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History of King's Cove

CHAPTER X

 

 

THE LOSS OF THE "ELLEN MUNN"

In the year 1866 the "Ellen Munn," of 60 tons, belonging to John Munn & Co., of Harbour Grace, left King's Cove on Christmas Day to go to Goose Bay, Bonavista Bay, where she was to be repaired during the winter. Jimmy Flynn was skipper and had his family on board. The late M. T. Flynn-his son-who was only fourteen years of age at the time, thus describes the incident:

"We met some young ice just below Goose Head and rushed up into the South East Arm, where we met ice of two nights freezing. So we lowered the sails and tied her on, when the cry came from below, she is filling with water. The ice had 'cut her through.' Instantly my father with the crew jumped into the hold with hatchets and cut away the ceiling, hoping to stop the inrush of water, but a butt head had started, the plank had been torn from its timber, and the men worked until the water rose above their waists. In the meantime, myself and young brothers got at the pumps. A signal of distress was hoisted, but the water kept gaining and she filled rapidly. When the men came from the hold, they hoisted out the boats, and the crew of 23 men, women and children, had to jump for their lives, with not a particle of food, and what clothes they had on their backs. It was then the real dangers appeared. It was extremely difficult to get away from. the sinking vessel owing to the young ice which was too hard to break through, and not strong enough to walk on, and we expected to be drawn into the vortex and all hands would be sucked down by her sinking, whilst the men only five in number were beating their way through the ice. I was a boy of 14 and happened to be in the stern of the boat and jumped back onto the deck which was almost on a level with the water by this time, ran forward and on the bowsprit cut the down haul swinging to the strong ice, and ran around to the boats and flung the rope to the men, whilst I hung to the other end with bulldog tenacity and the boats were hauled to safety-only just in time though for the good vessel "Ellen Munn" sank immediately with only half her main-topmast with the blue and white flag fluttering at the water's edge, every fold of which if interpreted would mean the S.O.S. call of the present day. I must leave my readers to judge of the situation when only fifteen minutes elapsed from the time the alarm was given until the waters of the South East Arm of Goose Bay closed over her remains.

"Well, there we were without food or shelter in the depth of winter in the forest. Well. I must say most of the people were very kind to us. They took us to their homes or lo¢ huts, as they were only wintering there. They shared their food with us; they built a house, and though by no means did we live in luxury, we faded it out until Spring. I must here give a special word of praise to the Hancock family who lived at the dock. Chief among them was "Big Phil." He afterwards settled down in James Cove. He was getting a schooner built that Winter in the dock, and when he saw the distress signal on the 'Ellen Munn' he gave orders to all his men to drop their tools and run. In crossing the Arm, they had to risk their lives, as the ice was very weak and scarcely fit to walk on; but 'Big Phil' led the way and all his crew behind him. Little cared they for the ask when a fellow creature was in peril.

"Phil Handcock, or as he was called 'Big Phil,' was a typical Christian man, and had the words of Scripture almost by heart, and his words to my father on that memorable morning, words that I never forgot, were: 'Oh! Jimmy Flynn my poor man, how grieved I am to see you in this awful plight. Your vessel gone to the bottom, with all your winter supplies besides your bed and bedding, and all your household utensils, your wife and children huddled here together on this Winter's day, with nothing to eat and no shelter, here under the broad canopy of Heaven. Let me remind you of the words of our Divine Redeemer in the Holy Scriptures: 'The foxes have holes. and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath no place whereon to lay His head,' and let us think of the trials and tribulations our Blessed Saviour underwent for our Salvation. Let us then offer up a fervent prayer to the Throne of the Most High. and thank Him with all our hearts for His goodness that saved you and your family from watery graves. So come with me and, by God's Holy help, we will soon have you in shelter, and as long as there is a crust of bread between Man Point and Goose Head, you and your family will not starve, for we will share the last morsel with you, and let us think of the promise of Our Divine Redeemer, when He said 'The cup of cold water given in His name, would not go unrewarded,' and again He said 'the example of the Israelites in the Desert when they trusted in God was truly marvellous,, and it is recorded in the Old Testament that they were fed manna from Heaven.'

"I may here mention that there was another family-Hollands -on board, who also shared the same fate as ourselves.

