Arthur Donnelly was an English merchant (of Irish heritage) who was en route to open a new business in the United States when he died in the tragic wreck of the ship Bristol, 174 years ago this week.
He was traveling with his wife, two children, and an indentured nursemaid/slave from South Africa, when their ship struck the shoals off of Rockaway, Long Island, as they traveled in the final leg of their long journey (Calcutta, India to New York via England).
Evidently, after hitting upon the shoals, the waves picked up immensely and began to destroy the ship. Women and children were evacuated first, and the rescue boats then returned for additional passengers. Rather than leave when he was given space, Donnelly chose to send his nursemaid/slave first and wait for the next wave of rescue boats, staying to help the captain and several other officers who had stayed behind. The remaining passengers were attempting to tie themselves to the mast (so as not to fall into the ocean), but as they waited, a giant wave struck the ship and through Donnelly—who was not yet secured—into the ocean where he drowned, “…a victim to his own philanthropy…” as a newspaper story declared when it reported on the wreck.
Naturally, all were very grateful to Donnelly—in his headstone was lovingly etched an image of the circumstances that lead to his death, as well as the detailed obituary you can see below. Just to give you an idea of how much writing that is, the headstone itself stands nearly five feet tall and easily dwarfs the other monuments that surround it (all erected around the same time).