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(The Evening Telegram, May 07, 1979, Offbeat History by Michael Harrington

Public subscription list in 1892

Early in January this column carried a most interesting account connected with the mysterious loss of the SS Lion in January 1882, on Old Christmas Day in fact. The account which contained some new and surprising information and theories seeking to explain the ship's strange end was furnished by Clarence Dewling of 15 Sunrise Avenue, Mount Pearl. It suggested that there was a "collision" involved and that there might have been a "cover-up" in connection with it. No one else has come forward since with any additional comment on this theory.

In the meantime, Fred Butler of Long Pond Manuels, gave this columnist a story about the Trinity Bay Disaster of February 27, 1892. It had been copied from the March 12 (1892) issue of the Weekly Record of Trinity by Mr. Butler and gave a graphic account of the hardships and heroism involved in that sad affair.

Now, Mr. Dewling is back again with another fine addition and example of "offbeat" history, an account of how a public subscription was started and completed in connection with the Trinity Bay tragedy. Here is the account more or less in Mr. Dewling's own words.

"Generally, whenever we head of a disaster in this province we think of a sealing disaster; and whenever we hear of a sealing disaster we think of ships at the Front of in the Gulf. However, on February 27, 1892 there occurred a sealing mishap - the Trinity Bay Disaster - in itself as violent and as victimizing as any other.

"A quick glance through the list of fatalities will indicate that it was indeed a Trinity "Bigh" Disaster as all were from that small loop of bay held between the Horse Chops and Bonaventure Head. However, before long both sides of the Bay were engaged in the search, rescue and sympathetic operations that were to be needed."

Saturday, February 27, dawned fine and clear. About 200 men and boys from the Bight took off in their bulleys (2 or 3-man rowboats with sails) to go to the edge of the ice that was so easily seen about mid-bay. By 11 a.m. the wind had sprung up suddenly from the N.N.E., accompanied by severe frost and the wind had increased to gale force.

What followed was a mad rush to escape the fury of the storm. Sor'e made it to land, others took to the floes for safety. Survivors landed at almost every settlement in the eastern sector of the bay. Twenty or more sealers never made it through the night; most of those were never heard of again.

Clarence Dewling goes on to say that the whole story of the disaster was ably told by R.W.Hayter in the Clarenville Packet, February 26, 1976. The purpose of Mr. Dewling's account is to relate the outcome of the subscription fund which was opened by the House of Assembly for the victims and their dependents before the session closed on February 29, 1892. The committee's report went on to say that they "then proceeded to procure exact statistical information as to the number of widows and orphans ... and also of the ages and sexes of the latter. They found that there were eleven widows and twenty-one orphans " children under the age of fourteen years - nine boys and twelve girls.

"Besides these" the report went on, "there were five families which had lost the help of young men and were in need of aid. Two men also, seriously injured by frost, one young woman, twenty-four years of age, an imbecile who had lost her father and two aged men - one with wife living, who had lost their breadwinners..."

Based on these statistics the committee drew up a scheme that provided first for the orphan children until each of them would reach the age of fourteen. Then they turned to the widows and provided for them an allowance varying in size and being paid to them over a period from three to seven years, according to their needs. After the most pressing cases, namely the orphans and widows had been looked after, the rest of the sufferers and victims were included in the assistance scheme to the degree that their circumstances and needs required.

The report also noted that "several amounts have been paid also to those who rendered assistance at the time". Thus, in addition to the amount handed to the clergy, another $147 was paid out to local merchants; and it is again presumed these payments were made related to funerals, including transportation involved. Captain Richard Fowlow, whose schooner the Roselear (sic) was dispatched to the middle

There was further mention of a public subscription on March 2 when it was reported that the Union Bank had set aside "10 pounds (sterling) for families of unfortunate fishermen who lost their lives". On the very next day the Newfoundland Colonist (newspaper) was calling for a public meeting and a public subscription. On March 15, a list was opened at the City Club in St. John's.

On that same day the government appointed the following "to collect and distribute the funds" viz Hon. Sir F. B. T. Carter, KCMG (President), Hon. Sir W. V. Whiteway, KCMG, Hon. Edward Shea, Hon. James Pitts and Rev. H. Dunfield. However, by that time and obviously without their help the sum of $1577.45 had already been collected.

On March 21 Rev. Dunfield took out newspaper advertisements stating that lists were now open at the Colonial Secretary's office, the Savings Bank and Reading Room as well as at the Commerce and Union Banks. On April 12 when the first list of donations was published people learned that a subscription had also been received from London. Various churches held services with hymns, sermons, magic lantern shows and of course, collections. On March 29, the Evening Telegram reported that the fund had then reached $3586.39.

The government's Subscription Committee filed their report to Governor O'Brien on October 26. The final result was a magnificent sum of $8203.00. Some $435 had to be spent to take care of "pressing wants" and since this amount was mostly disbursed to clergymen one can surmise it was allocated to funeral expenses of Trinity Bay, immediately after the storm, to search for survivors, received a grant of $110. The clergy were paid as early as April 4, but the merchants and Captain Fowlow had to wait till June 24, 1892.

The widows helped were awarded a pension of $40 a year for as long as five years each. It appears, according ro (to) Mr. Dewling's interpretation that the projected ease of re-marriage ability was the prime factor in determining the years of payment. A pregnant widow, for example, was taken care of for just one year, but the child was looked after until the age of fourteen was reached.

All children were paid $30 a year until they reached that age. This amount was also budgeted for an unborn child while a 24-year old "imbecile" received the money for four years. Although the committee did not discriminate on the grounds of sex, its report did specify "boy" or "girl" in its final listings.

In the case of families of unmarried victims, these households were generally compensated by lump-sum payments from $20 to $50. Dependent mothers, grandparents and so on, had their payments extended as long as five years.

The committee also made provision for persons who suffered hardship and injury during the blizzard, under the heading of those who ere "injured by frost". This probably involved men and boys who had heir hands and feet badly frozen, especially those who underwent operations for limb amputation.

An agreement was reached to the effect that if "beneficiaries die before their amounts become payable, such undistributed amounts shall remain at the disposal of the committee for the relief of sufferers of the said disaster".

This is a very revealing item about one of the earliest public subscriptions ever taken up in Newfoundland for the assistance of persons affected by a major catastrophe. this columnist gives thanks to Clarence Dewling of Mount Pearl for another fine contribution to Newfoundland's "Offbeat History". It would be interesting to learn of any other subscription lists that preceded it. Incidentally, the drive to raise funds for the victims of the Trinity Bay Disaster, just barely preceded another drive for a another catastrophe, that was not a disaster in the same sense as the sealing tragedy. In July, 1892, St. John's was devastated by the second conflagration in half a century. In spite of that upheaval Governor O'Brien was able to put his signature to the documents that finalized the Trinity Bay subscription drive on November 5, 1892.

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



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