|RJ OWENS||WILLIAM||BEACON LIGHT||GRACE D. DAY||AGNES R.||FENMORE||LLEWELLYN||SPERRY||LILIAN||WILLIAM KELSON||SPEEDWELL|
The Evening Telegram
The Deputy Minister of Customs, Mr. H. W. LeMessurier, C.M.G. received the following message from the Sub-Collector at St. Mary’s yesterday:
“Schr. R. J. Owens, Connolly master, owned by Ryan Bros. bound from Sydney to Trinity, lost and broken up at Shag Rocks, two miles from Peter’s River. Captain and crew landed here by Delorey’s schooner. Crew had narrow escape.
The Evening Telegram,
March 22, 1919 page 11
In the fifties the brig William, Capt. Eagan, on a passage from Poole to Trinity became a total wreck near Torbay. The disaster occurred at 9 o’clock in the night in the month of February. Capt. Eagan went on deck and said to the mate William White, “it is very thick weather, Billy, and my reckoning will be run down in ten minutes and I am going to heave to for the night.” White looked out under the mainsail, saw land, and cried out “Hard down, land O!” and scarcely had he spoken when the man on lookout forward cried, “land.” The vessel not having sufficient head-way, and the sea rough, mis-stayed and went on the rocks. Capt. Eagan turned to White and said “Billy, if any man can reach the shore you are the man.” White jumped in the water with a line, and failed twice, but on the third attempt he reached the rock with the line in his mouth. He made the line fast on shore and all the crew, with the exception of William Wiltshire escaped. They did not know where they were, and walked a considerable distance until they found a resident’s house in Torbay. Their clothes were frozen and some of them were terribly frost bitten. They were well treated by the hospitable people of Torbay. Capt. Eagan lived for many years afterwards and brought in many loads of seals. There was a mural tablet erected to Wiltshire in the old St. Paul’s Church at Trinity, and is probably still to be seen in the Mortuary Chapel.
WRECKED CREW BROUGHT UP
The wrecked crew of the Bishop’s schooner, Beacon Light of Wesleyville, were brought up by the Solway from Labrador and boarded the Dundee at Trinity to be taken to their homes. The Beacon Light was lost while beating into Independent Hr. She mis-stayed and fell on a rock. All the gear was saved.
The Evening Telegram, July 31, 1911
SCHOONER LOST – Capt. Edward Bishop’s schooner Beacon Light was lost at Independent, Labrador, last week. All the gear was saved.
The Evening Telegram
October 23, 1917
The schooner Grace D. Day, master, Herbert Bryant, went ashore during last night’s gale at New Bonaventure, Trinity Bay, and is likely to become a total wreck, word to that effect having been received today by Mr. Stone, Minister of Marine and Fisheries.
The Evening Telegram
May 28, 1914
News reached Mr. H. W. LeMessurier, of the Customs Department today, that the schooner Agnes R. owned by Ryan Brothers of Trinity, was lost and that the crew had a very narrow escape with their lives. The Agnes R., Richard Walker, master, was bound from Brigus to Trinity and at ten o’clock on Tuesday night last she struck a large piece of ice near the Horse Chops and sank. The crew had a close call. They saved themselves by rowing to Green Island where they reached at noon yesterday after having an anxious time of it.
The Evening Telegram,
October 17, 1960
The 277 ton M.V. Fenmore, owned by Captain John Blackwood, sank in 15 fathoms of water within a few minutes after striking a rock at the entrance to the harbour at Trinity, T.B. Saturday night.
Captain Blackwood said today that all he felt was a slight bump as the vessel struck the rock on the starboard side. He said he didn’t think any serious damage had been done until one of the crew called out that the forecastle was filling with water.
He ordered the lifeboat lowered, and by the time the boat was in the water the Fenmore’s rail on the port side was awash.
He and the crew just had time to push off from the vessel’s side when her stern rose into the air and she slid under bow first.
The captain said they had left North Sydney Thursday night with a cargo of 343 tons of coal for Trinity.
After a calm weather trip they arrived off Trinity Saturday night and steered towards the entrance between Admiral’s Island and Skerwink. The engine was going dead slow ahead, with the vessel making about three knots. It was a dark night, without stars or moon.
The radar showed the ship to be in the exact centre of the entrance. It was around 9 o’clock the skipper felt the ship bump on a rock. He ordered the engine stopped and a minute later someone called out that water was making fast in the forecastle.
Captain Blackwood immediately ordered the lifeboat launched, and while this was being done the ship settled heavily by the head and dipped the rail on her port side under.
As they rowed clear of the sinking vessel she went under, approximately half an hour after she struck.
The captain and his seven man crew rowed ashore, where they were accommodated for the night at the Trinity Cabins.
The 149 ton Mont Murray, owned by Captain Blackwood, sank 58 miles southwest of St. Pierre in September 1955 after foundering at the onset of a hurricane. The captain and his crew were rescued by the trawler Red Diamond IV just before the Mont Murray went under.
