‘Sagona’ Brings ‘Viking’ Survivors

Heroism of Masterwatch is Outstanding Episode of ‘Viking’ Disaster

William G. Johnston Stood by Injured for 52 Hours

Devoted Services of Doctors and Nurses Praised by Injured – Work of Disembarkation Efficiently Carried Out.

At two o’clock this morning the rescue ship Sagona, Capt. Jacob Kean, entered port, bringing back from the scene of the disaster which overtook the sealer Viking on the night of Sunday, 15th of March, the sick and injured, numbering twelve, and the body of Capt. William Kennedy, the navigator.

            To the gathering of spectators on the pier, her dark bulk as she came through the Narrows, and slowly and silently approached was impressively significant of the tragedy that had occurred.  Men moved about her deck softly as in the presence of death. There was an absence of the usual shouting and bustle as the ship was berthed, and those present at the early hour stood in a silence that spoke their sympathy for more eloquently than words.

            The arrangements made by the authorities for the disembarkation of the injured survivors of the Viking’s crew and of the body of Captain Kennedy who passed away at six o’clock from pneumonia, aggravated by injuries sustained, were complete to the last detail, and the manner in which the work was carried on reflected the highest credit to all concerned.  Before the arrival of the ship, the Prime Minister, Mr. Lake, Minister of Marine and Fisheries, who directed matters, Hons. Drs. Campbell and Mosdell, with several other members of the Government, had assembled on Harvey & Co.’s wharf. Ambulances were parked in the sheds, a body of stretchers bearers under the direction of Dr. Cluny Macpherson was in readiness, and Inspector General Hutchings had a strong force of police closing off all the roads leading to the premises, with another section on duty along the pier-head.  Essential as their presence was, such was the conduct of the gathering that they were not called upon to do more than request the crowd to keep the exit clear when everyone readily complied.

The Evacuation

            As soon as the ship was made fast; the work of removing the victims commenced.  Drs. Moores, Martin, and Paterson directing the removal of the stretchers on board the ship.  Dr. Macpherson looking after the transfer to the ambulances, and Nurses Berrigan and Paton seeing to the comfort of the patients.  Those who were uninjured were taken to boarding houses or to their homes in motor cars, and as soon as there would be no impeding of the work, the press correspondents boarded the ship to learn the particulars of the disaster.  From Captain Jacob Kean, they were met with courtesy, but the piecing of the story required many interviews before the tragic occurrence and the work of the rescue could be learned.

Injured Removed To Hospital

            Of the twelve men landed, eight were urgent hospital cases. Among those were Capt. Abram Kean Jr., Alfred Kean, mate, Frederick Best, the movie assistant, Clayton King, wireless operator, Jerry Quinlan, Charles Spracklin, A. Fifield and Patrick Whelan. Among the sick to be landed were Alfonso Doyle, Louis Breen and Richard Adams.

Sole Survivor American Party Meets Sister

            Mr. Harry Sargent, the explorer, and only survivor of the Paramount Picture Company, who was rescued on a piece of the Viking wreckage, with two others, by the S.S. Eagle, had sufficiently recovered from his injuries and the hardship endured after being exposed to the elements of the north for nearly forty-five hours, to be able to walk on shore unassisted and almost immediately he was embraced by his sister and other friends who had arrived by the Silvia only a few hours previous.  The sole survivor of the American Party wore a look of pallor, and the disaster, terrible as it was, with the loss of so many lives, was vividly effected.

Master Watch’s Pluck

            Another survivor to land and who showed a great courage and bravery in assisting two of his stricken and helpless comrades for fifty-two hours in a dory on the icefloes was W.G. Johnston, the master watch.  He was the only master to escape with his life, and it is an outstanding incident in connection with the whole affair that he arrived here with little or no evidence of the terrible experience which he encountered before being picked up with his companions, and the hardships which he afterwards endured after being picked up by the S.S. Beothic’s men at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday.

Suffered Severe Injuries

            Operator King was in his bunk behind where Penrod was sitting and was blown out through onto the ice, face and eyes badly burned and his leg fractured.  His condition is the most serious as his feet were badly frozen and one leg must be amputated.  Sargent was flung out with a piece of wreckage which pitched on a pan of ice.  He hauled King up with him and was joined by Navigator Kennedy.

