Tag Archives: weather

July and the Weather Saint

Archival Moment

15 July 1881

July 15 Weather Watch

July 15 Weather Watch

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain’

July month in Newfoundland was the month for the ‘excursionists’.  It was the month when most established organization’s would be in the process of planning excursions ‘around the bay’ for their members. The date on the calendar that the organizers for these excursions were watching was July 15.

July 15 in Newfoundland was traditionally known as St. Swithin’s Day, (or more properly, Swithun) a day on which people watch the weather for tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithin’s Day, it will continue so for the next forty days.

The residents of St. John’s, many of English ancestry were very familiar with the Elizabethan weather-rhyme:

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair

For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

The excursions were holiday outings by coastal vessels to the Newfoundland outports, the most popular being Renews, Placentia and Trinity. Upon arrival in these villages the ‘townies’ would be greeted by the locals where they would be treated to a breakfast “after which the sports of the day would commence.”  Some of the ‘sports’ included horse  races, foot, hurdle and sack and wheelbarrow races, shooting matches and in the evenings dramatic entertainment and lantern shows .

Organizers for the excursions were disappointed to find on July 15, 1881 that it was a wet day.  The local St. John’s paper, The Evening Telegram reported.

“A wet St. Swithen’s Day. Oh, whatever trials are yet in store for excursionists this season.“

Organizers of the excursions were well aware that individuals would be less reluctant to reserve a spot on an excursion if inclement weather was anticipated.

Who was St. Swithin?

St. Swithin (or more properly, Swithun) was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches. A legend says that as the Bishop lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried out of doors with the poor where he would be trodden on and rained on. For nine years, his wishes were followed, but then, the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral on 15 July 971.  According to legend there was a heavy rain storm either during the ceremony or on its anniversary.

This led to the folklore tradition that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day (July 15th), it will rain for the next 40 days in succession, and a fine 15th July will be followed by 40 days of fine weather.

How did the tradition get to Newfoundland?

Beginning in the early 17th century, immigrants from the West of England (mainly from Wessex) began to settle in Newfoundland. By the early 1800s they had founded numerous fishing villages and towns and comprised about 60 percent of the resident population. The Wessex component was the largest ethno-European group to settle Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of these immigrants (80-85%) originated in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, with notable additions from the adjacent counties of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Cornwall.

Recommended Website: http://www.math.mun.ca/~wessex/wordpress/

Recommended Song:  Billy Bragg,  St. Swithin’s Day:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljJl-E5bzm4

Old English words:  dost = does;  thou = you;  nae mair = no more.

“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.