Find­ing a book for Joey

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Per­haps I can help Joey Small­wood, even in death. Please come with me back in time to April 1956, when a pub­li­ca­tion by the name of “Here in New­found­land” made its de­but. E.J. Bon­nell and Ger­ald C. Peet, the edi­tor and pub­lisher, re­spec­tively, wanted to “give the New­found­land pub­lic a high level of read­ing ma­te­rial — a level they justly de­serve … We re­fer to a higher level or stan­dard of ma­te­rial con­tent, get-dow­nand-dig-it-out type ar­ti­cles on top­ics of in­ter­est and im­por­tance re­ported im­par­tially to our read­ers in an easy-read­ing for­mat.”

The pre­miere edi­tion in­cludes an ar­ti­cle by Jack A. White, “The Joe Small­wood You DON’T Know.”

White notes that Small­wood was a vo­ra­cious reader, his “read­ing tastes” be­ing “far, far heav­ier than the aver­age man’s … His read­ing (most of it done at night when the aver­age per­son is asleep) cen­tres on his­to­ries of gov­ern­ments, bi­ogra­phies and au­to­bi­ogra­phies.

“Once, the pre­mier read an aver­age of one book-a-day, seven books-a-week for years. Time does not al­low him to do that now, but he still reads four or five books at the same time, sev­eral chap­ters of one on a cer­tain night, drop­ping it the next and re­turn­ing to it later.”

Small­wood had once de­rived great plea­sure from the book, “The Crew of the Wa­ter Wag­tail” but, White adds, “try as he does, he can­not dis­cover a copy to­day.”

I was suc­cess­ful in track­ing down this book, which was writ­ten by R.M. Bal­lan­tyne (1825-94) and pub­lished in 1889.

In the first chap­ter (“A Rough Be­gin­ning”), the “Wa­ter Wag­tail” sets sail from Bris­tol, Eng­land, on a fine spring morn­ing early in the 16th cen­tury. She car­ries a 40-man crew, in­clud­ing a cook and a cabin boy. Paul Burns, a nat­u­ral­ist, is an “en­thu­si­ast of the deep­est dye, with an in­quir­ing mind, a san­guine dis­po­si­tion, and a fer­vent be­lief in all things great and good and grand.” Oliver Trench, the skip­per’s son, is “lit­tle more than a boy of medium size, but bold as a bull­dog and ac­tive as a weasel.” Big Swin­ton, Lit­tle Stubbs, Ge­orge Blazer and Squill are aboard, as well. “The crew of the ‘Wa­ter Wag­tail’ was un­usu­ally bad,” a friend of the mas­ter call­ing them thieves. The ves­sel’s des­ti­na­tion is the Nor­we­gian coast.

On their first day out, a squall bears down on the ship, blow­ing her far out upon the At­lantic Ocean, stov­ing in her bul­warks, car­ry­ing away her bowsprit and fore­top­mast, dam­ag­ing her sky­lights, strain­ing her rud­der, and clear­ing her decks of any­thing not tied down.

The weather mod­er­ates, al­low­ing for re­pairs and course re­set­ting. How­ever, when the east­erly gales re­turn with a vengeance, the wreck is com­pelled to run west­ward un­der bare poles. Mean­while, the skip­per turns to al­co­hol to drown his sor­rows.

When the weather im­proves for the sec­ond time, the skip­per re­solves to steer by the stars. By then, though, a mutiny is un­der­way.

Big Swin­ton sus­pects their ves­sel is head­ing to “that noo land,” dis­cov­ered by John Cabot and his son, Se­bas­tian. “They called it New­found­land,” he says. “We must be a long way nearer to that land than to Nor­way, an’ it will be far eas­ier to reach it. More­over, the Cabots said that the na­tives there are friendly and peace­able, so it’s my opin­ion that we should carry on as we go till we reach New­found­land, an’ see whether we can’t lead a jol­lier life there than we did in Old Eng­land.”

Big Swin­ton is del­e­gated to seek Mas­ter Trench’s opin­ion about run­ning to New­found­land in­stead of re­set­ting their course for Nor­way. Met with a sharp re­buke, he is or­dered to at­tend to his duty.

That night, the mu­ti­neers act de­ci­sively, seiz­ing the skip­per, his son, Paul Burns and two of­fi­cers.

Big Swin­ton in­forms Mas­ter Trench, “If you agree to nav­i­gate this ship to New­found­land — good; if not we will heave you over­board.”

The skip­per, then the two mates, de­fi­antly refuse to ac­cede to the mu­ti­neers’ re­quest.

Mo­ments later, the first chap­ter ends with a look­out ex­claim­ing, “Land ho!”

Is it New­found­land? Or some­place else? Will the “Wa­ter Wag­tail” head to land or back out to sea? Will the mu­ti­neers suc­ceed in their ef­forts to com­man­deer the ves­sel? What will be­come of the cap­tured crew? Th­ese and many other ques­tions are an­swered in the rest of the book.

If Joey Small­wood were alive to­day, I would gladly give him my copy of this book, which would un­doubt­edly warm the cock­les of his heart.

— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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