Stormbound at Harbour Grace
In the summer of 1867, the Hant’s Harbour native, Malcolm G. Bremner (1847-1910), left his adopted home, Ontario, to visit his homeland, Newfoundland.
In mid-July, while waiting to continue his trip, the 19-year-old editor of The London Free Press was stormbound overnight at Harbour Grace. He later wrote about the night in a letter, which was published in the Canadian Free Press, a weekly edition of The London Free Press.
Editor Bremner began:“On a cold, wet, dull and dreary evening near the middle of July - for such evenings sometimes come in that month in Terra Nova - the little steamer Ariel touched at Harbour Grace, bound for the northward, and I was soon on board, booked for Trinity, in the adjoining Bay of that name.
“A steady rain poured down, a thick fog hung over the town like a darksome pall, intermittent gusts of wind swept down from Saddle Hill and, altogether, there was a pretty sure prospect of a dirty night.
“The skipper, being a cautious sailor, determined not to put out in such weather. So, we made the best of a bad bargain and awaited the return of morning.
“My fellow passengers embraced 15 young ladies and about eight young swells from the metropolis. It was as jolly a company as one ever fell in with - the condensed steam of the St. John’s social boiler, out for a ‘lark’ and bent on being merry or blown up.
“The Ariel has been built more with a view to carrying the mails than passengers. Very seldom there are any passengers at all and, to make up for this deficiency, a higher mail subsidy is obtained from government and higher rates of passage than we are accustomed to are demanded. A journey of 60 miles costs a pound. There are no especial conveniences for ladies, and the ordinary cabin is made to serve the purposes of sitting room, dining room, cupboards, lockers and, at bedtime, it is divided off into staterooms or bunks. This, however, is much superior to the old method, when one was compelled to adopt any accommodation that offered.
“It was resolved to keep up full steam all night and, when the fog lifted, we were to sail - in the meantime, to be happy or miserable, as it suited. We chose to be happy and succeeded.
“In the preparation of supper, the waiter was obliged to let us into some of his housekeeping secrets, which he did in this wise.
“Approaching one of the 15 angels spoken of, with a grin on his ‘phaz’ and his forefinger stroking an imaginary pimple on the chin, he said,‘I’ll dishturb ye, ma’am.’ On her rising graciously, he removed the cushion and, opening a small locker in the seat, took out the cheese, sugar and salt; depositing which on the table, he carefully replaced the cushion and, bidding the lady be reseated, moved off to another side to ask another lady’s indulgence, while he produced the butter, bread and cold meat from a similar hiding place. Then, lifting a small trap under the table, he descended into a dark hole and soon emerged with a supplementary stock.
“Supper over, mirth and music followed. Indeed, the jollity heightened as the fog lowered, the rain pattered on the deck and the wind whistled overhead. But for their hilarity, I confess my spirits would have fallen in a degree corresponding to the weather, for the human barometer is often susceptible of great depression under such influence.
“The musical genius of the awed party entertained us with 20 indifferent selections on the German concertina, and one of the young ladies, who seemed afflicted with a chronic cold in the head, sang some songs, warbling forth somewhat in this strain: Boodlight is beabig, soft dews are streabig, Joy stars are gleabig, over the lea; Dight is reposig, whilst eyes are closig, Lips udopposig, cobe, love, with be; Whilst eyes are closig, cobe, love, with be!
The poem Moonlight is beaming, written by Desmond Ryan, music by Clement White, actually goes: Moonlight is beaming, Soft dews are streaming, Joy, stars are gleaming, Over the lea. Night is reposing, Whilst eyes are closing Lips unopposing Come, love, with me.
“When the interest flagged, a young schoolmaster of Bonavista, who was in liquor, gave us some quotations from the Latin grammar which, however interesting to himself, soon wearied his listeners and they were gladdened at length by his falling asleep.
“Bedtime came and the swells got a mysterious invitation to go on deck, and they obeyed it, not minding the pelting rain, nor the cold, nor the fog, instinctively surmising that the girls desired to be alone.
“The inebriated knight of the birch-rod, however, was left, inasmuch as it was thought his cups would hold him in a safe slumber.
“In 10 minutes, the water had converted the cabin into a tolerably neat suit of apartments after the manner of the sleeping car. But how long it took the dear creatures to stow away, before we were permitted again to enter, heaven only knows, but it must have been a full hour, during which time the question was discussed whether, under the circumstances, the gallantry of these particular swells should go farther than 12 o’clock.
“At length, all grew quiet below. The merry laughter died away and we went down, shivering with cold and badly wanting a ‘nightcap.’ We found the Dominie still reclining on his chair, his head thrown back and his eyebrows and moustache copiously besmeared with mustard and pepper. While we stood, wondering what this meant, a chorus of giggling came from behind mysterious red curtains and bright eyes were caught peering out between them. The poor schoolmaster was well punished and it was not difficult to saddle the guilt on the right shoulders.
“The bunks on the right were speedily occupied by some of the swells, while those who were deprived, accommodated themselves upon the floor. It was astonishing how readily they suited themselves to their position and how naturally their bodies described certain letters in the alphabet. One or two formed the letter 7, another L, while the schoolmaster, at last tumbling from his chair, doubled up in the form of an O. In this position, we fell asleep, expecting to leave the harbour early in the morning.”
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at email@example.com