In an idle moment last night I tried to come up with a few ships of significance (both to us or to the rest of the world) related to my home province. A surprising (to me) number came to mind. This is a list of some of the ones I remember, as well as those suggested by friends. If anyone else remembers any ships that should be included, drop a line.
- St. Brendan’s Irish curragh which sailed from to North America (and probably Newfoundland or Labrador) in about 530 (possibly legendary)
- Leif Ericson’s colony ships around 1002, which landed at L’anse aux Meadows on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland (verified by the Ingstad’s in the 1960’s)
- Matthew, John Cabot’s vessel that is believed to have discovered Newfoundland and North America in 1497 (personally I think we make a much bigger target than Cape Breton, and I think Maine is a bit too far south)
- Basque whaler in Red Bay, Labrador, (1565?), which may be the San Juan.
- Happy Adventure: The pirate admiral Peter Easton’s flagship.
- Great Eastern: When commissioned in 1858, it was the largest ship in the world, and remained so for about half a century. In 1866 this ship landed the first transatlantic cable from Valentia, Ireland at Heart’s Content. This tiny community eventually became one of the main communication hubs between Europe and North America, and remained so into the twentieth century.
- The Brendan (Tim Severin, 1976-77). I was in grade nine at the time, and we followed her saga as she came across in some fairly dirty weather. But she made it, landing at Peckford Island in Newfoundland, showing that the voyage was possible (and no, Brian wasn’t in office at the time!). One must remember that Irish monks were regularly sailing to Iceland and had settlements there, and were supposedly good mariners of the day. She is currently in Craggaunowen, County Shannon, Ireland.
- Gaia, a replica of the Norwegian Gokstad ship (the classic longship, primarily a warship). This ship visited Newfoundland and other parts of North America in the early 1990’s, and I saw her in St. John’s. The ships that Erickson used were more likely to be the trader/cargo ships called knarr
- Matthew, a navicula of about 50 tonnes. I had the pleasure of being in Conception Bay in a wooden sailing dinghy when she came into the bay before docking in Long Pond. We had a nice conversation with the crew as they drifted in, some of whom were Newfoundlanders. The dinghy was faster than the Matthew, by the way. I was also in the Narrows of St. John’s as she sailed in to much applause and hoopla. She is currently based out of Bristol, England.
Ships within the last 100 years:
- Greenland Disaster: A sealing steamer. 48 men from her died on the ice in 1898 when a major storm blew in. The ice closed up and prevented the Greenland from closing on the sealers on the ice, while at the same time an interior lead of water kept the sealers from approaching the ship. There was also some discussion of the behaviour of Captain Abram Kean, who was in the area commanding another sealing vessel. Kean later became infamous for his role in the Newfoundland Disaster sixteen years later.
- Newfoundland Disaster: The sealing disaster in March, 1914 where 78 sealers died and 11 were permanently disabled. It is poignantly described in Cassie Brown’s Death on the Ice.
- Southern Cross Disaster: This is the one that many people (including myself) forget. She was lost with all hands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the same storm that caught the sealers from the Newfoundland on the ice at night. She was last sighted by the SS Portia near Cape Pine, and was never seen again. This counts as the single largest loss of life in the history of the seal hunt, with 173 souls being lost. Combined with the 78 deaths from the Newfoundland, at least 251 people died from the same storm. If you compare that to the casualties from Beaumont Hamel, it adds a new perspective to the dangers involved in sealing. On July 1, 1916, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment bravely attempted a frontal assault on the German front in what is considered the worst military disaster in the history of Newfoundland. 255 were killed, 386 were wounded, and 91 were listed as missing in action and presumed dead.
- Viking Disaster: A sealing disaster in 1931, when the Viking (a wooden ship built in 1881), exploded while shooting footage for the sealing film The Viking . Film producer Varrick Frissel and 26 others died in the explosion. A number of sealers made it to Horse Islands. However, there were insufficient supplies, shelter or medical equipment to keep the men alive for long. Rescue ships, including the salvage tug Foundation Franklin and the Reid coastal steamer Sagona took on supplies and medical personnel and raced to the area. However they were delayed both by a raging gale and by the ice, which had driven in around the island. Here is a transcript of documents from the time of the disaster. This was the first, but by no means the last, time Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders were involved with the Franklin.
- Caribou Disaster: One of the most famous of the ferries running between Newfoundland and Canada. It was torpedoed by U-boat U-69 on October 14, 1942, during the critical period of the Battle of the Atlantic. 147 passengers and crew lost their lives. The skipper Ben Taverner and his two sons went down with the ship. The coastal boat Taverner was named after him.
- Effie N. Morrissey: Captain Bob Bartlett’s schooner, used for many years for arctic scientific research, and as a school ship to the sons of many of his friends and patrons. Bob Bartlett was considered to be the best arctic skipper of his time, and was involved with Perry’s expedition to the North Pole. He also commanded the Karluk during the disaster and successful self-rescue of most of the crew off the coast of Russia. The Morrissey, currently named the Ernestina, was built in Essex, MA, and still exists as the Official Vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
- Titanic: Sank April 14-15, 1914 after hitting an iceberg 400 miles from St. John’s. The main Newfoundland link to the disaster is the wireless station at Cape Race, which received and relayed the distress messages from the ship. Also, two years after the International Ice Patrol was founded to track icebergs and ship safety regulations were beefed up
- Foundation Franklin: Immortalised in Farley Mowat’s The Grey Seas Under. A British built World War I salvage tug, originally named HMS Frisky, bought by the Canadian company Foundation Maritime, and in service in Canada and Newfoundland from 1930-1948. During that time she rescued hundreds of ships, and some of her rescues would curl your toes. Many Newfoundlanders crewed on her, and two of her best skippers were Captain Irwin Power and Captain Brushett. She earned such a good reputation that the U.S. Navy gave her priority of command in any salvage operation with American warships. I confess that she is one of my favourite ships of all time, and her crew performed many harrowing and heroic acts. She is a classic iron ship with iron men.