Captain Blackwood bought and later used as a trawler, the Fenmore in England in 1958. She was built as a minesweeper and later used a trawler.
Converted to a cargo vessel, Captain Blackwood used her to carry coal from North Sydney to Newfoundland ports. With a 480 horsepower engine she could make a top speed of 10 knots. When loaded she drew 14 feet of water.
The captain said this morning that he was not fully covered by insurance, and that at present he had no plans for buying another vessel.
Very few personal belongings were saved by the crew according to the captain, as nobody had time to grab anything.
The crew of the Fenmore, in addition to Captain Blackwood are: Jim Sturge, mate from Gambo; chief engineer Roland Clarke, and second engineer Fred May both of Twillingate; Herbert Burrage, cook; Don Legge, Joe Clarke and Hedley Keats, seaman all from Dover, Bonavista Bay.
In 1957 the M/V Marvid sank at Trinity with a cargo of coal. With the sinking of the Fenmore there is now about 600 tons of coal on the bottom at Trinity.
In the meantime there is a severe shortage of coal at Trinity, where the Fenmore’s cargo would have alleviated.
Cursed Coal Boats: The
demise of three vessels involved in delivering coal to Trinity.
Saturday night, October 15, 1960 was pitch black. After a 60 hour run across the Gulf from North Sydney, the 277 ton Fenmore was on approach to Trinity harbour. The vessel rode deep in the water with a load of coal for the town. The captain, John Blackwood, was in the wheelhouse studying the radar screen and peering through the windows for signs of anything in the dark. The 54 year old was feeling somewhat relaxed; his “calm weather passage” was almost over.
But fate had other plans, and within the hour the Fenmore would become the first of three coal boats hired by Trinity merchants to end up on the ocean floor that Fall. It’s as though they were cursed.
Capt. Blackwood noted the time 9:00 p.m., and the radar showed his vessel to be in the exact centre of the channel, between Admiral’s Island and Skerwink. Suddenly he felt a thump on the starboard side as the Fenmore grazed a rock. That’s when it all came undone.
A minute later, a crewman ran out of the forecastle warning that water was making fast down there. Capt. Blackwood immediately ordered the engine stopped and by the time the lifeboats were in the water, the Fenmore was down so far by the head that the port rail was awash. The crew only had time to get into the boat before their vessel was gone. Capt. Blackwood, in the words of his son Edward, “dropped over the stern rail into the lifeboat, leaving behind in his cabin his personal belongings, including his wallet with several hundred dollars in it,” as the Fenmore slipped to the bottom of Trinity harbour.
Upon hearing the news, Edward and his mother immediately set out from St. John’s by car. “We arrived in Trinity as the sun was coming up on Sunday morning,” Edward recalls. “I can still remember the bright sun, the calm harbour, and the only evidence of disaster was the slight oil slick on the water.”
That morning, while Capt. Blackwood reflected on the loss of his vessel, the merchants of Trinity began searching for a replacement “coal boat.” They found the 168 ton Llewellyn II, owned and skippered by William Blackmore. She was in Nova Scotia, preparing for the return trip to Newfoundland, and at the merchant’s request her captain added a load of coal for Trinity.
At 9:00 a.m. Thursday, October 27, the Llewellyn II sailed out of North Sydney and into the Gulf before a light westerly wind. Soon after, the wind increased to 35 mph, gusting to 45 mph. All day, the Llewellyn II ran before the breeze while her diesel engine drove her along at ten knots.
About 7:00 p.m., chief engineer Stanley Goodyear discovered water in the engine room. At first he blamed the stuffing box, so he pumped in more grease and tightened the box’ screws. But the leak continued and soon water was up to the floors of the engine room. Capt. Blackmore turned on his radio telephone to alert any vessels in the area, should the worst happen. By then the Llewellyn II was about 75 miles southwest of St. Pierre.
He made contact with Capt. Patrick Miller on the MV Moyle R, which had left North Sydney a few hours after the Llewellyn II and was now about 40 miles astern. Capt. Blackmore quickly explained the situation and asked Capt. Miller to stand by on radio.
Back on the Llewellyn II, water continued to gain on the pumps until finally, a few minutes before 8:00 p.m., Captain Blackmore had to issue a distress call: “We are leaking badly and need immediate assistance.” Capt. Miller responded that he had a bearing on the Llewellyn II and help was on the way.
The Llewellyn II settled by the stern and her afterdeck was soon awash. The main engine stopped and the generator ceased working. The crew began jettisoning some of the deck cargo in an effort to lighten the vessel. They cleared away one lifeboat and made it ready for lowering. As well, they sent up flares to alert vessels coming to their rescue. (The holders for the rockets that shot off with the flares were missing, so Capt. Blackmore actually held a rocket in his hand while one of the crew members pulled the trigger pin.)
