Top News

Paul Sparkes: Ships, planes and poetry

Fishing for cod on the Banks. Reproduced from Prowse’s 1895” A History of Newfoundland” and credited to The Graphic, a British illustrated weekly newspaper in print from 1869 to1932.
Fishing for cod on the Banks. Reproduced from Prowse’s 1895” A History of Newfoundland” and credited to The Graphic, a British illustrated weekly newspaper in print from 1869 to1932.

When the 46-year-old S.S. Meigle arrived in St. John’s the last day of August 1927, she carried a mixture of accents and a motley assortment of salvaged cargo in addition to her own tightly packed freight.

Meigle was transporting some of the crew from British fur-buyer S.S. Bayrupert, which had been driven aground in late July well up the Labrador coast. Bayrupert was a total wreck.

Something over 4,000 tons, Bayrupert was a pathetic site as the seas broke over her starboard and gurgled down the half-submerged portside. Registered in Great Britain, the ship had been buying pelts and transporting an assortment of stores.

A small news item in The Evening Telegram on Sept. 1, 1927, praised Meigle, under Captain T.R. Burgess, for the salvage work. Aboard Meigle as she docked in St. John’s was Bayrupert’s Captain Smiley. And, with dripping freight (hauled from the wreck site) and an insurance man at hand, we can bet the captain wasn’t very “Smiley.” The Telegram at the time probably had it more to the point. It gave his name as “Smellie.”

The newspaper reported, “The Meigle did good work at salvaging the Bayrupert’s cargo when conditions offered. Besides the large quantity of goods which had been recovered and forwarded to Hopedale, the Meigle also brought practically a full load to this port.  

“Bayrupert is lying in the same position” (as when she first went aground, presumably) ... “a quantity of gasoline and other goods is still intact in No. 1 hold but no attempt could be made at salvaging on account of it being under water,” the newspaper reported. “A large lifeboat belonging to the Bayrupert was brought up on the deck of the Meigle.”

Jump ahead 20 years and you will find that Meigle was lost off St. Shotts. She had been a familiar sight on our coast for nearly 60 years. Part of her freight on her last voyage was livestock. That conjures up a sad scenario. When you’re online, go to Newfoundland Shipbuilding for an extract on the loss of Meigle as carried in The Daily News on July 21, 1947.


Plenty going on

There was no shortage of drama in the skies and on the seas back in the 1920s. You may have the storybook impression that great-grandfather’s day was comprised of work, picnics and church. Not quite. There was always plenty going on here for newspapers to get their teeth into. So it was that 90 years ago a late summer storm offshore over the Banks and the northwestern Atlantic snuffed out the lives of some 40 Newfoundland and New England fishermen. Likely that was the same sudden event that put Bayrupert ashore.

This newspaper reported on that event and said the Canadian Government steamer Arras had been searching the Grand Banks for several days, “running down reports  of floating wreckage.” Arras, by the way, had been built in 1917 as a battle-class naval trawler. After the war she was in civilian service off the eastern Atlantic coasts. Arras was broken up in 1957 after a long career.

It wouldn’t be 1927 in this part of the world without a flight story:

HARBOUR GRACE NOTES, Monday, Sept. 5, 1927: “Our town was a place of great interest on Friday last when it became known that the airplane ‘Pride of Detroit’ would arrived about 4:00 PM. All who could do so were present at the airport to see her landing while others, less fortunate, watched for her first appearance in the clear sky ‘til from here and there came the cry, ‘there she is, there she is!’ Many again gathered at the site on Saturday morning to watch her hop off on the world flight.”

It was the flight of Brock and Schlee, participants in the world flight of that year.

ADVERTISEMENT (Sept., 1st., 1927) Phil Murphy, 349 Water Street: Galvanized slop pails, reg. $ 1.70 on sale for $1.49. Strong, well-made pail, absolutely guaranteed against leakage. Galvanized water pails, 50-cent value, 39 cents. It has been some time since we have made as attractive an offer as this!”


The poetic heavens

In late August 1927, New York’s Sun newspaper (1833-1950) published an article on Venus. You might call it a prose-poem. It caught the eye of Evening Telegram editors and was published in the issue of Sept. 1st.

“A NEW EVENING STAR – The matchless planet Venus which has attracted so much attention in the western evening sky this summer is about to hide its lamp for awhile. It sets so soon after the sun now that it is not easy to catch a glimpse of it in the mists that usually hang above the horizon. In the telescope it appears as a thin, silvery crescent, like the new moon. In a few more days it will be completely swallowed up on the solar rays. On September 10 it will pass between Earth and the sun, though the three bodies will not lie quite in a straight line. After that it will become the morning star, but not until October will it be conspicuous as Lucifer — the light-bringer, the ancients called Venus — when the planet came up in the east as herald of the dawn. In the west it was Hesperus, glory of the evening.”

I learned online that in June, 1927 Venus had “an exceptionally favourable eastern elongation.” Devotees of the heavens may wish to add to their esoteric celestial knowledge by taking that back to the internet.


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

Recent Stories