Tag Archives: storm

“The Gale, the Worst for Fifty Years”

Archival Moment

December 23, 1890

e048fce0203eef476bdd23b6560d31abThe Christmas Season, 1890, was a difficult time for many families throughout Newfoundland, the families were trying to recover as best they could from the loss of their fishing schooners or homes, lost or damaged in the “violence of the gale which swept over the country.”

Headlines in the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram on December 2, 1890 tried to convey how intense the storm was with headlines like “The Gale, the Worst for Fifty Years and A Night of Terror”

The newspaper reported:

“Its beginning last night will be memorable for the violence of the gale which swept over this section of country. The roar of the wind was something awful; it reached a pitch of sharpness that seemed to express a vengeful rage of destruction, and resembled a steamer letting off steam.

Hundreds of people were up all night guarding their property as best they might. The force of the wind may be understood when it is stated that it tore off slates from the roof of the church of England Cathedral and St. Andrew’s Church; and the iron railing which surmounts the Athenaeum was blown down.

From a house on Harvey Road, near the Parade Rink, where dwelt three families, the inmates no sooner escaped than the roof blew in.

Hundreds of people were up all night watching their domiciles and fearing the worst; and, in Quidi Vidi, pretty nearly the whole population were on the qui vive (alert).

The article went on to describe other particulars about the storm and the damage that it inflicted but it was not until December 23, 1890 that the full impact of the storm was realized.

J.W. Withers the Colonial Secretary in Newfoundland reported, based on “the local press and from returns forwarded from the districts that 49 fishing vessels with their cargo had been lost and another 39 schooners had been damaged.

Even more devastating to the families was the report of extensive damage done to 63 homes and 20 stores.

Reports from some communities were very particular:

“At Quidi Vidi widespread devastation was wreaked. Burton’s house, stores and flakes were levelled to the ground; Dunn’s house had its roof blown off; Power’s flakes and Pynn’s were laid flat, and Skifflngton had a boat lost.”

The Telegram was happy to report:

“The instances enumerated are only a few of the havoc wrought in town and country, but the happiest feature in the tale of general wreck and ruin is that no loss of life is to be deplored.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives GN 1.3A  File 3, 1890 contains a detailed inventory of vessels and schooners, their community of origin and vessel name lost and damaged by the December Gale of 1890.

Labrador Schooner with her crew, caught in the great storm.

Archival Moment

Down on the Labrador, David Blackwood

Down on the Labrador, David Blackwood

In November 1915 many of the Newfoundland newspapers were reporting that communities throughout the Island were in mourning or experiencing “great anxiety” over rumors of the loss of friends and family in a storm that battered the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

Communities in Conception Bay were grieving for the rumored loss of sixteen men and women, lost on the schooner, Swallow’ owned by Albert Fradsham, sailing out of Bay Robert’s.

The schooner had been last seen on November 15, 1915 on the northeast coast of Newfoundland in the town of Seldom Come By, Fogo Island. The schooner, it was confirmed had put into Seldom, where three of the crew from the area left her.

The crew had spent the summer and fall prosecuting the fishery on the Labrador.

With the departure of the ‘Swallow’ from Seldom Come By on November 16, 1915, there was silence, no one had seen or heard from the schooner. The general speculation was that the ‘Swallow’ with her crew had been caught in the great storm and driven out to sea.

It was not only the ‘Swallow’ out of Bay Robert’s that was missing, officials in Carbonear reported that the Schooners, ‘Silver Cord’, ‘Morella’, and the ‘L. and S’. were missing. Officials in St. John’s were reporting that the Schooner the ‘Blanche M’. and ‘H. W. Wentzell’ were missing. The Schooner ‘Annie’ out of Fermeuse was also reported missing in the storm.

The Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Mr. Archibald Piccott immediately dispatched the whaler ‘Cabot’, the tugboat ‘D.P. Ingraham’ and other steamers, to begin a search. Piccott had a vested interest in the search he had been educated and operated a shop in Bay Roberts. He would have known many of the 16 men and women on the ’Swallow’.

Fishermen_off_the_Coast_of_LabradorTheir search was to no avail, it was concluded that the ‘Swallow’ “must have been driven out into the ocean.” Many concluded that the ‘Swallow’ was lost with all aboard. The Bay Roberts newspaper The Guardian, on November 29, 1915 identified the crew aboard the Swallow:

“Beatrice Batten, Chas Batten and Henry Batten of Bareneed; Abram Smith and Rebecca Menchions of Bishop’s Cove; John Jones of Upper Island Cove; William Dawe, Frost (girl) and a boy named Snow of Clarke’s Beach,   a boy of South River; Ambrose Fagen of Kelligrews, Samuel Kinsella, William Russell, Arthur Greenland and William Russell Jr of Coley’s Point and Clara King of Country Road.”

John Bowering, was identified as the Master of the Schooner.

On November 30, 1915, there was a glimmer of hope, a report circulated that the schooner ‘Swallow’, now fifteen (15) days overdue from the Labrador coast, had been sighted in Lockers Bay, Flat Island, Bonavista Bay. The Minister of Marine and Fisheries immediately dispatched a motor boat from Greenspond to investigate.

The news was devastating. The battered schooner ‘Swallow’ had been towed into Flat Island, but the crew was missing.

The following day, December 1, 1915, the immense grief of the families and friends of those presumed dead was lifted. The Governor of Newfoundland, Sir Gordon Davidson had  received a telegram at his home in Goverment House, St. John’s from Mr. Bonar Law, Secretary of the Colonies (later Prime Minister of Britain) that read:

“The crew and passengers of The Swallow were saved and landed at Stornoway (Scotland)  by the Norwegian Steamer Hercules. Please circulate information, John Bowering.”

The local newspapers reported upon hearing about the telegram that:

“All will be thankful at the good news of their safety.”

Family and friends were later told that the ‘Swallow’  had been battered by the storm of the night of  November 16.  They were adrift for a number of days before they were spotted by a Norweigian Steamer.   The crew abandoned, the ‘Swallow’  and transferred to the Norwegian Steamer Hercules. The Norwegian vessel landed at Stornoway, a port on Lewis, the North Island of the Hebrides in North West, Scotland.

It is said that the Batten’s and other families had a particularly good Christmas in 1915. On Christmas Eve, the crew of the ‘Swallow’ who had all been presumed dead, landed at Bay Robert’s, they all walked home, back into the lives of their family and friends.

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home: At the eastern edge of the continent, bounded by the sea, the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s livyers was tied to the fisheries and the North Atlantic. A rich mix of dialects, ways of life, food traditions, story and song developed here. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, holds 70% of the Crew Agreements from 1863-1938, and 80% of the Agreements from 1951-1976. The crew agreements include particulars of each member of the crew, including name (signature), age, place of birth, previous ship, place and date of signing, capacity and particulars of discharge (end of voyage, desertion, sickness, death, never joined etc). http://www.mun.ca/mha/

Recommended Website: Costal Women in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation. This virtual exhibit portrays the women who lived and worked in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation http://www.mun.ca/mha/cw/index.html