"Two other men who specially interested themselves on that occasion were Richard Handcock, generally known by the name of "Dick" Handcock, the builder, and another name he received was Franklin. I must digress here and tell how he came by that name. It's well over half a century ago, he was returning from the Labrador, and the schooner harbored at Braha on the French Shore. He went ashore, and into the woods hunting for curlew. He traversed the country for miles. A thick fog settled over the land, and he hurried to the sea-shore, as he thought, but he was going in all the time, and when the shades of night were falling fast he sped on and on, not knowing where he was going. He lay down for a while, and next morning started again, still getting further away. When he did not reach the schooner at nightfall, they sent out search parties with guns, and scoured the barrens and woods but saw or heard no trace of him. He, in the meantime, was out of the reach of sound of guns. Next day and for several days the crew scoured the country, but still no sign of the missing man. At last they gave up all hope and returned to King's Cove with the sorrowful news of the mysterious disappearance of their comrade. His poor wife (her maiden name was Martha Saunders) became almost frantic with grief, and fitted out a schooner at her own private expense from a little money left her by her father, and started for the French Shore to look for him. They got only part of the way, met heavy storms and were forced to retreat.

"This voyage was likened to the expedition that Lady Franklin fitted out in England in 1857 to go in search of her husband Sir John Franklin. who sought to discover the North Pole twelve years before."

The loss of the "Ellen Munn" in the depth of winter, with the loss of all the winter supplies for two or more families, coupled with the dangers and hardships incident to the rescue, was not an episode to be treated lightly in these early days when the spectre of starvation was always dodging the pioneers' steps. "Young" Jimmy Flynn-the skipper's son-thought that the memory of the incident ought to be perpetuated. If he could string together in rhyming couples the dramatic facts of their narrow escape from a watery grave at a time when the rest of the world was giving itself up to Christmas gaiety, and improvise a suitable air for it, it would be sung at all the winter dances, and he himself may become the outstanding hero of the incident. So he set to work, and here is his account of this 1ittle episode of the past:

      LOSS OF THE ELLEN MUNN
      By, JIMMY FLYNN

      It happened to be on Christmas Day,
      From King's Cove harbor we sailed away,
      With all sails set, bound to Goose Bay,
      The "Ellen" to repair.
      The morn we left, the wind was down,
      We headed her up for Newman's Sound,
      The "Ellen" my boys she did lose ground:
      Fell off for Little Denier.

      The wind veered down from the sou-sou-west,
      And the truth to you I will confess,
      Barrow Harbor we could not fetch
      'Twas near the close of day.
      So to Dark Hole we ran her in,
      And waited there for a half-free wind,
      The twenty-seventh to begin
      Our anchors for to weigh.

      Early next morn our hearts were light,
      We ran her up and made the Bight,
      Thinking, my boys, all things were right,
      As you may understand.
      Then from below arose the cry,
      "She's leaking fast, let all stand by,"
      And signals of distress ran high
      For help from off the land.

      The men into the hold did make,
      And women to the pumps did take
      In hopes that they might stop the leak
      The "Ellen" for to save.
      But water still came tumbling in.
      Against the rush we could not win.
      The Skipper's voice rose over the din:
      "All hands get on the ice."

      Now to our great and sad mistake,
      We found the ice was very weak.
      The children then we had to take
      And bear to solid ground.

      Poor Tommy Holland scratched his head:
      "For God's sake, skipper, save me bed."
      No sooner, he, these words had said,
      When the "Ellen Munn" went down.

      Early next morn we bid adieu
      You bring down Tommy Holland's crew.
      We landed them in Plate Cove too
      To travel down the shore.
      Tommy Holland, he oft did say:
      "I'll never again be caught in Goose Bay,
      If I get out of it to-day
      I'll trouble it no more."

      Tom Holloway lives on Goose Bay shore,
      His father and two brothers more
      All hardy men to ply an oar,
      Rowed out when they heard the news.
      He soon jigged up three barrels of flour
      and leather too within an hour
      He gave it to Joe Hunnybun for
      To mend Rose Ryder's shoes.

      The number in the "Ellen Munn,"
      All told, my boys was twenty-one.
      And now my ink must cease to run
      When a few more words I score.
      "Good people all take warning, pray,
      And never sail on Christmas Day
      You have example in this lay,
      So do so never more.

 

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

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