Just when the crew knew they had to get off their ship or perish, they spotted the Moyle R’s searchlight. The rescue boat came alongside the sinking vessel just before dawn.
Capt. Miller recently recalled, “Several trips were made in the Llewellyn II’s small lifeboat. Only a couple of the crew could be taken off at a time because there was still a stiff breeze. But the thing that stands out in my mind to this day is how calm and focused Capt. Billy (Blackmore) was and, of course, he was the last one off. The last thing that he did before jumping into the lifeboat was set fire to his sinking vessel to ensure she wouldn’t become a menace to navigation.”
By noon the next day, Capt. Blackmore and his crew were safe in St. John’s, but the Llewellyn II with the replacement coal for Trinity was on the bottom of the Gulf.
Once again the people of Trinity were forced to find another vessel to bring in their now badly needed coal. It was the 320 ton Walter G. Sweeney, a Yarmouth freighter, that finally delivered the coal to Trinity in the middle of November. The job was done, but fate was not finished with the Walter Sweeney.
In the Spring of 1961, Capt. Miller, hero of the Llewellyn II rescue, purchased the Walter G. Sweeney for fishing that summer and for freighting in the fall. On the morning of Tuesday, October 31, the Walter G. Sweeney was crossing the Gulf, 50 miles east of Scatarie, en route to P.E.I. A strong head wind had been encountered all night and shortly after daylight, engineer Sam Power informed Capt. Miller that the vessel was taking on water and the pumps were at full capacity. Shortly afterwards, Capt. Miller issued a mayday; his vessel was sinking and in need of immediate assistance.
The oceangoing tug, St. John, out of Sydney, responded to the call and arrived at the sinking vessel by mid-afternoon. The rising water in the Sweeney’s engine room had killed the engine so the tug put one of its pumps aboard her and when the leaking vessel could “hold her own” it was decided to try to tow her to Sydney.
Capt. Miller and his crew stayed on the Walter G. Sweeney as they were being towed but late that afternoon, a weather forecast called for storm force winds. The tug’s captain advised Capt. Miller they should board the tug. A couple of hours later the storm hit. From the safety of the tug, the crews of both boats watched the Walter G. Sweeney settle dangerously deeper in the water. Eventually, when they were about 50 miles off Cape Breton, they decided to cut the tow line and within minutes the Walter G. Sweeney sank. With that, the third vessel involved in getting coal to Trinity in the Fall of 1960 was now at the bottom of the ocean.
Captains Blackwood and Blackmore never replaced their lost vessels and Blackmore, a 40 year veteran, never returned to sea; he retired and passed away the following December. Capt. Blackwood continued at sea under employed command. He passed away in St. John’s in 1973. Capt. Miller continues to be very active in the marine field and can recall vividly these events. Sam Power, the engineer on the Walter G. Sweeney on her final trip, passed away just recently.
Information for this article was collected by the author from the Daily News, the Evening Telegram and conversations with Mr. Edward Blackwood, Capt. Wilfred Blackmore and Capt. Patrick Miller.
TERRA NOVA ADVOCATE,
October 11, 1881
A random correspondent of the Telegram records the loss of the schooner Llewellyn on the north side of Trinity Bay. It appears that this vessel, which had left St. John’s on the 30th ulto. Struck on Shag Rock, near Ireland’s Eye and in less than ten minutes was under water. The passengers and crew, nine all told, barely escaped with their lives, losing all their property, the night being dark with heavy wind blowing at the time. The Messrs. Cooper at Northwest Arm, by whom the craft was hired, lost all their winter’s supplies. The Rev. Mr. Lumsden, a newly arrived Wesleyan Minister who was a passenger on board lost his entire stock including clothing and some valuable books. After the unfortunate occurrence, the ship wrecked passengers and crew were well cared for by the people of Ireland’s Eye. The schooner was insured, but her owner incurred considerable loss in a large quantity of fishing gear on board at the time.
THE EVENING TELEGRAM, October 8, 1881
On Friday, Sept. 30 – writes our Random correspondent – the schooner Llewellyn, left St. John’s for home. She had her usual crew and some passengers. All went on well till they reached the north side of Trinity Bay when, unfortunately, they ran on the Shag Rock, near Ireland’s Eye, and in less than ten minutes the schooner was completely under water. The passengers and crew – nine altogether – escaped with their lives and nothing more. The night was very dark and a stiff breeze blowing. The schooner was hired by William Cooper & Sons, of North West Arm, Random Island, who lost their winter’s fit out, which they had just bought. Perhaps the saddest part of the affair is in connection with the Rev. James Lumsden, Methodist Minister, who had only arrived from England by the last home boat, and was on his way to the Random Mission. He lost everything he had, and barely escaped without either a hat or boot. He is now left nearly destitute of clothing. To him the loss is considerable, not only with regard to clothing; for he had a splendid collection of books, many of them being presents from friends when leaving home. He had also a number of other presents. Few upon the commencement of their missionary career in Newfoundland have met with such a disheartening incident. The unfortunate affair has elicited the unmistakable sympathy of the people. Mrs. Toope and others in Ireland’s Eye treated the shipwrecked men with great consideration, and did their utmost to assist them in reaching their homes. The schooner was insured, but the poor man who owned her has lost heavily, as he had a large quantity of fishing gear on board at the time.
