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51 - An Heroic Struggle for Life Against Fearful Odds

 

 

from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

About 10.30 on the morning of January 21st, Jim Bishop, ages 19 years, son of Sgt. Benjamin B. Bishop of Trinity, brushed the snow and ice from the bottom of a little boat, placed his gun, a bag of shells and an extra oar on board and rowed off in search of birds.

It was an ideal morning, for this particular sport - almost calm, with showers of snow falling in large, soft flakes. The sky gave no appearance of the near approach of a storm. during the morning, I noticed the barometer registered 29.00. About 2 p.m. it was perfectly calm, and within a quarter of an hour, a northeaster was raging with hurricane fury.

Two boats were reported caught in the storm. In one was Jim Bishop, last seen a few gunshots from bluff Skervink. In the other boat were Robert and Mark Bailey of Goose Cove. These two men were fortunate enough to reach Glen Island Cove.

But what about the little white boat with its one occupant? It is a story I feel sure will appeal to every youth in Newfoundland for it is a story of outstanding pluck and endurance; another example of the fighting spirit of the true born Newfoundlander, which made him "over there" "better than the best", and the best were magnificent.

When Jim Bishop left the dock a few yards from his home, he rowed towards Lockston, a distance of three miles. There he shot several birds. He then headed out of the harbour, and rowed about the narrows for half an hour, keeping well towards Shervink. Suddenly, without warning, the storm swept down upon him, and a grim battle for life began. He put his strength on the oars and rowed in the direction of the Fort Point. The boat made little headway, and as the wind increased, dropped astern. He then braced his feet against the forward thwart and pulled with all his strength. He broke an oar, and before another was shipped, lost much ground. It was freezing hard now and the sea was tremendous.

With grim determination he bent to his oars, and after a disparate struggle sighted the first land since the storm swooped down upon him. It was the extreme end of the Fort Point and he was outside the entrance.

While he could save himself, he saw he could not save his boat. Since he was in touch with the land, he decided to row a little further along shore. But he found no place where he could land with safety. He would have to return to his first land fall and let the boat go.

To his dismay, he could not get back. He lost an oar, but managed to recover it. However, while so doing he was carried towards a small gulch in the cliff. Perpendicular walls reared themselves fully 35 feet above him. Before the boat was dashed on the boulders, he threw his gun and shells ashore. As he jumped the boat struck and was badly wrecked. Jim Bishop was alive, but what a tragic fate would be his if he failed to climb the cliff.

Already, he was spent with his efforts to escape drowning. He looked at the precipitous rock looming above his head, and realized that it would be almost impossible to get a foothold upon its smooth surface. The first ten feet were like glass but he had to try it. He could not await death upon the icy boulders. He placed his two oars against the cliff, but failed to secure a foothold. He bought a small tub from the wrecked boat and placed it on top of the oars and managed to secure a footing.

After an ascent of about 20 feet, he felt himself slipping. There was no way to crawl back and if he allowed himself to fall, he would be seriously injured, if not killed. So he jumped and landed on the rooks at the foot of the cliff.

Recovering from the shock, he again jumped upon the oars, rested and climbed the same distance. Once again, failing to find a foothold, he jumped from the cliff. This time he cut his foot. The sharp rock, cutting through the skin, boot and three heavy socks, made a deep wound which bled freely. He was terribly shaken by this fall.

Energy returning, he tried again. He could not jump upon the oar this time, so it was only with the greatest difficulty he reached the starting point. He climbed the same distance as before, leaving behind him a trail of blood from his wounded foot. Cautiously looking up, he saw a piece of ice within reach. With its aid he had good hopes of passing the place he had fallen from so often. He grasped it. It broke. He realized he'd have to jump again. Again he rose to his feet, climbed a short distance, and fell for the fourth time. Just then he saw a motor boat passing. Frantically he sought is gun. It was broken. He tried to set it off with a rock. It failed him.

In the roar of the storm his cries for help failed to reach the men who were seeking him, unaware that agonized eyes were watching their retreat. In despair he threw the gun down and the shell exploded - too late.

By this time his ears were frostbitten; his body was bruised; his feet and hands terribly fatigued. Would he try again? Which ever way he looked, death looked back. Once more he climbed upon the oars. Would he succeed this time? He dare not stop to think. Suddenly he lost his grip, and with a bitter cry, the first uttered, he went down for the fifth time.

Could the crumbled form rise again? Is his source of energy inexhaustible? Will his courageous spirit refuse to be broken.

The fight is almost over. He could not yet rise from his rocky bed. Energy returns slowly now.

Suddenly Jim Bishop is electrified by the thought of his distracted mother. In her suspense, she pleads with her Heavenly Father, beseeching Him to restore her son to her again.

Above the angry voice of the storm his mother's prayers reach the exhausted youth. Once again he staggers towards the oars, and after a considerable time, stands upon the small tub placed upon them. Upward, ever upward.

Oh, pitying angels, make his steps secure, watch over him until he reached the top. Up 20 feet - see he scrapes away the now with tired hands - up another five feet. He has reached the place from which he has fallen so often.

Oh, icy winds, why torture him so. Why not for a brief space cease your terrible onslaught? Why do you attach him so viciously? Have you not pity for the youth, who has for three long hours been fighting for his life.

Cautiously he glances up - about 10 more feet to go - life or death this time - Oh God be merciful. Up, ever upward - a few feet more. Dislodged snow and ice falls down unheeded. He must go over the top for her sake. Up a little higher, then the grim reality this it is impossible to climb higher. He realizes that the last few feet of his perilous journey must be accomplished by a jump. If he is to live, he must throw himself over the top of the cliff. He rests a moment or two. Even the ferocious wind, in respect for that last act, seems to become silent. Then with one superhuman effort, he jumps.

The tyrannical northeaster had been outwitted. but it raved savagely over his prostrate form. He was terribly shaken, and remained on the ground for some time.

He went to the whistle house, but the keeper was at the lighthouse. So he turned his steps to the home of Mr. Ed. Rose. The hospitality of this house was beyond all words. Mrs. Rose, with gentle hands, gave him much-needed stimulants, washed and dressed his foot. She provided him with dry clothing and did much to steady his overwrought nerves. Years ago she had lost a father and a brother in the Trinity Bay disaster.

In the meanwhile a staunch row boat manned by James Kelly, Capt. Barbour, Messrs. J.F. Morris and R. Tibbs had with great difficulty reached the Fort and at 7.30 p.m. made a happy landing at Trinity.

Sergt. Bishop had been at Clarenville on police duty when he heard the news that his son was missing. He spent an anxious time until the welcome news of his son's safety was flashed to him late that night.

 

 

Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August (Terry Piercey)

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