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(Clarenville Packet, Feb 26, 1976

The Trinity Bay Disaster

Hovac on the sea, lives lost
by R. W. Hayter

The dawn breaking over the old historic town of Trinity, and Trinity Bight, and the rising of the sun on Saturday morning, February 27, 1892, gave promise to a lovely day, it was a perfect day. It was a perfect calm, with not a ripple on the water.

Trinity Bay was studded with loose Arctic ice, and to all appearance it would be a perfect day for seal hunting.

By nine o'clock that morning about two hundred men and boys were afloat in their punts, and four-oared boats in Trinity Bay. Two or three days previous to this morning, there had been quite a number of seals shot in the bay, and from Green Bay, on the one side, and Ireland's Eye on the other, men and boys were in the bay, in search of seals. So anxious were some of them to be away early that they took very little food before leaving, and many of them were but thinly clad.

The sea was smooth, air warm, little or no wind, and several seals were shot by some of the further off boats.

All went well until about eleven o'clock, when the wind accompanied by intense cold, suddenly changed, blowing with terrific force from the north, north east. With the rising gale the sea was soon lashed into foam. The majority of the boast were some miles off land when the squall struck them, and they saw that to reach where they had left in the morning was an impossibility, entailing as it would a desperate row in the teeth of the gale.

Some of the crews, however, belonging to Robin Hood, who were not far off from the Horse Chops, (which lay nearly dead to windward) determined to make an attempt to land on that part of the shore. Six crews began to desperate task; and after five hours desperate towing, the spray continually drenching then, freezing as it fell and covering them with ice, they reached the shore. The majority of them were so exhausted and benumbed, they had not strength to get out of their boats.

In two cases the poor human frame was unable to bear up under the terrible strain on nerve and muscle, and before land was reached they succumber. One crew broke their oars and were drifting helplessly to leeward, when, with utter disregard for their own safety, and at the risk of sinking their own boats with the extra burden, another crew took them on board. It was on board this boat that the first poor fellow died. So heavily laden was the boat with the eight men, and the ice that was constantly forming on her sides, that to prevent her from swamping and drowning all, the body of the dead man was committed to the sea. Shortly after, the second poor fellow, (a brother of the first victim) succumbed from cold, and exhaustion.

The scene after land was reached baffles description. Four other men succumbed here from exhaustion, and the intense cold shortly after landing.

From John Butler, of Robin Hood, who was an eye witness to the proceedings, came the following account of the tragic events at Horse Chops. Mr. Butler, with the modesty which is a characteristic of the true Hero, passing lightly over the grand and noble acts of self-sacrifice, and valor, he himself performed. Had it not been for his incessant attention many of the poor fellows who landed at the Horse Chops, and who were in the last stages of exhaustion, and paralysed wit the intense cold, would undoubtedly never have recovered.

Here is John Butler's story. He said, "I went to English Harbour that Saturday to attend the funeral of my wife's brother, Joseph Penny, who had died a few days before. When the storm came on I did not go to the funeral, but went out on the Horse Chops to see if any of the boats were coming. Halfway out to where the boats landed, I met Robert Penny and Robert Ivany, of English Harbour, who had also been out looking for returning boats, but seeing none they were going home. I got them to go back with me. We waited half an hour, saw no sign, and then made a fire a little distance back where some brushwood was growing. We stayed by the fire about half an hour, and then I went out to the edge of the cliff, over Hay Cove. I saw Harry G. Batson's boat coming slowly towards land, the men in her hardly able to make a stroke; looking down over the cliff I saw several other boats had landed in the cove, and I saw my brother Alexander, trying to get William Stockly up the hill. I ran down and took my nephew, James Butler, on my back, and after a time got him to the fire up on the hill.

"The two men belonging to English Harbour were working also to get some of the men up the steep gulch. All of the men who landed here were covered with ice, hardly able to move. Two had died before landing, and four died after they landed, two of them near the fire, and the other two down over the hill. Robert Bannister managed to get partly up the hill and I saw him, while I was trying to bring some of the other men to life, he was on his hands and knees unable to move. He just muttered "God bless us" and died. His son died just before.

"We did all we could to help the men who lander here, but there was not enough of us to help them all, and we saw some die quite near us, while we were unable to aid them. Only three of us were there to help all who landed. It was a terrible time. Stephen Day of Robin Hood came about half an hour before dark, and did a great deal to help the other men, even taking off some of his own clothes, to put them on some of the other men. He and I carried my nephew to William Ivany's at English Head (the nearest house) about two miles away. He was unconscious at the time, but after a long time we managed to get life in him, and he recovered. His right foot, and left hand was frost bitten. My brother, Alexander, had both hands frost bitten. He gave his mitts to a boy. Out of the crews who landed at the Horse Chops, six men died."

This is just an outline of Mr. Butler's story, some of the details are hart rending in the extreme.

While these scenes were being enacted at the Horse Chops, others of a like nature were taking place further up the shore.

