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TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE NEWFOUNDLAND STEAM SEALING FLEET, 1898
The Saga of S.S GREENLAND Sealing Disaster
Researched, Compiled and
The Newfoundland Steam Sealing Fleet, 1898
"S.S. Terra Nova"
THE GREENLAND DISASTER
In The History of Newfoundland, nothing has stood out so remarkable, as its tales of Ice Death and suffering. Since the disaster of the brigantine "huntsman" and her gallant crew, nothing had so tragically marked the lives of its people as the "Greenland Disaster" of 1898. No chronicle of Newfoundland's fatal relations with sea and weather would be complete without some mention of the terrible toll taken by sealing disasters. Since a "sealing disaster" entails a crew becoming separated from their ship, However, the cause and the tragic results are frighteningly similar. The Greenland was build in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1872, for the Montreal steam and fishing Company. The ship measured 151 ft. in length and was 27 ft. wide and 16 ft. deep. It was 448.50 gross. and 259.11 net. of Tons; ship with Engine Power B.H.P. are N.H.P. 75. On some occasion the Greenland was the first sealing steamer to arrive back in port. On April 4th, 1875, she was first arrival with 26,383 seals and under very tragic circumstances, Despite her bumper trips in bumper trips in the seventies. Her record year was 1877, 29,961 seals.
In 1881, the Greenland changed owners when she was purchased by the Newfoundland firm of John Munn and Company, for the purpose of prosecuting the seal hunt and engaging in the Newfoundland fish trade. Her Bonavista Bay North captains were: Benjamin Kean 1877 -1881; William Winsor,Sr., 1884; George Barbour, 1896 - 1898; William C. Winsor, 1905 - 1906; and last Captain Dan Bragg, 1907.4 The Greenland seemed to have had more than her share of bad luck, especially after her purchase by the Munn Company. It was whispered along the waterfront, that like the more famous Great Eastern, She carried a curse. her first encounter with bad luck came on September 9th, 1884, just two years after her purchase by Munn's On that day, while being prepared for a trip to Labrador, she caught fire and sank in her moorings in St. John's Harbour. However , although badly damaged, she was refloated and repaired and everything went well with the ship and under new owner Baine, Johnston & Company until the spring of 1898.5
On March the 10th, It was a beautiful spring sunny morning as hundreds of people lined the old wooden wharfs of the St.John's waterfront when the steamer sealing fleet sailed from St.John's Harbour. Thousands of people lined the wharves waving to their hardy sealers, and with lusty cheer wishing all a "bumper trip" and "bloody decks," as the fleet prepared to face the ice floes in what was then one of the most important parts of the Newfoundland economy. But in two short weeks, the S.S. Greenland was to loom up through the fog in the Narrows and land her gruesome cargo of twenty-five frozen sealers and her severely frost-bitten men. Indeed, "never did the seal fishery open with brighter prospects than did this season's never did a "first arrival" bring a more ghastly freight or a more thrilling story of heroic endeavour, or of sacrifice and suffering".
Once the Greenland left port,6 she headed north with the rest of the fleet in quest of their traditional sealing hunt. She was under the command of Captain George Barbour, a well known and trusted skipper for his many successful voyages. With a crew of 207 men under the Baine Johnston Co. Flag. she steamed out the Narrows.7 he steered N.N.E. where they reached the Funks around 5:30 p.m. The following day. In company with the Greenland were the steamers Neptune, Leopard, Diana, Iceland, Mastiff, and the Aurora amid the blowing of whistles, the ringing of bells and with flags and bunting steaming in the wind to encourage those men who would risk their lives on the frozen ice-floes. Outside the Narrows, The Greenland headed north in search of the main patch.8 There were many of other steamers following up Panther, Hope Algerine, Newfoundland, Walrus, Nimrod, Harlaw, Ranger, Vanguard, Labrador, Terra Nova, and Kite, went to Sealing Fishery that year. From the Funks, Captain Barbour took a direct course to where the seals were supposed to be located. The seals were stuck seventy miles N.by E. of the Funks on Saturday, March 12th., but being late in the evening, sailing date are fixed by law and not by weather, No killing is permitted before March 14 nor after May 1.9
On Monday morning the 14th, a few minutes pass midnight., all four steamer's crews, from the Diana, Iceland, Aurora and the Greenland, order their men out on the ice to commence panning seals from the same patch. On that day, At 35 miles from the Funk Islands (N.E. coast of Nfld.) The S.S. Mastiff (245 tons) was struggling to get into the patch being caught and nipped between two enormous pans. One of these pans passed clean her, cutting her bottom out and yet supporting her till the ice opened-when she sank like a stone. Captain Isaac Mercer ordered to abandoned the ship, all crew and sealers cannot save some items as before she went down, The men of her crew were saved and brought back by S.S. Newfoundland, Walrus, and Neptune. which luckily were close at hand.10 The Greenland was successful in securing 2,500 seals. To Captain Barbour and his men it was a good beginning for what could possibly become a "Bumper load."11 The next day she steamed fifteen miles westward, while the other vessels worked eastward. The crew were able to panned 8,000 seals on, This day, but unfortunately a strong northeast gale arose around 2 p.m. and all the seals were lost. Immediately the crew were hastily taken on board, and all except two failed to report to their master watch. luckily, the two being ten miles away were closer to the Aurora so they boarded her for the night. to the poor sealer, "all's well as he snuggled up with his "well earned pot of tea, already forgetful of his perils past".12
On March,15th a gale raged while the men were on the ice and they were unable to reach the safely of the ship until midnight.13 They were safe on aboard afterward.
The following day, Wednesday 16th, The sealers were more than eager to get back on the ice. Captain Barbour searched for the missing seals, but only one flag was found with a thousand seals. They were certain that the panned seals did not all blow away, but were no doubt stolen by the crew of another steamer. For the rest of the week the Greenland steamed northwest for thirty miles, cruising about killing seals and hauling them to the boat.
The crew secured on the 17th and 18th 8,000 seals in all, and now had on board a total of 10,344, even though they had panned well over 20,000. On 19th they Continued work. 20th Sabbath day none were panned this hunt day until Monday.
Early Monday morning on March 21st, Capt. Barbour anxious to retrieve the loss they suffered last week, ordered all four watches out on the ice. The day opened dull and cloudy with a brisk northerly wind, bad enough to get the sealers to put on their oil skins. The ice was in long heavy unbroken sheets, and the Greenland ran along the outer edge. The first watch numbered some fifty men under Jesse Gaulton, was put out astern and sent in a south-easterly direction from the "Lake" of water in which the ship lay. From there she steamed to the northeast about three miles through the lake until the main body of ice was reached.
Here Captain Barbour ordered out the other three watches which numbered over one hundred men, under the watches of Jesse Knee, Nathan House and James Norris. In all, 154 men were out on the ice. After the Greenland dropped the last watches off, she steamed back along the lake to the first watch where the day was spent taking seals. Sometime around 4 p.m. the weather began to show signs of an approaching storm, and sudden dropping barometer and a darkling sky, indicated for certain that one was brewing.
By 6 p.m. that evening the storm broke in all its fury and Captain Barbour set out to get his men on board before night fall. As soon as the first watch had been got on board safely, the Greenland started to head back for the other three, but "the face of the ice had changed". "Now one of those untoward circumstances peculiar to this hazardous industry had occurred, the ice had wheeled about and a crystal wall as mile wide and several feet thick, formed penetrable barrier against the ship's progress".14
However, worst than that, there was a channel water three miles wide which separated the castaways from their ship making them "powerless to reach the steamer as she was to reach them"15 Vain were attempts to rescue the men for the wind was so great it lashed the icy waters into a foam and to launch a boat would meant death to its crew. The only hope for the stranded sealers was that they might board one of the other steamers in the vicinity, but that offered no real hope.
