Wreck Of The Steamship Ethie (Gerald S Doyle)

sheet music

Come all you true countrymen, come listen to me,
A story I'll tell you of the SS Ethie;
She being the steamboat employed on our shore,
To carry freight, mail and passengers down on the Labrador.

On the tenth of December, as you all well may know,
In the year nineteen nineteen, on her last trip did go;
Where she leaves Daniel's Harbour about 4 pm,
With a strong breeze from the south'ard, for Cow Head did steam.

The glass indicated a wild raging storm,
And about nine o'clock the storm did come on;
With the ship's husband on board, the crew had no fear,
Captain English gave orders straight for Bonne Bay to steer.

At first to the storm the brave ship gave no heed,
Until at length it was found she was fast losing speed;
And the great waves all around her like great Mountains did rise,
And the crew all stood staring with fear in their eyes.

The order went around to preserve for their life,
For the ship she is doomed and it's perish we might;
But still there is hope - there is one brave man on board,
Who says he can guide her safely onto the shore.

Walter Young, being our purser, as you may understand.
Volunteered for to guide her safely into the land;
John Gullage, our first mate, bravely stood to the wheel,
Captain English gave orders and all worked with a will.

Up off Martin's Point about one o'clock,
Through bravery and courage, she escapes every rock;
And the people on the shore saw the ship in distress,
All rushed to the spot for to help to do their best.

And when we were landed in a rude boatswain's chair,
Taken in by the people and treated with care;
We stayed on the point until it was o'er,
And the brave little Ethie lay standing on shore.

O, what of the fright, the exhaustion and cold,
The depth of my story will never be told!
And all you brave fellows gets shipwrecked on the sea,
You think of the fate of the SS Ethie.

####.... Miss Burney Easin of Port Saunders ....####
This variant published on p.59 of Old Time Songs And Poetry Of Newfoundland: Songs Of The People From The Days Of Our Forefathers, 2nd Ed, 1940, printed by the publishers of The Family Fireside for Gerald S Doyle, St John's, NL.

Doyle noted that this variant was from Ballads And Sea Songs Of Newfoundland by Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf [1895-1980] and Grace Yarrow Mansfield (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1933; Folklore Associates, Hatboro, PA, 1968). The song was sung in 1920 to the tune of The Bold Privateer by Daniel W Endacott [1875-1940] of Sally's Cove, NL, with words from Maude Roberts Simmonds. It was first published as #138 on pp.277-280, and included an interview with John "Jack" Gullage, the first mate in the song, who went on to become captain of the SS Sagona on which Greenleaf and Yarrow coincidentally travelled and collected a few songs from Gullage and his crew.

From Wikipedia:
SS Ethie - was built by A & J Inglis at Glasgow, Scotland in 1900 and was 155 feet (47 m) long and 439 tonnes. She was registered at St John's, NL with official number 113009 and used for the Labrador, St Barbe run, but ran aground and sank on December 11, 1919, at Martin's Point, about 20 miles (32 km) from Bonne Bay. The passengers and crew were all saved in a dramatic rescue by means of a boson's chair and a rope. The ship belonged to the Alphabet Fleet, a fleet of 13 vessels owned and operated by the Reid Newfoundland Company as part of the provisioning of the 1898 Railway contract between the Dominion of Newfoundland and the Reid Newfoundland Company. The vessels were named after places in Scotland, the native homeland of Sir Robert Gillespie Reid, founder of the Reid Newfoundland Railway Company. The ships were employed to service the remote communities of the island and the coast of Labrador to operate a mail and passenger service. The vessels became the lifeline of these communities and were depicted in many paintings and folk songs of the country, even long after Newfoundland and Labrador became a province of Canada.

The SS Ethie coastal steamship ran aground in a fierce storm on December 11, 1919, at Martin's Point, a few kilometres north of Sally's Cove. Luckily, all of the 92 passengers and crew were saved, including a baby sent ashore in a mailbag. The sea has eroded most of the SS Ethie, however a few pieces of the hull, the boilers and engines are still visible from shore.
~ Courtesy of Parks Canada.

In 1999, Hilda (Batten) Menchions was a senior citizen living in St John's. Eighty years before, in December of 1919, she was just a baby aboard the steamer SS Ethie with her mother and grandfather when the ship ran into a storm. Captain English, acting on the advice of his purser, decided to run the Ethie aground in a sheltered cove. Little Hilda Batten was sent ashore to safety in a mail bag.
~ Excerpted from Not Too Long Ago... Seniors Tell Their Stories by Garry Cranford, Writer/Researcher, published by Seniors Resource Centre, St John's, NL, Copyright ©1999.

What follows was extracted from the Ship's Log of the SS Ethie:
December 3, 1919 -
The SS Ethie left Humbermouth on this date. All hands on board were happy after spending a week in port and with the expectation of being back again in a few days. All went well during the trip; weather was fine and sea smooth. The ship made all ports of call going North to Battle Harbor and returning, until the 10th.

