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The Best of Her Kind

by Louise Kearley




This is a paper written in 1977 based on interviews with Frank Kearley of Herring Neck. It has been transcribed by Amalie Lewis Tuffin of Durham, North Carolina, USA, the great-niece of Frank Kearley. Items in brackets are the transcriber's comments. At the time of the 1921 Census, Frank lived in Sunnyside with his parents, John and Mary Kearley, and his three sisters, Mina, Carrie and Evelyn.

Quotes are taken directly from an interview with Frank Kearley, grandson of Joseph Kearley, the first owner of the schooner, the Marilla. Frank is now 72 years old (1977) and spends his summers alone in his house in Herring Neck. (His wife Gertie died last year.) As a young man he sailed for fifteen summers to the Labrador on the Marilla, and his memories of the trips are vivid and clear.

The Marilla was a Newfoundland schooner. She sailed for thirty-four summers to the Labrador, thirty-three of those returning with a full load of fish. She was built in the winter of 1901 by Joseph Kearley of Herring Neck, Notre Dame Bay, and Simon Taylor from Moreton's Harbour was the master builder. Joseph's sons, Alfred, Arthur and John helped with the building of her and Joseph supervised the work. Joseph Kearley died in March, 1905, and the boat passed to his three sons.

"Grandfather was livin' when she was built see, he died in 1905 in March, but when Uncle Alf took skippership Grandfather was in her too, the first year er two. I don't know how many years that ws, father was in her, cause father went on to Baccalieu see, he was on Baccalieu four years, after Grandfather dies, father (John) and Uncle Alf and Uncle Art owned her then, and then Uncle Art sold his third to father, father had two-thirds and Uncle Alf one, and then when Uncle Alf went away he sold father his share into it, and father had her then."

The Marilla was built in Hatchet Harbour and most of the Harbour was occupied by Kearleys, all of the one family. It was a little harbour all to itself and the schooner could come right into the harbour where the shore was covered in fish flakes and stages.

"This is a store loft here, that's where I used to mend me nets. This is the stage down here. Well in between the stage and the old houses was all flakes, fish flakes, over here in this same cove, big fish flakes. And they had a big outfit here in the back of this store they used to put up their traps to dry em. The 'gallas' they called it. I remember the Minister come down one time and he didn't know what twas. He asked father what that was and father said twas the 'gallus' they built to hang Mordecai on."

The Marilla was launched on the second day of April in 1902 and was painted a dark green color with a one and one-half inch yellow streak around her. "And she was launched on the second day of April in 1902. She was 50 tons. She had one topmast dey called it, t'ree 'ead sails, for'sail, mainsail, gaff topsail, and topmast staysail." She was named and christened by Sir William Coaker. [The founder of the Fisherman's Protective Union in 1908.] He called her the 'Marilla' and said it meant the 'best of it's kind'."

The Marilla was 50 tons and something around seventy feet long. She took two years to build. The first winter she was framed up and then she was left in dock all summer, greased in cod oil so that she would not split under the heat of the sun. "She was greased wit cod oil. You know what cod oil was, rotten oil, you took the cod liver and you threw it in a barrel and let it rot, the oil that came out of it was the rotten cod oil, it didn't smell exactly like refined oil, and it didn't smell like Avon. But it was real good for preserving the wood from the sun."

Meanwhile that summer the big timber beams were cut and the next year she was planked. She was mostly all juniper plank and nearly all juniper timber, cut in Dog Bay. The beams were all cut rounded, "they cut the beams the shape they want em, oh yes, they went in the woods and found trees and made it the shape they want it, you'd make a mould sort of and the everyone was cut 'cardin' to the mold" and all the plank in her was pitsawed and put together with black iron mostly, although they did use trunnels."

"The iron was in her was black iron. Deres black iron and deres galvanized iron, the black iron is ordinary iron. But we used a lot of trunnels, you know. Trunnels are wooden pegs, so instead a nailing the planks you'd bore the hole, you'd drive en through the wooden plank and then you'd put a key in the end of en, you know, wedge in the end of en, and that 'id set the end of en tight and twouldn't come out."

Her rudder case was a juniper with a hole in the centre of it. "Her rudder case was a juniper with a hole in en, that they cut down and they wouldn' goin' to pull en out and there came a big mild and the country overflowed and they opened the brook, south west brook, Horwood now, Dog Bay then, and he was one a the things that came right down, and when Simon Taylor seen en he said 'what a rudder case.' I heard father say he made en in the workshop and greased en with cod oil and drove en in her wit a mall. And he last her out. We told skipper Jim Jones to put a new one in her when she was in Port Union cause, you know, he was there for a long time. He said they never had anything there as good as what was in her, cause they generally make a rudder case you know out a staves see with five inch plow in em and drive the tongue down through it. See her rudder case was all in one piece, where her stern post was rabbited and drove down over the stern post." Her keel was white spruce and her topmast was spruce. "She was thirty-four years old. The first topmast was still in her when she was sold. He was one a those twistin' spruce, you know. Never rot."