On another trip Captain William Bartlett and his son Robert A Bartlett were in the gulf, on the Hope. Captain William Bartlett left instructions that he called at dawn Robert A Bartlett was up before dawn and it was wild then. About eight o'clock the weather came. Fortunately, we had not put anyone out. The vessel lay over on her side. A man could hardly stand on the ice. The Hope was all right, but the steamship Greenland,16 on the other side of the island, The violence of storm was like none other experienced, for a such gale blew Monday night, That the Greenland almost turned bottom up even though she was well freighted with coal and provisions. The problem was that the freighted had been shifted upon deck to make more room for seals. The wind caught the ship and blew her over on her leeward yards level with ice floe which sent most of the freight into the ice scuppers. The situation became imminent and tension mounted, but it was not until next morning, after a hard fight shifting cargo, that she was out of danger. And not until 4 p.m. Tuesday did the storm slacken, and the Greenland started pick up her missing men.
Meanwhile, out on the ice, the sealers were force to make the best of their desperate situation. Seven or eight groups were formed under the master watches and sent off to different points of the compass with hope that one would find a steamer and send help back. However, the storm was too violent and shelter had to be found. Fortunate groups like those led by Jesse Knee and William Davison the navigator came through tolerably well only because they found rough ice and were able to build a shelter. Others were lucky enough to get fire going out of their ropes and gaffs and roast a seal carcass which revived them greatly. However, their were many more weaker minded ones who strolled around in a daze, snow blinded, and falling through the fissures and blowholes finding a watery grave in the icy North Atlantic. But there were still mothers who refused to give in, and they kept their spirit up by dancing, praying, or by singing hymns. One man found that by cutting open a seal and smearing his exposed parts with blood, he prevented himself from being frost-bitten. The effect of a night on the ice was no doubt an incredibly cruel ordeal, and those who survived, it must of been an unforgettable nightmare.
Enos Squires, of Salvage; "On the morning of March twenty-first, we were eight miles east on the Cabot Island (Funks) when the Captain Barbour ordered to put his men on the ice. There were eighty men in our gang under master-watches Jesse Knee and Joseph Peckford while another gang of about one hundred men left the ship and travelled in a different direction from ours. We had not been gone very long when a sudden gale and blizzard sprang up without warning, and became separated from ship. We learned later that force of the gale was so great that the Greenland keeled over and could only be brought back by shovelling all the coal and trimming the stores to the windward side. By that time, a large body of water had formed between us and the ship which was several miles wide and we were trapped. There was no way we could reached. All that day and early night glimpses of men could be seen on the ice from the barrel of the ship; and during a lull in the storm, about one hundred men were rescued. They belonged to the party that had gone in a different direction. after sunset the storm increased in intensity and the wind veering to the north-west with the temperature way below zero. We tried to keep together in groups. This is very difficult, because we could only see a foot or two. About the only way you knew a man was near you was by touching him. Because of the thick snow and gale force wind, sight and sound were practically nil. Nevertheless, up to this point, we were not unduly arramed. We figured our ship to be about nine miles away and would reach us soon. But the ship was unmanageable in the storm and could not proceed to us. About 11 p.m.. the temperature dropped sharply and with the wind chill must have thirty to forty degrees below zero. We were on very smooth ice, and there was no possibility whatsoever of building shelter. The ice was also very loose which would make a shelter useless even had we been able to erect one. This fact also prevented us from staying together in groups. When I was going to the ice fields on my own first trip my father said to me. "Enos, you are going to take part in one of the most dangerous occupations known. You are going to gamble on many occasions for your life, a gamble that would seem foolhardy under ordinary circumstances. There are not many precaution you can take, but there are a few." These he outlined to me. One of them was "Never leave your ship without taking your oilskins no matter how fine the weather when you leave." I always remembered his advice. Never did I leave without my oilcloths. Sometimes I had to endure the jokes of less knowledgeable men who jibed, "There goes Enos with his oilskins." How glad I was I had them on this awful night. They prevented the wind from blowing through my under garments and kept me dry from the thick snow. After a while I pulled my oil jacket right up round my head just leaving my eyes, nose, and mouth exposed. This prevented me from getting frost bitten. Already several men less well protected had their faces frozen solidly. By this time all our food was gone and things did begin to look desperate. Up to now my brother Stephen Squires and I had managed to keep together. But I missed him and did not see him again. He must have fallen into on of the many holes of water that abounded in the ice.
At the first of the storm, when we got together, we sang songs to help pass the time. later we sang hymns which sounded as whispers in the storm. Most of us prayed. Many who went to the their knees did not arise again. The moment movement ceased, you were frozen, the cold was so very intense. I had already decided that my only chance was to keep moving. I tried to go circles, a better way I thought to meet someone else. Ever so often I would stumble over someone who was frozen as solid as the ice around him. I was still moving around when daylight came.
Shortly after dawn when I came across several others who had survived the terrific ordeal, we decide to try to walk to our ship. When I saw my comrades, I almost thought they are ghosts. They were encased in icy snow from head to foot and looked like miniature icebergs. Under these conditions and because we were hungry, our progress was painfully slow. it was not till 7 p.m. we finally reached our ship, two days and night since we left her. When the roll was called, forty-eight of my comrades did not answer. Among the thirty-two who were rescued, many losing their fingers and toes, a few even their feet.17
Nathan House, of Master watches for S.S. Greenland; At 5:00 a.m. Three watch crews -150 men, ordered by the Captain George Barbour, to get out on the ice and walk in a northerly direction in search of seals. The three watch crews walked away, like spokes from the hub of a wheel, reaching a large lake of water some miles away, but no seals to be seen. A sudden storm came out of the North, making visibility impossible. The storm seemed to sweep us before it, until we reached water that couldn't be crossed. Night came down no food, no shelter and no ship in sight. I orders to my 50 men to try and build some shelter out of snow. My men, with good many others, could not see how to follow on another, and when we quit building our snow house, just about waist high in snow, I fell over a young seal, weighting , I would judge, about 80 lbs. There is really no fight in that young a seal noisy crying and kick in the nose and he will lie quiet for hours. I must draw to your attention that 150 men had been searching that ice all day, in clear weather, and could not find a seal. some of us think Providence was with us. I gave instructions not to kill that seal, there was animal heat there and we may need it. One could keep feet and hands warm by moving around, but the chill striking through your back needed artificial or mammal heat. The seal did not object to have a man lay on him on his back, until the heat could be transferred from the seal to the man. The man was not allowed to fall asleep. In my group of men was one fellow who, years before, in an accident, had lost his left hand at the wrist. The only help he could get from that arm was an iron hook, fastened to the stump, to help him earn a living at fishing. I asked him how he was making out, and he said, "Not very well, I have the diarrhoea badly, and I can't take care of myself." Here, again providence was with us. I lifted the cover and saw a bottle of Radway's Ready Relief. I took it and put it into a little sack strapped to my side for carrying food. I asked my friend, who was suffering with diarrhoea to try some Radway's - a very small sip. I passed that bottle around three times that night - it eased my friend and he lived, as did eleven others of us in that group.
After a long, long night, morning came. still stormy, we could not see how to walk, there were dangerous holes in the ice which one could fall into easily. At daylight the seal was still alive. We tried to make a fire to cook the meat. We used a gross of matches trying to set fire to our ropes - we used them for pulling seals together. There was considerable tar in these ropes, and besides there were our gaff handles that could be used if we could get it started. We got to the last match, the fellow who was trying to start the fire remarked, "I am going to light my pipe with this one." So there is goes, and then got the little pile of matches going, from that tarry ropes and the gaff stems, and finally the seal was cooked - all but two flippers. No food I ever ate tasted so good!! Just about then I saw two men crawling toward us. They smelled the smoke. They reported that less than fifty feet away there were more ropes and gaff handles, lying beside some dead men. We tied ropes together and allowed some volunteers to crawl out to get these ropes and gaffs. We then had considerable fuel reserving some to show a light at night if the storm abated. The storm went just as it had come, with a suddenness. we could then see our ship away in the distance, then it was every man for himself!! When I reached the ship I had been 36 hours exposed to the storm, and work of travelling in my uncertainly safety.