The Traveling Preacher is
Many people in Newfoundland today know that the town of Lumsden is named after the Reverend James Lumsden, but not many people realize the preacher was shipwrecked on a rocky crag a little over 100 kilometers north from the town that later bore his name. Furthermore, he nearly perished in the wreck and lost all his belongings including his Bible, reference books and other material related to his calling.
James Lumsden, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1854, became a Wesleyan (later Methodist) minister to Newfoundland in 1881. He was first assigned to the Random South mission, Trinity Bay.
To get to his parish he booked a passage on a schooner and joined the 60 ton Llewellyn in St. John’s on the morning of September 30, 1881. Llewellyn, chartered by a Mr. Cooper at Northwest Arm, was well-laden with winter supplies for communities on or near Random Island. Aboard were nine people - a crew of four men, a boy, three passengers including a young lady from Harbour Grace and Reverend Lumsden.
The evening of September 30 was pitch black with a heavy wind blowing constantly. The preacher, on his first voyage by schooner, lay in the skipper’s bunk, seasick and overwhelmed by the tossing of the little schooner. At 11:30 p.m. he heard a piercing cry from the skipper on watch. “Hard down the helm, for God’s sake – she’s on a rock.” Lumsden later said, “But it was too late for any move by the helmsman to escape the rock.”
Instantly, he recalled, the vessel struck with a heavy thud that shook it in every beam. The two crew in the cabin rushed on deck; the awakened and alarmed passengers went after them almost as fast. I followed.
The night was not stormy, but dark – “As dark as the grave!” as the skipper said. The deck of the Llewellyn became the scene of intense and solemn excitement. The crew, with the exception of the boy, who lay on the deck crying, behaved splendidly. The young lady was fine, but it was heart-rending to hear her lamentations over her dear parents for the sorrow which she thought was in store for them on hearing of her untimely end.
All this took place the few minutes the crew was at work getting the vessel off the rock. It now glided back into deep water. “All hands to the pumps,” shouted the skipper. “See if there’s any water in the cabin.”
Instantly went back the answer, “It’s a foot deep. Water is pouring in!”
All of us aboard now realized that a few minutes would decide our fate and, fully aroused, we joined with the crew in the shout, “Get out the boat!” This was our only hope.
Quicker than anything the boat was out and we were in it. There was no thought for anything but our lives. Water was now near the level of Llewellyn’s deck and the excited cry went up for a hatchet to cut the rope that fastened our “lifeboat” to the foundering vessel.
A moment or two was supremely critical, but the rope was cut and we were free. A few minutes later we would have been lost. We pushed off. I kept my eyes on the ill-fated schooner. We were only three or four boat lengths away when it went down.
The light that streamed from the cabin was first suddenly extinguished. The vessel was now under water. Slowly and steadily the masts disappeared, until the topmast spar had vanished and Llewellyn was buried forever beneath the cold, relentless waters.
The rock on which Llewellyn received its death blow was Shag Rock, Duck Island, about four miles off the northern side of Trinity Bay.
The punt or lifeboat was cranky and would not have survived in a boisterous sea. One of the crew, called Jacob, rose at the other end of the boat and asked, “How is the parson?” I replied as cheerfully as possible, “All right, thank you.” Not satisfied he plied me with questions until he found I had no boots, when he immediately pulled off his own and compelled me to put them on.
At about half past one in the morning, we entered a long narrow inlet called Ireland’s Eye. After paddling a space between frowning cliffs, suddenly from a cottage window a light shone. Its bright and friendly gleam seemed to assure us safety.
We had to arouse the people in the house, Again and again we knocked and at last a voice responded, “Who’s there?”
“Shipwrecked men,” our skipper replied. Then we heard the same voice in a loud soliloquy say, “O my God! I know all about it – I saw it all in my dream.”
Unfortunately Rev. Lumsden did not say what Ireland’s Eye family so kindly took in the nine shipwrecked people that night. The Reverend was left with nothing but the clothes he wore. His entire stock of goods – clothing, personal possessions, some valuable books, Bible, hymn book, money – all were gone. Although Llewellyn was insured, the owner lost considerably in that there was a large quantity of fishing gear and winter provisions on board at the time.
