The Excel (Lehr and Best)

Ye noble Newfoundlanders
that suffered in the gale,
I hope you'll pay attention
and listen to my tale;
It is a tale of pity,
a tale I have to tell,
Concerning of a fearful loss
in a craft called the Excel.

On the eighth day of October
when everything was gay,
We hoisted our flag up to the mast
all for to go away;
Before that we were ready
a gale came on to blow,
And with it hove a heavy swell
and also showers of snow.

We quickly then got ready
our vessel to secure,
We worked away all that long day
'til we could do no more;
To watch our lines and keep them
served the night until 'twas day -
'Twould be better if our lines had parted,
we might have run to sea.

We trusted to God's mercy,
who always answered prayer,
He showed us the way to save ourselves,
likewise our little gear;
'Twas true we did not follow Him,
but trusted our own fate -
And left us here cold mourners,
our sorrow to relate.

We worked all that long summer,
and hard both day and night,
To earn bread for our children
and that with all our might;
Now some of them are sleeping
beneath the briny wave -
Some more of them are buried
down in Black Island graves.

Being on a Sunday morning
when the wind did roar and rage,
There was twenty-two of the Excel crew
met with a watery grave;
There was men, women, and children
stood on her quarter-deck,
When a heavy sea broke over her
and swept them from the wreck.

There was one man in our number,
his locks were turning grey,
He stood apart from all the rest
his thoughts so far away;
On the rugged shore of the Labrador
where this cruel deed was done,
In a place called the Black Island,
outside of Grady's Run.

####.... Author unknown. Traditional shipwreck ballad ....####
This is the first of two variants with different tunes collected in 1977 by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best: this one from Mrs Mary (Min) Caul [1902-?] of Arnold's Cove, NL; the 2nd collected from Dorman Ralph [1923-1999] from Little Harbour Deep and St John's, NL, and published as #34 (A) and (B) in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.58-60, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press ©1985/2003).

As a footnote, Genevieve Lehr quoted a story entitled Out of the Past - The Great Tragedy - 1855, from The Daily News dated 28 March, 1957:

'The greatest sea tragedy involving people of Coley's Point was the loss of the schooner Excel at Black Island, near Grady, on Oct. 11, 1885, with a loss of about twenty-two men, women and children. Three or four bodies that were recovered were brought home for burial; others were buried at Black Island. Some were not recovered.
'The Excel was in charge of Captain George Morgan, father of Mr John Morgan, and was anchored outside Black Island waiting suitable time to sail for home. A gale came on Saturday night, continuing through Sunday. At 12 o'clock Sunday night, the ship parted her chains and was driven ashore. Heavy seas began to sweep over the decks and so the Captain ordered the spars to be cut away. The foremast, in falling, broke into three pieces, the top of the mainmast lodged for a while on the shore. Miss Emma Jane Roach (afterwards Mrs W H Littlejohn), the only female survivor, with others, sought refuge from the seas by standing in the hatchway. She seized the opportunity to escape by quickly jumping on the spar and using it as a bridge to reach the land. There she clung to the rocks and kelp in the raging sea until she was dragged to safety by Mr Stephen Russell who was on the shore. This brave woman had just reached the shore when the spar broke, carrying away with it two men, William Batten and Abram Morgan who were attempting the same means of escape. The Captain and several members of his family were lost. A complete list of those lost is not available as several were passengers (freighters) from other places.'

See more songs by Lehr and Best

See more NL shipwreck songs.


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