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Secrets to some long lives


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



It has been said that if a child could survive the many childhood diseases (tuberculosis, typhoid, dysentery, diphtheria) rampant in 19th- and early 20th-century Newfoundland, there was a good chance he or she could live to be quite old.

I have already told the story of Ellen Carroll (1827-1942) of North River, Conception Bay, who lived to be 115 years old. (See my article Witness to the ages, published Oct. 20, 1998.)

There are several other Newfoundlanders who have come close to that age, and at least one who may have passed it.

The person who seems to have surpassed Ellen Carroll's record was also a woman, Anne Garland of Harbour Grace. Very little is known of her life. She died in that town on June 10, 1801, a victim of an anonymous epidemic that swept the area that summer.

St. Paul's parish records give her age as 117, while her headstone, in the nearby churchyard states that she had attained 118 years.

That would place her birth sometime between 1683 and 1685, and would mean that she would have been alive for all of the 18th century. It would also mean she had surpassed Ellen Carroll by at least two years.

Her daughter, Mary Moores, died on the same day as the mother, at the age of 87 (St. Paul's parish records) or 89 (the headstone).

Another long-lived Newfoundland was Thomas Sugg of Twillingate, who died on May 16, 1956 at the Home for the Aged and Infirm in St. John's. At the time of his death, he was thought to be the oldest citizen of the British Empire.

A lifelong bachelor, Sugg was a fisherman before moving into the home in 1932, at age 86. Blessed with a remarkable memory, he could readily recall incidents from his childhood.

He is probably the only Newfoundlander to have lived under representative government, responsible government, commission of government and Confederation.

On the day after Sugg's death, The Evening Telegram reported that the oldest living Newfoundlander was now Peter Patrick of Cox's Cove, who had turned 103 that May 6.

The ancient mariner

Wilson Kettle (1860-1963) of Grand Bay, near Port aux Basques, only lived to be 102, but even so, his five score and two years enabled him to create a record that put him in the Guiness Book of World Records in 1970, for most living descendants.

By that time Kettle, who had married twice, had fathered 13 children, 65 grandchildren, 201 great-grandchildren and 305 great-great-grandchildren. Two of his children had died, but that still left 582 living descendants in 1970. Longevity may indeed be inherited, as Kettle's mother lived to be 108.

Kettle worked at a variety of occupations, including the fishery, in which he owned and operated his own schooner, and sealing, in which he participated for 48 years. He was best known as a diver, spending 40 years carrying out salvage dives, his last at age 84.

Between 1890 and 1892, four Newfoundland centenarians died, their combined ages totalling 435 years. The first, John Ashley, was an Englishman who had lived in St. John's for 76 years, when he died on Feb. 11, 1890, at the age of 106. Later that year, on Oct. 15, Mary Cullimore of Tilton died at age 115.

Two years later, on Nov. 16, 1892, Johanna Ward, who had been born in Lower Island Cove in 1783, died at Carbonear, aged 110.

One month later, Michael Mahoney, who had come from Waterford, Ireland, died at Freshwater at age 104.

Two other long-lived Newfoundlanders had American connections. John Brien, who died at Carbonear on Nov. 28, 1847, at age 102, was a veteran of the American Revolution. He had fought at the Battle of Bunker's Hill in 1775.

Delia King, meanwhile, died at Zion, Ill., on May 5, 1922, at age 104.

Several other noteworthy centenarians from the 19th century are Edmund Fewer of New Aglish, County Kilkenny, who died at Fewer's Town, Harbour Main, in February 1863 at age 105; and Daniel Grangel, also from County Kilkenny, who died on July 28, 1896 at age 107 at his Topsail Road residence (he had come to St. John's more than 50 years before).

John Biggs, an Englishman living at Riverhead, St. Mary's, died there on Sept. 19, 1860, at age 108.

Oldest living priest

At the time of his death at age 101, on Feb. 21, 1985, Monsignor Edward J. O 'Brien was the oldest living Roman Catholic priest in Canada. Born in Carbonear on November 13, 1884, he was educated in Carbonear schools and at St. Bonaventure's College in St. John's. After a course of study at All Hallows' College, Dublin, Ireland, O'Brien was ordained into the priesthood in 1910.

O'Brien spent more than 60 years as a priest in the Diocese of Harbour Grace. His first parish was at Tilting on Fogo Island, where he served four years. In 1914, he was transferred to Corpus Christi parish in Northern Bay, where he lived for 56 years.

For 25 years (1921-1946), Father O'Brien spent his summers on the coast of Labrador, ministering to the native peoples of Northwest River and Davis Inlet, where he was affectionately known at Father Whitehead.

He carried a motion picture camera with him on many of those summer missions, recording the lives of the native peoples. This film is now on deposit in the National Archives of Canada.

This list of long-lived Newfoundlanders is by no means complete, nor is it meant to be. It is intended to highlight a small number Newfoundlanders whose lives have surpassed the century mark

. And if the above list is representative, Conception Bay, especially Carbonear, seems to be the place to reside if you want to live for 100 years or more.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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