The forgotten storm

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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More than 4,000 reported to have died off Newfoundland in 1775

The ocean around Northern Bay Sands beach was calm when this photo was taken this week, but in September 1775, the waves quickly turned into storm surges from a devastating hurricane that’s believed to have killed as many as 4,000 people off the provinc

Alan Ruffman, a Nova Scotia geoscientist, has been watching recent stories about the devastating effects of hurricane Igor in Newfoundland with interest.

“In some respects, I suspect Newfoundland has not had a hurricane or post-tropical storm as serious as Igor, since 1775,” Ruffman said this week in a phone interview.

The semi-retired geoscientist still spends a lot of time doing research as honorary research associate with Dalhousie University’s  earth sciences department and as president of Geomarine Associates.

In 1996, he wrote an extensive article for The Northern Mariner on what was dubbed “The Independence Hurricane of 1775” because it first struck North Carolina in the U.S. as opening manoeuvres of the War of Independence were in progress.

Ruffman said some newspapers estimated that as many as 4,000 people died when high winds and seas hit the Avalon Peninsula, including sailors and fishermen jigging squid. The islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon lost about 400 men at sea.

In his research, Ruffman refers to the Annual Register for 1775 that said the winds began to rise on Sept. 11.

“At St. John’s, and other places in Newfoundland, there arose a tempest of a most particular kind — the sea rose on a sudden 30 feet; above 700 boats, with all the people belonging thereto, were lost, as also 11 ships with most of their crews,” the register reported.

“Even on shore they severely felt its effect, by the destruction of numbers of people and, for some days after, in drawing the nets ashore, they often found 20 or 30 dead bodies in them; a most shocking spectacle! At Harbour Grace, no fewer than 300 boats were lost.”

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Organizations: Dalhousie University, The Northern Mariner, BBC Dictionary of Newfoundland English

Geographic location: Island of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, North Carolina U.S. Islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon Placentia Bay Carbonear Conception Bay Dartmouth Britain Ireland Bermuda

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Recent comments

  • Clarence Vautier
    November 21, 2010 - 22:00

    why wasn't there any loss of life on the southwest coast, because of the track of the storm or there were hardly anyone settled there at the time maybe.

  • mom
    October 03, 2010 - 12:37

    This was a really interesting article. After witnessing the devastation caused by Igor, it would be easy to imagine the toll that would be taken if there were no warning of such a storm, especially at a time when most people earned their living from the sea.