After four hours of sleep I was awakened by the sobbing of the Captain Barbour over the loss of his men, saying that were still 52 men out, four of whom were found alive on Wednesday - 48 were frozen or drowned. It was my job to call the Roll. after searching the ice in the vicinity for three days, we had recovered 23 bodies, 25 men were never found. It was necessary to pack these bodies in it, on deck, until we could get them to the undertaker.
Abandoning voyage, and with 13,000 seals, we turned for our port of discharge - Harbour Grace. There were no hospitals in Harbour Grace, so it was decided to reach the first telephone (Telegram) Station, and get in touch with the owners of the ship and Government. About six men were sent to inform them, but they were detained until a late hour, resulting in the ship trying to stay at anchor, very close to the land(Near Bay de Verde). A very strong wind caused the ship to drag anchor - finally the ship grounded as was pounding badly at the weak part of the hull.
In sounding the depth of the water, the propeller caught the sounding line and wound it around itself until the engine stopped. Aboard the ship were 50 men who needed hospital care, and were unable to help themselves. Morning came at last, and we could see how we had to go, if we could move at all. One hundred men got in the very prow of the ship and started jumping up and down to try and refloat her. We were successful, just as the boat came back to us, advising we had to go to St. John's with our patients, to a hospital.
At last there appeared a spot of blue in our sky and adventure. It was 60 miles to the next land, and clear weather. A change in the wind and the fog rolled in! Nothing could be seen fifty yards in advance of us. The navigator, who was very uneasy, rushed into cabin to size up our position from his chart. he immediately rushed out again, calling out orders as he went. All was in commotion on the deck.
The first thing to meet my gaze was the ship rising on the wave, while underneath her bow was the land! Perhaps the reader is not superstitious, but nothing seemed more certain than the ship would smash on the land, like an egg on the cement sidewalk. Fishermen believe in the sign of the cross, that is to say, that if you saw your ship and life in danger, you would, on the spur of the moment, stand, and the rebound from the land, hit the ship in the bow and whirled her away from the land, like a powerful kick to a football! Once again, we were delivered from destruction, with yet another fifty miles to grope through fog, before we were safe in port. St.John's is one of the finest ports in the world; the entrance is about three to four hundred feet wide. A similar entrance is close by, but no depth of water for anything but a row boat. Steaming very slowing now into, as we thought was the Port, when suddenly we saw, just ahead of us, shallow water! We backed away from it and eventually entered the harbour of St. John's. A bright sky and the sun in all its splendour shone upon us as we pulled into the pier, with our dead and sick. There came to my mind the song as written by Priscilla Jane Owens-
The City of Gold, our harbour bright,
We shall anchor fast by the heavenly shore
With the storms all past for ever more. 18
"They didn't get that pan, I can tell 'ee, but our cap'n went on the Aurora an' spoke to Old Man Kean about stealin' our pans, an' ye know what'e said? he had the face to say "'e didn't know what 'e's crew were doin' on the ice an' wouldn' hold 'e's self responsible." Again there were angry mutterings. "Anyway," the narrator continued, "we had to make up fer what were stole, tho' be rights we should o' been doin' nought but pick up pans be that time. So on Monday-that were March the twenty-first I 'low-Cap'n Barbour put out a watch an' took the rest o' we off three or four mile to the nor'east." "Well, sir, he left, steamin' back t'ward the first watch, pickin' up pans o' swiles, but the starm (storm) come on, an' the Greenland never got back. It come a wonderful starm o' wind an' frost, sir, the like ye never see, an' in spite o' the ice shelters an' the fires, a lot o' men died. Some got weak in the mind, an' walked off an' never come back." "Our crowd were doin' pretty well, mind ye; only one o' the men in our shelter died durin' the night, an' a few others was gettin' low-minded, but, Samuel Burry come rushin' t'ward us, hollerin' that the Greenland were comin', an' we all left the shelter to walk to 'er...only we found out Sam were seein' the ship in 'e's head. It were too much fer some of our crowd, sir, an' they went foolish, too; some walked off into the starm, an' some walked into the sea. I don't mind much o' what happened after that, but I were picked up that marnin' (warning). Others was out all the next night, and they was all froze, all but six or seven that were picked up next day, frost-burned somethin' cruel an' their minds gone wanderin'..." "Twenty-three of 'em was never found, sir... never found," a sealer remembered. Cap'n Barbour had twenty-five carpses, frozen junk-stiff on the for'ard hatch," another recalled, "but 'e didn't want to fersake the voyage, so long as the sick men got no worse. So 'e spent two days lookin' fer survivors, an' then planned to get back to the swilin', but some o' the men were still iceblink, an' their minds wanderin', so he give up the voyage an' headed fer home."
"It were a shockin' night even on board the Greenland," a man from another watch recalled. "There was pressure ridges twenty feet high, I 'low, with open water two mile wide t'other side. we was ordered to get out skiffs to go look fer the lost party, but the starm laid the ship over with her beam ends on the ice, an' here comes the coal and the provisions and the pelts rumblin' down into the scuppers an' holdin' 'er there. A wonder to God it were, sir, that she warn't lost, an' we workin' all night like dogs to save 'er an' get 'er right side up again".19
It was the great dream of every Newfoundland boy to make a voyage to the ice, and the youngsters of St.John's - "carner byes," we used to call them contemptuously - were not immune. Few of them ever got berths because they weren't really fir for life, but I knew of one expectation - A young man apprenticed as a pharmacist's assistant, who got the chance to ship aboard the S.S. Greenland in the spring of 1898.20
John Melendy, of a pharmacist's assistant Greenland Survivor, The law called for doctor to sail on every sealing ship, but of course the owners would not pay for a real doctor, even if one could be found who would have gone.Instead, any man who could read the label on a pill bottle or could claimed to be hand at doctoring would fill the bill. Compared to most, I was pretty well trained and * Captain Arch Davis, 21 commanding the Greenland, was right content when I agreed to sign on with him. The fleet sailed from St.John's on March 10th, 1989, and the Greenland was jammed up with one hundred and fifty-four sealers, plus the officers and engine-room crowd that amounted to fifteen more. It was a bad year for ice. The heaviest kind of old arctic pack was pushed south right into the land. Only a few days out, and before ever a ship had got into the seals, the Mastiff got nipped so bad she had to be abandoned and went down.
It was a bad start, certainly, but none of the other ships turned back. There was no getting deep into the fields, so the fleet hung on the eastern edge. On March 16th there come a westerly gale that opened the ice up a bit, and all the ships cut westward into it, following the leads when they could. Next day the Neptune, in the vanity, stuck into the young seals and by nightfall every vessel was into the patch and all hands was on the ice. All the next week the men were away from the ship from dawn until dark and there was little enough for the "doctor" to do. Most of the sealers, specially the northern bay men, thought it a weakness to admit they was ever sick or hurt. Just the same, a number got "seal finger" and had to come to me. That was kind of infection they'd get when they nicked a finger with their bloodstained old sculpting knives. we treated it with raw carbolic acid poured on after it had been lanced, but often enough that did no good. then the finger would have to be cut off or the infection would spread and kill the man. One of our master watches had lost four fingers that way, two from each hand. I had to cut off the forefinger of a man myself, without anything to ease his pain except a drink of rum.
