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.