The sailor told the third mate he wasn’t going to obey his commands. He could fight him if he didn’t like it.
The entire crew gathered on the deck of the full-rigged ship as it left New York in 1880 to watch the power struggle play out between Daniel Killman and a Jack Tar sailor. The outcome would forever brand the aspiring mariner.
“So it was up to me to lick Jack or stop going to sea,” Killman later wrote.
It took 20 minutes of blows but Killman finally bested the unruly sailor.
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“After this I was obeyed without any talk, and there was a lot of work done.”
The anecdote is just one of hundreds in the Tacoma captain’s autobiography.
The manuscript Killman penned was passed from person to person for 80 years before finally being published by an Everett author in 2016 as “Forty Years Master: A Life in Sail & Steam.”
That author, Rebecca Huycke Ellison, will tell Killman’s story and how she came to shepherd its publication in a talk Sunday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
Killman’s story is not only rich with stories about “hard case” sailors and experiences from around the world but also chronicles a 40-plus-year career that spanned the transition from sail to steam.
Killman’s manuscript had long been in the Huycke family. Ellison’s father, Harold Huycke, Jr., had been a ship’s captain and worked on tugs in Seattle.
But Huycke also had a passion for the history of his maritime career.
“He collected history in whatever forms it came,” Ellison said.
Huycke had gotten the manuscript from Killman’s daughter, Sydney, in the 1970s. It was mostly typewritten but some of it was by hand.
Huycke enlisted the help of fellow historian John Lyman to be co-editor of the book. Lyman wrote the bulk of the book’s extensive footnotes and found photographs. Huycke tracked down people who knew Killman and mined obscure sources.
But Lyman died in 1977, and Huycke set the book project aside.
When Huycke died in 2007, Ellison wanted to finish the project.
“It was so nearly finished,” she said. “I didn’t have any choice but to go ahead and finish. He really wanted to see this preserved.”
She tracked down relations of Killman, found more images and period newspaper clips. And she found a publisher: Texas A&M University Press.
BORN TO THE SEA
Killman was born in 1860 in Maine to a family long tied to the sea. He didn’t settle in Tacoma until 1907.
“There was so much lumber movement coming out of Tacoma and so many of his trips brought him up here anyway,” Ellison said.
Killman became a sailor when he was 17 in 1878. He quickly learned to tie knots and mend sails and about the ways of life on a three-masted schooner. But there was one aspect of sea life he couldn’t overcome.
“No one has ever been seasick more than I have during my life at sea,” he wrote.
His travels took him all over the globe.
“The wind was from the island of Sumatra, and the fragrance coming from the Island of Spices, as the sailors call it, was wonderful,” Killman wrote of one journey.
Life at sea in the 1800s was often miserable, and death was never far. Killman’s brother, captain of a ship Killman was serving on, was murdered by an aggrieved cook.
Sailors fell — or jumped in some cases — overboard. Men were crushed by cargo accidents.
It wasn’t unusual to find an abandoned ship on fire at sea. Killman recounted one such incident on a voyage to San Francisco.
“As the ship rolled the iron plates would become red hot, and when she rolled back they would send a cloud of steam in the air.”
On one journey, and for a reason Killman never fully explained, some of his crew tried to set fire to his ship. The fire was extinguished, and one of the culprits, an English sailor, did time for the crime on McNeil Island.
Crew were hired on the spot and left just as quickly, often drunk, in whatever port they landed in.
In 1883, Killman went to school to learn how to captain a steam ship. Soon, he was captain of the Planter and took her to Honolulu. It would return with sugar.
On the voyage over, the first mate secretly told the ship’s owner that Killman didn’t know what he was doing and was hundreds of miles off course. But Killman’s navigation skills took them directly to Molokai.
The mate got to shore as quickly as he could and wasn’t seen again.
Killman decided to stay in Hawaii for several months. King Kalakaua was sovereign of Hawaii at the time and he and Killman became good friends.
Despite the dangers of the sea, Killman’s greatest injury came on land. During a car ride from Hoquiam to Aberdeen in 1922 while lumber was being loaded on his ship, the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a fire truck.
Killman was trapped underneath the car. It caught fire but was quickly extinguished by the firefighters. They had put a sack on his head as a preventive measure.
“The fire chief said he was sure it was a shipmaster by the language I used,” Killman said.
At a hospital in Hoquiam a doctor gave him a quart of whiskey for his pain.
Killman and his wife raised two daughters in Tacoma. He retired in 1929.
Ellison suspects that Killman’s friend, Tacoma Ledger reporter James Bashford, urged him to put his life story on paper.
“It isn’t Killman’s handwriting that’s in notes on the first pages and (someone else did) a little editing,” Ellison said.
Killman died in 1936. He’s interred at Oakwood Hill Cemetery.
“Forty Years Master: A Life in Sail & Steam”
What: The story of Tacoma ship captain Daniel Killman presented by Rebecca Huycke Ellison.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 11).
Where: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 7410 S. 12th Street, Tacoma.
Tickets: $15 at the door.