Despite bad weather, the sealing was good and all ships were making a good showing. By * March 30th (20th) we had about thirteen thousand pelts board and the men had panned another six or seven thousand. Panning seal sculpts was done to save time so the sealers from one ship could kill all the seals in reach and not let other crews get them first. A ship might string her men out over twenty miles, all busy panned and moving on again, But when she came to pick up those pans she might not find the half of them. The morning of * March 31st (21st) the ice got loose and the weather mild, and some of our men looked for a storm. just the same, all four watches was sent out. there was only scattered seals left by then so the men had to go far afield; some of them six or seven miles from the ship and mostly to westward where the ice was tighter.
Early evening, about three o'clock it was, the wind began to blow a hurricane with driving snow, and the temperature dropped right out-well below freezing. The gale was so heavy in caught the Greenland broadside where she lay in an open lead and heeled her over so all loose pelts on deck slid into the lee scuppers and she nearly went right on over! For a time we were in a desperate state because we couldn't get her righted with the few hands left on board, and the stokers couldn't stand up to fire the boilers and keep steam on her. Luckily one of the watches was close enough to the ship when the gale struck to get back aboard. All hands went at it then, shifting ballast and trimming coal and, after dark it was, the ship was uptight and we had steam on the engine and the pumps. By then it was too late to try and pick up the rest of our men, for the wind was a living gale and thick of snow besides. When dawn came the Greenland was jammed in heavy ice that was driving seaward. Westward of us and between us and then men, a lake had opened near half mile across. The barrelman could catch glimpses of our fellows on the other side of the lake, huddled up in black patches on the ice, but the ship could not get to them, nor them to us. Captain Davis(George Barbour) was pretty near Frantic, for he thought to lose them all. The cold was enough to kill a man outright. In the afternoon there come a lull and our boats to the near edge of the lake and try go for the stranded sealers. The fellows with those boats took some awful risks but they ended up saving a good many men. Most of the fellows in one watch that was off more to the northward contrived to get around the lake and back to the ship. By nightfall we had a hundred men aboard but fifty or more was still adrift. By then the temperature was below zero and never thought to see any of them live through the night. Next day the storm let up. The Greenland worked clear of the jam and went after the missing men. there was only a few of them alive, and they was in terrible bad shape. We pick up twenty bodies and five men so far gone they died aboard ship. The rest of the forty-eight men as was lost that day was never seen again by mortal eyes.
The Voyage home was the most desperate time of my life. I had to set-to and try to save the lives and limbs of dozen of men frost-burned almost to death. It was a nightmare to me but must have been all of that again for the sick men crowded into the cold 'tween deck space.
To make all worse, we met another gale as we neared land and the old engine give out and the Greenland blew onto the rocks near Bay de Verde and was near a total loss with all aboard. A lucky shift of the wind took us off before she broke up, and we somehow limped into St.John's with cargo of dead seals under hatches and a cargo of dead men roped in a heap on the foredeck. I never went sealing again. Nor ever wanted to. There was times during that forty-eight hours when things wasn't too bad.. like the feeling that rose in me when the sound of the storm was drowned out by the voices of the men raised in the Hymn "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past." Then there was other times, times when friends and shipmates struggled up to you and asked you into their house for a cup of tea! Then they would just vanish into the storm again before you could even stop them.
On the second day of the storm all of us were seeing things. A group of fifteen, myself included, thought we saw our ship in the ice on horizon. We set out from the solid ice over the slob ice toward her. We scrambled all day on our hands and knees. I realized after awhile it was all a dream. There was no ship. I told the men to follow me back to the main ice and four of them did, but the other ten perished there among the slob. We found a few seals on the main ice and killed them and used their skins for shelter, drank their blood and ate their meat. The next day we really did sight the ship and finally came up to us... only four left out of the fifteen.22
Eli Hall, of Newtown, who is a splendid specimen of manhood, told the following story, and he related his experience and those of his fellows the tears streamed over his face: He left, he said, the Greenland, in company with about one hundred men, in the forenoon Monday in quest of seals; the weather at the time being hazy and looked as if a storm was approaching. "We all, or the greater number of us, had on our oil clothes. Coming on dark it commenced to blow and the snow was so thick that it was impossible to see five feet ahead. We remained together all night, huddling together and running around at times to keep warm. In the morning the wind had increased to a hurricane. Some of the men got separated, having gone in gangs to look for the steamer. On Tuesday morning I passed fifteen men lying on the ice, some of them apparently dead, and others making futile attempts to keep themselves alive by jumping around on the ice. About 11 o'clock the same day one of the men who were with me became delirious and shouted that the steamer was coming to their rescue which was the means of separating the men, who ran in all directions in the hope of seeing the steamer. This poor fellows's body was afterwards found frozen stiff." Hall was but slightly frost-bitten and is devoutly thankful to providence for coming through the awful disaster alive.23
Esau Grudger, of Cat Harbour, gives the following version of his experience: He has been going to the seal Fishery since a boy, and never before went through such an experience. With the other men he left the steamer at noon on Monday and kept with them all that day and the following night. Tuesday morning opened with a gale raging at its utmost height. Towards evening he was struck ice blind and wandered away from his companions. All Tuesday night he spent on the ice. Knowing not whither to turn. On Wednesday about 11 o'clock he was found by two of the Iceland's crew, after having been on the ice over 52 hours.24
Edgar Morris, Who was a messmate of James Mallard, one of the missing men, says he was sent from the ship on Tuesday morning to search for the missing men, He found a Cape Ann hat, a sealing gaff and one mitten, which is recognized as those belonging to James Mallard, On the sealing gaff were the initials J. M. Evidently the poor fellow met a watery grave.25
One of the crew of the Greenland who was on the frozen pans from Monday morning till Wednesday morning, kept himself from freezing by a rather thoughtful stratagem. He killed a seal and having cut it open embedded his head, face, and hands in the carcase. He did this occasionally and found that the amount of seal blood which accumulated on his exposed parts prevented him from getting frost bitten. When he reached the steamer he was nothing the worse for his adventure. He had to scrape from his face an inch of frozen blood.26
George Tuff, Age 17, of Newtown; "We only kept ourselves alive by stamping, jumping, and beating our hands; kicking one another, for if sat down at all, we would never arise again. Tuesday all kinds of queer fancies ran through my mind, and I saw houses, trees, gardens, and other beautiful sights, while on attempting to rise a limb I would fall to the ice; only sheer grit and courage kept me alive".
Absolam Weeks, of Fair Islands; "He saw George Pynn of Harbour Grace fall into the water, but was extracted by some men near. The brave fellow, however, did not give up heart, through, from the time he came out of the water he must have quickly frozen; yet in this condition he kept up the tactics of the others running and jumping until becoming exhausted, after a couple of hours he dropped down and died almost immediately".
Alfred Jesse Gaulton, Age 18; "Monday night he twice laid down on the floe, covering his face and hands with snow, to die in peace, but his vitality was extraordinary and the death he most desired was kept away; evidently by the snow covering he gathered about him. During Tuesday he gathered courage and although half mad, kept in motion, but wandered away from the main body of men, and at night was on the water edge of the ice, where he lay down once more to die, but the wind prevented him this time, and its force must have been terrific, for he was blown over a half a mile, where he once more regained his feet, and held on to life until pick up, mentally deranged, by some relatives on Wednesday afternoon."27
William Wicks, of Greenspond; "Indeed few others would have died had not Samuel Burry suddenly becomes insane and rushed among the men, shouting that the ship was coming towards to them. This freshened up the poor fellows and many whose minds were giving out started away and soon in the thick snow were lost sight of. Some walked deliberately into the water and sank from sight. Others fell on smooth ice and could not rise ... Soon I became almost mad myself and wandered away alone and building a shelter, but when the second day dawned there were five dead men around me."