Undeterred by his traumatic experience, James Lumsden remained a minister in the Random parish for two years and in Newfoundland for eleven years. In 1905 he published an autobiographical book based on his experiences, The Skipper Parson on the Bays and Barrens of Newfoundland (from which the above account is summarized). He also served in the Wesleyville area where one of the communities was called Cat Harbour. In 1917 its name changed to Lumsden in honor of Rev. Lumsden – it is not far from where the good minister was shipwrecked thirty years before.
Crew of the Sperry
Ryan Brothers’ business, which originated in Bonavista in 1857, became one of the largest supply and fish export firms in Newfoundland. The firm expanded to Trinity in 1906 and soon grew to be the largest enterprise in that community as it supplied the shore and the Labrador fishery. The Ryan brothers, who lived in the historic Lester-Garland House, closed out its Trinity branch in 1947, but throughout the years they had owned many vessels engaged in the coastal trade and in the Labrador fishery. According to local knowledge the Ryan’s owned ninety nine vessels over the years ranging from small skiffs and two-dory schooners to larger coasters. Their largest, tern Marguerite Ryan employed as a foreign-going bottom to transport dry cod to the European market, was abandoned at sea in February 1923.
On May 22, 1907, one of Ryan’s schooner, Flora W. Sperry, sank off Scaterie Island, Nova Scotia. The ninety-five ton Sperry, as she was commonly called, had been built at LaHave, Nova Scotia in 1900. Employed as a coaster, Sperry commanded by Captain Colford, left Trinity on April 17 headed for North Sydney for a cargo of coal.
Sperry became the first victim of the ice fields off Nova Scotia when on Wednesday, May 22, she struck a pan of ice about fifty miles east southeast of Scaterie Island and sank almost instantly. So quickly did the schooner fill with water that Colford and his crew - mate James Carl, M. Hanlin, Ephriam Hiscock, John Doolen and John Peddle – barely had time to launch the small boat onto the ice. Colford, the last to leave his sinking ship, snatched the compass and some hard tack before he jumped. By then the boat had drifted a few feet from the sinking schooner. By the time the captain was ready to jump, the boat was too far off and he had to clamber onto a pan of ice and thence to the boat to save his life as Sperry went down.
Surrounded on all sides by a seemingly limitless field of ice, the shipwrecked men appeared to be in a hopeless situation. The crew attempted to row to land, but ice and heavy weather prevented them from making much headway. In addition the little craft was poorly provisioned. With little drinking water and food, they rowed for twenty-one hours and were still forty miles south southeast of Scaterie.
Fortunately they had sailed near the much frequented route of Newfoundland vessels traveling between the island and Nova Scotia, about the time when some of the men were about to give up hope of rescue, they spotted a sail. An old shirt and other makeshift distress flags were hoisted on an oar.
On Thursday, May 23, Captain Lee in Cora, a schooner belonging to Foote’s business of Grand Bank, was returned from a fishing trip from the Grand Banks. Lee saw Sperry’s lifeboat in the distance and, although Cora was a small vessel and was herself bucking seas and adverse winds, swung around to aid the shipwrecked men. The occupants, cold and physically drained, were taken to North Sydney and rushed to hospital. They arrived on Monday, May 27.
They were rescued twenty-five miles from where Sperry went down and none had saved any clothing or personal belongings except what they wore when their schooner went down. Joseph Salter and Sons of North Sydney made the arrangements to have the men returned to Newfoundland via the steamship Virginia Lake.
Schooner Lilian: Tragedy at Grates Rock
Captain Jacob Miller was on his way home from St. John’s. He had sailed past the tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula and was about to leave the tickle that separates Baccalieu from the peninsula when he heard the cries of someone in distress. Screams and desperate calls for help seemed to be coming from the Grates Rock, a treacherous crag located immediately east of Baccalieu Island and situated off the community of Grates Cove. Miller figured it was probably the crew of the schooner Lilian, Captain Martin. Both schooners had left St. John’s in company on Tuesday, October 4, 1902 and both were bound for Trinity Bay. The voyage would take a day and a half or a couple of days, barring any inclement weather.
Captain William Martin’s home port was Hickman’s Harbour, the commercial center and largest town on Random Island. He had little onboard the 30 ton Lilian -some ballast and a few barrels of flour. Another coasting trip would be made later in the fall for winter food and supplies. Martin, sailing ahead of Miller, set a course for the northwest which would take him through Baccalieu Tickle, then southwesterly down into Trinity Bay and home to Hickman’s Harbour.
Captain Miller was bound to Trinity Bay as well, but to Kearley’s Harbour, a small fishing town about 10 kilometers southwest of Trinity. Today Kearley’s (or Kerley's) Harbour is abandoned, but in 1902 had a population of about sixty. One of the original settlers, Jacob Miller, hailed from Poole, England. John Miller’s family had relocated there from Bonaventure. In 1935 population peaked at 90, but by 1963 all the families, Millers, Clarkes, Ivanys and Kings had relocated elsewhere.