The crews who decided not to attempt to keep too far to windward landed at Trouty, Bonaventure, Ireland's Eye, Thoroughfare, and some at Deer Harbour. ALL of them were terribly exhausted and coated with ice. Those who landed at Trouty and Bonaventure recovered, without any loss of life. Many were frostbitten and exhausted, and but for the incessant attention of the residents of the places would undoubtedly have died.

Among those who landed at Ireland's Eye one man, William Barnes of English Harbour, had died in his boat before landing. Another of the same crew was unconscious and had to be taken from the boat. All the others were well cared for at the home of Mr. Thomas Cooper and ultimately recovered. The Ireland's Eye men (to their credit, be it said) who had only escaped a few minutes before with their own lives, hearing that many boats were out from Salmon Cove, and English Harbour, organized a volunteer search party and in spite of the heavy gale of wind, and the intense cold went out to the adjacent islands in search of supposed missing men. One of the rescuing party gave the following account of what they did and saw.

"Learning that a large number of English Harbour, and Salmon Cove boats had been caught in the storm, and knowing that it was impossible for them to land near their homes, a volunteer cres was called for and readily obtained to search the islands near for any who might have landed there. Two boats were manned and started, one returned without any sign of men or boats. As the second was returning about six P.M., a fire was seen in Thoroughfare, about a mile from Ireland's Eye, and they immediately went to see what it meant. The sight that met their eyes baffles description. Around the fire were five men, two nearly dead, the others trying by all means in their power to restore them. A boat was by the shore and in her were the bodies of two young men, who had died before land was reached.

"The rescuing party took the rescued and carried them to the nearest house (Old Tilt), where they were well looked after. The bodies of the dead men were put in coffins to be taken home, it was a task that unnerved the strongest men.

"Early on Sunday morning, February 28th, a crew of four men went to Rider's Harbour and other near places. No one was found. About this time a search party arrived at Trouty, and Ship Cove, looking for missing men. Just as they were leaving Ireland's Eye a boat was met with five men on board coming from Deer Harbour. Three boats had reached there on Saturday and two men of the number had died before landing."

The story of suffering and death told by the survivors who reached there, was the saddest of all the tales, and the poor fellows who told it wept like children. On Monday the bodies of the men who were landed at Thoroughfare, and Ireland's Eye were brought to Trouty, and from thence conveyed to their homes.

Although the events recorded above happened on Saturday, no one in the town of Trinity, or surrounding area, was aware that such a terrible loss of life had occurred until Sunday afternoon. Great anxiety had been felt all Saturday night for some of the men who were not, but, as many had landed in safety, it was hoped the others had escaped with a "drubbing" only, and had reached harbour further up the shore.

Early on Sunday, however, intelligence was received of some of the events noted above, and throughout the day other stories were brought from near by places, each as it became known, increasing the magnitude, and horror of the disaster. by Sunday afternoon it was known that out of two hundred men and boys who were caught in the story, eleven deaths had occurred and nearly forty were still missing.

A private telegraphic message received for English Harbour late on Saturday night became known on Sunday afternoon. It told of the safe arrival at Old Perlican of one of the missing crews. That little missive was hailed ass a message of hope for others of the missing.

When the Telegraph Office at Trinity was opened on Monday morning, numerous anxious enquirers thronged to doors, countless messages were dispatched to, and received from, all parts of the country. The news of the disaster spread like wildfire. Early in the day a message from Heart's Content stated that about twenty men and boys had landed at Heart's Delight, and vicinity. Words fail to describe the cheering effect of that message. Despairing faces again looked cheerful, and other heart broken sufferers still having dear ones missing, were filled with hope for their safety. The number missing on Monday night, counted thirteen men, and boys. Nothing more was heard until Tuesday morning, when the schooner "Rosscleer", Captain Richard Fowlow, which had been searching the Bay since Sunday returned to Trinity. The Captain's report was soon known, sixteen of the men who had landed on the South Shore of the Bay were on board, also the bodies of John Nurse, and Solomon Penny, which were picked up on Sunday, in their boat, off Scilly Cove, both bodies were under the thwarts of the boat, and it appears as if the poor fellows rowed until they became exhausted and then laid down to die. The number of missing was now reduced to eleven, - the death roll contained thirteen names.

From Patrick Hanlan, one of the men who landed at Heart's Delight, came the following account of their hair-breadth escape.

Mr. Hanlan said, "I was out in the Bay on Saturday, with my three sons, when the squall of wind struck us we were half way between Horse Chops, and Hart Point on the South shore. We put up our sail, and lay as close to the wind as possible, so as to get a distance in the Bay in case the wind would come further off-shore. The spray was continually coming over us, and freezing, and we soon knew that it was impossible to reach land on the North Side of the Bay without running the risk of freezing to death. After a time, we gave her a little sheet, and ran for ice, we got out on the ice and made a fire to get something to eat, and drink. Just as we were doing this a sea broke over the pan of ice, and washed everything away. We had to jump in our boat and run before the gale, until about four o'clock in the afternoon, when we sighted some more boats in the ice, just before dark we reached the other boats. There were four boats, and twelve men when we got there.