George Pelley, of Harbour Grace, both hands burnt badly, not able to work. He also had the top cut off one of his fingers. while sculpting a seal on last Monday.28
Abel Hann, Of Wesleyville, had his face badly burnt on Monday night, the 21st.29
Henry Gordon, of Harbour Grace, also suffers much from his ears and toes being badly frost-bitten.30
Henry Lush, of Greenspond, a seasoned sealer, was with a body of about fifty sealers. He saw many men drop down and die.31
Henry Stagg, of Cape Freels remembered seeing two men fall to the ice and perish.32
"Uncle Ezra" Melendy, of Cat Harbour; A quiet man who usually had little to say, was survivor from the Greenland disaster of 1898.33
Phineas Stokes, of Cape Freels was taken aboard the Greenland Tuesday and then in the warmth of the ship did he realize how badly frozen he was.34
The storm did not decline until late Tuesday March 22, afternoon, and the miserable group of half frozen sealers gathered along the ice as the Greenland bore down upon them. The weather had cleared up somewhat and the missing men could be seen from the ship's barrel, Yet the steamer was still jammed in ice. So at 5 p.m. Captain Barbour ordered two boats to be provisions, hauled over the ice, and rowed across the lake. Out of the one hundred men rescued all were frost-bitten and many of these were seriously injured from falling about. Some of the sealers were overcomes by the rescue party for Chief Officer Gaulton said he saw several men drop dead as soon as they reached them. It must had been a "thrilling scene on the frozen plains when the rescuers and the rescued met in silent hand clasp, and strong men wept bitter tears as they saw the dead lying around, where they had fallen into battle against the restless foes of cold and hunger".35 Unfortunately, the search for the missing was forced to come to a halt for that day, since night was falling and the wind had picked up. but early Wednesday March 23, morning it was continued with help from the Iceland and the Diana. The latter steamer picked up one survivor and five dead, The Iceland found nine bodies. Out of the fifty-four men left on the ice, only six survivors were found along with twenty-five bodies, yet there was another twenty-three missing. The three streamers kept up the search on Thursday and Friday, but by the number of caps that were found in the water, it was evident that those bodies not found had been washed into the sea. So Captain Barbour decided to head back to port to land the dead and injured.
However, On Friday, the Greenland was truly an ill-fated ship, for on her way to St.John's a severe gale was stuck about thirty miles off Cape Bonavista, which forced her to take shelter into Bay de Verde. From there she wired the news of the disaster to St.John's. But that was the less of the Greenland's worries, for the storm increased in such a vicious fury, that it snapped the sixty fathom chain which it had been anchored to. The ship put on full steam, but it was useless, and before long she drifted upon a rock. The Greenland was once again begging at the hands of death, for it seemed she would be smashed to bits, taking the living and the dead to an icy grave in the North Atlantic. But the crew did not despair, for five hours they shifted freight until the ship was afloat and out of danger. with the loss of part of her keel, the Greenland left Bay de Verde at 8:20 Sunday morning and headed for St.John's. In the dense fog off Cape St.Francis while searching for the Narrows . But danger seemed to follow the ship for she nearly escaped ran upon the Biscay rocks, Meantime back in St.John's there was no news from the sealers at the Funks. these ships did not carry wireless and so there was no direct means of communication with shore.
In St.John's, the first news broke out of the Greenland diaster was received on Saturday night around 7:30 p.m. a copy of a bulletin posted in the window of the St.John's Telegraph Office on March 26th, 1898, which had been sent from Bay de Verde to Walter Baine Grieve, Esq. of Baines Johnston and Company, From Captain Barbour of the Greenland. In very terse terms it outlined the terrible tragedy that had necessitated cutting short the Greenland's voyage and immediate return to port. The Telegraph:
S.S. Greenland Arrived at Bay-de-Verde.
Too heavy so to run. Sad misfortune
LOST FORTY-EIGHT MEN in heavy gale; more
badly frozen and will need hospital care.
twenty-five dead bodies on board;
remainder could not find.
Advise where to go."
Capt. George Barbour
Premier Winter and Mr W.B. Grieve wired Captain Barbour immediately with following rely:
"My Heartfelt sympathy for you and the poor men.
Come on here where arrangements are being made
for living and dead. Do you apprehend disaster
to any other ship?" W.B. Greive.
Mr. Greive waited for Captain Barbour to come to St.John's as soon as the wind died out. In St.John's, business had come to stop, but sidewalls and street activities were jammed with people all hurrying to see to the cable office on Water Street. The crowds grew until Water Street was impassable. But so far they were unsatisfactory and give little real information. "Haven't they got a list of the dead yet?" people enquired anxiously. But there was no list, and the white-faced crowd waited, quiet and fearful.38 The fishermen's Seamen's Home was set up as a temporary hospital and Doctor Frederick F.A. Stabb and Dr. Herbert Rendell were called upon, Doctors, nurses, and police were asked to stand by. Many other helpers waited eagerly to comfort the frost-bitten men. The Seamen's Institute was converted to a temporary hospital for the less severely injured. A morgue was set up there, too. With great foresight, Dr Stabb of the St.John Ambulance asked for a dozen baths to be installed in the basement of the Institutes, to thaw the frozen bodies.39 That night was a sleepless on for many and crowds gathered outside the telegraph office anxiously waiting further news. But nothing further arrived until 7 a.m. Sunday morning March 27th; Then they were given the gruesome details of the disaster and were assured that no other ship was in a similar condition. Shortly after 2 p.m. that day, the dark hull of the S.S. Greenland had sailed into the Narrows of St. John's harbour in the dense fog area with flag at half mast, "A floating chamber of horrors" with twenty-five frozen corpses on deck and twenty-three missing.40 "enshrouded like a pall". The death ship headed for the premises of messrs. Baine Johnston & Co., her owner. "'twas then the blood of sympathy coursed wildly through the veins of ours citizens. In hundreds, yes, in thousands, they flocked to Baine Johnston's wharves, climbed ship's rigging, store roofs and even jeopardized their lives by standing in the most dangerous places, and all to get a glimpse of the slowly advancing ship...".41 There was, a general sincere sympathy by all, and no doubt the magnitude of this disaster only sharpened their already bitter attitude toward the sealing "system".
Charles Wicks, a Shopkeeper jumped on the Greenland as she touched the wharf looking for his brother, John Wicks of Wesleyville. He was told by Jesse Gaulton, the master watch, that John was missing. The bodies of the frozen men were removed from the Greenland after undertakers arrived. Once the planks were removed from the hull of the ship, four inches of ice had to be cut away before the dead sealer were extracted. A gruesome sight it was, for "in a comparatively small space, warped and twisted out of all resemblance to their former selves, lay all that was mortal of twenty-five of our fellow beings who, but two weeks ago had left this port in the vigour and strength of manhood".42 It was thought that the dead bodies would be coffin on the Greenland, However, because they were frozen in such abnormal shapes, their limbs were impossible to straighten, after they were dug from the ice, wrapped in quilts, and taken by horse and sleigh, so they taken to the Seamen's Home to thaw. Although the sealers knew the hazards and risks of being out on the ice, they were still forced out there in providing a living for their families. The following is a list of the dead.
