Gone in a flash


On Dec. 23, 1876, the schooner Flash, un­der the com­mand of Cap­tain Char­lie Matthews, de­parted the premises of John Munn and Com­pany in Har­bour Grace, des­tined for Reuben Benis­ter and Sons in New Per­li­can. The crew mem­bers were Richard Seaward, John How­ell, Levi Smith and Richard Cal­la­han, res­i­dents of New Per­li­can.

Four hours later, when the ves­sel was abeam of Bac­calieu Is­land, she was hit by a wild, un­ex­pected storm, which buf­feted her re­lent­lessly for over 24 hours.

Arthur Pittman de­scribes the storm as one “against which no ves­sel of her size could hold a side.”

Frank Gal­gay adds, “ The hor­ror that awaited them as they en­tered Christ­mas Day was be­yond be­lief as they strug­gled for their lives on the rag­ing seas.”

Mean­while, most of the fam­i­lies of the crew grudg­ingly sur­ren­dered the Flash and her crew to a wa­tery grave.

All but Aunt Christina How­ell, who held an en­tirely dif­fer­ent view. Ac­cord­ing to Melvin Rowe, “She was re­ported to have said that, be­fore re­tir­ing at night, she fan­cied in her mind the sight of the Flash drift­ing along with the wind and tide and of see­ing the men walk­ing the deck.” She had a rea­son for think­ing this way: “God will, in his own time, bring us all to­gether again.”

Fast for­ward to the end of May 1877.

Early one morn­ing, a Heart’s Con­tent the­atri­cal group, the Mo­hawk Min­strel Troupe, left for Har­bour Grace. They were sched­uled to present a ben­e­fit con­cert for the rel­a­tives of the Flash‘s crew, all of whom were pre­sumed lost.

That evening, as the troupe were well into their per­for­mance at the Bri­tish Hall, they were in­ter­rupted by the door­man’s voice.

“ Stop!” he ex­claimed re­peat­edly. “ God be praised! The crew of the Flash is in the porch, and all are alive and well.”

With that, Cap­tain Matthews, along with his four-man crew, marched into the hall.

Gal­gay tells what fol­lowed: “ The crowd in the hall broke out into an up­roar of shout­ing and telling as they wel­comed home those who were lost and were now found.”

Isaac An­gel, the troupe’s pi­anist, played the mu­sic for the hymn, “Praise God, from whom all bless­ings flow; / Praise him all crea­tures here be­low; / Praise him above, ye heav’nly host; / Praise Fa­ther, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Matthews walked to the stage and re­galed the au­di­ence with his ex­pe­ri­ences af­ter his schooner had left Har­bour Grace.

“ We were thrown about in the ter­ri­ble win­ter storm,” he be­gan, “and we drifted for over two months, with lit­tle hope of sur­vival on the At­lantic Ocean. Dur­ing the or­deal, two ships passed us by, de­spite our ef­forts to put out dis­tress sig­nals.”

He then told about the Arc­tic, a for­eign-go­ing brig be­long­ing to Munn’s. She made con­tact with the Flash around mid-March, some 150 nautical miles south of New­found­land.

“Boats were sent away and, within an hour, the sur­vivors, all hands rea­son­ably safe and well, had been taken aboard the res­cue whip. Then both res­cued men and their sur­vivors stood to at­ten­tion and rev­er­ently saluted the derelict, their en­forced home for al­most 100 days, as she rolled over till she came bot­tom up and was swal­lowed by the sea. The stout lit­tle ves­sel had served them well.”

This tale of the sea was re­called dur­ing the fourth an­nual New Per­li­can Her­itage Day cer­e­mony on July 9.

The his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador abounds with such sto­ries. Read all about many of them in Frank Gal­gay’s lat­est book, Rocks Ahead! Wrecks, Res­cues and a Cof­fin Ship, pub­lished by Flanker Press in St. John’s.

••• An­swers to last week’s New­found­land quiz:

1. Row in g . 2 . T h e Evening Tele­gram. 3. Fogo Is­land. 4. March March. 5. W. E. David­son. 6. Small stove. 7. John Cabot, Robert ( Bob) Bartlett, John Clinch, Wil­fred Gren­fell. 8. Pa­per. 9. Robert Carter. 10. Royal Stores, Stan­dard Bed­ding Co., Ed­win Mur­ray, A.E. Hick­man Co. 11. H. LeMes­surier. 12. Tryphena. 13. Cor­mack, Gosling, Prowse. 14. Bay Roberts. 15. E. P. Morris. 16. Grand Lake. 17. Ge­orge Calvert. 18. Train. 19. Bon­av­ista, St. Mary’s. 20. 640, 1,006, 681, 940. 21. Cat Cove, Loo Cove, River­head, Toad’s Cove. 22.Writ­ing, box­ing, singing. 23. Ge­orge II, Ge­orge V. 24. New­found­land his­to­ri­ans. 25. Ba­con, but­ter, tea, turnip. Bear, beaver, dog, fox. 26. Ap­pear­ance of three suns. 27. Bad­deck, Nova Scotia. 28. March 20, 1878.

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