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.”

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