"We all hauled up our boats on a large pan of ice, we turned up the larger boats to make a shelter from the wind, and made in a fire.

"I had two seals in my boat, and we pelted them to burn the fat, and we broke up one of the smaller boats for fuel. We were on the ice all night, and drifting up the Bay. It was bitterly cold in spite of the big fire, and we were dancing, and jumping around, all night to keep up our spirits, and to keep from freezing to death.

"At dawn we were about five miles from land off Heart's Delight. We hauled our boats over some ice, and then rowed for land which we reached around nine a.m. The people treated us with wonderful kindness, doing all in their power to relieve us. None of us were badly frozen. William Ivany of English Harbour, and his three sons landed a little further up the bay four o'clock in the evening. They had been on the ice all night without fire and had to be hauled ashore in a dory. They were rescued by men from Heart's Delight, who ricked their own lives to get the men ashore. One of the men was badly frozen, but all were doing well when we left. They could not get to where Captain Fowlow took us on board, and it was impossible for the schooner to get to land or remain any longer where she was, as the ice was making fast. We all wish to thank the good people of Heart's Delight for the kindly attention they gave us. Under Providence they saved our lives, and we shall never forget their kindness to us - strangers in a strange place."

Captain Richard Fowlow's gallant deed was feelingly mentioned to by Mr. Hanlan and he desired to thanks of the rescue to be publicly conveyed to Captain Fowlow. Indeed, the thanks of the whole Community, nay, the thanks of the whole Country, are due to this noble man, and his crew. At the risk of losing his schooner his brave man, and his hardy crew scoured the Bay in search of missing men, and they should never be forgotten. The Ireland's Eye and Heart's Delight men, too, deserve commendation. Their promptness it was, in going to the assistance of their suffering fellow creatures, that saved a number of lives.

Promptly after hearing of the disaster the Government despatched the S.S. Ingraham to search the bay for missing men, but, owing to the heavy ice in the bay, she had to give up the search, and return to St. John's.

A more powerful steamer, the S.S. Labrador, with Dr. Pike on board, was then dispatched, and after thirty hours were spent in an unsuccessful attempt to force a passage through the heavy ice, she too was obliged to return to St. John's.

Search parties from the shore at the Head of the Bay, was out, for many hours, still no trace of the missing men.

The names of the dead are: - Solomon Penny, of Wm., John Nurse, of Wm., belonging to Green Bay; Martin Batson, of Geo., Tobias Penny, of Robt., James Penny, of Robt., Edward Pottle and William Barnes, belonging to English Harbour - John Penny, of Charles, Charles Day, of Samuel, belonging to Salmon Cove West; Wm. Stockly and Isaac J. Butler, belonging to Robin Hood; Robert Bannister, and Charles Bannister of Ship Cove.

The names of the Missing Men are: Isaac John Batson, William Batson, of Richard; Arthur Batson, or (sic) Richard; and Reuben Pottle of English Hr. - Charles Nurse, William Nurse, Henry Nurse and George Nurse (all sons of William Nurse) of Salmon Cove; John Moore, George Moore and Jacob Moore of Trinity (South).

Upon the town of Trinity, and surrounding places, where all the dead and missing men were well known, this castrophe (catastrophe) had a terrible crushing effect. In several cases every male member of the family was gone. Now that the first bitter pangs of the loss are over, the burden of life must be taken up again. Some of the deceased left behind them helpless widows, and children, aged Fathers and Mothers, for whom some provision will have to be made. A subscription list opened in St. John's, headed by His Excellency the Governor. Throughout the entire country, a wonderful feeling of sympathy had been manifested for the sufferers.

The House of Assembly adjourned from Monday until Thursday. His Excellency the Governor, who was giving dinner at Government House, postponed the event, as a mark of Sympathy. Messages of condolence, and sympathy, flashed from all over the world. On Wednesday, March 2, 1892 "Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen Victoria" who is ever in sympathy with all of her suffering subjects, throughout Her Vast Empire, telegraphed through, Lord Knutsford, a message of condolence, and asked for full particulars of the disaster.

These tokens of sympathy, coming at a time when the heart is crushed, and broken, when even life seems hardly worth keeping, have been wonderfully cheering, and gratefully received.

The "RECORD", the weekly newspaper, printed and published in TRINITY, and dated March 5, 1892, from its pages, this account of the disaster is rewritten - says. We, too beg to tender the Heart-felt sympathy of Management and staff of the "RECORD" to the bereaved; commending them, with all sincerity, to the care and guidance of the all-pitying Heavenly Father.

"It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features on this cliff,
In crag, and scarp and base
It took the sea one hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of those granite seams
Upon a woman's face."

Transcribed by James Butler, 1997
Revised by Jim Butler, September, 2002



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