Ask McGehee: “Dixey” Shipwreck

“Dixey” is the correct spelling. It comes from an ill-fated clipper ship, the Robert H. Dixey, which was launched from Boston in 1855. The ship was named for Robert Hooper Dixey, a native of Marblehead, Mass., who was one of six investors to have the craft constructed.

The ship’s captain was Robert’s brother, Richard Dixey. The hold of the boat could carry up to 3, 500 bales of cotton. In addition to crossings to French and English ports, the Robert H. Dixey ventured as far as Russia in June of 1857.

Three years later, on Aug. 15, 1860, the ship left New York for Mobile after having completed a successful trip to Liverpool with a load of cotton. She was laden with hardware for the trip south, which was apparently slow and uneventful, until the ship approached the mouth of Mobile Bay.

The voyage had taken a month, and as the ship entered the Bay, a steady westerly wind and a falling barometer convinced Capt. Dixey to prepare for a bad squall. As Mobile Bay was considered a safe place in a storm, the crew dropped two anchors at 10 p.m. About midnight, the winds shifted and rose into a violent hurricane, but the anchors held.

- Sponsors -

On the morning of Sept. 15, the eye of the hurricane passed over the ship and gave the crew an hour’s relief until the winds suddenly changed. The surge of the waves and the wind shift violently turned the ship around, and the anchors were lost. The powerful waves and wind battered her against the western bank of the channel.

As the wooden hull broke apart, the crewmembers, who could not swim, lashed themselves up into the rigging. The pilot and five others made their way to the bow and jumped clear of what was left of the clipper ship. Miraculously, another ship, the American Union, anchored some 2 miles away came to their rescue, and they were picked up.

Capt. Dixey refused to leave his crew and joined them in the rigging as the storm surge continued to break the vessel to bits. As the timbers holding the rigging broke free, all the men drowned. When the captain’s body was recovered, it was still tied to a timber.

The bodies of 18 crewmembers were recovered and buried in an unmarked grave on Dauphin Island. Richard Dixey was buried in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery, and whatever marker was placed over him apparently disintegrated long ago.

Article image: The ship’s captain, Richard Dixey (1809 – 1860), pictured with his wife, Rebecca, who would live out her days in Marblehead, Mass. From “An Antebellum Life at Sea, ” by L. Tracy Girdler.


Tom McGehee

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!