By Benson Hewitt
In my piece for the last week on the schooner, Jessie, I left off with the vessel, now a derelict of its former self, having left Seldom-Come-Bye on Dec. 5, 1902, enroute to St. John’s, but having been overtaken by a severe winter storm and drifting somewhere in the North Atlantic wherever the wind drove them.
Captain Holwell had no idea of his position, and all he could do was to try to keep the vessel in position by steering. You’ll recall that on Dec. 12 they sighted a steamer in the distance but were unable to attract its attention. Then, until Dec. 23, they had lost all hope of rescue or survival. They were down to their last scraps of bread, and precious little water.
Now let me get back to where I left off last week. On that night, however, and just around midnight, they spotted the lights of a steamer that they estimated to be about five miles away. They had only a very small quantity of oil left and so it was ‘do or die.’ They put it in a lantern and hoisted it up and down by a single halyard which had been rigged to the broken foremast. Then for an agonizing while they realized they were not able to attract the attention of this steamer. In desperation, they gathered up some birch rind which was around the vessel and set that on fire. No doubt there were silent prayers, or perhaps, not so silent. This, initially, didn’t attract the attention of the steamer, but then it happened! The absolutely worn-out crew noticed that the ship was changing her course and bearing down on them. Try, for a minute to imagine their unbounded joy. This ship was the Hornby Castle bound from Galveston, a seaport in Texas, enroute to Antwerp, Holland. It was around midnight, Dec. 23, 1902, when the Jessie’s crew was rescued by the chief mate of the Hornby Castle. It was he who was in charge of the steamer’s boat.
When they got on board the “Hornby Castle” they were, as is usual in such situations, shown extreme kindness, and for the first time in several weeks were able to have a drink of water and a meal. This must have been an unusual and welcome coincidence, but they were to find that the captain of the Hornby Castle was a Newfoundlander, a Captain Jackman. He had left Newfoundland some 30 years earlier, and must have been pleased to realize that he was destined to rescue some fellow Newfoundlanders.
How about this for an unexpected turn of events? They reached Antwerp, Holland, on New Year’s Day, 1903, and with the exception of the captain who had injured a leg, they were in reasonably good shape. However, and it probably doesn’t need to be said, they had no to time visit any of the sites. I can imagine, that first on their minds was contact, via transatlantic cable, with their family in Herring Neck, however that might be effected. Ponder for a while what the families there were experiencing, and that must be a story in itself. It didn’t matter that it was Christmas. For the families in Herring Neck there must have been little hope. It is safe to say, most likely, that all the men were the breadwinners for their families.