The loss of the Waterwitch
Samuel Spracklin Sr. was the owner and captain of the Waterwitch, a 62-ton, 69-foot schooner. Her home port was Cupids.
One early evening in late November 1875, Spracklin, along with 25 crew and passengers, departed St. John’s for the vessel’s Conception Bay destination. It was to be the final voyage for the year. The schooner was loaded with winter provisions.
A northwesterly gale, accompanied by darkness and driving snow, didn’t bode well for the trip. Water gushed in over the gunnels.
Three hours of sailing under full canvas brought the Waterwitch abreast of Flatrock, only 15 miles out of the capital city. An hour later, they were just off Pouch Cove.
The weather conditions relentlessly coaxed the schooner close to the rocky shore.
“ The crash, when it came, was horrendous,” writes Eldon Drodge.
Only 13 of the 25 aboard the Waterwitch survived the impact.
Spracklin realized one of them would have to scale the cliff, find help and get back before the vessel was beaten to matchsticks.
The captain and Richard Ford took on the daunting task of climbing what Drodge calls the “slippery, precipitous granite.”
At Pouch Cove, the exhausted duo aroused Eli Langmead who, in turn, aroused the men of the community for a rescue attempt.
The Waterwitch had come ashore in Horrid Gulch. A worse spot could not have been picked.
Alfred Moores volunteered to go down the cliff face to find the rest of the survivors.
“A thick rope was hitched around a tree at the top of the cliff and its other end fitted around Moores’ waist. Then, while a number of the other men supported the rope, he was lowered over the cliff into the swirling darkness of the night.”
Moores halted on a ledge, some hundred feet from the roiling sea. Christopher Baldwin, William Noseworthy, Christopher Mundy and William Langmead were then lowered over the cliff to form a rescue relay team.
Moores tossed the hand rope to the survivors below him. Over the next two hours, they were brought up one-by-one.
“ The survivors … were none the worse for their harrowing experience, except for the few scrapes and bumps from being pulled up the rough cliff. Emotionally, however, they were devastated by the loss of loved ones and relatives. Many more had lost provisions and all their worldly possessions.
“ They were brought to Pouch Cove where they were taken generously into houses and their needs catered to until arrangements could be made to have them transferred to their home.”
The rescuers, “ by their courageous deed in the early morning hours … earned for themselves an honoured place alongside the many other heroic men and women whose courage has so greatly enriched the history of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 500 years.”
In the wake of the tragedy, the rescuers became heroes, their fame spreading throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Moores was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Humane Society of England. Baldwin, Noseworthy, Mundy, along with Eli and William Langmead, received bronze medals from the society. In 1965, Moores’ bravery was commemorated with a plaque on the public highway at Pouch Cove.
This tale is but one of 14 told by Eldon Drodge in his recent book, Newfoundland Stories: The Loss of the Waterwitch and Other Tales.
The stories are an amalgam of fact and fiction. The author writes, “ Some of these stories are based on actual events and real characters. The others are purely from the imagination. All embody the essence of Newfoundland, past and present.”
The tale of the Waterwitch is one of those “ based on actual events and real characters.” It will resonate with readers who enjoy true stories of the sea.
Most of the other stories are imaginative creations. Some of them are Pius Carroll goes Swiling (sealing), Home from the War, The Light in the Garden, The Skraeling, The Drunk, The Fugitive, Maggie’s Lament, Indian Killers and The New Road. Finally, Drodge attempts to answer the intriguing question, What Happened at Devil’s Cove?
Drodge’s fictional re-enactments are no less enthralling than the true ones.
All of them together “ helped forge the identity of an island, its people and its culture.
Heroic deeds, great achievements, hardships and deprivations, disasters, superstitions and customs, as well as the Beothuk saga, have all contributed to the making of modern-day Newfoundland and Labrador.” They are “ truly reflective of the uniqueness of the province and its people.”