Sealing disaster story told in new way

Book includes reproduced telegraphs, tickets, maps, log entries

Published on March 21, 2014
Boulder Publications launched Jenny Higgins’ first book, “Perished: The 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster,” Thursday at Bitters Pub and Restaurant in St. John’s.
— Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

The story of the 1914 sealing disaster and the ill-fated crews of the SS Southern Cross and SS Newfoundland has been shared many times, but a new book does so in a unique fashion.

Writer and researcher Jenny Higgins’ first book is called “Perished: The 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster” and is published by Boulder Publications. Aside from including a wealth of text recounting the events leading up to and the following the death of 251 sealers in separate but simultaneous incidents, the book includes several reproduced documents readers can pull out and look at for additional perspective.

“What I hope they do is draw the reader in and just make the story more immediate, more impactful, and bridge that gap of time — that 100-year gap,” said Higgins, whose book was launched Thursday in St. John’s at Bitters Pub and Restaurant. “You can see the signatures that were written 100 years ago.”

Small pages fold out from between others to show the diary entries of a young sealer involved in a 1908 trip to the icefields. A small envelope elsewhere carries inside it a survivor’s ticket for berth aboard the SS Newfoundland in 1914. Logbook entries, a hospital list of injured sealers and a sealers’ agreement are among the other documents reproduced for the book.

“I don’t know of any other book published here that has all these fold-out maps and documents that you can pull out of envelopes,” said Higgins.

Archival materials from The Rooms and the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University were used extensively for the book.

Higgins was already familiar with the events of 1914 before working on the book, having written about it for the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website, a grade-school textbook and a television documentary. She works in MUN’s Maritime History Archive.

“I do write for a website, so this book is kind of like a website. It’s kind of an interactive experience, but without the computer monitor.”

It was through a conversation with Boulder Publications managing editor Stephanie Porter that the book idea originally came to be. Higgins credits Boulder owner Gavin Will with suggesting the use of fold-out documents.

“He’d seen another book about the Titanic that had all these fold-outs, and he said, ‘Would you like to do something like that?’ and I looked at that book, heard his idea and immediately fell in love with it. ... This is the perfect way to present the archives that I love every single day of my job at work.”

Her work commenced more than a year ago, with Higgins dedicating her evenings, weekends and holidays to preparing it. Mona Atari handled the book’s unique design and layout.

“This is very new to me, because I am very used to working in a back room in an archive in my own setting, away from real people and the spotlight,” said Higgins. “This is exciting.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew