“Tears stood on the cheeks of men …”

Archival Moments

April 2, 2014

Photo Credit: the rooms Provincial Archives, LS 50.  Bodies of the frozen sealers on the deck of the S.S. Bellaventure.

Photo Credit: the rooms Provincial Archives, LS 50. Bodies of the frozen sealers on the deck of the S.S. Bellaventure.

On April 2, 1914 news about the disaster on the icefields that would claim the lives of 78 men of the sealing vessel the S.S. Newfoundland began t reach St. John’s. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported:

“The waiting rooms of the Postal Telegram Offices were thronged with anxious mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who made heart rendering entreaties of the clerks for the lists of the dead.

At 9:30 p.m. the clerk of the Postal Telegraphs amid a breathless silence posted up another message that was forwarded on from the Fogo Station.  After a short silence, the following was read:

On Board the Bellaventure are fifty eight dead and thirty five survivors, on board the Florizel, five dead. On board the Stephano, one dead and two survivors.

Tears stood on the cheeks of men who had often trod the frozen pans and knew well the nature of the experience of a night on the ice, particularly during such as blizzard as we had on Tuesday. Woman gave expression to their grief by weeping and could only with great difficulty be consoled at all.

Shortly after the forgoing message was read it was reported that the steamers Bellaventure, Stephano and Florizel were passing Cape St. Francis and would arrive here (St. John’s) about midnight. Hundreds wended their way to the waterfront, regardless of the weather conditions and for several hours patiently waited for the coming of the ships.”

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 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)

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/