Died On The Ice Floe (P J Dyer)

The white, rugged ice-floe came gliding along,
On the ocean, with seals scattered o'er,
And the eyes of the fisher-folk sparkled with joy,
As it pressed closer still to the shore.

There was sharp'ning of sheath knives
and seizing of bats,
There was gathering of tow-lines in haste;
And the heart of the youth in his teens
swelled with pride,
As he buckled a belt 'round his waist.

With heart light as air
they rushed out o'er the ice,
There their bats raised a torrent
of blows on the harps;
While the keen, glittering sheath knives
soon gave them,
The sculp they required for their tows.

In the midst of the bustle the fickle wind changed,
And the ice 'gan to move from the land;
There was slipping of tows,
there was running for life,
'Mong the men of that brave little band.

Richard Parsons of Flatrock and his eldest son,
(The younger had gone home before),
Were speeding along when the weary boy cried:
"I am tired; I can travel no more."

His garments, brine drenched,
were now stiff with the frost,
His limbs had grown helpless and numb;
And the father with anguish untold
was o'erwhelm'd,
Lest the boy should ere morning succumb.

His own clothing straightway
he tore from his back,
And in it did quickly enfold,
The shivering form of his perishing boy,
In an effort to keep out the cold.

Then clasping him close in a frantic embrace,
Thro' that dark night he did strive,
By breathing his own warm breath o'er his face,
To keep his chilled off-spring alive.

He recked not of hunger, of cold or fatigue,
With his son on the brink of the grave;
And when found in the morning
his pulse was as weak,
As the boy he had labored to save.

Kind hands bore them shoreward,
and still on the way,
Another sad sight their eyes met:
The form of the younger boy, thought to be safe,
On the ice lying silent in death.

Vain, vain is the effort in words to portray,
The depths of that fond parent's love;
It can only be judged and rewarded one day,
By an all-seeing Father above.

####.... P J Dyer, 1884 ....####
This variant was printed in St John's in 1905 on pp.13-14 of Murphy's Sealers' Song Book and in 1925 on p.18 of Songs Sung By Old Time Sealers Of Many Years Ago, both published by James Murphy [1867-1931].

From Interesting Transcripts Of Newfoundland Cemetery Headstones:
TOR01-3394, Torbay 1 - Catholic, old - Erected by Richard Parsons of Flatrock in memory of his two beloved sons, James, aged 17 years, Richard, aged 13 years, who died on the ice March 25, 1894 in the presence of their father.

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Recked - worried; cared.

From Cool Antarctica Glossary Of Terms:
Ice-Floe - large, flat, sheet of sea ice that has broken off contact with the coast where it was formed and is floating in open water.

From the Dictionary Of Newfoundland English:
Bat - to kill or stun a seal by striking with a club; to gaff.
Copied - jumped from pan to pan.
Harps - migratory seal of northern waters, hunted for its fur and oil; Greenland seal (Phoca groenlandica).
Pan - floating field of Arctic ice.
Sculp - skin of a harp or hooded seal with the blubber attached; pelt.
Tow - number of sealskins with blubber attached, laced together and hauled over the ice by a rope.

From The Evening Telegram, March 26, 1894: Death on the Ice-Floe Of Two Young Men, James And Richard Parsons:

Once more the dark cloud of sorrow has overshadowed a happy home by death of loved ones of the hearth on an ice-floe. All are aware of the pleasing excitement on Saturday regarding the coming in of seals towards the land and almost all men were eager to be at them - rich and poor, people of different stations - there was a special charm in the affair; and so it is with all sport, pastime, or even labor, with a very dangerous element in it.

Among the others who trod the pans were several Flatrock men. They were on the ice in the afternoon when the wind veered, and they had to step at their best for land, and found it difficult at times to hold their own over the moving floe as it swept south, partly off the land. Some of the men landed on the "Beamer" which, with Torbay Point, forms Torbay. One group got on a very loose place and found it very hard work to make any progress. They were Wade, two men named Waterman, Martin Kennedy and son, and Richard Parsons, whose two sons died. These tried to get ashore at the Point, but could not do so, and they started off for Freshwater, near Middle Cove.