Drifted Off Into The Night

            Sargent and Kennedy managed to gathered from the ice near them some of the debris including tins of milk, preserves, two flags and a piece of burlap which was laced over King.  They drifted off into the night and all next day suffering untold hardship from exposure.

Providentially Directed

            Dr. S.H. Martin on of the medical staff on the S.S. Sagona describing what he saw from his ship, says we were providentially directed.  We were sweeping the sea with powerful binoculars when into our vision came a dark object that at first looked like a patch of seals.  This was at five p.m., Tuesday.  Then we made out flags waving and soon discerned to figures and another moving as a blinded man might.  We bore down as carefully as we could on the pan which was about six feet across and in bad condition and in danger of breaking up.  A dory was slung out and King was gently lifted into it and swung aboard the ship.

Drifted 21 Miles

            Ready hands helped the other two men from their hazardous position and at once everything possible was done to relieve their suffering and restore their strength.  The ship at the time that the rescue was expected was 21 miles from the spot where the disaster had occurred.  At once a search was made of the surface of the sea and ice, but not a single trace of living or dead was found before darkness set in.

Efficient Work On All Sides

            The whole of the work of removing the injured was efficiently carried out, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries with other members of the Cabinet remaining by and directing affairs until everything was completed.  On board the ship were Drs. Paterson, Moores, and Martin and two nurses, L. Paton and Rose Berrigan.  They were practically played out with their strenuous week’s work.


            Mr. Young who knew Varick Frissell since had joined the ship was probably one of the last to see him alive.  Mr. Young states that about three or four minutes after the explosion he saw Frissell at the stern of the ship on the ice.  He was in a stooped position, and apparently making an effort to stand.  Several other men were also at the stern of the ship but he could not identify them.  There were four men at the wheel just previous to the explosion, but were never seen afterwards.  Members of the crew who escaped uninjured then assisted the less fortunate into dories when an effort was made to get away from the ship which was afire and gradually sinking.  Mr. Young’s party which consisted of seventy of the crew started for the shore with the Captain and Richard Adams one of the firemen.

Dories Split Up Going Over Ice

            It was only after sixteen hours of hard struggling during which time the bottom of the dories were split asunder by rough and cracked ice that they managed to reach there a distance of about ten miles.  During all this period the ice was loose, a heavy swell prevailed, but the sky was clear.  It was a glad sight to meet the people of Horse Islands who came out a distance to greet them.  Tired and hungry and suffering the intense cold, the survivors were more then elated to once more set foot on dry land.  In a short while the wearied crew were located in the homes of the people and everything was done to comfort them.

            Naturally those who succeeded in reaching terra firma were anxious for the welfare of their fellow shipmates who were out on the ice and I was a source of pleasure that in a few hours a second contingent were sighted and later assisted and welcomed by the inhabitants.

Saw Ship Burning

            During the afternoon of Monday those on the island could distinguish the Viking still burning, and it is thought that she sank about midnight, as there was no sign of her at daybreak.  Early Tuesday morning a number of the islanders went over the ice in search for others, and hoping that they would be successful in locating them.  The party took with them foodstuffs, which were joyfully expected by men on the ice, afterwards assisting them to shore.  It was at this time that they brought in several of the crew who were injured.  Later they sighted a dory with three men in it, and they started with food and drink to rescue them, but after tramping a distance of six miles and giving them the necessary eatables they were left to be picked up by the sealing ship coming towards them.

Beothic Rescue Three Survivors

            On that night a number of the crew of the Beothic went over the ice in the vicinity in which the dory was last seen, but were unable to find them until the next day.  The three men were Johnston, Alfred Kane and Fred Best.  These men were exposed to the elements for seventy hours and no one but themselves know the sufferings that they endured.

Operators Bartlett’s Noble Service

            During the four days stay at Horse Islands all were anxiously waiting the arrival of rescue ships as food was getting short, and none could foretell what the future had in store for them.  The only encouragement that they received was through the telegraph  messages, and in this respect Otis Bartlett, the twenty-one year old operator who stuck to his job nobly and unflinchingly rendered yeoman service.

The Evening Telegram, March 24th, 1931

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