The Wreck of the S. S. Ethie

Extract from the Shipís Log printed in the Atlantic Guardian December 1950

December 3, 1919

The S.S. ETHIE left Humbermouth on the 3rd of December 1919. All hands on board were happy after spending a week in port and with the expectation of being back again in a few days. All went well during the trip; weather was fine and sea smooth. The ship made all ports of call going North to Battle Harbour and returning, until the 10th.

December 10th.

The ship left Port Saunders at 8 a.m. It was a fine day with the sea calm and smooth. Calls were made at Danielís Harbor and Parson's Pond and at 6 p.m. the ETHIE arrived at Cow Head just as the storm was setting in. It was very dark going in Cow Head. The sky was black as tar with a fresh breeze blowing from the SSW.

After staying at Cow Head for a considerable time taking freight on board the ship left again at 8 p.m. At 8:10 p.m. when off the Lighthouse the Log was set and the course put WSW. We ran that course for one hour during which time the ship registered five miles by the Log. The Captain changed the course to West as the gale was still increasing. As the night advanced the gales rose to hurricane force with thick snow flurries. Frosty seas began to roll over the ship and ice began to accumulate fast. At 12 midnight the Log had to be hauled in as the ship could not keep clear of it. All the crew were engaged to keep the ship working. The upper deck and the forecastle head were loaded with empty barrels, and the crew had to throw these overboard to save the ship as the ice was increasing about the ship fast..

We had two cows on deck. At 2 a.m. one of these perished. The ship could not keep her head up to the seas except at certain times. After 4 a.m. the ship was driving broad-side before an hurricane of wind and mountains of sea. The mail boat was swept away during the morning and one lifeboat was broken up in the davits by the seas that swept over the ship. The sailors had to assist the firemen in their duties to try to get up enough steam to save the ship. The seas continued to break over her throwing a lot of water in the stoke hole and engine room, but every man held his post expecting the wind to abate at daylight. When daylight came the winds seemed to be more fierce than ever with heavier seas and blinding snow flurries and continued so all day.

December 11th

At 10:30 a.m. land was sighted which the Captain and Officers afterwards declared to be Martinís Point, ten miles S.W. of Cow Head and sixteen miles N.E. of Bonne Bay.

The coast was carefully studied by the Captain and Officers. As the ship gradually drifted towards the breakers orders were given by the Captains for all passengers to be fitted with life-belts. These orders were silently and steadily carried out and in a few moments all the passengers appeared on the upper deck fitted with life-belts. As they gazed upon the breakers on the reef that soon they must strike, all were calm and brave. The Captain, brave and cool, consulted with his Officers and it was decided to risk her full speed over those raging breakers. The Helmsman was ordered to put the wheel hard a-starboard and, as the ship approached the seas, all hands waited patiently for another moment when they would all be swept into Eternity; but by some unseen hand the good ship ETHIE was guided over those boiling seas that were raging as high as the tops of her spars ahead and astern, over the reef, still onward towards the rocks, with less and less hope of saving all hands on board; still she floated, with seas boiling all around, until the wheel was put hard a-port.

It was 12 noon when she struck. The rocks made her shake terribly. By this time the stern post and the rudder were gone. As the ship hove in broad side to the cliff a lifebuoy was thrown over with a small line attached. It was pulled ashore by some men who were on the shore watching the ship approach. Then a larger line was fastened to the smaller one and pulled ashore and to this a chair was quickly attached, and the landing of passengers commenced.

There were seventy-two souls altogether of which forty-five were passengers including six women and one baby. The women were landed first on one sixty fathom line stretching from the bridge to the shore. The baby was put into a small mail bag and lashed to a chair. It was certainly a sight to see this poor little baby lifted over the ships side in a mail bag, swinging over a boiling sea, but strong arms quickly pulled her to the shore. Then came the landing of male passengers, followed by the crew. It was dark when the last man got to land. It was still blowing a gale and the seas were going over the ship sweeping her decks. The passengers and crew were then taken to the homes of kind friends along the shore. There were only two houses where we landed and these were filled to capacity. Others went to another place three miles away where all were made comfortable for the night which indeed we all needed after twenty-one hours of the hardest kind of hardship and danger.

December 12th

The morning was still stormy. At daylight some of the crew went and tried to board the ship which they succeeded in doing and brought some stores from her. There was not much done that day after such an experience and all felt like resting. In the afternoon some went as far as the banks where the ship lay just to have a look at her and to look over the foaming breakers which we had passed over the evening before. I can assure you that we all felt thankful to God to be safe on the land again which seemed so impossible to us the day before. We could do nothing about boarding the ship at this time, as the tide was very high and it was terribly frosty, so we all returned to our respective homes for one more good nightís rest and comfort. We thought it a comfort and were thankful to be there although those small dwelling houses were so packed that some had to remain standing and keep the fires going while others slept; but still we passed the night comfortably.

December 13th

The day began still stormy, but the wind and sea had abated considerably and at daylight we started to board the ship to gather up our clothes and to land the passengersí baggage. Most of the bags were wet as there was water in the shipís hold and the greater part of our clothing was damaged. One of the beasts that were previously mentioned was still living. It was a young ox and could stand more than the other one which was a milk cow. The ox was lying on deck with, I should judge, about one foot of ice over its whole body.        

I can assure you that the ETHIE was certainly a lovely picture with such a load of ice all over her. Just imagine one piece of wire three quarters of an inch increased by ice to the size of a puncheon and the flagpole on the stern the size of a pork barrel, and this will give one an idea of what we went through. After we landed, the ship was given in charge of a man named Gilley who promised to look after her, and, after this, we took only an occasional walk to where she lay as we could not do anything until we got orders from the Company. During the evening Miss Garland and a friend survivor named Gosse came and took photographs of the ship. Anyone who can obtain any of these pictures will be able to see and get an idea of how she looks today lying on the rocks.

We had young seal for tea last night and we certainly enjoyed it: I think everyone forgot their troubles when they sat round the table to partake of the good feast which our kind friends had provided for us. After a good smoke, although tobacco was getting short, we all stowed away for the night.

 

JOHN GULLAGE
Chief Officer

S.S. ETHIE

 

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