A trip to Captain Bartlett on West Turnavik

Hans Rollmann
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This year we celebrate Capt. Bob Bartlett's Arctic exploration, notably his contribution to Commander Peary's expedition to the North Pole in April 1909.

The Turnavik Islands, north of Makkovik, play an important role in developing Bartlett as a mariner. Here Bartlett's grandfather, Capt. Abram Bartlett of Brigus, had established a sizeable fishing operation on West Turnavik, which his son William, Bob's father, continued until the early 1930s. Following the family tradition, it was to West Turnavik that the young Bob Bartlett is said to have taken his first schooner.

At that time he had decided that the wish of his mother that he enter the Methodist ministry was not his calling. Later, on the famous Arctic expedition in 1908-1909, Bartlett stopped with Peary at West Turnavik on the way to and from the pole.

The Bartletts and the Moravians

As a devout Methodist family, the Bartletts encouraged visiting clergy to conduct services on West Turnavik whenever possible.

Here, a special relationship developed between the Bartletts and the Moravian missionaries of Hopedale and, later, Makkovik. Heinrich Ritter, the Moravian missionary in charge of the settlers, mentions several times in his correspondence invitations from Capt. William Bartlett to come and lead worship in his fishing store. For the first such Moravian service, in early October 1881, Ritter reports that Bartlett turned his store building into a meeting house by emptying it and creating pews from barrels that he covered with boards. He needed sufficient seating capacity to accommodate his many workers. In fact, Ritter remarks, the more than 200 people then working for Bartlett at West Turnavik outnumbered the entire population of Hopedale, which at that time was only 175. After this service, Ritter also distributed religious tracts to Bartlett's employees, establishing a lasting relationship between the Moravians and the Bartlett family and their workers.

When Moravian missionaries later sought a suitable site for a station that would serve the settler population, it was Capt. William Bartlett, along with Torsten Andersen, who advised the Rev. Hermann Jannasch to settle at Flounders Bight, today's Makkovik. Bartlett did this presumably to take advantage of the closer ministerial presence.

A dangerous journey

Let us then accompany the Rev. Jannasch on his most memorable trip to West Turnavik in the closing years of the 19th century.

As he recounted in his autobiography, this journey particularly imp-ressed Jannasch because he nearly lost his life in a storm.

Usually, a trip from Makkovik to the Turnavik Islands lasted from Saturday until Monday evening. This time, the minister set out in an open fishing boat, accompanied by his sledge driver, Robert, and another sturdy hand from the community. Normally, he would have reached West Turnavik in two hours, but suddenly the sky became very dark.

"In the front of the boat," Jannasch remembered, "stood Jann with a sharp pole to push away pieces of ice that were pressing against our boat. Robert took the ropes of the sail into his hands to let go of them quickly if the boat should capsize. I sat at the helm and pressed the rudder ever so firmly with my arms as directed by Robert."

"Thus," Jannasch recalled, "we persevered in the dark for several hours against the storm, always in danger to capsize." Through the long night, the minister recalled, "God protected us, and when it got more calm toward morning and the day rose, we saw Turnavik and were soon able to enter its harbour."

"If I had only known ..."

Bartlett was still asleep when the missionary knocked on his window.

The captain jumped up at once and called from the inside, "Good God, were you all night at sea?" "Yes," Jannasch answered, "I just arrived with my two people."

"If I had only known," Bartlett replied. "Last night, before it got dark, I went up on the hill once more and looked toward Makkovik but could not see anything. I was very glad and told myself that this night there would be a mighty storm and that it was quite good that you had not yet left."

"Had I known," Bartlett continued, "that you were still outside, I would have sent 10 boats to look for you."

Jannasch was satisfied that God had been their refuge in the storm.

Service in the salt house

The minister, however, was too exhausted to conduct a nine o' clock worship service, but by 11 a.m., he had sufficiently recovered to lead it "in the large salt house of the Captain, which was empty in the summer."

In the afternoon, they had a second service, after which a fisherman from the adjacent side of the island requested that the minister visit his ailing wife, who feared that she might die and still wanted to speak to a minister. On the way he also counseled a young boy about his brother's gambling habits.

The Agnes

The storm taught Jannasch a lesson, that he should not venture such a trip in an open fishing boat, but that he needed a larger vessel.

Encouraged by Bartlett, the very practical minister then built such a vessel himself with the help of his driver, Robert.

Jannasch christened the 15-metre long boat, with sails that reached a height of 18 metres, "Agnes," and used it for numerous pastoral visits to members of his congregation and to fishers from Newfoundland.

Hans Rollmann is Professor of Religious Studies at MUN and can be reached by email: hrollman@mun.ca.

Organizations: Methodist ministry

Geographic location: Turnavik Islands, Makkovik, Arctic North Pole Hopedale Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Dorothy
    July 10, 2013 - 15:33

    I'm reading a book that mentions Turnavit and the Bartlett's. I just wanted some history on Turnavit so that is how I came across your site. Thank you.