Her bow was cut away instead of the common round bow and she had a jiboom, a bowspit and a martingale. Her stern was cut away also and the rudder case went up through the stern. "The stern was cut away something like these motor boats. We'd have a transom see. They used to build em like that up in Notre Dame Bay. In Conception Bay they used to put them square sterns on em they called it, with the rudder on the outside a the boat see, but they used to put their rudder up through insider. The stern post was aft on either side and then the rudder post drove down over. So twas right up through. The rudder come up through the rudder case, and the wheels and pulleys was up on deck, a set a wheel chains then, wheel chains on both sides and the rudder 'id go over it, back and forth, just like your car, my dear, the schooner 'id go the same way."

Her foremast was 58 feet long and her mainmast was 61 feet long. She had a mainsail and a for'sail. She had topmasts on both of her masts. Her other sails were the gaff topsail, the topmast staysail, three jibs in front of the foremast, the jumbo, middle jib and flying jib, and between her two topsails she carried a balloon. All the sales were hoisted by hand. "All the sails would be hoisted up by hand, there was no outfit on em to wench up the sails or anything, no nothing like that. Just a business of catchin' holt the ropes and pullin' till you got em up."

She carried four small boats with her to the Labrador, to use to haul the traps. "We carried two motor boats, a grapel boat we called it, and one rodney. You'd tow a motor boat along and you'd hoist one in one deck on one side and you'd put your grapel punt and rodney on the other. Always towed one, tow yer biggest one, and when you'd get jammed you'd use her to tow the schooner. She had power in see, the motor boat had an engine in her. We didn't have a motor boat when we started out first though, not in grandfather's day, twas all row boats then. It must have been perhaps in the '20's or somewhere before we started gettin' engines. The first engine that came about was the American Detroit they called it, jump spark engine. We had three a them I think, while we was into it. Then we build a new skiff one winter, never got her to Labrador, lost her. Met the ice in the Straits and runned back into Belle Isle and blew a gale and burst the jumbo stay and we couldn't hold her, we had to run to Quirpon, but before we got to Little Quirpon she burst the tow line and she drove away."

These boats would be about 31 feet and they all had names. The Marilla carried quite a few boats in her trips and some of them had quite original names. "We had one and had her called the Sa-Se-Maid. I picked up the ticket come off of something. I don't know where it come off a underwear or where it come off a stockin's, er what it come off. Another was called the Norman Gray, I remember. Yeah, that was the grapel punt. Norman Gray come out a member. Had another one called the Rub-R-Tite, that was the motor boats."

The layout of the Marilla was simple. The cabin was aft right next to the wheel and the entrance to the cabin was directly in front of the wheel. Down below, the living quarters were as small as possible. She had a forecastle with four berths, stove and table, a cabin with three berths and a stateroom for the woman cook. "We had four bunks up in the fo'ksail, if you wer six foot six inches tall you were probably in trouble. You'd crack your head a good many times. The inside bunk in the bow of her wasn't that wide either. And down there in that little fo'ksail you had a table in the middle and a stove, and they had to carry all their cooking gear down there. The girl with us, the cook, had her stateroom big enough to dress and undress in and room enough to lie down. Her bunk would be back under the stern of her. Her state room was no more than three feet one way and he was probably six or seven foot the other way."

Repairs were few, for with solid spruce and juniper construction and careful handling she showed little deterioration. However, in 1926 or 1927 the deck beam in the forecastle split and she was taken to Port Union for repairs. "We had some little repairs made to her in Port Union one year. Her deck beam in her forecastle split in two with the heat, cracked open and you see all the tops a the nails was in her deck plank, see. And we had that beam taken out. Well, for to get that one out you had to take out all the for'castle deck, you calls it. And that cost just as much as it cost to build her when she was build, and she cost $1200, so I heard me father say, when she was build in the beginning. She cost $1200, and they paid the master builder and did the work theirselves and got the iron. Everything of course was free labour. And thats what she cost in Port Union when we had the beam put in her forecastle, $1200. I should say was 1926 or 1927 when she was rebuild. Captain Jim Jones was the master builder in the shipyards in Port Union."

There were still a few men fishing in the inshore fishery in Newfoundland at that time but there were quite a few boats traveling down to the Labrador every summer. Life was hard whether men fished at home or went away and the money received was about the same, but at least on the Labrador they didn't have the same kind of heat every day. "If you was fishin' home all the summer you was fishin' and makin' it in the hot weather and you'd get a lot of it sunburned and all the rest of it. After we gave up the schooner and started fishin' home us fellers used to get close to five or six hundred quintals even in Herring Neck. [A quintal is 112 pounds.] But well then we'd only have five shares. Smaller crew see. Four men and a share for the traps. But you worked hard, boy. From daylight to dark every day. Up before daylight in the morning lots of times. Go out to your traps, and then when your traps was up you'd fish with hook and line, and that was the worst of all because you'd be batein' about lookin' fer bait and stuff like that. If you didn't get any in the evening then you'd have to be goin' in the morning. And especially for squid. They'd jig as soon as it start to get light."

