BENMAN, Captain

BENMAN, Captain "Ships" ( c. 1857-1912), captain and owner of the Dora wrecked at San Clemente Island on March 2, 1912 while at anchor during a storm. Two passengers survived. They buried Benman on the island.



In the News~

Log of the Bear: “10:30, Stopped off Wilson's Cove [San Clemente Island] and sent in boat with officer and Inspector Bernard to investigate. Found two men, Austin E. and Lester C. Freeman, who had been wrecked in the sloop Dora of San Pedro, Sunday, March 10, at Northwest Harbor. The Captain of the sloop, "Chips" Benman, was drowned. The body was recovered and buried by the Freemans. Took the two men aboard at their request for transportation to San Pedro. The sloop is total wreck and beyond assistance.”


March 16, 1912 [San Pedro News Pilot]: “"Ships" Benman drowned at San Clemente Island. Owler of sloop Dora wrecked in gale Sunday, March 2, and Riverside and San Bernardino men have narrow escape. Bringing two survivors and news of the wreck of the little sloop Dora and the death of her owner and skipper, "Ships" Benman, the revenue cutter Bear, Captain Ballinger, arrived last night from San Clemente Island. The Bear was cruising around the island and found the two men at the sheep camp after sighting the wreck on the rocky beach. Benman left here about two weeks ago with Austin Freeman of San Bernardino and Lester Freeman of Riverside who hired him to take them for an outing. While sleeping on board at anchor in a cove a storm came up at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 2. "Ships" attempted to get the boat out and cut the anchor ropes. Just then the boat capsized and one of the brothers was washed overboard. The other was in the cabin. Both managed to swim ashore thinking that "Ships" also had been washed overboard. Later they found him in the cockpit dead. The survivors buried "Ships" on the island and went to the camp to await the first boat which happened to be the revenue cutter. Brenman was about 55 years of age and had lived in San Pedro in a cabin in Happy Valley. So far as known he had no relatives. He was formerly a ship's carpenter but had not been to sea for several years.”


March 16, 1912 [LAT/SP]: “San Pedro man drowned off San Clemente coast… The Bear brought two survivors of the wreck, Lester and Austin Freeman, brothers, who also had a narrow escape from drowning. Lester Freeman, who lives in Riverside, and his brother, Austin Freeman of San Bernardino, chartered the lost Dora on March 1, from Benman for a week’s fishing trip and left this harbor, arriving at San Clemente the following Saturday night. The sloop was anchored near Wilson Harbor, and about 2 o’clock on Sunday morning a heavy storm came up accompanied by a tremendous sea. The Dora’s anchors failed… The two Freemans managed with great difficulty to make shore and spent the night in a barn owned by the San Clemente Wool Company. In the morning when the sea had subsided they made their way back to the Dora and found Benman dead in the cockpit of the little craft. His body was taken ashore and the two brothers with the help of several employees of the Clemente Wool Company, dug a grave on the bleak bluff of the island, where the body was buried. Revenue cutter Bear on a cruise today sighted the wreck of the Dora and went to investigate…”


March 18, 1912 [SFCall]: “Pirate's treasure seekers rescued. Sloop skipper loses life in fierce gale. San Bernardino, March 17.—The search for hidden treasure supposed to be buried on San Clemente Island caused the death of 'Chips' Benman during the fierce gale last week. Austin Freeman of this city and Lester Freeman of Riverside narrowly escaped drowning and were rescued by the revenue cutter Bear. Austin Freeman, scion of one of the pioneer families of California, is said to have financed in this city an expedition to the island to find a huge amount of gold, which, according to maps and papers owned by his family, was buried on the island by pirates in the early fifties. Freeman employed 'Chips' Benman and his sloop, Dora, at San Pedro. At the time of the rescue the Freemans explained that they had been on a fishing expedition.”


March 19, 1912 [SDET]: “The revenue cutter Bear, Captain Ballinger, will leave for the coast patrol duty again tomorrow morning. The work off the Bear along the southern California coast this year has been the most effective ever done by the revenue cutter service. During its last trip the Bear succeeded in saving the lives of at least two persons. It was during the worst part of the storm that prevailed off the coast that the Bear rendered such good service. They sighted the sloop Dora flying a signal of distress near San Clemente Island. Captain Ballinger lost no time in going to the aid of the sinking boat and succeeded in getting Austin Freeman and Lester Freeman aboard. A sailor named Chips Benman was swept from the deck of the Dora before the crew of the bear could get a line to him. The sailors saw the unfortunate fellow carried on the crest of a big wave. He was beyond aid and soon sank from sight. The rescued men were taken to San Pedro. They had outfitted the Dora for a treasure hunting expedition to San Clemente Island but had scarcely reached their destination when the storm came up.”