The schooner Venus out of Cape Porpoise, Maine frequently fished off the coast of Massachusetts, and was captained by Franklin D. Langsford of Lanesville, MA.

swordfishOn Monday morning, August 19 1886, Captain Langsford sailed out from Cape Ann in pursuit of swordfish. Around 11 a.m. he spotted a swordfish about eight miles northeast of Halibut Point in Ipswich Bay.

The captain, taking a dory, gave chase, and soon harpooned the fish, throwing over a buoy with a line attached to the harpoon, after which the flea was left and they returned to the vessel for dinner. About an hour later the captain, with one man, again took his dory and went out to secure the fish. Picking up the buoy, Capt. Langford took hold of the line, pulling his boat toward the swordfish, which was quite large and not badly wounded. The line was taut as the boat slowly neared the fish, which the captain intended to lance and thus be able to kill it.

When near the fish, but too far away to reach it with the lance, the fish quickly turned and rushed under the boat, thrusting its sword up through the bottom of the boat twenty-three inches. As the fish turned, the line was suddenly slacked, causing the captain to fall backward, and while he was down, the sword came piercing through the boat and into his body. At this time another swordfish was in sight nearby, and the captain, full of excitement and not yet realizing that he was wounded, raised himself up, seized the sword and exclaimed, “We got him anyway!”

The captain lay in the bottom of the dory, still holding fast to the sword until his schooner came alongside. The swordfish, being stuck under the boat, could not be reached. Upon their arrival, the captain said, ‘”I think I am hurt, and quite badly.” He was helped on board, took a few steps and fell, never rising again.

langsford_sketch
The Langsford house on Washington Street, Lanesville MA (part of Gloucester)

The dory and fish were soon hoisted on board together. The sword was chopped off to free the boat, and the fish was killed on the deck of the vessel. The swordfish weighed 245 pounds after its head and tail were cut off and the viscera removed; when alive it probably weighed something over 300 pounds.

Captain Langford survived the injury about three days, dying on the third day of peritonitis, 48 1/2 years of age. The sword of the fish and the following certificate written by Dr. Garland on the 16th of August was deposited in the U. S. National Museum:

This may certify that I was called to visit Franklin D. Langsford, of Lanesville, in Gloucester, on August 12, in consultation with Dr. Levi Saunders, who was in attendance upon the said Langsford, 0n account of a wound inflicted upon his body by a swordfish on the 9th instant, said swordfish having driven its sword through the bottom of the fishing dory he was in to the length of 23 inches, penetrating the body of Langsford at the right of the his coccyx and entering about 7 inches, by the side of the rectum, into the pelvic cavity; that said Langsford was dying, and did die, in my presence, of peritonitis, having survived the injury about three days; that the sword accompanying this certificate is the veritable sword that occasioned the accident, and is to be sent to the National Museum, at Washington. GLOUCESTER, MASS., October 14, 1886. “

Sources

— Washington correspondence New York Star, 1886

Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission

Scientific American

NOAA

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