Brought back :
(1) William Kelloway, age 48, Pool's Island. (2) James Howell, age -, Pool's Island. (3) Joseph Osmond, age 19, Pool's Island. (4) Thomas White, age 40, Pool's Island. (5) John Pinsent, age 38, Safe Harbour. (6) John Thomas, age 26, Safe Harbour. (7) Edwin Davis, age 19, Safe Harbour. (8) Fredrick House, age 18, Gooseberry Island. (9) Kenneth Parsons, age 28, Newtown. (10) Isaac Green, age 20, Newtown. (11) George Norris, age 37, Newtown. (12) Henry Curtis, age 23, Newtown. (13) Charles Ralph, age 22, Flat Island. (14) William Heath, age 22, Harbour Grace. (15) Walter Noge, age 24, Pouch Cove. (16) Edwin Hunt, age 18, Cape Freels Island. (17) Jacob Pond, age 20, Greenspond. (18) John Vincent, age 30, Cape Island. (19) Richard Pynn, age 19, Southside, St.John's. (20) Archibald Courage, age 20, Harbour Grace. (21) James Maher, age 18, Quidi Vidi. (22) Alfred Newtry, age 18, Carbonear. (23) William Voisey, Age 23, Quidi Vidi. (24) Walter Murphy, age 34, Carbonear. (25) Willis Woolridge, age 19, Trinity. Not Recovered: (26) Herbert Norris, age 24, Newtown. (27) Micheal Hennessey, age 30, St.Brendan's. (28) Thoedore Norris, age 21, Pound Cove. (29) James Cheeks, age 40, Newtown. (30) Benjamin Brown, age 22, Pool's Island. (31) Albert Bowlan, age 21, Pound Cove. (32) George Bungay, age 26, Newtown. (33) John Wicks, age 34, Westeyville. (34) Alex Andrew, age 21, Cape Island. (35) William Blackwood, age 21, Greenspond. (36) Mathews Wells, age 21, Harbour Grace. (37) Stephen Squires, age 28, Salvage. (38) Lorenzo Wells, age 34, Harbour Grace. (39) Noah Mortimer, age 40, Harbour Grace. (40) William Cullen, age 27, Torbay. (41) George Pynn, age 27, Harbour Grace. (42) Thomas Ricketts, age 35, King's Cove. (43) James Mallard, age 24, St.John's. (44) Heber Ryan, age 23, Ship's Cove. (45) George W. Pelley, age 22, Hant's Harbour (46) Jacob Conway, age 27, Turk's Cove. (47) William Larder, age 26, Trinity. (48) Ambrose Rogers, age 22, Lower Island Cove.
The Survivors: (49)*George Barbour, age 40, Newtown. (50) Alfred Jesse Gaulton, age 18, Brookfield. B.B. (51) Nathan House, age 26, Pool's Islands. (52) Jesse Knee, age -,(Greenspond)-Pool's Islands. (53) James Norris, age -, (54) William Davidson, age -, (55) Ezra Melendy, age -, Cat Harbour. (56) John Melendy, age -, Cat Harbour. (57) Samuel Burry, age 24, Greenspond. (58) Absolam Weeks, age -, Fair Islands. (59) Joseph Peckford, age -, (60) Jesse Norris, age -, (61) William Davis, age -, (62) Henry Lush, age -, Greenspond. (63) Henry Stagg, age -, Cape Freels. (64) Phineas Stokes, age -, Cape Freels. (65) Daniel Winsor, age -, Wesleyville. (66) Fredirick Winsor, age -, Wesleyville. (67) Enos Squires, age 17, Salvage. (68) George Tuff, age 17, Newtown. (69) Eli Hall, age -, Newtown. (70) William Dowden, age -, Newtown. (71) Esau Grudger, age -, Cat Harbour. (72) Edgar Morris, age -, (73) Thomas Greely, age -, Portugal Cove. (74) George Pelly, age -, Harbour Grace. (75) Abel Hann, age -, Wesleyville. (76) Henry Gordon, age -, Harbour Grace. (77) Archibald Russel, age -, Bonavista. (78) Andrew Moloney, age -, (79) William Wicks, age -, Greenspond. (80) Charlie Dowden, age - , Quidi Vidi. (81) Court Dowden, age -, Quidi Vidi. (82) - Morris, (83) - Mullowney, (84) Jacob Mullett, age - , Wesleyville. (85) James Thomas Tiller, age -, Wesleyville.
St.John's and District.........12 Harbour Grace..................17 Trinity Bay....................17 Bay-de-Verde................... 3 Bonavista Bay.................158 Total crews...................207 ---------------------------------
On Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., thousands of people lined Theatre Hill, New Gover, and Duckworth Street to witness the sad procession of the Greenland's dead sealers.43 Shortly after 10 a.m. ten horses were drawn up in front of the Seamen's Home on Which the coffins were laid. The Funeral was lead by a Mounted Police up along Duckworth Street to the Church of England Cathedral where service was held. From there, the procession returned to the Seamen's Home and escorted the other eight bodies to the Gower Street Methodist Church, then on to the General Protestant Cemetery on River Head Road. and once the dead had been buried, all that could be heard was a "silent tear" for those "brave fellows whose lives were snuffed out under such hard and trying circumstances."44
The Queen of England was very sensitive to Newfoundland's misfortune in the Greenland disaster. On Tuesday, March 29th, the Secretary of state for the Colonies received the following message:
"Her Majesty has heard with much regret "Greenland" disaster, and commands me to express sympathy with wives and families of sufferers. Wish to express my own sympathy also." "Chamberlain". 45
On March 28, the "Daily News" started a Greenland relief fund to help out those who had suffered from the lost of a bread winner. The following day a meeting was held in the Council and a minute was passed to form a committee for the expending of the money from the relief fund. The government also passed several resolutions giving the families of the victims $4,800 plus $700 to pay for the funeral and medical expenses.
Once the crew of the Greenland reached port, ugly rumours began to spread that the notorious Captain Abraham Kean was in the neighbourhood of the disaster, but failed to help in the rescue. Furthermore, he was also accused for robbing the dead men's seals which they had panned on the day of the disaster. Soon articles began to appear in the local papers demanding that a rigid enquiry to held into the disaster in order to find out the cause, and to see whether it could have avoided, and whether the adoption of proper sealing legislation could prevent such accidents in the future. Meanwhile, however, an investigation was being held before judge Convoy and Superintendent Sullivan in the court house to find out the cause of this sealing tragedy, and to clear up the matter over the stolen seals. Evidence was gathered from the four master watches of the Greenland, while several other depositions were to be taken after the funeral. While the public waited anxiously for the results of the magisterial enquiry, none were published. They became suspicious of the vitality of this enquiry, and were convinced by the departure of Captain George Barbour and his crew, that no investigation would or had been done. The rumours first spread by the Greenland crew when they arrived soon became potent. "Evidently", as one irritated man said, "They [members of government] want to screen on of their political friends whose actions at the time of the disaster were reprehensible in the extreme, to say the least of them, or they would not shirk their duty to the public in this vital important matter".46 Demands for an enquiry became more insistent, and because Captain Abe Kean was a member of the Executive, and consequently a honourable man, his brethren thought it was necessary to protect his reputations. So in the "Evening Herald" of April 4th, Captain Darius Blandford (also a member) vindicated the allegations made against Captain Kean. However, this only occasioned for an attack the following day by "One and All".