In getting ready to go down to the Labrador many things had to be prepared and organized. First the crew had to be gotten. The Marilla's crew consisted of seven men and one woman, who were rounded up from the surrounding area. "We'd have em around Cobb's Arm and up the bay everywhere, whoever want to go. Father and me was in her every summer an Art and Ted was in her several summers. We'd have some different crew every summer although there was some fellers was into her, some of her crew was in her so many as eight years in succession."

The Marilla carried a cook with her most every summer. "We used to carry a woman for a cook. She'd sail for $25 for the summer you know. They'd jump for that, that was good wages. Not every summer we had a girl, there was a few summers, not very many though, we had a girl most every summer. I was down fifteen summers in her and we had a girl every year except one when I was there."

The crew was "rounded up" in the spring, this was locally known as being "in collar". One of the first jobs given the men was the cleaning, repairing and painting of the schooner. "In the spring we's what you'd call go in collar. You'd get your crew together and you'd heave the schooner down by the wharf, you know, put tackles on her mast and heave her down on her side and clean her bottom and do one side, and then you'd turn her around and do the other side. Heave her down on the other side."

The next step was to get the supplies for the journey since they would be gone about three months, depending on wind and ice conditions and the amount of fish. "We'd go down the Labrador we'd be gone about three months I spose. Well you go in June and you get home in September, first part of September. One summer we left the 24th day of June and the 2nd day a July we trapped 90 barrels a fish in the Farmyards and the 22nd day of July we left for home. That was her best record. We'd stay up there till we had a full load, and then we'd come back down. Her best voyage was 1008 quintals."

Food was the first consideration. The basic food was brought with no spoilables. However, often a box of dried prunes or some other fruit was brought along to break up the monotony and provide some variety in the crew's diet. "Well food, we took plenty a hard bread, well when you had a girl cook you know, you had your own cook, you had very good food. You'd carry a a barrel of beef, half a barrel a pork and potatoes and turnip and that, you didn't have much cabbage. You'd drink mostly molasses in them days. That's what you'd sweeten your tea with. I used to love molasses, still do. And then of course you had fish, and you'd always be killin' something, a seal or a bird, you had a good bit a 'fresh' knockin' about in a schooner like that. We had flour and sugar and beans, peas, vegetables mostly potatoes, and turnips. Salt beef and salt pork. Twasn't many luxuries. You'd have a box a prunes and a box of dried apricot or dried peaches, something like that for Sundays. Have a little dessert for Sundays, that's all the dessert you'd get. That was special. You'd be lucky to get that. Not all the schooners had that. Oh no. We have butter too, oh yes. That was in tubs in them times. Wood tubs. It didn't spoil. Funny thing about it you know nothing spoiled them times, and now if you didn't have a fridge twouldn't keep two days."

Everything was bought in bulk, by the gallons, quintals, puncheons, tierce, drums or pounds, and it was all carefully rationed so as to last the maximum length of time. "You bought your molasses in puncheons and tierce. A puncheon would be close to 100 gallons. You'd see em marked 90, or I've seen em marked up to 97 gallons, just like you buy a drum a oil and he be marked praps 45, another one be marked 44, and another one praps be 43 ½ or something. And I spose a tierce 'id be about half a puncheon. All bought by the gallon. Bulk buying. If you wanted molasses you couldn't go in the shop and see containers a molasses on the shelf, none a that. You could buy it by the gallon you know, drain it out a the puncheons, measure it. If you wanted to buy raisins you couldn't get a pound box a raisins, there was a big box a raisins, probably 28 pound in a box. We'd carry a box a raisins and make some figgy duff. If you had a cook you'd get some raisin buns or figgy duff. Twas a puddin see, cooked in cloth. You wouldn't have too many cause you couldn't afford to put in too many, you had to guide it along. You didn't know how fortunate you'd be in gettin' yer fish and when you saw that you had a good voyage and soon goin' to be finished, well you could go a little heavier on em, you could heave another handful a raisins in the duff. You didn't care once you got home cause you could buy something if you want it, but you wouldn't buy nothing down there."

The next most important thing to remember was salt. All the fish they caught had to be packed immediately in salt for it was the only preservative available. "We used to carry 150 hogheads of salt. Three tubs in a hogshead. Now how much is a tub? They used to have measurements you know, three tubs for a hogshead. You bought a hogshead a salt and you sold a quintal of fish. This was all legal measures at the time. Twas all inspected, the weights and everything, everything was inspected, tubs and everything. This was not something that was made up, this was legal measure. You sold your fish by the quintal, a quintal was 112 pounds."

Fresh water had to be carried on board as well. It was carried on deck in barrels and was their only source of drinking water while at sea. "We carried water on deck in a couple a barrels, that's all about two barrels a water. Two water casts they called it. When your water was gettin' scarce you had to go in harbour, go and get some more and fill em up again."