- HMS Prince of Wales and USS Augusta: Churchill and Roosevelt met in Placentia Bay to sign the Atlantic Charter. This was considered to be one of the first steps towards the establishment of the United Nations.
- SS Kyle: “Where’s the smokeroom, by’s. I’ve got a yarn to tell.”
Coastal boat and part of the Reid Alphabet Fleet (the ships were named in alphabetical order for places in Scotland, Reid’s homeland). Famous for many things, including ship rescues, trips to “the Labrador”, and one aviation incident. She is most famous for Ted Russell’s “The Smokeroom on the Kyle“, one of his tales from Pigeon Inlet.
- William Carson: An Icebreaking passenger/car ferry. Commissioned in 1955, it was a huge ferry for its time. For the first two years it couldn’t dock at Port aux Basques, and used Argentia until docking facilities were expanded. In 1977 she was struck by a small Iceberg near Battle Harbour, Labrador, and sank with no hands aboard (no one died). Joan Morrissey wrote a fairly funny song about he Carson and its usefulness to the province.
- Happy Adventure (Itzatzozale Alai): A Southern Shore Bummer or Jackboat bought by Farley Mowat and described in “colourful” detail in The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float. She was basically a 30 foot schooner with a two-stroke gasoline “make and break” engine (mostly broke); the engine had the interesting feature of starting in either forward or reverse 50% of the time. She also had the ability to always know her birthplace; if you sailed her away from the Southern Shore she would try to sink, and she was very determined about it. Somehow Mowat and others, including Mike Donovan the librarian, managed to survive a trip to St. Pierre, where she became a “flagship” of the renascent Basque seagoing tradition, and a year later they made it to Burgeo, where they stuck for a number of years. Finally, in 1967, they were in bad odor in Burgeo, so Mowat managed to sail her all the way to Expo in Montreal, where she promptly sank in the main marina. They don’t make then like that anymore!
- Ocean Ranger: At the time the largest semi-submersible oil rig in the world. In February 1982 she sank with all hands. The supply vessel Seaforth Highlander was almost able to rescue some, but they failed be mere feet. As a result of this disaster the offshore oil industry has been changed, with changes in rig design, operational procedures, safety equipment, and extensive emergency and lifeboat training.
- CCGS Ann Harvey: In 1828, Ann of Isle aux Morts, her father, and the Newfoundland Dog named Hairy Dog saved about 160-170 Irish immigrants from the wreck of the brig Despatch. For the rescue Ann was given 100 pounds and a Gold Medal by the Governor of Newfoundland. In 1938, she and her father also saved a number of people from the Rankin, wrecked at the same spot as the Despatch. Isle aux Morts was so dangerous to shipping that throughout her life she and the other settlers were burying bodies that washed ashore.In 1987, the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Ann Harvey was commisioned.
Ships suggested by Friends:
- HMS Sapphire (9/11, 1696): Trapped in Bay Bulls Harbour by a French attacking force, she was scuttled to prevent capture. She is a Provincial Historic Site and has produced much archaeological insight into naval life of the times. This was also one of the main periods of French-English conflict in Newfoundland.
- Waterwitch (1875): Wrecked near Pouch Cove. When the ship went aground in a storm with 25 people on board, Alfred Moores, a resident, performed a daring rescue which saved 11 people. He allowed himself to be lowered to the ship by a rope from an overhanging cliff so that he could carry the people to safety.
- Florizel (1918): the well-known steamer owned by the Bowring Brothers Ltd. went aground at Horn Head near Cappahayden on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland . The SOS was received at the Admiralty wireless station. Ninety-three crew and passengers perished, while 44 were miraculously rescued after 27 hours spent braving punishing seas and bitter cold.
- Bell Island’s U-boat casualties (Saganaga,Lord Strathcona, P.L.M. 27, Rose Castle): these were bulk iron ore carriers sunk at or near Lance Cove on Bell Island in Conception Bay. Bell Island has the distinction of being the site of the only artillery fired in defense of North America in the Second World War, due to these attacks.
- World War Two Submarines: At least 3 U-boats and one British submarine sank within 250 nm of St. John’s. The type IX U-656 sank about 25 miles from Cape Race, and the British P-514 was rammed by a merchant vessel near Cape St. Mary’s
- USS Truxton and Pollux: (much of this is a direct quote from SkylarkD, and this entry is due to her kind suggestion) These two U.S. Navy ships ran aground near St. Laurence, Newfoundland on February 18th, 1942. 203 sailors died; 185 were saved. Well, it turns out that there was only one African American survivor of the U.S.S. Truxton, named Lanier Philips, and he says that it was the hospitality he received from the people of Newfoundland after the disaster which led him to become a civil rights leader for equality for all races in the U.S. military.