December 10, 1919 -
The ship left Port Saunders at 8 AM. It was a fine day with the sea calm and smooth. Calls were made at Daniel's Harbour and Parsons Pond, and at 6 PM the Ethie arrived at Cow Head just as the storm was setting in. The sky was black as tar with a fresh breeze blowing from the SSW.
After staying at Cow Head for a considerable time taking freight on board, the ship left again at 8 PM. At 8:10 PM, when off the lighthouse, the log was set and the course put WSW. We ran that course for one hour during which time the ship registered five miles by the log. The Captain changed the course to West as the gale was still increasing. As the night advanced the gale rose to hurricane force with thick snow flurries. Frosty seas began to roll over the ship and ice began to accumulate fast. At 12 midnight the log had to be hauled in as the ship could not keep clear of it. All the crew were engaged to keep the ship working. The upper deck and the forecastle head were loaded with empty barrels, and the crew had to throw these overboard to save the ship as the ice was fast increasing about the ship.
We had two cows on deck. At 3 AM. one of these perished. The ship could not keep her head up to the seas except at certain times. After 4 AM the ship was driving broad-side before an hurricane of wind and mountains of sea. The mail boat was swept away during the morning and one lifeboat was broken up in the davits by the seas that swept over the ship. The sailors had to assist the firemen in their duties to try to get up enough steam to save the ship. The seas continued to break over her throwing a lot of water in the stoke hole and engine room, but every man held his post expecting the wind to abate at daylight. When daylight came the winds seemed to be more fierce than ever with heavier seas and blinding snow flurries and continued so all day.

December 11, 1919 -
At 10:30 AM land was sighted which the Captain and officers afterward declared to be Martin's Point, ten miles S.W. of Cow Head and sixteen miles N.E. of Bonne Bay.
The coast was carefully studied by the Captain and officers. As the ship gradually drifted towards the breakers orders were given by the Captain for all passengers to be fitted with life-belts. These orders were silently and steadily carried out and in a few moments all the passengers appeared on the upper deck fitted with life-belts. As they gazed upon the breakers on the reef that soon they must strike, all were calm and brave. The Captain, brave and cool, consulted with his officers and it was decided to risk her full speed over those raging breakers. The helmsman was ordered to put the wheel hard a-starboard and, as the ship approached the seas, all hands waited patiently for another moment when they would all be swept into eternity; but by some unseen hand the good ship Ethie was guided over those boiling seas that were raging as high as the tops of her spars ahead and astern, over the reef, still onward towards the rocks, with less and less hope of saving all hands on board; still she floated, with seas boiling all around, until the wheel was put hard a-port.
It was 12 noon when she struck. The rocks made her shake terribly. By this time the stern post and rudder were gone. As the ship hove in broad side to the cliff a lifebuoy was thrown over with a small line attached. It was pulled ashore by some men who were on the shore watching the ship approach. Then a larger line was fastened to the smaller one and pulled ashore and to this a chair was quickly attached, and the landing of passengers commenced.
There were seventy-two souls altogether of which forty-five were passengers including six women and one baby. The women were landed first on one sixty-fathom line stretching from the bridge to the shore. The baby was put into a mail bag and lashed to a chair. It was certainly a sight to see this poor little baby lifted over the ships side in a mail bag, swinging over a boiling sea, but strong arms quickly pulled her to the shore. Then came the landing of male passengers, followed by the crew. It was dark when the last man got to land. It was still blowing a gale and the seas were going over the ship, sweeping her decks. The passengers and crew were then taken to the homes of kind friends along the shore. There were only two houses where we landed and these were filled to capacity. Others went to another place three miles away where all were made comfortable for the night which indeed we all needed after twenty-one hours of the hardest kind of hardship and danger.

December 12, 1919 -
The morning was still stormy. At daylight some of the crew went and tried to board the ship which they succeeded in doing and brought some stores from her. There was not much done that day after such an experience and all felt like resting. In the afternoon some went as far as the banks where the ship lay just to have a look at her and to look over the foaming breakers which we had passed over the evening before. I can assure you that we all felt thankful to God to be safe on the land again which seemed so impossible to us the day before. We could do nothing about boarding the ship at this time, as the tide was very high and it was terribly frosty, so we all returned to our respective homes for one more good night's rest and comfort. We thought it a comfort and were thankful to be there although those small dwelling houses were so packed that some had to remain standing and keep the fires going while others slept; but still we passed the night comfortably.

December 13, 1919 -
The day began still stormy, but the wind and sea had abated considerably and at daylight we started to board the ship to gather up our clothes and to land the passengers' baggage. Most of the bags were wet as there was water in the ship's hold and the greater part of our clothing was damaged. One of the beasts that were previously mentioned was still living. It was a young ox and could stand more than the other one which was a milch cow. The ox was lying on deck with, I should judge, about one foot of ice over its whole body.
I can assure you the Ethie was certainly a lovely picture with such as load of ice all over her. Just imagine one piece of wire three quarters of an inch increased by ice to the size of a puncheon, and the flagpole on the stern the size of a pork barrel, and this will give one an idea of what we went through. After we landed, the ship was given in charge of a man named Gilley who promised to look after her, and, after this, we took only an occasional walk to where she lay as we could not do anything until we got orders from the company. During the evening Miss Garland and a friend survivor named Gosse came and took photographs of the ship. Anyone who can obtain any of these pictures will be able to see and get an idea of how she looks today lying on the rocks.
We had young seal for tea last night and we certainly enjoyed it; I think everyone forgot their troubles when they sat 'round the table to partake of the good feast which our kind friends had provided for us. After a good smoke, although tobacco was getting short, we all stowed away for the night.

John Gullage, Chief Officer, SS Ethie.
The above was printed on pp.35-39 of the Atlantic Guardian, vol 07, number 12 (December 1950) published by Atlantic Guardian Associates, Montreal, QC, edited by Ewart Young [1913-1968], with the added Editor's Note that Captain Gullage, "who is now in command of SS Cabot Strait, was awarded the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his services on SS Burgeo during World War II."

See more NL shipwreck songs.


Index Page
GEST Songs Of
Newfoundland And Labrador

(AD 1628 through 2020)


~ Copyright Info ~

~ Privacy Policy ~

Pro-Sitemaps details created:
1 January 2022, 12:53
Processing time: 0:25:28s
Pages indexed: 4030
Images sitemap: 198
Video sitemap: 2774
Broken Links - None

Email the Webmaster: gdgest@yahoo.ca