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6 - Captain William Jackman



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

The name of Captain William Jackman is unknown outside Newfoundland, yet the story of his heroic selflessness and daring is one the whole world should applaud. Through some strange turn of fate, this gallant Newfoundlander has been all but forgotten even by his own countrymen, and no memorial records his valour.

In the little fishing town of Ranews (sic) on the southeast corner of Newfoundland, Jackman first saw the light of day. Together with his brother, Captain Arthur Jackman, this hardy and vigorous fisherman became a successful sealing captain, and among the sturdy old seadogs who, in the past two centuries, have driven armoured prows far and wide among the treacherous ice flows there was no finer type of skipper. However, William Jackman's niche in his country's hall of fame was earned not by his work as a sealing captain, but as a Labrador fisherman.

It was the autumn of 1867: a fierce gale was raging, and Jackman's vessel, together with others of the fishing fleet, sought a temporary haven at Spotted Islands on the bleak coast of Labrador. While the storm raged, some seaman's instinct urged Jackman to mount the crest of the hill above the harbour and scan the torn waste of water to seaward. His instinct was justified, for there, on a foaming reef some four hundred yards from shore, rolled a stricken ship - her boats and canvas gone - her crew clinging to the shrouds and shouting in wild despair.

Save for Jackman, no one knew of their plight. There was no other aid in sight, but Jackman did not hesitate or pause to count the odds against him.

Racing down the snowy wind-swept hill to the shore, he quickly stripped, flung his clothes beneath a boulder, and plunged into the seething, bitterly cold surf. He was an excellent swimmer, and his long powerful strokes soon brought him beyond the shorelong breakers where he could breathe more freely. Mounting the crest of each wave, he availed himself of every little advantage of wind and weather, and finally he reached the doomed schooner. Taking a man on his back he swam back to shore - buffeted by mountainous seas and half-blinded in the salt smother of foam. Once on shore he ordered the rescued man to hurry across the island for help, then he turned again to the self-imposed task which confronted him. When additional rescuers arrived, they found that the indomitable captain had, alone and unaided, already brought eleven persons safely to shore.

Twenty-six times did Captain Jackman swim out to the wrecked ship, and twenty-six men were thus saved by his daring heroism. His strength was ebbing and he was on the point of exhaustion when one of the rescued seamen told him there was still one more person - a woman - aboard the wrecked vessel. "With God's help, we will save her", said the captain, and for the twenty-seventh time he plunged into the boiling surf to make another successful rescue.

William Jackman did not long survive this eventful day on the coast of Labrador; he died very few years later, and his ashes rest in the quiet cemetery of Belvedere in St. John's, Newfoundland. When we read of Horatius and his swimming of the Tiber, we should be proud to know that Newfoundland Fisherman performed a far more valorous feat, though as yet no Macaulay has risen to record the deed in immortal verse.



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This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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