When all the supplies were loaded aboard and all was in readiness, the Marilla set sail for the Labrador. Every summer the Marilla headed for northern Labrador, down outside of Nain. She didn't fish in southern Labrador at all. Depending on how strong the winds were and how thick the ice was the Marilla would take about four days to reach Nain. "How long it took would depend on the kind of wind you had, you know. Before I was in her I heard father say they were four days and three nights out, never anchored from Solomon's Island till they got home. I heard father say they logged her fourteen miles an hour one time, but you didn't want for wind when she was goin' fourteen knots. She'd plenty a sail on her. When it was blowin' hard want two men to the wheel sometimes. She wasn't an easy boat to steer, not when she was in a wind. Goin' before the wind she was easy enough to steer."

Sometimes the Marilla encountered extremely heavy ice off the Labrador coast and they would have to take refuge in a harbour for days until the ice broke up. Other times they would manage to push the schooner through. Even in July and August the ice would be heavy and thick but the Marills never once got trapped in the ice although there were lots of times when they had to tie to the ice and wait for an opening. One time the Marilla was five days in Shoal Tickle. "When we got in ice like that without any power we poked about, nearly always a little draft a wind somewhere you know. So you'd get up on the ship with poles and push the ice out a the way, poke through with poles with spikes on the end of em. We'd leave Herring Neck in June but most summers when we'd get down where we were goin' fishin' at there was ice there. Sometime we'd meet it before we'd get halfway down across the Straits. Then you'd get about through the ice and sometimes spend eight and ten days in one harbour, too much ice to get out of it. We spent nine days in Shoal Tickle one time and we were there seven days and we hadn't seen anyone, only ourselves. We used to go ashore duckin' in the morning, and we went ashore this morning and there were no ducks flyin' and Herb Tuffin said let's go down long shore, we might find a cripple or two from yesterday morning. We got forty three the morning before that. I can remember jest so well as twas yesterday. We was goin' down long shore and there was some shacks down there, people used to come down there to live in the summer fishin' and there was a partridge on the doorstep a one a them shacks and I took the gun and shot the partridge and the door come open and a old man with a white whisker come right down here, stood in the door, off in he's drawers, frightened me to death. He was livin' there cause their schooner was ice bound up in the cove and they walked over the hills. This ole man and a boy and that's how far they got."

The Marilla was a tough old schooner and she always managed to get to the Labrador strictly under wind power. "The sails had some hard wind on em sometimes when twould be rough and when you had a topmast staysail and a gaff topsail and everything on her and all the wind, she could fly away. We used to carry lots a sail. We wouldn' afraid to put the sail on her. If you're goin' to sail five hundred miles in four or five days you're going to be carryin' lots a sail. Yes, I been in her when she was runnin' under bare poles and I've been in her with only a double reef for'sail and I've been under five reefs and double reef mainsail, double reef for'sail and reef jumbo."

The Marilla never ever got lost, even though the only navigational aid she carried was a compass, a log and a chart. "We'd nothing atall aboard only the compass and chart. No equipment only a small compass I suppose not much bigger than that one I gave you over there. [Four or five inches across.] Yes, well that one 'id be in a wood box you know. We had a ship's log too. You'd throw en overboard if you left Belle Isle now and you was goin' across Lewis Cape or something like that and twas thick a fog and you knew how many miles twas, you know, you'd take it off the chart, scale the chart and twould tell you how many miles twas, take off with dividers, and you run so long and haul yer log to see how fer you was gone. Our charts was just a map my dear, das all, jest a map. You could buy them anywhere now I suppose. I used to be chartsman with my father, he'd send me off to take off the courses, if it didn't go right then I'd get it."

However, on her last trip down to the Labrador she was nearly shipwrecked on her way past Saddle Island. "Yes, the last summer she runned we had alike to finish her on a rock above Saddle Island, runnin' down wit only a for'sail on her, blowin' hard and thick a fog and set a course for Mark's Island and didn' make en. Father thought it twas better to haul out a point and we hauled out and we end up longside dis rock. If we hadn't hauled out we would a hit it. We went on but that's the reason we missed Mark's Island, our compass was a point out and we didn't know until we got in that little trouble wit her and scravelled the main sail on her. We had probably farty fathom of a tow line and we towed the motor boat right through the foam a the sea. Went a few mile further and we runned out a the fog. We was all the time in fog from the time we left home see, and he didn't know the compass was out. We were out eastern see all the time, moreso than we thought we was."

Living in a schooner the size of the Marilla for three months was no easy task. Every summer the Marilla would travel to the northern Labrador coast to fish. "The main place we fished was the Farmyards, five summers to the Farmyards. Mostly Sinjins Tickle, we always called it. St. John's Tickle I think is the right name for it. One summer we was to Queen's Lakes. I had one summer to Solomon's Island but before I went father used to always go to Solomon's Island. First when she was new, the first several years she runned she was to Solomon's Island, that's down outside a Nain, thirty odd mile to the nord a Nain. We fished alongside the schooners from Fair Island down the Farmyards. Malcolm Rogers and Charlie and Skipper Sam and Ned, they fished to the Farmyards. Schooners from Bonavista Bay and schooners from Notre Dame Bay fished way down northern Labrador. I spose twas four hundred mile. Four or five hundred mile from home."

