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The Great Tidal Wave of 1929.
 

 

The following letter arrived at St. John's November 21, 1929 from Mr. Ern CHEESEMAN of Port au Bras, appraising his brother Jack of the terrible tidal wave disaster a day or so before.
    Port Au Bras
    Nov. 20, 1929

Dear Jack,

Just a scribble to advise you of the terrible time we have had here. We wired you yesterday but most likely you will receive this first.

I hardly know how to begin but here is the gist of what happened Monday evening at 5:20. We had an earth tremor, all the houses and ground shook for about five minutes. This put everyone in a panic. Women screaming and praying and men stood silent and scared. But we were just trying and hand finally succeeding in quieting the women we had a tidal wave of the worse kind. Enormous waves twenty feet high swept into the harbour on the other side. The waves seemed to begin at Charlie CLARKE'S, the Bellaventure was anchored outside and did not move with the first wave. This proves it mounted its force inside of her but passed underneath her.

Charlie CLARKE'S store went first taking Henry DIBBONS' with it into the pond taking everything as it came with a thunderous roar. It swept around by Ambrose's up to Jack BENNETT'S out our way bringing all the houses and stores that stood in its way.

Then all the boats went made, came in on Jim CHEESEMAN's place, swept everything of ours up to father's front door. The harbour was cleared out by the first wave. Then the second one came and brought it all in again. Such noise and scrunching you never heard. By this time we had all fled to the hills, the highest places we could find from where he watched the third wave come and go.

You could hear the poor humans who were caught, screaming, women and men praying out loud. Oh God, Jack, it was terrible.

Anyway, the harbour today is clean of every store and eleven dwelling houses with a loss of seven souls. The houses destroyed were W.H. CLARK'S, George J. ABBOTT's, William FUDGE's, Henry DIBBONS' (bottom), John S. DIBBONS', Thomas BENTON's, T.W. CHEESEMAN's, Joseph CHEESEMAN's and Jenny CHEESEMAN's.

Lives lost were Mrs. (Capt.) Sam BENNETT, her brother Henry DIBBONS, Mrs. Thomas FUDGE and three daughters, and old Mrs. William ALLEN. To date the following bodies have been recovered, Mrs. Sam Bennett under the Government Wharf, Mrs. W. ALLEN under Tommy CLARKE'S and Mrs. FUDGE and one daughter, the second oldest picked up by Thomas SHAVE's in Path End. Everybody is miserable, nervous wrecks, and in need of help immediately. All people who had food for the winter lost it in their stores. We must have flour, sugar, tea, molasses, beef and pork immediately. The Government will have to send relief soon as possible. Everything we have is gone and we are ruined. What we have in the shop the law has ordered us to give out in relief which is only clothes and groceries.

The two freaks of the whole things was the following: Henry DIBBONS arrived in the Bellaventure in the evening, anchored outside, the first wave did not bring her in, the second one did, and she came in with her riding lights burning; twice in and out about ten knots an hour, a man could not steer her better. The last time she went out she anchored herself where she was when it began.

And you could not moor her better. He windlass is out and she leaks some but sailed to Burin yesterday under her own power and foresail. How she escaped is a miracle, but how HYNES' little boat escaped is a greater one. She was about the worse here. She was tied to the "Jane" was never seen until today, her mast appeared out from Burdge Cove.

All boats from the harbour were lost except Ambrose's and George's. Ambrose's was badly damaged. George was unhurt except a broken main boom. The first dory was hooked by a cod jigger thrown by Charlie CLARKE. Today everything is dismaland breaks ones heart to look at the harbour and then think of what it was like fifteen minutes before this terrible calamity.

I think I have told you the most but you know I could not have given you the many details that remains to be told. When you receive this write and tell us what we are to do. We won't get no more bills paid, all we had is gone and we cannot pay.

Father and I have fifty dollars each, not a bit of port or beef or any coal. Excuse this scribble but we are not over the shock yet. Every move one hears one jumps expecting the same to happen again.

I suppose we must thank God we escaped with our lives, before the first wave came only about two minutes before I was going on the wharf to see how the boats were. Maud called for me not to go and this alone accounts for me being alive. No human had a chance in such raging, roaring seas.

Tomorrow we have four funerals.

Yours sincerely,
Ern.


**the schooner mentioned in this letter is not to be confused with the steamer "Bellaventure".


 

 

Posted with the permission of the descendents of Ern Cheeseman.

Page Revised: February - 2003 (Don Tate)

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