Cap­tain Ben Tav­erner fore­told tragedy

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL - Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

“I’d really like to know the an­swers. Why?”

Shortly be­fore sail­ing that night, Paul claims his grand­fa­ther fore­told the tragedy to a crewmem­ber. The cap­tain’s pen­chant for pre­mo­ni­tions was well known to his fam­ily and friends.

“This is the night we are go­ing to get it,” quotes Paul from his pile of per­sonal notes.

The cap­tain’s dire pre­dic­tion was un­for­tu­nately cor­rect. The SS Caribou was tor­pe­doed that very night, and Ben­jamin and two of his sons went down with her. The tim­ing was tragic in more ways than one.

“That same year he (Ben­jamin) was sup­posed to re­tire and my un­cle Stan was to take over as cap­tain of the ship,” said Paul.

An­other story told to Paul by his fa­ther in­volved seals and some un­happy pas­sen­gers. The ice was thick and plenty of seals were rest­ing on the floes, so the cap­tain or­dered a pair brought on board to be killed and eaten. Be­cause this took place on a Sun­day it up­set the pas­sen­gers, but as it turns out, Cap­tain Ben was really a softie at heart.

They brought them on board alive and, in def­er­ence to the day be­ing Sun­day, planned to wait un­til the next day to have their feed of seal.

“Cap­tain Ben had changed his mind and kept them for pets,” re­counts Paul with a laugh. “He didn’t have the heart to kill them.”

The cap­tain didn’t have the seals for very long. He brought them home at first but, even though the seals were still ado­les­cents, they proved too big for the tub and he soon re­leased them back into the ocean.

Then there’s the story about the time Cap­tain Ben went look­ing for Old Glory. The sin­gle-en­gine air­plane and her three crew­men went down near Cape Race back in 1927 as they at­tempted to make the first ever 4,000-km non-stop flight to Rome, Italy from Old Or­chard Beach, Maine.

“There was dozens and dozens of ships out look­ing around. They of­fered a re­ward of $25,000 to the skip­per and the crew that found the Old Glory.”

De­clared Paul, “He found it, but he never did get the re­ward.”

Paul re­grets he didn’t ask ques­tions when he was a child, and now it’s too late as fam­ily mem­bers who would know more about his grand­fa­ther’s ad­ven­tures and his un­cles have passed on. But in ad­di­tion to the sto­ries came mem­o­ries of a tragic, un­bear­able loss.

“My grand­mother lived un­til 1953 I think,” says Paul of his grand­mother, Amelia. “After that hap­pened she was never the same. She was really bro­ken hearted.”

Like his fa­ther, Paul es­chewed life at sea in favour of dry land, work­ing as a welder with the rail­way to re­pair train cars. He worked in Port aux Basques, then Monc­ton for 17 years be­fore re­tir­ing back home.

As for his two un­cles, Paul ad­mits he doesn’t have a lot of information about them, but he does have a the­ory about their ac­tions that fate­ful night as well. He be­lieves the two men de­lib­er­ately chose to stand by their fa­ther to the very end.

“They were ab­so­lutely per­fect swim­mers,” said Paul. “And there were peo­ple that night who got res­cued who didn’t know how to swim.”

Of the SS Caribou’s 46-man crew, only 15 sur­vived the sink­ing.

Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner (left) with an uniden­ti­fied ship­mate.

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