In March 1870, the Navy’s USS Saginaw arrived at Midway Atoll with a construction crew aboard assigned the mission of blasting, widening and deepening the channel entrance through Midway’s encircling reef.
When the dredging of channel entrance was completed, a safe harbor could then be built within Midway’s lagoon for coaling ships voyaging to and from Asia.
However, funding became exhausted before the work was finished, and on October 29, 1870, Saginaw retrieved its construction crew and departed Midway for San Francisco.
But, instead of sailing directly to San Francisco, Captain Montgomery Sicard decided to first detour to Kure Atoll, 55 miles beyond Midway, and circle about to check for shipwrecked sailors possibly stranded there.
That evening at Kure Atoll, Saginaw’s hull was was ripped on Kure’s reef and the Saginaw was then smashed in two by giant surf – but not before its crew was able to transfer provisions and gear onto Green Island within Kure’s lagoon.
A couple of weeks later, on Nov. 18th, five volunteers – Lieutenant John Talbot, Coxswain William Halford, and Peter Francis, John Andrews and James Muir – set sail from Kure Atoll for Hawaii in Saginaw’s longboat for help.
On Dec. 19th, they reached Kauai after a month at sea, only to be capsized in rough weather on the reef offshore of Hanalei Bay.
John Talbot, Peter Francis and John Andrews were drowned at sea in the aftermath, while James Muir and William Halford made it to shore at Kalihiwai Beach, where Muir collapsed and died, and Halford was found by Hawaiians Peter Nowleins and Mrs. Julia Bindt.
After Sheriff Samuel Wilcox arrived to assist Halford, he discovered that the corpses of two of the Saginaw’s dead had been stripped of their clothing on the beach, an act for which a Kalihiwai man who participated in the theft was subsequently sentenced to prison.
USS Saginaw’s saga was concluded when the schooner Kona Packet and the steamer Kilauea sailed from Hawaii to rescue the Saginaw’s 88-man crew still stranded on Kure Atoll, a mission that was accomplished on Jan. 4, 1871.
Source: The Garden Island