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History of King's Cove





Southern Head has been so intimately associated with the industrial history of King's Cove that it deserves a chapter by itself. It lies about two miles north of Western Point. It forms the southern barrier of the ice drift, and is a favourable lookout for the approach of seals. Its bare sullen looking rocks have been witnesses of many an unsung tragedy since our forefathers began to use it as a beacon tower and lookout.

The blustery north-east March winds of 1838 had brought the whelping ice to Southern Head. As the first glimmer of daylight after the storm, began to outline the vast white sea, excited crowds, -the women with tea-kettles and bundles of bread, the men with their gaffs and sealing ropes-scaled the jagged cliff sides. As the sun burst through a Banks of cloud hundreds of hands went up to shield the eyes that began to scan the ocean from Greenspond to Cape Bonavista. They were searching for seals: for in these early days a seal meant the same to the pioneer as a nugget of gold to the prospector. And soon a glad cry arose. Away in the distance- miles out to the eastward-black patches of seals could be seen. And then the rush began. Down the steep slippery sides and away half running, half walking, each man making his own trail amongst the frozen clumpers.

As the seals were a long way out, it was late in the afternoon before the men could be seen returning. In the meantime the calm which had followed the storm was succeeded by a southwest wind which began to freshen as evening came on. A southwest wind takes the ice off the King's Cove shore. The watchers on the head saw water forming along the "South Shore,"-near Amherst Cove. The ice was moving out and not a man had yet landed. The widening strip of water along the Amherst Cove shore stamped out the gaiety and the excitement of the morning. It was a prearranged warning that whenever the landsmen saw danger threatening those on the ice, the former were to fire guns. The guns were fired in a codic manner, the arrangement of which has not been handed down. However, the firing on this particular day was to this effect: Slip your seals and run for the shore. All those who heard the firing obeyed the warning, slipped their seals and ran for the shore.

Amongst those who went off that morning was Mick McGrath -father of the late Bernard McGrath. His sister Margaret, who, afterwards became Mrs. Jimmy Flynn, was there a lively girl,of eighteen years old. She left King's Cove at daylight for Southern Head with her kettle and a good sized bag filled with cakes and other dainties for her brother when he would arrive with the tow of seals. She has left the following description of the scene at Southern Head that morning: "When I arrived at the Head there was the wildest consternation. The wind was slowly taking the ice out. Guns were firing, women were moving around wringing their hands and crying at the tops of their voices. I saw at once the danger that threatened the men on the ice. Of course I was thinking: first of my brother Mick. Throwing my empty kettle to one of the women, I took hers which was full of tea, and dashed down the rocky incline to the icefloe and ran out as fast as my legs could. carry me. I met men who had slipped their seals and were running to the land, and they began to call out:

"'My dear girl where are you going? Don't you hear the guns? You'll be driven off.'

"But my answer was:

"'I can't go back till I meet my brother Mick.'

"About two miles from the Head. I met him. He had a dog with him and three young seals. I said to him:

"'Here, boy, you take one; I'll take one, and tie one to the dog.'

"I gave Mick the kettle to take a good drink. I gave the dog a bun and we hurried towards the land and, thank God, got ashore safely.

"It was only when we reached the cliff we realised our danger. Lakes of water appeared everywhere. Men and women could be seen running here and there on the pans of ice. Some of them had to be pulled through the water with ropes. With the aid of punts all were rescued except two,-Paddy Hennessy and Paddy Hegarty. Were they alive or were they drowned? After a few minutes of anxiety they were seen running towards the shore. As they came near the shore they encountered lakes into which they plunged and swam across to opposite pans of ice. One lake after another they crossed in this manner,-Jumping in together and out together till they reached land. There was a wild demonstration of cheering when, almost exhausted, they crawled in on the rocks."

This is but one brief episode illustrating the hardships of the early pioneers. All the long morning under the glare of a March sun they pulled and tugged at their load of seals over the rugged ice, only to be compelled when near the shore to leave them behind. The gold had come within their reach but had vanished as quickly as it came.


Page transcribed by: Bill Crant June, 2000
Page revised: Sept 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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