"One and All" "It seems to me "exceedingly kind" on the part of Darius Blandford to come on specially to St.John's to "vamp up" brother Abraham's reputation. If Kean is innocent he ought to be cleared by the sworn evidence of untempered men in a open court of justice. If he is not cleared in that way, I fear he will never be cleared by the special efforts of special political and party organs.." 47
The "Evening Herald" then published a statement from Captain Barbour 48 Which disposed the slander made by his crew against Kean. However, once skipper Abraham returned from the hunt, he felt it was necessary to defend his own reputation. So in The "Daily News" on April 9th., he wrote:
S.S. Aurora, April 8th, 1898 Editor Daily News Dear Sir,
I think, in justice to myself and crew, I ought to make a few remarks concerning certain statements of very unkind nature said to be circulated by some of the crew of the s.s. Greenland, concerning her sad disaster. That such a catastrophe should have occurred in connection with the seal fishery this season. I, with thousands of others of Newfoundland, regret and that I should be called upon here, from a sense of duty, to vindicate myself and crew from the libelous charges of being in any way, directly or indirectly, responsible for the accident, is to me a source of great dissatisfaction. To think that Newfoundland or any other country should have in its midst men so lost to all sense of shame before their fellow-men as to circulate a story so utterly void of truth and without foundation is enough to make any man, worthy of the name of man, blush with shame. My attention has been called to an article in the "Evening telegram" of 5th April, over the signature of "One and All" Coward like, the writer shelters his name behind a nom de plume, because he dare not come out over his own name and make such a charge. I here challenge Capt. George Barbour and whole of his crew, that not one man dare to come and make a deposition and be able to substantiate such a charge, that I took any of their seals previous to the disaster or after. Further, that not one of their flags was visible to me at the when their dead men were discovered. I further state that the Greenland did not show signs of distress wanting help. A flag flying at half-mast is not an indication of a ship wanting assistance from any other, but only a sign that some one is dead belonging to her crew; and the man who state otherwise only gives an exhibition of his ignorance of nautical rules. I quote here rules as laid down by "Maxwell's Seamanship," page 27: 'Q. What are the signals to be used during the day time by a vessel in distress? A. A gun fired at intervals of a minute. The flags N, C. The distance signal, consisting of a square flag having, either above or below it, a ball or anything resembling a ball. For the night, gun fired at intervals of about a minute. Flames from the ship as a burning tar barrel or oil barrel. Rockets or shells of any colour or descriptio., one at a time, at short intervals." Were any of these signals shown? I would like to ask any of the Greenland's crew, If so, and they can prove I was near enough to see and hear them, and did not respond to their call for help, then on me be the blame. But if they wanted assistance and, in their ignorance did not know the signs to give, they or their ignorance ought to bear the blame, and the innocent ought not to suffer. I do not wish here to cast reflection on Capt. Barbour, inasmuch as he has come out over his own signature and exonerated me from blame. I would also couple with him some of his crew whom, I believe, are only too manly and fair to allow their names to be used in circulating such a mean, contemptible rumour about an absent person. The wonder to me is that they did not come out over their own signature and contradict it unless they thought, with many more of my friends, it was best to treat it with silent contempt. However sir, be it wise or not, I have chosen a different course and give "One and All" a chance to air their grievances with one through the public press, or before any court of justice, with any judge or jury All I ask is that they be men of sound reason possessed with common sense and decency and I will be perfectly satisfied with the result of their verdict. In the Whole of this Article of 'One and All' I do not find a solitary charge made against me. only he thinks my reputation is somewhat shattered. Well, my answer to that is, if my opponents have only succeeded for the last ten years in shattering my reputation. I think I might congratulate myself in having a reputation only shattered, for if the same had happened to "One and All" he would not today have been existing with a shattered reputation, but would have had none at all. But that my reputation is least shattered in he Greenland Disaster I take issue with him. Contrary to that, like as always happened to me, politically or otherwise, the stone that has been thrown by others at me has always rebounded and hit the one that threw it, and done him more harm than it has done me. "One and All" further goes on: "Why was not British fair play shown. and the whole of the Greenlands' crew's evidence taken ?" If I Understand British fair play' even then there would be required the evidence of another, who would be myself. The law of Great Britain holds every man innocent until proven guilty; but this would-be assassin thinks if the evidence of the crew of the Greenland was taken that would be sufficient My reputation would be ruined politically and otherwise, and as a public man there would be an end to me.
Now, sir, I Have no means of surmising the name of this man who signs this article. If I had to give an interpretation of the name used - "One and All" - I should say that the "One" was an escaped Lunatic, and "All" the rest who had not escaped, but gave him their permission to use their names in connection with the article in question. Once I learn such is the case they will have my forgiveness wether they want it or not; but if "One and All" is a person sane, and in his right mind, then I say this article reflects no credit on him. but only comes from one, so base, mean and contemptible, who has no regard for his fellowmen but for reasons best known to himself, has dragged my name before the public and the outside world and has done his best to make it appear that I was guilty to the most mean and contemptible action that ever disgraced a civilized community. I thank God that in the opinion of all who know me this article will not tarnish my name and that it will not have the desired effect of "One and All" To him and those who assisted him to do this dirty, vile work, I wish to say that they have my forgiveness, and, if they are not beneath taking mr advice make alright with their God, for if such an untimely and awaits them as those of, I trust, better brethren who went in the unfortunate disaster of the s.s. Greenland, I shudder for the awful judgment that awaits, them for making such a charge against an innocent person. Capt. Darius Blandford, who manfully came out over his own signature in my absence, and Capt. George Barbour, who vindicated my action.
I sincerely thank, To the friends of the lost ones I extend my sincere sympathy and trust those of them who will read this vindication of my action in connection with this sad event, will feel that in me they have one who has, before them, known what it is to suffer the loss of dear son by drowning. The effects of that today, would be enough for me to leave and every avocation, if by doing so I could be the means of saving life. In conclusion I trust that he who has promised to be a father to fatherless and a husband to the widow will be their helper in this their hour of extreme need.
A. Kean. 49
He then said that the writer of "One and All" must have been an escaped lunatic, and the "All" were those who had not escaped. He then thanked Captain Blandford and Barbour for upholding his reputation. But Barbour was not convinced that all the rumours against him had ended, so he invited a public enquiry to be held into the disaster.
Hon. Colonial Secretary: April 6,
Colonial Secretary to Barbour: April 6,
The "Evening Herald" made several last attempt to revive the demands for a public enquiry, but everyone seemed satisfied with the way things turned out. captain Barbour made his last Stab, "I think the "Telegram" had better not make any more capital out of the "Greenland Disaster" but try and get some other topic to engage the public mind". 50 Shortly afterwards the Greenland disaster faded from print as more important matters dominated the pages of the local press.
However, the peculiar end to all this was that no magisterial enquiry was found into the "Greenland Disaster". The only trace that one had been done, was from what had been said in the local papers at that time. But this does not mean that there had been no enquiry held, but rather it suggest that it was probably very scanty, for the evidence of the bridgemen nor Captain Barbour had been taken. Was there any pressure, or influence, upon Judge Conroy to get the matter settled and out of the way? If not, then why were the crew of the Greenland hurried away from St.John's, as she was not going out on a second trip anyhow? Was time required to manipulate the thing? It was well known how much the poor sealers were at the mercy of their skippers and steamer-owners. Why did Captain Barbour tell his crew not to give out any information about the disaster? If this was a squire deal, then was not a public enquiry held with open door with a special council retained to watch the evidence? Why was not the entire crew's evidence taken? Had Captain Barbour come forward with a detailed voluntary statement, much of what seems suspicious today would probably be clearer. The government should have held an enquiry regardless of the circumstance. If a ship was lost, an enquiry was imperative, but in the Greenland case, with the death of forty-eight men, none was thought necessary. Were the lives of forty-eight sealers worthless than a pile of timber? Well then, could the Greenland disaster have been avoided? If so, then who was the blame? Perhaps a personal enquiry would shed some light on the dark area above. However, it must be warned here that since all the following evidence was gathered from the local press, much of it was no doubt manipulated to serve their own purposes.
On the morning of March 21st., Captain Barbour put his crew out on the ice and started panning seals. There was a contradiction in the time the men were put out. The crew claimed that it was a few minutes after midnight, however, Captain Barbour denied this, and said it was not before 2 a.m. The former time was probably closer,since it was a common practice by all the skippers to put their crews out at midnight Sunday. Anyhow, Captain Blandford said he saw the Greenland put her men out at the same time he did.
Around 4 p.m. that same day, there were signs of an approaching storm. Why did Captain Barbour react so slow in picking up his crew? It was stated that he did not start until 6 p.m. when the storm broke in a blinding blizzard, and only then did he take hasty preparations to get the first watch on board, (and even then they had a hard time finding the ship). In fact, Captain Blandford said that when he saw signs of the approaching storm that afternoon he immediately began to recover his men. "It took the whole afternoon to do it, and then he only accomplished this by abandoning every seal they had killed".51Was Captain Barbour more concern with picking up seals than picking up his crew on the far off ice floe?