Now Captain Miller’s thoughts of an uneventful voyage home were put to one side. The wind had picked up since the afternoon and there was trouble ahead in the darkness. He edged his schooner toward the calls coming from what he presumed to be a wrecked ship. It was about nine o’clock on a windy Wednesday evening and pitch black. But he and his crew saw the debris and three people - Captain William Martin, his son Ezekiel and another man - clinging to it. Once safe aboard Miller’s vessel, Martin soon told captain there were three others: his son James and George and Annie Champion, brother and sister. Martin wasn’t sure if they were still alive.
According to the story related later by Captain Martin, the Lilian had passed through Baccalieu Tickle and, on bringing the schooner around to swing more southwesterly, they ran upon Grate’s Rock. Martin said, "In high winds, the hull of Lilian was crushed like a nutshell." He explained that the accident happened because the steering wheel chain gave out just as the crew was about to haul into Trinity Bay and proceed to Hickman’s Harbour.
In the darkness they had no idea they were so close to Grate’s Rock; thus when the steering gear broke, the crew had no time to "wear off" from the land. Martin recalled:
"After we struck the rock a terrible scene of confusion followed. The schooner was swept by the next incoming sea and the port side smashed in. Lilian slid off into deeper water. We got the small boat when the schooner’s side crashed in, and the boat overturned."
He, Ezekiel and a sailor reached the wreck and clung on. Captain Martin was washed overboard when the first sea passed over the stranded schooner, but Ezekiel, after a long and difficult struggle, pulled his father back aboard. They had no idea what happened to the other three, but thought they may have reached Grates Rock. While William and his son clung to the wreck, they thought they could hear cries coming from the direction of the rock. In hope against hope perhaps James, George and Annie still clung to the overturned lifeboat or were on the rock.
In the darkness and fighting for their lives the survivors realized another schooner was passing by and shouted until Captain Miller found them. Once aboard with Miller all immediately searched for the remaining souls that had been aboard Lilian, but found no sign of life.
Captain Miller brought the survivors to British Harbour, a town located south of Kearley’s Harbour (but since abandoned during the Resettlement Program of the late 1960s). There the sad tale was told. People in Random Sound, Smith Sound, the several communities of Random Island and in the other towns on the west side of Trinity Bay were especially saddened at the loss of Annie Champion.
All that summer she had been employed with the floater fishermen on the Labrador, working as a cook for a schooner’s crew. During the early fall the schooner was wrecked with no loss of life and Annie, along with her brother George who was also a crewman on the schooner returned to St. John’s on the government steamer Virginia Lake. In October both had booked a passage to Trinity Bay with Captain Martin on Lilian.
Now the people of Trinity Bay could only discuss Annie’s untimely death. One of Lilian’s survivors had last seen her standing in the companionway, looking at the others and watching for a chance to get off the doomed schooner. At that moment the mast broke, the great mainsail came down over the deck and the companionway and the girl was seen no more. Another survivor thought her brother George had been trying to help her leave Lilian and most likely sacrificed his life while trying to rescue his sister.
When the survivors reached British Harbour, a Mr. Leonard took them to the town of Throughfare on the northeast corner of Random Island, There they connected with the bay steamer to go to Hickman’s Harbour. The news of the Lilian’s loss and three deaths reached St. John’s on Thursday after the wreck. Captain Smith of Smith’s Sound who had sailed to the city in his schooner Geraldine reported the tale of woe to St. John’s shipping authorities.
The Loss of the Brig William Kelson - Excerpts from the Slade and Kelson diary.
Thursday, 24th February 1848 - Fine, clear and frosty. Thermometer 6 plus. Wind North. John Coleman in his cod seine punt arrived last night with the letters from St. John’s, Carbonear and what information is conveyed has not yet transpired. Afternoon darkly overcast foreboding snow, wind NW - about 2 pm snowing - wind SSW to SW. - On Monday night last 21st Brig William Kelson, Josh Robbins; from Cadiz with salt and bound for Catalina was driven on shore broadside in Western Head Gulch and sunk and became a total wreck the main topmast just merging above the surface of the water. Two of the crew only survived to relate the melancholy catastrophe and who were brought here this day in a punt by Mr. George Rex. The wind being in this day and threatening with snow, it was too dangerous to send down to examine the state of the wreck - but if possible, it is the intention to send a boat off early tomorrow for the above purpose. One of the survivors has both feet dreadfully frost bitten and the other man not so badly entertaining hopes of recovery. Capt Josh Robbins and his son, Bloomfield, Mate and three others of the crew making altogether six, compose the number that met a watery grave.
