnel lens, ship and lighthouse models, ship fittings, shipwreck fragments, aids to navigation and historical charts. Prints and photographs represent the history of organized lifesaving and the maritime heritage of Boston Harbor through engravings, lithographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, magic lantern slides, journal articles, rare books, and an extensive collection of historic postcards.
Small craft in the museum collection include dories and tenders, an Alden ocean shell, and a gunning dory built and owned by John Gardiner, the progenitor of the 20th century wooden boat revival. The museum's "floating stock," the working boats used in the Maritime Program's experiential education programs, includes two 38-foot 10-oared Bantry Bay gigs, four 32-foot 6-oared Pilot Gigs, two 24-foot 4-oared Whitehall Gigs, as well as barges, curraghs, and surfboats.
United States Lifesaving Service
Congress first debated federalizing a lifesaving service following the horrific 1837 loss of the Barque Mexico with 116 Irish immigrant passengers, mostly women and children, off the New Jersey coast. Instead, legislators sporadically funded regional lifesaving efforts for several decades. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the nation’s wealth, trade, and shipping traffic grew rapidly. Volunteer lifesaving services could no longer keep pace with the number of vessels running aground near major ports.
In 1878 Rutherford B. Hayes named Sumner Increase Kimball the General Superintendent of the newly formed U.S. Lifesaving Service. During the next 37 years, USLSS surfmen at 271 stations protected the nation’s shorelines. Using surfboats, breeches buoys, ingenuity, courage, and determination, USLSS “Storm Warriors” aided 28,000 ships and 179,000 people. Only 8% of the vessels (2,424) were lost, and fewer than one percent (1,512) of the wreck victims died.
United States Lifesaving Service Annual Reports are available for research purposes, as well selected copies of USLSS log and reports from Point Allerton Station, and USLSS equipment.
Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Humane Society, modeled on Britain’s Royal Humane Society, was established by an act of Congress in 1796. The Massachusetts Humane Society was an all-volunteer, purely humanitarian organization; all early efforts were directed at saving lives rather than ships or cargo. Initially funded entirely by private donations from Boston physicians and shipping merchants, the Humane Society began by erecting Huts of Refuge, equipped with blankets, firewood, and food rations, along treacherous Massachusetts shorelines. The first three huts were positioned in Scituate, Hull, and Lovells Island (adjacent to “the Narrows” through which all shipping passed prior to 1902) after 13 people froze to death on Lovells in the early 1800’s after surviving a shipwreck. The Huts were positioned in locations that allowed shipwreck victims who had made their way to shore to aide in their own salvation and avoid dying of exposure.
Eager to expand its service to shipwreck victims, the Humane Society built its first lifeboat station, in Cohasset, Massachusetts, in 1807, equipping it with a 30-foot, cork-lined lifeboat. Thirty-four yea rs later, in 1841, the MHS had expanded to include 81 stations with 18 boats along the coastline. The service endeavored to locate huts and lifeboat stations at the most treacherous locations, and painted the huts bright red, in hopes of their being readily seen by survivors. While the preponderance of Humane surfmen were of European descent, the crews reflected their communities, and, for example, the Martha's Vineyard Gay Head crew was composed entirely of Wompanoag men.
United States Coast Guard
For more information on Coast Guard history please visit the Coast Guard Historian's website, http://uscg.mil/history/.
Edward Rowe Snow
Slideshow: Edward Rowe Snow's Boston Harbor Ramblers
The museum's Edward Rowe Snow collection includes books, newspaper articles, photographs, and original documents by the popular Boston Harbor historian and author. Many of these materials relate to Snow's role as "Flying Santa," delivering gifts to lighthouse along the coast. Please call to arrange research access to this collection.
The Portland Gale
The Portland Gale of November 26-28, 1898, one of the most devastating storms in the history of the Massachusetts coast, bears the name of the steamer Portland , lost with all souls after leaving Boston Harbor for Maine. The shores of Hull also saw loss of life during the Portland Gale, despite the tireless efforts of the Hull lifesaving crews. The following ships were among those wrecked off Hull during the storm:
Abel E. Babcock
Wreck of the Ulrica, 1896
On February 20, 1927, during a severe northeast storm with winds exceeding 70 mph, the Nancy, of Philadelphia, was driven onto the shore. In what proved to be their last rescue in Hull, Massachusetts Humane Society volunteers, lead by Captain Osceola James (Joshua’s son), brought all nine crew members safely ashore. Salvage efforts were unsuccessful and the Nancy stood driven deep into Nantasket sands throughout the 1930s. A popular tourist attraction, adults paid 25 cents and children 15 cents to go aboard the wreck. While the unstable hull was eventually burned, savvy beachcombers say that Nancy’s keel can still be seen buried in the sands near the southern end of Nantasket Beach.