Log in links for this page


Find information on this shipwreck and dive site managed by the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR).

BUAR classifies certain shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological resources as "Exempted Sites" for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): commonly known location, previous salvage, recreational value, educational value, or lack of significant archaeological or historical value. Recreational diving activities on these sites, including casual artifact collection, do not require a BUAR permit. However, any major disruption of the site is prohibited. The intent of creating an exempted shipwreck site is to preserve such sites for the continued enjoyment of the recreational diving community, who is encouraged to protect these sites for the continued enjoyment of all.

Note: All dives are conducted at your own risk. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts accepts no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts assumes no liability for inaccuracies in dive information contained in these pages including site locations and dive conditions.

Vessel Details

Description: freighter, steel.
Dimensions: length 282 ft., width 42 ft., depth 16.2 ft.
Tonnage: gross 2,741, other.
Propulsion: steam, propeller.
Machinery: 3 cylinder triple expansion engine, cylinder diameters 28", 45", 72" with a stroke of 54", 3,100 indicated horsepower; 4 scotch boilers.
Cargo: Freight.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: June 1, 1928.
Cause: collision.
Location: Nantucket Sound, off East Chop, 7 miles East of Woods Hole.
Coordinates: latitude 41° 28.9' N; longitude 70° 31.9' W.
Loran: 14094.6 and 43922.1.

The sinking of the Kershaw by the Dollar Liner President Garfield has been described as one of the most spectacular collisions ever witnessed in New England waters. In the early morning hours of June 1, 1928 the stars were shining, the moon was bright and the water was hardly rippled by wave or swell. Yet, with visibility estimated at 10 to 15 miles the two steamers collided!

Kershaw left Boston at 5:00 PM, April 30th bound for Norfolk, Virginia, with a cargo described as freight. The President Garfield was on the last leg of its 14th round-the-world voyage. Having discharged most of its passengers and cargo at New York, it was bound for Boston. At Garfield's helm was local pilot, Captain Ralph W.C. Smith, while Captain Albert Wilson was in his cabin. The two steamers sighted one another while still miles apart. Signals were exchanged and according to shore witnesses both ships carried the proper lights and lookouts. It was later determined the collision was the result of a miscommunication of whistle signals. Both crews testified that the other did not give the proper signals. Shortly after 1:30 AM, with Kershaws last signal blasting from its whistle, the President Garfield plowed into the freighter's port side just forward of the bridge. The force of the impact tossed the pilothouse overboard with Captain Brooks, the ships' quartermaster and the officer of the watch within. The three men scrambled onto the roof of the floating wreckage and were later rescued.

The collision was heard for miles. Miss Cora Fisher of Oak Bluffs, witnessed the disaster from the seat of an automobile parked near the steamboat landing. "It was like a strange dream," Miss Brooks said. "The moonlight was shining brightly and I could see both ships come together very plainly. I just couldn't believe my eyes. When I heard the thunderous crash a few seconds later I knew it was true…never had I felt so small and helpless." Aboard the liner Miss Mildred Slater of Belfast, Maine, was awakened by the crash. "It was not so much like the meeting of two strong objects," Miss Slater said, "as it was the strong hitting the weak."

Water poured into Kershaw's hold, the engine room and bunker. Many of those below deck were killed when seawater reached the boilers. The superheated metal first contracted, lost its structural integrity, then exploded as the pressure within was released. Fearing Kershaw might capsize, Captain Wilson kept the liner's bow firmly wedged in the breech until the freighter sank from beneath him. Five minutes after the collision, Kershaw's bow rose "up into a convulsive twist" as it dropped stern first beneath the surface, carrying seven of its crew to their doom.

The President Garfield remained in the area of the sinking until dawn, looking for survivors and assessing its own damage. At 6:30 AM, after placing a buoy to mark Kershaw's grave, the liner proceeded to Boston with the freighter's survivors.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum 85, minimum 65.
Visibility in feet: average 15.

Dynamited as a navigational hazard, Kershaw's wreckage has been reduced to a mass of twisted steel scattered across an area roughly the size of a football field.

On October 31, 1999 three MetroWest Dive Club members dove on the Kershaw's remains. They reported that the wreck lies near a shipping channel and the boat traffic can be hazardous. Boat traffic in the area is less in the early spring and late fall so plan your dives accordingly. Two of the steamer's massive Scotch boilers provide relief and attract fish such as tautog.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1899, at Wilmington, Delaware by Harlan & Hollingsworth Co.
Construction details: steel; 4 decks; 7 bulkheads.
Crew: 40; Master: Capt. E.S. Brooks.
Owners: Merchants & Miners Transportation Co., 112 South Gay St.
Home or Hailing Port: Baltimore, Maryland.
Official number: 161119. Country: U.S.A.


1929 - cleared by dynamite, as a hazard to navigation


Boston Globe, Evening; June 1, 1928
Boston Globe, Morning; June 2, 1928
Boston Globe, Sunday; June 3, 1928
Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles; Coleman & Soares, 1989
Merchant Vessels of the United States; 1927
Peter Reagan, MetroWest Dive Club
The Fisherman, magazine; February 16, 1989
The Record, "American Lloyds," American Bureau of Shipping; 1927
Wrecks Below; Luther, 1958

Help Us Improve Mass.gov with your feedback