Sunday 22 July 2012

Newfoundland Sealing Disaster

Lyrics and music by Marion Parsons © 2004

True story of a sealing crew stranded on the ice floes for two nights in 1914; see below for further notes.

In nineteen hundred and fourteen, with winter soon to melt
On icy floes the hunt was on for oil and snow-white pelts
From outports on the northern shore, to firms on Water Street
They bought their gear and claimed their berths to join the sealing fleet.

The oldest was a wooden wall they called the Newfoundland
Her captain green and all too young, the son of a great man
She cleared the narrows in good time, but stalled up in the ice
They worked like dogs to clear the pans that held her like a vice.

All patience gone, the captain cried to Master Watch George Tuff
“We’ve been three weeks without a seal, and b’ye, I’ve had enough!
My father’s ship is in the fat, tis just three miles or four
So take the men and join her there, and pass the night on board.”

Five miles they trekked across the ice beneath a brooding sky
And Captain Kean he gave them tea and put them overside
“I’ll set you on a patch of seals, then back where you belong,”
And with no more of thought or care, the iron ship was gone.

Just as our Saviour lay in hell for three days and two nights
For so long were the sealing men forsaken on the ice
In blinding snow and driving rain that raged from the southwest
To freeze the blood of any man who dared to sleep or rest.

Abide With Me, the sealers sang, and then Lead Kindly Light
They burned the handles and the rope to hold away the night
And Jesse Collins of Hare Bay, he stepped up to take charge
And roused the weary to their feet to dance or box or march.

A brother urged his brother on, and forced the weak to rise
And neighbour bit the blinding ice from off of neighbour’s eyes
While friend would chew the hardtack up to ease the mouth of friend
And father took son in his arms to hide him from the wind.

When Nicolas Morey bowed his head to make his earthly peace
He found the strength to bless himself, and died upon his knees
While others prayed for mercy from the North Atlantic cold
That knows no more of mercy than the enemy of our souls.

Some fell back or slipped away to meet their fate alone
Some went on till heart gave out and fell without a moan
Some went foolish, cursed and ran, or stepped into the brine
Until the sea gives up her dead, no mortal eye shall find.

And when at last the third day rose, the midday sun revealed
The Belleaventure’s dumbstruck crew, who took the men for seals
They brought the living back on board to feed and tend and warm
And gathered up the mute and still who perished in the storm.

They headed half-mast to St. John’s, and there aboard the Belle
Were four and fifty broken men, with awful tale to tell
And laid in rows along her decks were three score souls and ten
While eight remained beneath the waves to not return again.

My source was Cassie Brown’s book Death on the Ice; there is an online article about it here.
I have another song about this disaster, I Will Bring You Home, which tells the story from the perspective of a father and son who were part of the crew.

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