title: A Durable Memento

Sarah T. B. Watermanspacer Sarah Taintor Bulkeley Waterman (1835-1855)

The niece of Hartford jurist and insurance executive Eliphalet Bulkeley, Sarah Bulkeley Waterman met with a tragic fate off the southeast coast of China in the late autumn of 1855. Married in May 1854 to sea captain Gurdon Waterman, she accompanied her husband when he sailed the clipper ship Highflyer from San Francisco in October 1855. Bound for Canton, the ship carried one cabin passenger in addition to Mrs. Waterman; 190 Chinese laborers returning from the California goldfields, "each with his pile of gold dust"; and a crew of about twenty American seamen. The Highflyer never reached its intended destination. For months following its disappearance, the ship's owners struggled to find some clue as to the vessel's fate. On April 25, 1857, the Connecticut Courant reported their grim findings. Dismasted, the Highflyer was almost certainly wrecked on the Chinese coastal island of Haitan. That island's inhabitants, described as "pirates almost by profession," were believed to have murdered the Highflyer's passengers and crew before running the ship over to the nearby island of Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) to escape detection. The vessel was then plundered and burned.

Augustus Washington's charming portrait of Sarah Waterman may have been made at the time of her engagement to Captain Waterman.

Augustus Washington
Sixth-plate daguerreotype, circa 1853
Image courtesy The Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT.


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