April 12, 1914
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives, LS 50 . Bodies of sealers on the deck of the S.S. Bellaventure.
The news of the death of the 78 sealers who died during the sealing campaign March 31 – April 2, 1914 made international headlines. Messages of sympathy were being sent to the local government and local newspapers from throughout the world.
The people of the Boston area responded not only with letters of condolence but also with offers of financial assistance to help the families who had lost a loved one.
P.A. Buckey, a Newfoundlander who had emmigrated to Lynn, Massachusetts wrote:
“It is with the deepest regret that the Newfoundlanders who reside in Boston have heard of the terrible calamity that has befallen our Island home. The first news received in itself was terrifying but when later messages announced the possible loss of the Southern Cross with 173 souls on board, the Newfoundlanders of Boston assembled decided to take immediate action in making necessary arrangements to help the bereaved so a public meeting of all Newfoundlanders was called for shall now business transacted.”
Buckey reported that on April 12, 1914:
“a masss meeting of Newfoundlanders in Boston, ladies included assembled in the Paine Memorial Hall, Appleton Street to devise any means of providing a relief fund to help the families of our stricken countrymen at home. Fully 500 Newfoundlanders were present which showed the sympathy expressed for our loved ones. Upon entering the hall each one was eagerly scanning at each other, either to form an acquaintance or to meet a friend that they have not seen but known since childhood days. A reunion of Newfoundlanders such as it was never seen in Boston before, and the one topic of discussion was the dreadful tragedy that left so many homeless, destitute and fatherless.”
The meeting was chaired by another Newfoundlander who had emigrated to the Boston area James P. McCormack of East Cambridge. The aim of the gathering he explained was for the Committee to raise at least $20,000 that would be given over to the Newfoundland Marine Disaster Fund.
$20,000.00 in 1914 had the same buying power as $466,098.00 in 2014.
Among the ex-patriot Newfoundlanders attending the meeting were FitzGerald’s, Mansfield’s, Curley’s, Power’s, Cantwell’s, Somerville’s, Hogan’s, Mulcathy’s, Molloy’s Kelly’s, O’Rourke’s, Halleran’s, Puddister’s, Williams, and O’Connell’s. Also among the crowd were Bemister’s of Carbonear; Moulton’s of the West Coast; Farrell’s of Ferryland and Vinnicombe’s of St. John’s.
Newfoundland has had a long relationship with the Boston States. Although Newfoundland and Labrador people moved to other countries for a wide range of reasons emigration occurred on the largest scale during the last two decades of the century when the cod fishery fell into severe decline and caused widespread economic hardship.
The largest concentrations of emigrants were going to Boston and other Massachusetts cities. Between 1885 and 1905, the number of Newfoundland and Labrador people living in Massachusetts jumped from 2,851 to 10,583. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts census for 1915 reports that there were 13, 269 Newfoundlanders in the Boston area.
Many of the men and women who attended the meeting on April 12, 1914 were new emigrants to the Boston States. Newfoundlanders who were living in the Boston area but their hearts were in Newfoundland. Before the meeting adjourned $560.00 was raised ($560.00 in 1914 has the same buying power as $13,050.74 in 2014) for the disaster fund.
Mr Buckely wrote:
“We exiles in Boston join in the sorrow of thousands of Newfoundlander both at home and abroad.”
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/