Murder by shipwreck
Mouse Island is the scene of a largely forgotten mass murder
Shipwrecks are nothing new to the residents of the southwest coast of Newfoundland.
Stories about them have been handed down in songs and folk tales. Artifacts are on display at the railway heritage centre.
In 1981 and 1991 local diver Wayne Mushrow recovered two fully functional astrolabes, which has sparked an annual celebration. The legend of Ann Harvey and her Newfoundland dog Hairyman, who saved 163 from the foundering Despatch, lives on to this day through an annual festival in Isle aux Morts.
But some of the lesser-known shipwrecks have darker origins and have been largely forgotten as the decades have passed. The wreck of the Lady Sherbrooke is one of those legends.
The 370+-ton passenger ship had a crew of 20 and was ferrying 278 immigrants, largely Irish settlers bound for a fresh start in Quebec. Sometime around midnight on July 19, 1831 Captain Gambles deliberately drove his ship onto the rocks near the area of town known as Mouse Island.
In total 268 people were killed, the ship breaking up entirely in in less than 10 minutes.
Men watched helplessly as their wives and children were drowned, and then drowned themselves. Some survived by clinging to pieces of the wreck or were thrown onto the cliffs where fishermen found them the next day.
Court records would later reveal insurance money as the motive behind the mass murder. It’s likely Gamble thought that running the vessel into the rocks so close to shore would mean his passengers could escape unscathed, but the pounding surf swamped the lifeboats and swimmers.
Many of the dead washed ashore near Cape Ray and it is thought that most were buried in Mouse Island on what locals refer to today as the old base.
The base was a US Naval Coast Guard site that became operational in 1942 during the Second World War. It remained in operation until 1945.
The operations hut of a USCG base, which was active from1942-45, and likely covered the unmarked graves of an 1831 shipwreck near Mouse Island.