March 31, 1914
This is the weekend that we remember those that died in the sealing disasters of 1914. It was on this weekend (March 31 – April 2, 1914) that 77 men froze to death on the ice, crew members of the S.S. Newfoundland, another was to succumb to his injuries in St. John’s. In another tragedy on this same weekend 100 years ago, 176 men on the S.S. Southern Cross never came home. The theory is that in the height of the storm, somewhere in St. Mary’s Bay the ship’s heavy cargo of seal pelts may have shifted capsizing the steamer.
There was no trace of the 176 men of the Southern Cross, families mourned without the comfort of a proper funeral.
Eight of the men of the S.S. Newfoundland never came home. It is believed that they froze to death on small pans of ice or ice cakes forever separated from their companions.
A month following the disaster, the eight families without the comfort of a body for a proper burial read that a body had been spotted;.The daily newspaper, the Halifax Chronicle, Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 11, 1914 reported:
“On Sunday morning, a lobster fishermen employed by S.C. Clarke’s factory at Bloomingdale Point (Prince Edward Island) on the North side of the island, found the body of a man frozen fast in a floating ice cake about a half mile from land. Having nothing with which to cut the body loose from the ice, the fisherman had to abandon it; a heavy gale coming up, the boat had to make for land, and could not return to the body, which was carried out to sea.
The dead man was evidently a sailor or fisherman judging from his clothing and it is thought to be one of the Newfoundland sealers…”
The man frozen fast in a floating ice cake would have been one of the eight of the S.S. Newfoundland that went missing. The missing men are:
Henry Jordan, D
"Uncle Ezra" Melendy
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives see GN 121 this collection consists of the evidence taken before the Commission of Enquiry regarding the S.S. Newfoundland. The collection includes the Sealers Crew Agreement and the evidence given by the surviving members of the crew. Evidence entered concerning the loss of the SS Southern Cross is also included on this collection.
Recommended Exhibit: Death on the Front: The Sealing Disaster 1914. March 26 – November 16 – Level 3 Museum Alcove. This small display features artifacts from the Rooms Provincial Museum and archival imagery from The Rooms Provincial Archives connected to these tragedies. One of the artifacts featured is a flag that was once flown on the Southern Cross. The National Film Board’s documentary 54 Hours written by Michael Crummey, using animation, survivor testimony and archival footage will be running as part of the Death at the Front exhibition. You can also view the short film from your own home at https://www.nfb.ca/film/54_hours
Crew List: In the days and months following the loss of the S.S. Southern Cross and the tragedy of the loss of the men of the S.S. Newfoundland there was much confusion about the names and the number of men that did die. You will find the definitive list of all those that did die as well as the survivors at http://www.homefromthesea.ca/
Recommended Reading: PERISHED by Jenny Higgins (2014) offers unique, illustrative look at the 1914 sealing disaster through pull-out facsimile archival documents. A first for the Newfoundland and Labrador publishing industry, as readers turn the pages of Perished they’ll find maps, log book entries, telegrams, a sealer’s ticket for the SS Newfoundland, and more that can be pulled out and examined. These are the primary source materials that ignite the imagination of history buffs and students alike and are among more than 200 rarely seen archival photos and documents that illustrate this amazing book. (NEW PUBLICATION)