Fishing and tending their nets were demanding tasks that required a great deal of endurance and long hours. Most of the summers the fish were plentiful, in fact thirty-three of the thirty-four times she went to the Labrador she came back full. However, one summer there were very few fish. "One time she came back empty, she only had four hundred, twas a bad summer, there was no fish there. We stayed up until the fishin' season was over. We didn't try anywhere else because, well, you'd get fixed away somewhere you know and then that was it, if you didn't reach the fish there you had to do without it." Ice was a problem with nets as well. Sometimes the ice would be so thick that it ripped up the nets and made it impossible to tend the nets that were out. "Sometimes we'd have a lot of trouble with the ice, times you'd get your gear tore up. The ice come up one summer and blocked up everything where we were too, and the wind blew off and there was a little water on the inside, twas clear in long shore and you could load fish with one trap there, everything else was blocked with ice."

Whales and tuna were never a problem but one thing the fishermen hated was the dogfish. The dogfish were common in Labrador waters and it was common for them to get tangled in the traps. "I seen hundreds of whales when we'd be sailin' along but they never bothered us. But the dogfish, I seen the dogfish in the Straits a Belle Isle. You look overboard and they was so thick as caplin. Small sharks, you wouldn' last very long if you fell overboard. They'd catch en yes, they'd throw them away again though. Some of the things we said on the dogfish is not printable. We picked out seven grapple punt loads one time out of a trap. That's what used to get me, that's the only thing, them young ones. Make me stomach sick, pick em out and vomit over me hands as I was pickin' em out. Hundreds of em in the trap. They'd come around see the last week in July and the first week in August. Never had a shark in a trap. Scattered feller 'id get one, catch one or two on a hook. We'd cut the shark off the hook if we got a chance but generally cut en off hes self when he come to the surface. I caught two one day, long as this room is wide. The only other fish we'd shoot at was the horse mackerel, tuna. See swarms a them sometimes. I seen em on the southern part a the Labrador. They'd follow the schooners, skoot all along the side a the schooner. One after the other, dozens of em sometimes. We'd use em to feed the dogs."

The only fish that meant anything to the fishermen was the codfish. Lobster, salmon, floxunder and arctic char were never caught for market. "Lobsters were crawlin' around on the bottom anywhere atall. If you saw one you'd hook en perhaps to eat or something if anybody liked it. There was no market for salmon, you'd get a few salmon tangled up in your traps sometimes, you know, and you'd eat them, and what you didn't eat you'd salt and then you'd share em out when you come home and you'd eat them during the winter. And they used to tin up salmon. But the other fish there was no sale for atall. Quintals of flounder thrown away. A lump, you'd get a great bit a fun, you give a lump a chew a tobacco and he'd chew everlastin'. And ther was always hundreds a crabs in a trap and you'd throw em overboard. And herring, you'd salt a few, but you'd use herring nets for that. Sometimes they'd pack herring but we never done anything like that. But we'd dry some caplin for ourselves and some for the dogs. Squid was only used for bait. Mackerel was bait, that was all. We dried a few squid one year, probably five or six hundred pound. I don't think we got very much a pound for it, two or three cents perhaps. Anything except a cod or a salmon went back, nothing else was considered any good."

Once the fish were caught the work was just beginning for now came the arduous task of cleaning, preparing and salting the fish so that it would not spoil. "We'd salt the fish to keep em from spoiling. We'd put out our traps when we get up there. We'd go out and pull our trap and we'd get so much fish, and we'd come in by the schooner's side and have tables set up on the deck a the schooner, and we'd throw the fish up on the deck a the schooner and we'd take their heads off and the stomach out and take out the backbone, we'd call that splittin' it. The first thing we'd do is cut-throat, we called it, we'd cut he's throat and cut en down the belly and then we'd pick out the liver and the gut and throw away, save the liver. That 'id rot and make the cod oil we was talking about. And it would stink, and that's what kind a smell was down in the fo'ksail a the schooner when she was full a cod oil and salt fish, like Avon. To throw the fish from the boats to the schooner we just used a prong, like pitchfork, a fish prong, two or three fish at a time. We was supposed to stab em all in the head but they wasn't all stabbed in the heads. Then after we'd get it split twould go down into the hole in the inside a the schooner. You wouldn't just fire it down, you had men down in the hole saltin', every fish was laid out flat and salt shook over it and the next fish put on top a that and salt shook over that. It wasn't just fired down the hole and salt fired on it, every fish was put in flat. We'd salt every spare inch we could get full a fish. And then on deck we'd have the blubber barrels see, we called em the blubber barrels, they'd be ole barrels and we'd fill them full of the cod liver and that 'id rot out on the deck."

