A Newfoundland Hero (James Murphy)

The fierce wind moaned among
the cliffs of rugged Labrador,
The wild waves dashed with thund'rous sound
against the rock-bound shore;
The snow that dimm'd the noon-day sun
fell on the muffled form
Of one who, blest with manhood's strength,
defied the raging storm.

With step that spoke a fearless heart,
a strong and steadfast will,
He strode along the rocky beach
and crossed the barren hill;
Nor wind nor sea nor blinding snow
he heeded as he passed,
But by some secret force impell'd,
he hurried thro' the blast.

Ah, hark! Was that a cry for help
borne on the angry breeze?
It rose above the tempest's din,
above the raging seas;
It came from o'er the waste of foam,
that chill, despairing cry,
The sad appeal to Heav'n
addressed of men about to die.

It reached the throne of Him
who'd need but will to be obeyed,
Who loves to hear weak human tongues
invoke His puissant aid.
'Twas by His great omniscience
the hero of this tale,
Was led to seek that fatal spot
in such a fearful gale.

As down the craggy path he came,
the cry fell on his ear,
And well he knew it had its source
in dreadful shipwreck near;
He gazed far o'er the breaking surf,
into the snowy air,
No wonder that his eye grew dim
at what he saw out there.

Some hundred fathoms from the shore,
upon a reef of rock,
A bark had struck, while spars and keel
were shivered by the shock;
The jagged point on which she lay
had pierced from keel to deck,
And pale with fear the trembling crew
were clinging to the wreck.

E'er and anon the crested waves
upon her rushed amain,
As if they in their mad career
would wrench her planks in twain;
A moment Jackman gazed upon
this scene of dreadful woe,
Then flung his boots and coat apace
upon the drifting snow.

His lips were set in firm resolve,
as down the slope he dashed,
Ne'er wav'ring tho' the surging waves
around him roared and crashed;
And plunging in the yeasty mass,
he sank and rose again,
Then boldly struck out for the reef
to save the drowning men.

On, on he swam, while in his face
the cold, fierce sea-breeze blew,
And o'er his head in show'rs of spray
the briny waters flew;
Tho' many a time a billow huge
above him raised its crest,
Despite its force he pierced it through
and swiftly onward pressed.

And when his hand the bulwark grasped,
not long he rested there,
But space to raise his voice to God
in short, tho' fervent, prayer;
Then seized he him who nearest stood,
and 'mid the noise and strife,
"Come on," he cried, "hold fast to me,
and I will save your life."

Then shoreward, bravely on he swam,
the heaving waves among,
While to his waist, with vice-like grasp,
the ship-wrecked sailor clung;
Despite the furious element,
they safely reached the land,
And with their garments dripping brine,
stood on the sea-beat strand.

Two ropes were fastened to the buoy,
one round him coiled he bore,
The other lay in friendly hands
upon the snow-clad shore;
Into the surf he leaped once more,
while many an earnest prayer,
From those on land and on the wreck
rose thro' the quivering air.

And oft they saw his form submerged,
and thought he needs must fail,
But still he reached and tied the rope
around the vessel's rail;
Sixteen times more he came
and went across the foamy tide,
Each time a grateful human heart
throbbed wildly at his side.

At last upon the beach he stood,
with shiv'ring limbs and weak,
The rescued men, in silence, looked
and thanks they could not speak;
"All have been saved, thank God,"
he cried; "Come, let us o'er the hill,
For fire and clothing both need we
to counteract this chill."

"Who spoke? What would you now, my man?"
he querried in surprise.
"Oh, sir! A weakly woman
still in yonder cabin lies."
"What! swim out to the wreck again? -
'tis madness, sir, I say,
She's dead - if not, she is so weak,
she'd perish on the way."

"Alive or dead, she'll not stay
here upon the lonely sea,
And if she dies the death today,
the fault won't rest with me."

Tho' hard they pressed him not to go,
their efforts were in vain,
In haste he donn'd that well-tried buoy,
and dared the waves again;
The deck was reached, the cabin door
he shivered with a blow -
Then bore the pale and fainting form
from out the berth below.

The fierce and angry ocean
strove its utmost to entomb
Our hero, and his helpless charge,
within its boundless womb;
But, drawn by strong and willing hands,
at last he reached the shore,
where cheers arose from grateful hearts,
that drowned the tempest's roar.

####.... Author unknown. Newfoundland traditional ....####
This variant was printed on pp.16-18 of the Atlantic Guardian, Vol 12, Number 04 (April 1955), published by Guardian Limited, St John's, NL, Ewart Young, editor [1913-1968], with the note: Reprinted from Songs Of Our Land published in August 1904, by James Murphy of St John's.

Also printed without an author's name in St John's in 1904 as A Newfoundland Hero, a poem on pp.44-49 of the Old Colony Song Book, Newfoundland, published by James Murphy [1867-1931], who noted that the hero of this song was Captain William Jackman, a noted sealing captain of his day.

From the June 1996 issue of the Downhomer by Rev John E Currey:
Born in 1837 in Renews, Newfoundland, Jackman was captain of the schooner Skipsworth at age 18, and Master of the Hawk and the Eagle between age 30 and 39. On October 9, 1867, during the worst storm of the decade, two ships collided. The Loon quickly sank and the Sea Clipper was able to save the passengers and crew of the smaller ship. Soon the strong gales drove the damaged ship onto a reef near Spotted Island, Labrador. On the island, while walking near a friend's home where he had taken refuge from the fierce gale, Captain Jackman responded to cries from the ship. He swam from the shore a distance of approximately 152 metres (500 ft) and back again to rescue, one by one, 27 people aboard the schooner. The first 11 were rescued without additional aid. For the rest Jackman used a rope and was assisted by other men onshore. The sea was too much for the sick woman he had rescued last. After thanking him for his deed, she succumbed. In recognition of his near superhuman effort, he was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society of Great Britain. Jackman's unparalleled exploit damaged his health beyond repair. He passed away ten years later at age 39. His noble deed is commemorated in a poem by Marcus Hopkins, Jackman The Hero.

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