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Paul Sparkes: Briny, motley extracts

Sailing ships have evolved over the history of man's travels on the deep.
Sailing ships have evolved over the history of man's travels on the deep.

“THAT EVENING at sundown, Capt. Alfordson ordered preparations made to commit the body of their late comrade to its last resting place. All the watches were instructed to be present ... with bowed heads the ship,s company recited the Lord’s Prayer for the repose of the soul of the departed one. At a signal from Capt. Alfordson, Mr. Langford tilted the plank and the body slipped from under the covering flag. There was a splash and the body was lost from view. It was a sad moment ... but with the ship travelling before a strong breeze, the place of his burial was quickly lost sight of.”

(From P.J. Wakeham’s “The Royal Impostor”, a story based on Englishman George Langford, a pirate who frequented Newfoundland waters in the process of building his dishonourable career. Published 1960.)

“THE SAME MUNDAY NIGHT about twelve of the clock, or not long after, the frigate being ahead of us in the Golden Hind, suddenly her lights were out, whereof as it were in a moment, we lost the sight, and withal our watch cried, “the General was cast away,” which was too true. For in that moment the frigate was devoured and swallowed up of the Sea. Yet still we looked out all that night, and ever after until we arrived upon the coast of England.”

Submitted Trading ship of the 14th to 15th centuries. From the Nestle sticker album “Wonders of the World”, 1933.

(Edward Hale, “The Death of Sir Humphrey Gilbert”, from Hakluyt’s Voyages; September 1583, off  the Azores).

“PHANTOM ISLANDS of the Atlantic”, by Donald S. Johnson and published by Goose Lane Editions in 1994, is still available online (used or new). Visit BookFinder and when inputting author and book title in this site’s search window, be sure to include the ISBN 0-86492-149-7. The book, in one part, relates the story of the Isle of Demons - “of the many islands scattered across the Atlantic Ocean and now lost to memory ... one of the most intriguing.” The Island was said to have been located “at the bleak and savage northern extremity of Newfoundland”. The author says that although it may well be a figment of imagination, several 16th century voyagers claim to have seen it.

“ON ARRIVING, CABOT and his men did all the right things. Carefully choosing a suitable site for a landfall, they planted the Christian cross on the foreshore, accompanied by the flags of King Henry VII of England and Pope Alexander VI. Although they had no clear sighting of any inhabitants, several telltale signs, including the remains of a fire left them in no doubt that there were living human beings very close by.”

(From “John Cabot and the Matthew” by Ian Wilson, 1996; Breakwater. Still readily available. — See reference above to online purchasing). ISBN 1-55081-131-2. A beautifully produced and very readable soft-cover book (72 pages) and should be in your home library.

IN LATE AUGUST 1497, a Venetian merchant residing in London wrote to his brother in Venice, “Our Venetian who went with one Bristol ship to find new islands, has returned and says that he found 700 leagues from here a continent which is the country of Gram Cham. He sailed along the coast for 300 leagues, landed, and found no one, but brought back snares for game and a netting-needle. He was three months on his voyage. The tides there were feeble.”

(From “A Historical Geography of the British Colonies; Vol. V, Part IV, Newfoundland,” by John Davenport Rogers; published 1911).

IN 1872 THE SEALER COMMODORE was stuck in ice, in White Bay. But it was a fortuitous event for the main patch (of seals) was near at hand. “As far as the eye could see, from right under the jib boom, the patch stretched for miles in every direction,” wrote Michael Harrington in his Goin’ To The Ice”, 1986. The men killed seals all day on March 17th   tossing them aboard the vessel. “But in the early dawn of March 18th one of the worst blizzards they had ever experienced began. On shore people perished travelling from one settlement to another. But the seals were there and it was now or never.” the work continued. By April 19th back home at Harbour Grace, Commodore had finished discharging. The total value of her trip was $95,000 representing a huge cargo for a ship of 290 tonnes.

Submitted Trading ship of the 14th to 15th centuries. From the Nestle sticker album “Wonders of the World”, 1933.

REMOTE? AUSTERE? Extract from a book auction site, which I encountered this month: “Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) American artist, illustrator and author. He studied with the influential painters and theorists of his day. A transcendentalist and mystic, Kent painted remote and austere lands, including Newfoundland (1914-15), Tierra del Fuego (1922-23), and Greenland (1929; 1931-32; 1934-35).” - From East Coast Book, Maine.

“IN SEALING, fortunes have been made. Towns have been built and flourished with the dollars that the wooden fleets of old brought from the ice fields. They have decayed since steel and steam ruined their invested capital and built up the fleet of the merchants of St. John’s. Men no longer take ship in their own harbours, but follow their captains to the metropolis to serve under them or where they may.”

(Rockwell Kent, writing in his 1930 book “N by E: a record of expeditioning north-by-east across Baffin Bay and beyond”).

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail:  psparkes@thetelegram.com.

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