The Greenland Disaster (A C Wornell)

See also: The Greenland Disaster (Figgy Duff)

And also: The Greenland Disaster (Leach)

And also: The Greenland Disaster (A House)

And also: The Greenland Disaster (Mrs John Walsh)

We now relate the mournful fate
of gallant sealers dead,
Whose frost-burnt hands and faces
paid the price of daily bread;
A vanished race of experts
on the rafting Arctic floe,
The victims of disaster
in a wilderness of snow...

On March the tenth in ninety-eight,
their sealing-ship departed
With blaring horns and lusty cheers
from sealers eager-hearted;
Then no one knew that such a crew
would pay grim sacrifice
To demon spirits ruling o'er
the realms of Polar ice.

A dauntless master-mariner
from Bonavista Bay,
George Barbour, brought the Greenland
where the whining whitecoats lay;
And ninety miles north-east the Funks,
they struck the young harp patches.
Then cruised about to kill and pan
and load her to the hatches.

Upon the fateful twenty-first,
the weather-glass was low,
The dawning brought a leaden sky,
presaging wind and snow;
But bred to battle wintry storms,
these vet'rans of the North,
At duty's call, took danger's risk
and bravely ventured forth.

The Polar legions hurled their wrath
against the hapless men,
Who struggled through the blinding snow
to reach their ship again:
But forty hours passed before
they knew the tragic score:
That forty-eight had met their fate,
to hunt the seals no more!

They'd never seen a wilder storm
than that which raged that day,
So fierce and swift the stifling drift,
they wandered far astray;
Exposed to piercing icy blasts
upon that frozen waste,
The only shelter they could find
was in a friend's embrace.

Aboard the Greenland,
frantic mates were also horrified,
When pressure of the hurricane
careened her on her side;
All night they worked like Trojans,
shifting cargo on the deck,
To put her on an even keel,
preventing certain wreck.

The foll'wing day, at four pm,
improvement in the storm
Permitted rescue-squads to bring
them food and clothing warm;
In contemplation, strong men wept,
as others would relate
The tragic circumstances of
their comrades' gruesome fate.

A sister-ship, Diana,
and the Iceland joined the search,
To find the dead and living
and retrieve them from their perch
Upon the fatal pans of ice.
Then on the twenty-third,
All victims and survivors
to the Greenland were transferred.

Imagine frozen corpses,
packed in ice, upon a ship,
A floating horror-chamber was
the Greenland on that trip;
For twenty-five stiff carcasses
are not a pleasant sight
To muse upon in solitude
when storms are at their height.

The fiendish storm-king, unappeased,
assaulted yet once more
The Greenland ere she reached
St John's and drove her on the shore,
Off Bay de Verde, the crew engaged
in shifting bunker coal,
Till, leaving half her keel behind,
she floated off the shoal.

In multitude the city-folk
looked on with bated breath,
As slowly in the harbour steamed
that tragic ship of death;
The Premier and the Governor;
the Legislature, too,
In silence waited on the pier
to greet the mournful crew.

The melancholy story of
the Greenland's grim disaster
Was soon officially received
in sorrow from her master:
Survivors gave their narratives
in detail to the press,
While tearful eye and broken voice
displayed the soul's distress.

A scene to shock the stoutest heart
then met the eyes which gazed
Upon the dead as from the hold
the frozen forms were raised;
All warped beyond resemblance
to their former nimble frames,
Those twisted shapes were all
that then remained of sealers' names.

But human names are nothing,
if with nerve and spirit they
Are not endowed as were these men
we celebrate today;
When high adventure challenges,
the dauntless heart replies
With noble deeds of daring
and heroic lives - or dies.

In tribute now, our heads we bow
for valiant sealers dead,
Whose frost-burnt hands and faces
dearly paid for daily bread;
The forty-eight who met their fate
amid the ice and snow,
While battling raging blizzards
on the rafting Arctic floe.

####.... Composed by Mr A C Wornell ....####
Note: The Greenland, was built in Ireland in 1872. On March 21, 1898, her crew was stranded on the ice while sealing and perished.

The text of this ballad was reprinted from Newfoundland Stories and Ballads Volume 8, Number 2, 1962, p.27, in Haulin' Rope & Gaff: Songs And Poetry In The History Of The Newfoundland Seal Fishery, pp.57-58 (Breakwater Books Limited, St John's, NL, 1978) by Shannon Ryan and Larry Small who noted that, according to an original note attatched to this song, it took second prize in the Ballad Section of a Government sponsored Arts and Letters Contest in March, 1961.


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