In 1872 Secretary of War George M Robeson had assigned the vessel surveying duties in Nicaragua.
Their job was to..."ascertain a practicable route for an inter-coastal ship canal via the Lake of Nicaragua."
Basically the Nicaragua Canal Surveying Expedition was to locate the best suited piece of land that a canal could be cut through that would allow ships to pass from the Pacific to the Atlantic using the natural lake already in place as part of the new route.
To the left of the Letter "A" you can see a body of water. This is Lake Nicaragua and would have been a part of the route with canals cut to its left and right to allow the passage of ships through the country and cutting weeks of travel from the US east to west coast or vice-versa.
It was on 12 May 1872 that the USS Kansas dropped anchor about 3 miles off the coastline at Greytown. She would then launch a vessel with surveyors who's job it was to chart some dangerous shoals in the immediate area.
About 1 1/2 miles closer to shore a whaler boat overturned in heavy seas and 17 men were thrown into the water. The Kansas immediately launched a rescue craft but it was overturned as well. A second was then launched but it too got overturned in the high waves as well. Denman had volunteered to help on the first two vessels but was declined. Probably because he was tied up... sort of! He was in the brig in irons and had been there for nine days on daily rations of nothing more than bread and water. His reward for being insolent to his superiors. They had been drilling the men constantly and a few had decided enough was enough. Denman added insult to injury when accused of being lazy and that he would be required to take a turn working as the cook. He responded by refusing the job claiming he was as a seamen and not a cook. Unimpressed with Denman's comments, he was thrown in the brig. And thus not selected for the first two vessels sent out to save men in the water... shark infested waters to boot.
Finally in desperation word came down that the Captain would now let Denman out of the brig if he would help with further rescue attempts. he agreed... but only if the Captain would come and ask him personally. The captain did and so the seaman was soon launching a small catamaran and heading off to assist. He was thrown into the water several times and also noted sharks close at hand. But he managed to right himself and also hauled several sailors on board... including a man who was overweight and had told others to leave him and rescue the lighter men. He was a commander... and by the time Denman found him, he was already dead. Despite being very weak from exhaustion and lack of proper food for days, this sailor managed to save 8 lives that day.
On returning to the ship and seeing his Captain he reported that he was ready to return to the brig, but instead he was invited down to the Captain's cabin. He would later state that..."The Captain knew how to pour a seafaring man a good sized drink." He was then order to forget the brig and report back for regular duties.
Later in 1872 The USS Kansas travelled along the eastern seaboard on a number of probable good will stops, one of these being at Halifax Nova Scotia from 5 to 17 September. It would then turn south and make several more stops. By 1874 Denman would be taking his release from the navy.
Nothing is known of Denman's activities for the next 25 years and there is a suggestion that he may have returned to the navy but this has not been confirmed as of yet. He is known to have returned to England for a period of time and was there in Manchester in 1901. By 1907 he is in Woodstock Ontario and has taken a third wife. In 1921 he is back in the US, having arrived at Detroit from Windsor by train on the Canadian Pacific Railway and then stating he was living again at Woodstock Ontario.
A year later he is applying for naturalization status at Los Angeles and is stated to being 73 years of age... "with white hair." His status is confirmed by 1927, while living in Los Angeles. In 1930 Denman is living in Burbank and the following year he is admitted to the old folks home back in Los Angeles.
He was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, and a few summers past I visited his grave and took this photo.
It is most interesting to note that in the same county, and same city... and on the same darn street about a mile away lies buried Benjamin F Youngs from Zorra Ontario. And if that is not enough, seaman Denham's Ontario home at Woodstock was only about a dozen miles away from BF Youngs home at Zorra. He was still alive when Youngs died would have probably known him and maybe even attended his funeral.
Seaman Austin Denham died on 2 June 1948. That was 65 years ago this past Sunday.