After the storm abated on Tuesday afternoon, why did Captain Barbour failed to use the proper distress signals to let the other steamers know that a disaster had occurred and that help was needed? According to Captain Kean, the "Maxwell's Seamanship" states that if a ship is in distress, the signals used during the day are a gun fired at intervals of a minute, the flags "N.C." , a square flag with a ball above or below it, and at night flames from the ship, (as a burning tar or oil barrel), or rockets fired at short intervals. Why were not any of these signals used? "A flag flying at half-mast is not an indication of a ship wanting assistance from another, but only a sign that someone is dead belonging to her crew, and the man who states otherwise only gives an exhibition of his ignorance of nautical rules".52 Was Captain Barbour responsible for such a nautical error?
For the rest of that week the search for the missing crew was kept up by the Greenland, the Iceland, and the Diana. Why did not captain Kean help in the rescue since he was in the vanity of the disaster? captain Kean was in the Aurora some eight miles from the Greenland and though he said he saw their flag at half-mast, he presumed that she had only lost one man. This was confirmed by Captain Barbour with but one contradiction.
"As to Captain Kean not coming to our assistance when searching for our men, his ship was four miles away and could not know the extent of the Catastrophe by seeing my flag at half-mast and as the Iceland and Diana were near us, he would conclude that any assistance required would be furnished by them".53
This could quite possibly have been true, for Captain Blandford of the Iceland was only two miles from the Greenland and did not know that a disaster had taken place. "He had been uneasy as to the fate of the Greenland's crew all Monday night and Tuesday knowing Captain Barbour had to stem along distance to reach them, but was not convinced that a serious disaster had happened until it was confirmed on seeing the Greenland launch her boats and scatter men all over the ice to convey the dead and injured".54 In fact, Captain Alpheus Barbour, a nephew of the master of the Greenland, was only three or four miles away and did not realize that a disaster took place until 3 p.m. Wednesday when he picked up one of the survivors.55 He thought that they were taking old seals. Captain Kean did not learn of the disaster until March 28th. when he was boarded and told. When he did return to port, captain Kean was asked why he did not send a couple of men to the Greenland to see what was wrong. The reason he gave was that he expected his ship to become unjammed at any minute and then he would steam down around.56 However, Captain Kean never did such a thin, but instead went off panning more seals.
On his arrival, Captain Kean was also asked about the accusations made that he stole the Greenland's seals on the day of the disaster. Skipper Kean told news reporters57 That on the 21st of March, he had boarded the Greenland and learned that the latter seals laid on the furthermost side of their ship, and that they had no seals panned between the steamers. However, he said the Aurora did. It was these seals that they were saw picking up on Wednesday. Yet Captain Barbour and his crew claimed that they six pans of pelts flagged that day of the storm but only spotted one flag afterwards. Kean argued that the reason the Greenland never saw the rest of their flags was that they were probably blown down in the blizzard, and in many case, they did not go to look for them after the disaster. But would not Captain Barbour and his crew (or for that matter, the crews of the Iceland and Diana) have seen their panned seals when they carried out the search for the missing men? If their flags were blown down during the storm, would not the Aurora's have blow down also? Captain Kean, nevertheless, was able to find 1,500 out of the 2,000 seals he claimed the panned on that fateful day. 58
The Greenland crew were not the only ones who accused Captain Kean for robbing seals. Captain Alpheus Barbour of the Diana said when he arrived from the hunt that they had killed more than a load of seals, but from storms and seal robbers they lost some sixty-three flags.59 Captain Blandford's crew also blamed Kean for stealing seals. In fact, the Iceland's crew said that they caught the crew of the Aurora knocking down their flags, and changing their symbol "S.S.I."(flag for S.S. Iceland) to represent "S.S.A". When the Captain Kean's men were caught, they drew knives and threaten to kill the Iceland's men if they tried to stop them If so many felt certain that captain Kean was a sealing pirate, then why would no one make a deposition against him? The reason seemed indisputable. Captain Kean was one mean and influential man, and no one dare (Not even Captain Barbour) speak out against him for fear of the consequences. This was voiced by the red eyed lusty devil himself. "But that my reputation is the least shattered in the Greenland disaster I take issue with him. Contrary to that, like as always happened to me, politically or otherwise, the stone that has been thrown by others at me has always rebounded and hit the one that threw it, and done him more harm than it has done me".60
Now then, what shall the verdict be ? Was Captain Barbour responsible for the Greenland disaster? Did Captain Kean steal the dead men's seals? Could this disaster have been avoided? Who was to blame? Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in the reason why the Greenland disaster faded from the local papers as fast as it did. There seemed to be an overwhelming concern on all hands involved to get the issue out of the scope of an public enquiry. Captain Kean obviously did not want a government investigation done, for if was proven that he did taken the Greenland's seals, his reputation would have been shattered. Had his reputation been ruin as such, his position in the Executive would have certainly been in jeopardy. Furthermore, since the system for picking captains to command the steamers was based upon their reputation at sea, Ken could quite possibly have lost his prized position as sealing skipper.
Likewise, Captain Barbour also had his reputation on the line as a sealing skipper. But why did Captain Barbour invite a public enquiry into the disaster if his position looked so guilty? Perhaps he knew that the government had no intentions of holding an enquiry for fear it would increase demands for sealing legislation. This could probably explain why Captain Blandford and the two government papers (the "Evening Herald" and the "Daily News") made such a strenuous effort to get the matter out of the public's mind. But why should the government shy away from passing legislation to improve the conditions of the seal fishery? If legislation had been passed,61 It would have certainly impinged upon the merchants profits, especially at a time when the seal fishery was at its lowest. (See Graph). In fact, practically every marine enquiry had a similar reaction. Take for instance the sealing case of the "S.S. Panther when Judge Conroy ruled in favour of Baine Johnston & Co.
"I don't think that legislature should interfere further. The business is very hazardous, the situ- ation is critical and legislation might injuriously affect the interest of the plaintiff class...This [seal] fishery has been up to the present a sort of pivot for our bigger industries to revolve up".62
the same verdict was given in the case of "Joseph Hussy vs Baine Johnston & Co." over the dispute of the high price for sealing supplies.
"...any tinkering with legislation might irretrie- vally ruin a once prosperous and wealthy industry... although they [price for supplies] might happen to be in excess of what they should be..."63
The merchants of Water Street no doubt had a great influence upon these decisions, since the Tory Government drew its financial support from them. Would it be hypothetical to think, that the government and business were allies in the exploitation of the sealers and fishermen of Newfoundland?
Nevertheless, the Greenland disaster was a "Human" disaster, and therefore was "No Act of God". If Captain Barbour had taken the precautionary measure(like Captain Blandford) of picking up his crew as soon as there were signs of an approaching, the disaster could most certainly have been avoided. Had Captain Barbour used the proper distress signals, then it is quite possible that other steamers could have responded to the rescue sooner, and probably less men would have died. Yet it would be unjust to lay the entire blame on Captain Barbour, but rather the blame should be placed where it belongs. On the "System" or "Method" by which the seal fishery was prosecuted, of sending men out on long journeys across the ice, whilst the steamer goes of in search of more seals. "So long as the men were regarded as expendable, and the seals as the thing that mattered, it was bound to happen, sooner or later".64
The Greenland disaster of 1898 was just another great tale of death and suffering. It burned scars on people's memories, but next spring and the men would race eagerly to St.John's to fight for a birth on a sealing steamer. Thus the whole effort of the Greenland tragedy on newfoundlanders was sad, but simple. "They're dead. That's all about it. Take up a subscription for the survivors, and let us hope it won't occur again". "That, and nothing more, [was] the sum up of all the public and private philosophy on the subject, and that [was] the amen of all its effects".65
Fifteen year afterward another Death on the ice..year 1914 in s.s. Newfoundland at that time by Captain Abe Kean who commanding on this ships.
© Danny Roberts 1998
Page contributed by Danny Roberts
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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