Although the fishermen had a great deal of contact with the Eskimo, they got no help from them when they were fishing. Eskimos were frequently aboard the Marilla. "The Eskimos would come aboard on Sundays and I can remember one Sunday we had twenty-two to tea. I remember Joe could sing some of the hymns in Eskimo. They used to keep service there in Eskimo. The summer we was to Solomon's Island I was to their service. The Eskimo used to keep service and I sat between him and his wife and when the service was over his wife got an English textbook and there was a little passage a Scripture for every day a the year and she asked em all around when their birthday was and I had to read the little passage a Scripture was in the English textbook. We had one girl cook was afraid a the Eskimos. A crowd come aboard and she put some pepper on the stove and drove em all out a the forecastle, they didn't like her. They was out to the trap and when they come in she was afraid of em and she hove pepper on the stove."

The Eskimos fished and hunted, but mainly from the shore. "They had traps and jiggers. But they weren't very energetic fishermen all the same, the Eskimos. They lived mostly with their rifles, that was their livin'. They'd shoot anything that was food to eat, partridges, gulls, tickle asses, hawks pidgeon, ducks, turrs and puffins."

Often when a day's fishing was completed the men went ashore to visit with the Eskimos and trade with them. "Sometimes we traded with the Eskimos. We'd trade boats to em they'd give us skin boot for em. We'd trade them the boat and then the winter we'd build another one, see, build another one in place a that one. The end a the summer we'd get five pair a skin boots for a small rowboat, but if you bought a pair a boots you could buy them for about a dollar and fifty cents, two dollars at the most, now you wouldn't buy a pair less than twenty dollars if you wer down there. So we was sellin' a small row boat for about ten dollars. We'd get slippers and mitts, yes, cuffs, seal skin cuffs the Eskimos used to make. Oh you could buy lots a things like that. Parka, if you want one, cossock they used to call em then. They used to make em out a what they used to call winsey, but twas a pretty heavy stuff. I don't know if that was the right name of it or not. The moccasins was made out of skins, they had fur and that on em you know, they'd decorate em, shape out something on the toe, a flower or a butterfly or something another in beads you know, a rose or something, all different colored beads. We'd trade em oil clothes or a pair a long boots. If you went down there and you had a fancy sweater you was just as well to turn around and sell it to en in the beginnin' because they'd tarment the life right out of ya. And the first time I went down there they wore real fancy bandanas, the women did, and the fancier they were the better they liked em. And there was one liottle girl we'd be down there nearly every year on her birthday, she was a little girl that the Eskimo adopted, and I tole her than if I lived another year when I come down I'd bring her down something and I carried her down a cup and saucer, "Love the Giver" on it, you know in gold letters. They thought the world a that, thought she had the world."

By the time the Marilla had sailed to the Labrador many many times the fishermen and Eskimos got to know one another. "I knew a lot a them by name and they visited back and forth, because the Eskimos used to come aboard the schooner, and when we'd get a day off some of us 'id go ashore. I can remember one spring when we were goin' down after we got below Hopedale there was a Eskimo out among the ice in a kayak lookin' for a seal and we was sailin' along and he knew the schooner. He used to wave his cap and 'Hi Ya' he used to say, 'John Kearley my best friend.' But we didn' know who he was. Some of em they knew the schooner see. I liked the Eskimo people, they were very honest people and if they found you out to do something wrong they never had no use for you after. We fished longside them for a long time, about thirty-five er forty years."

Often the fishermen when they had a few spare minutes would go ashore and visit the Eskimo camps. "I heard father say one time that they went ashore in a place called Indian Cove and the Eskimos had the pot on and Uncle Alf went and took the cover of a the pot and asked em what they had there, and they had sculpins and rock cods, that's like a codfish only he's browner. They had em all cooked up together, boilin' together. And when twas finished Uncle Alf and Abel Crossley set down with them and grandfather, seems like he couldn't touch it. He never had the stomach. Uncle Alf and Abel licked right into it."

Besides what the Eskimo could kill themselves, they also had access to supplies from the Hudson Bay Company, which was setting up posts on the Labrador coast. "The Eskimos 'id get some supplies from the Hudsons Bay Company. They had a few posts down around you know one place or another. They used to go a long distance in motor boats to get things and when they'd go they'd take everything, men, women, children dogs and everything. I've seen em come alongside the schooner with all the dogs and everything aboard. They used to live mostly off the land, what they could kill, but they'd eat anything. The last few years we were down there the Eskimos told me they weren't as good, the people weren't as hearty now that they were eating European food as what they was when they was eatin' all raw meats and stuff like that. They were different then. The Eskimos 'id eat the raw seal meat, seal hearts, deer hearts and caribou hearts and stuff like that, wonderful stuff."