Friday, 25th February 1848 - Atmosphere thick, overcast with snow. Thermometer 14 plus, wind North. Afternoon cloudy and frosty blowing fresh from the North. An expedition of 2 Punts with a crew of 15 hands altogether near fitted out this morning and proceeded about 7 AM to take a survey of the ill fated Brig William Kelson lying at the bottom of the Western Head Gulch a little to the Eastward of the Horse Chops and returned about 4 PM not having discovered the bodies or effected the securing of any part of the gear of the vessel but it appears that George Rex and his crew were securing a small portion of the gear, also some of the English Harbour men were busily employed on the spot for the same purpose. Evening blowing strong and drifting occasionally.
Monday, 6th March 1848 - gloomy rough weather with heavy snow drift. Thermometer 28 plus - blowing a strong gale from ESE. at 9 AM gale considerably abated and wind changed to SW. At midmorn it blew a perfect gale from NW accompanied with heavy snow drift. Afternoon about 3 PM wind abated considerably again and wind North. Evening wind NNE snow declining and wind moderate three hands by land from Old Bonaventure bringing letters and newspaper from Hants Harbour. 5 hands in boat Ariel arrived in Old Bonaventure on Sunday last part of the wreck of Bring Wm Kelson was picked up somewhere about Old Perlican or Scurf Island, Mr. Mews must have supposed that he had the first communication here of the sad catastrophe of the loss of the said Brig. Wm. Kelson.
Monday, 3rd April 1848 - Fine , clear day atmosphere, thermometer 17 plus. Wind NW at 8 AM, wind veered North - Jenkins in Boat Dash to Western Head continuous to the Horse Chops to endeavor to recover the anchors, chains &c belonging to the ill fated Brig. Wm. Kelson. Afternoon cloudy, dull and cold. Wind NE. Boat Dash returned having secured and brought in mainmast of late Brig. Wm. Kelson. Evening wind still NE with an overcast atmosphere.
Thursday, 20 July 1848 - Cloudy, gloomy and cool, with rain wind WSW at 7 AM bountiful rain - wind South - Afternoon and Evening wind South - cloudy, dull and damp. The body of one of the seaman belonging to the late unfortunate Brig. Wm. Kelson supposed to be the Mate Bloomfield which was identified by his clothes, was brought up this day by George Eastment and an inquest was held on it and this evening it was interred.
Rescue at Horse Chops
Perhaps we would have never known about a strange tale of rescue in Trinity Bay except for a letter sent to a daily newspaper from Thomas Job, the progenitor of Job Brothers business in St. John’s. The unsigned letter came to Job from a resident of Trinity Bay and it was headed simply Trinity Bay, March 11,1848. The missive began with the words: “Sir – I am sorry to inform you that the brig William Kelson was lost on the 21st February at Western Head of Green Bay, a little below the Horse Chops.”
The letter writer, who is not identified, went on to say that “the shipwreck happened between eleven and twelve o’clock in the night. Captain Robbins and his son, the mate and three of the seamen are lost. Two seamen are saved and are now at Trinity.”
According to the two survivors, William Kelson was sailing from Cadiz, Spain, to Trinity, Newfoundland. After 38 days passage they reached Cape Spear and came along the St. John’s shore, passed Baccalieu Island just before dark. They ran before the wind until about 8 o’clock when snow became thick and wind increased from the south east. Captain Robbins hove to for two hours.
At first the captain thought he would anchor in Catalina until the weather abated, but finally made up his mind to run for Trinity and again put up sail. Not long after he found his ship was between Western and Northern Head of Green Bay, within Trinity Bay. Robbins had only a small sail set, and found his ship could not beat out of the bay and went ashore.
The crew took to the jolly boat, but a high wave broke over the boat as it lay near the wreck. A sea swamped the boat; only two of the eight aboard survived. They caught hold of the ship’s main rigging and climbed to the main topsail. The wreck of William Kelson lay up against a perpendicular cliff and it so happened that the spar from the main topsail swung out near the cliff.
There was just a sliver, a narrow ledge, wide enough to stand on. They could not climb any higher, neither could they descend. Below them, of course, was the debris of their brig which a few moments ago was their home on the sea. At no time did they see any sign of their comrades and assumed – correctly as it turned out – they had perished.
They remained on the perch from the middle of Monday night to 11 am the following Thursday – approximately 80 hours, almost three and a half days. They would hold each other in turn while the other slept. They were nearly naked and totally without food, still they managed to hold on to the narrow sliver of rock.
Finally some people appeared at the top of the cliff who had seen their situation. A punt pulled up at the bottom of the cliff. The only way to save them was to put down a rope, which one man tied around his waist, and he was lowered to the punt and the same was repeated for the second man. One of the survivors was John Landen of Bonavista (which may very well be a misprint of today’s Lander); the other, an American from New Jersey, Gideon Badger.
The letter writer from Trinity concludes his letter with: “They are both very much frost-bit.” Certainly, an understatement for two men who had survived a shipwreck which had taken the lives of six shipmates and entailed nearly 80 hours clinging to a bleak cliff face in the March winds.