It was on the return that the painful events to be recorded transpired. Parsons went out on the ice about 10am, was in company with his son Richard, aged 13 years, a very active and clever young fellow, who "copied" without trouble, at times leading the way and shouting encouragingly to youthful friends:- "Come on, boys, there is a good lay this way." The father bade him go ashore at noon, and the boy went from him, as he believed, home. Later in the afternoon, the father was much surprised by seeing ahead of him his son James, aged 17 years, with a seal in tow. He had believed this son ashore, as he had left home in the morning for the city; but the boy, hearing the sealing news, was quick with his purchases, and hurried home with three barrels of flour and other stock. Thence he was despatched to "Beamer" with a kettle of tea and some bread for the father, and, not being able to restrain his ardent spirit, went out and got in the company of his father, as stated.

After a short time James, who had travelled so much on the city trip and on the ice, showed signs of exhaustion, and, being unable to keep up, the father said: "Give me your seal, boy; I'll haul it for you," and he took it. After a while the seal was slipped; it was becoming a big struggle for life, and every moment was precious. Meanwhile another boy was descried. The sharp, ready eye of the father made him out to be his son, Richard Parsons, whom he believed long since safely at home. Care had also to be taken of him.

The hour was now growing late, and the men already named went in advance and landed at Outer Cove, followed part way by Richard, who had then to give up and remain behind. Both sons had fallen in and were chilled. The father, a noble specimen of manhood, formed by nature and trained for hardship on the ice, had shared his bread with his companions - bread, little as it was, if he then had it, might have added something to the vital spark of his eldest son, whose life was now ebbing away.

The heroism and paternal love of that father in his affliction was extraordinary. He braved the chilling winds and the biting frost, even though he got a hand bitten while trying to save that son. He divested himself of most of his apparel, gathered it around the almost inanimate body, then sheltered it as best he could, with blocks of ice, and lay himself down on the cold bed, partly under and partly over the son, and blowing his warm breath over his beloved one, trying to keep that life in the body which God, always wise and wonderful in His works, willed otherwise.

In the early morning Patrick Hickey and three other men started out to do heroic work, to effect a rescue, God willing. They reached father and son - the father stiff, the son dying - and Mr Hickey, who had a flask of brandy for resuscitation purposes, tried to pour a little of it down the one son's throat, but without avail. Too late! Return was being made, the father believing that: "Poor Richard is all right at any rate." But not so. The cup of misery was not yet filled. Poor Richard lay not a gunshot away, most of his body covered with water, on a floating pan, and with life nearly extinct.

The bodies were brought to Mr Hickey's house, where, very soon, notwithstanding every care and kindness, both sons almost simultaneously yielded their spirits unto God who gave them. The affliction is a severe one for the father, and it is not strange that he stated this forenoon in reply, as his eyes dimmed with tears, and his words became hard to articulate: "Yes, unfortunately, I am Richard Parsons. Give all credit," he said to a Telegram representative, "to Mr Hickey and the Outer Cove men. They bore my boys ashore and did all they could for me." Yes, bravely and kindly, the Outer Cove men united to render assistance. Their reward will be the thanks to heaven from the afflicted hearts of the sorrow-stricken father and mother.

Rev M J Clarke, Parish Priest of Torbay, like a true shepherd of the flock, eager to join in the sorrow as well as the prosperity of his people, spoke in the chapel yesterday words of consolation and of merit. He had known them well: one of them, the younger, served him on the altar, while the father and mother had been identified with much good church work. His words made moist eyes of many sympathetic persons. The bodies of the deceased have been brought to their late home, and interment to take place on Wednesday in Torbay, the funeral starting about noon.

Regarding P J Dyer of St John's and the United States:
¹ The following marriage announcement was published in the Harbour Grace Standard and Conception-Bay Advertiser on October 29, 1887:
At Lourde's Chapel, Riverhead, St John's, on the 26th inst, by the Rev John Ryan, assisted by Rev E Crook: P J Dyer (Head Teacher, St Patrick's Hall School, Merrymeeting Road, St John's) to Katie M, youngest daughter of Mr Phillip Brown, of Sound Island, Placentia.

² P J Dyer and M A Devine were the propietors of the Fire Fly in St John's which was described by the Daily Review on August 1, 1899, as "the first paper that occurred after the Great Fire on July 8, 1892. It was only a manuscript paper, and only one copy was issued every day. Every evening at half-past four it was hung outside the door of Mr M G Lash, and very few papers published in St John's had a larger constituency of readers. It contained (daily) a foreign message, the arrival of relief steamers, the beginning of various new structures, and, perhaps most important of all, the movements of the Relief Committee. The Fire Fly was an unpretentious attempt, but it filled the gap admirably, until the arrival of material for the Morning Despatch , edited by Henry W LeMessurier, which was only known to have been published from Jul 13 to Aug 22, 1892."


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