Life on the Labrador was by no means fun. It was hard work, with extremely long hours and grueling work, yet it was a challenge and an adventure. Many men and boys looked forward to the day when they would be able to travel to the Labrador on a schooner. "Well I can tell you one story which is an interesting one, tis about one of our Aunts, Aunt Fannie, she was married to a fella King and she went to live up in Boston. She had a lot a sons but one of her sons who growed up in Boston come back from Boston one year, that was the last summer the schooner runned, 1935. He was only a pretty young chap, didn't know anything about fishin' or anything like that, but he was a game little feller, he wanted to go down jest fer the fun of it, you know jest as a visitor, but we couldn't accommodate him that way. Father give en the chance if he'd go to go as a crew and we tought en how to steer, and he'd haul traps and clean up, like that. He was a lover a the water and could haul off he's clothes and jump overboard anywhere atall. But he got a lot a water welps fer he's fishin'. He had two bad arms, boils on he's arms you know. Seen the skipper wrap and lanse em, and he'd have em so big as dat watch, where he chafed his arms wit his oil clothes, owin' to the rainy weather and he had leaky hair. I never had one cause there was never enough hair on me. Always hair in the center of a water welp. Yeah, leaky hair causes water welps. But he cut throats all the time, then when his arms got bad I wanted to get an Eskimo boy, there was some dere around, to cut throats for us, no way, he was goin' to die to the table, he said, before he'd give up. He never give up but he suffered some with his arms. But when he come back his mother was down, Aunt Fannie was done and she was there in Hatchet Harbour when we come home. After we got the schooner unloaded and that he went back to his mother. We made his fish and shipped it and everything, and we give en he's money, paid en fer he's fish."

The crew lived on the boat, and to put it simply, there was no comfort or convenience. "We couldn't bring much clothes with us. Eveybody 'id have a suitcase or clothes bags and have your clothes in a bag not and put it under your head for a pillow lots a times, sleep on your clothes, you wouldn't mind a wrinkle in it. We used kerosene lamps in the night time. You wouldn't be bothered with flies too much all the same, not where we used to fish. But fellers who'd go up in the bay, you know we was out to the Islands, you go up in the bays and you had a wonderful lot a flies. But then I've seen em, I've worked all day with me head tied up in a towel and a bucket on deck wit a fire into en, blackberry bushes and sods, they'd burn to make smoke to drive flies away. But you didn't seem bothered much down in the forecastle. You couldn't keep the doors shut you know night time."

Once in a while when they went ashore with the Eskimos they would do a dance or two before they left for home, but they didn't have all that much leisure time. When the fish hit you see we used to work pretty hard when the fish was comin' but if there was no fish, well then you had a lot a leisure time. Dependin' on how scarce the fish was, we'd haul three traps three times a day, sometimes, or more. Praps you'd only haul em twice, and I've seen em when one trap was able to keep you goin' when fish was plentiful. Now you can't get enough down there to eat, hardly."

Sometimes the men, when they had some spare time, would go hunting. "We had shot guns, old muzzle loaders. I had a breechloader, that's the only one used to be aboard."

The men would shoot a scattered animal for fresh meat, but mostly would eat the food they had brought with them. "We'd catch a scattered seal, shoot a scattered seal. Shoot one to eat, give the Eskimos the skins, and sometimes you'd get a pair of boots fer one. I never saw a walrus, scattered one down there all the time though. The worse thing was if you happened to shoot and cripple one see, you were out in them small boats and he'd face the boat see. Saw a polar bear, yes, shot one one summer. We just skinned it and threw it away and the Eskimos was crazy when they heard, my son, they didn't know what to make of it when we tole them that we threw away the carcass, we cooked a little bit and twas all right, but I think the thought that twas bear and that made it different and hard to eat I think. We seen it on the ice when we was passin'. I was out on the for'mast head when I seen en, come down and we jumped overboard and went out on the ice and shot en. He turned around and faed us as soon as we shot en. Froth comin' out of he's mouth. We runned and shot en."

Other times the men would stop in to shore to pick up some fresh eggs. "Sometimes we'd stop in shore to find duck eggs, but sometimes you'd be too late fer em, they'd be addled when you get down. You'd put em in water, if they float they were no good. One time we went ashore somewhere and got some eggs and didn't check em, cooked em, and when we cut em open they was partly addled, but we just hooked out the part was addled and eat the rest."

After the men left Herring Neck in the spring there was no way to communicate with them until they got back in the fall. It was possible that a letter might arrive on the mail boat but the Marilla might see it only once or twice a summer and sometimes they would not see her at all. There were no radios and so no one in Herring Neck really knew where the Marilla was until she arrived home in the fall. "There was one or two wireless stations on the labrador. If you happened to get in where they was to, there was one to American Tickles and there was one to Domino, and there was one in Greeley, and there was one down to Smokey across the lower part a the bay. But you'd only contact that if twas an emergency. One time we got to Domino and we sent a message home. I know what I sent to Gertie [his wife], 'We are all well, turn to Sanky #1.' That was the old Sanky book we used to sing out of you know, and #1 in the Sanky was 'Hold the Fort for I am Coming." We knew nothing about home, there was no radios, there was nothing then. So you were cut off completely from the rest of the world. A little schooner, or two or three little schoners, however many was in the cove. There was no communications, if anything happened during the summer you didn't know nothing about it. You had to go a long way, well down where we fished, if anything happened you had no chance at all. Not when we was down to Sinjins Tickle. One or two fellers was drowned there. They made a casket and put em in and filled it fill a salt along with the corpse and keeped em all the summer. Bring em home when you come home."