In late February mute evidence of a shipwreck drifted into Grate’s Cove. It was a ship’s boat and inside was a seaman’s chest. William Kelson was painted on the stern of the boat, but there was no sign of any of the six men who had tried unsuccessfully to use the lifeboat. Other wreckage appeared at Hant’s Harbour and, on February 25, 1848, this letter came from that village:
“Sorry to inform you the jolly boat belonging to our (Robinson, Brooking and Company) brig. “William Kelson”, with some timbers, seaman’s boxes and clothes, also fore yard arm broken in the slings, were picked up at Daniel’s Cove, three miles below Old Perlican in drift slob ice.”
In 1977 some divers were diving in Trinity harbour and came across the remains of a ship. The wreck had lead pipes, and fourteen and twenty eight pound lead weights, green glass bottles, two flagons and a chamber pot. A cannon was also found at one end of the wreck. The divers contacted the Newfoundland Museum and they decided to investigate further and upon examination of the bottles discovered that they pre-dated 1880. A decision was made to survey the wreck and raise any surface artifacts. This work was completed for the Newfoundland Museum by the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS).
The underwater archaeology began in August 1977 and three more expeditions has taken place. To date forty one square meters have been excavated and over a thousand artifacts have been raised and conserved and are in holdings at the Newfoundland Museum. Some of these artifacts are also on display at the Trinity Interpretation Centre and you will see some of them here in this virtual exhibit.
While this shipwreck does exist no one really knows when it went down, why it did or even its name. Everything that is known is pure speculation. Study of documents such as Benjamin Lester’s diary, he was a fishing merchant in Trinity from Poole England from mid 1700s to 1800, does not give any indication of a ship being lost in this area.
The wreck lies in about 8 - 12 meters of water just off Fort Point. The vessel lies on her starboard side with the bow facing in a southerly direction and the stern portion almost under the foundation of the derelict wharf that used to exist. Most of the port side has collapsed however various sections of the starboard side remain.
Each artifact that was located within a leveled grid was recorded by the diver on underwater record sheets before being raised to the surface where conservators stabilized and recorded them. The hull timbers after being exposed were fully mapped and a pump was found which was mapped and brought to the surface for measurement and photographing. This was however replaced on the wreck. Divers also excavated under the wreck to locate the keel of the ship and took samples of wood.
There was a significant amount of artifacts found in two distinct areas of the wreckage, the downward slope off the site and the midships area of the wreck. On the former there was a large amount of olive green, blown glass bottles and ceramics as well as a large amount of stones that was probably used as ballast. One bottle that was found intact with its cork in place was discovered to have remains of degraded olive oil in it. A complete clear wine glass was also found possibly from the mid-eighteenth century.
The pump box area, midship, produced the largest number of artifacts with leather shoes and scrap leather. Also uncovered was pewter and copper buckles, carpenters’ tools such as a clamp, plane and knife handles, pewter spoons, wooden bowl and several buttons.
Two dated artifacts were found on the wreckage site: a small copper disc possibly a Portugese coin showed the date 1738 and a brass commemorative medal with one side showing Frederick the Great on horseback holding a Field Marshall’s baton and under it written LISSA DEC 5 and the other side a battle scene, people, smoke and horsemen. On the upper portion is written QVO NIHIL MAJVS and on the lower section ROSBACH NOV 5 1757. According to Barbour this is an English medal that was struck to commemorate the Protestant, Prussian victory by Frederick at the Battle of Rossbach and Leuthen on November 5 and December 5, 1757 during the Seven Years War.
The article by Barbour says that according to the size of the hull timbers and length of the wreck that the vessel was a Ship, built of hard wood (oak) and the retrieval of artifacts such as glass bottles, leather shoes etc. that this vessel was coming into Trinity with supplies from across the Atlantic maybe Britain or Portugal. A ship lost in this location would have been salvaged at the time as the upper deck, masts and rigging would have all been exposed since the vessel was only in shallow water however no record of looting or complaint has been found to date.
It is speculated that it is not a Royal Navy vessel or supply ship for the Fort as these incidents would have been reported. It is possible that the vessel could have been sunk when the French captured Trinity in 1762 however there is no indication of such in Benjamin Lester’s diaries. It is possible that the vessel was dragged from its mooring and could have sunk although again there are no records.
In 1781 Benjamin Lester reports the loss of the Betsy and Speedwell in ice in the harbour and both vessels had departed in convoy from Lisbon in April 1781 but dispersed after sighting enemy sails. It is known that the Betsy was built in Newfoundland (Lloyd’s Register, 1781) and thus probably built of softwood but there is no documentation of the Speedwell.
(Written using notes from A Historic Shipwreck at Trinity, Trinity Bay by Janette Barbour, published in the Newfoundland Quarterly)
The shipwreck is now a protected site as it was made a Provincial Historic Site in 1978 and no artifacts are allowed to be removed from the site.
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