If someone became seriously ill the chances of his recovery were slim. Dr. Grenfell was down on the Labrador but the chances of ever finding him were nearly impossible. "If you get sick you had to do the best you could. Dr. Grenfell's boat used to come down around sometimes, but then she'd go from settlement to settlement. I never ran into Dr. Grenfell but father did. Fore I went down father had rheumatic fever one time on the Labrador and Dr. Grenfell came aboard and gave him some medicine. I heard father say that summer he was sick Dr. Grenfell was on a schooner called the Charlotte Sheridan. I've heard 'em talking' bout the Stractona, but that was 1906."

When the Marilla came back in the fall from the Labrador the first thing that had to be done was the unloading. This entailed removing all of the fish, washing the insides of the Marilla and drying her out. Once the fish were cleaned it was weighed out in quintals and everyone took their share and carried it home. "We used to share it up between however many men was on the boat. We weighed it up. The crew were sharemen. We'd divide everything if there was eight men the voyage went sixteen parts, the Marilla had eight and the crew had eight. We had all the expense, the salt and the schooner and the fishing gear and all of it. The Marilla tool half the voyage, the crew took eight shares and father and me took two of those shares, that made sixteen shares. We had to make the schooner's share of fish and our own share. So if the schooner had a thousand quintals we'd get five hundred quintals for the schooner and if father and me was on we'd have another sixty quintals each, so we'd have to make six hundred twenty quintals. That means that Gertie and me and father and mother and anybody else we could get to help us, would have to dry that fish, but we never had very much help, boy, people had too much work to do on their own."

The fish had to be washed and dried and when you consider that the Marilla could have brough back a thousand quintals of fish the magnitude of the task is evident. "We'd wash the fish to wash all the slub and slime off of it. We had a big tub, we sawed the barrels in two, the puncheons, and we used them great big tubs and set em up and then took a piece a rag and washed every fish by hand. We'd fill a tub full a salt water and keep fresh clean water in the other. Twas an article of food you know. Then twas put in a barr, because you couldn't handle anything with wheels on it in Herring Neck because you had to go up so many steps. Twas a barr that two people had to carry, and you'd pile the fish on the barr and take it from the stage, carry it up on the flakes and pile it on the flake and fine days you'd spread it out and in the evenin' you'd have to take it up and put it in piles, called faggots. We used to go up and take the rind off trees to make fish cover, and we used that to cover the fish so it wouldn't get wet. Skin the bark right off and flatten it out, you'd put one atop a the other. We used to make it in round piles, I don't know if there was a good reason for that or not."

How long the fish would take to dry depended on the type of fish that was being made. "If you make what they call slop Labrador see you didn' have to dry it much, twas more moisture in it, but then there was ordinary, what they called semi-dried, there was three of four grades. But the drier your fish was the better the price was, but then the lighter the fish was. Well you'd take all that and you'd carry it and put it in the boat and carry it down and ship it to the merchants. You'd carry it down and just have it up in yaffles to em, weigh it off in quintals and it in the store and they'd pack it in, the merchants had it in barrels generally, quintal drums, two quintal drums and five quintal drums."

The last summer the Marilla was down to the Labrador Frank got $3.00 a quintal for his fish and his family only had about sixty quintals. This meant that all they made was about $180 for the summer, not counting the $40 they'd get for each cask of cod oil.

In about 1936 the depression times hit and it became unprofitable to go to the Labrador. The price of fish that year was $1.80 a quintal. The Marilla was getting old and she had seem some rough times but she was still in good condition. "Well bad times come, and there was nothin' in Labrador fishin', and the Marilla was gettin' old, and the way we used to go, you know, twas rough. She knocked a lot a ice out of her way. Once I put her into a piece a ice and knocked a feller away from the wheel. Never made her leak though. Father put her into a piece another time and knocked a feller out a bunk in the fo'ksail. That 'ill give you an idea of how we used to sail. Straight through ice, wham. Hit hard enough to knock a man out a bunk. He come out a bunk in the fo'ksail and come down and pitched on the fo'ksail table and knocked down the table. That was Tim Grimes. Had a single reef in her main sail when she was struck."

The Marilla was sold to Skipper John Goodyear in Carmanville and he wore her out carrying limestone from Cobb's Arm to Botwood. "He didn't wear her right out I spose 'cause they put her ashore to clean her, they didn't heave down schooners like we did, and they put her ashore and she rested on a rock and broke off her rudder post and there weren't carpenters enough to put in a rudder case. And it came a breeze and wind and she broke away and drove over and knocked down Garge Green's wharf, and Skipper Goodyear gave her to Garge Green to repair his wharf. And that was the end a the Marilla."




Page transcribed by: © Amalie Lewis Tuffin 1998
Page revised: Oct. 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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