the view from fogo island

Benson
Benson Hewitt
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The storm of 1907, Fogo Island

“When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore, and wild waves lash thy strand, thro’ spindrift swirl and tempest roar, we love thee windswept land.”

- Sir Cavendish Boyle

Hurricane Igor, Sept. 21, 2010, has been described as the most destructive tropical cyclone to strike Newfoundland, and is now part of its lore.

According to most reports, losses throughout the province amounted to a record $200 million, resulting in military personal being deployed to assist in recovery efforts and aid distribution. Although the loss of life was minimal, large stretches of roadways were completely washed out by severe flooding, and roughly 150 communities were isolated.

Igor, of course, hit Fogo Island and left its mark, but nothing about Igor compares with a similar hurricane of just over 100 years ago, and around the same time of the year, that is, as far as Fogo Island was concerned.

The naming of hurricanes had not taken place but the storm would be referred to as the ‘storm of 1907’ for many years afterwards. It hit Fogo Island with a vengeance according to one report. As is my wont those days, I spend a bit of time reading old newspapers. (What else is there to do? Some of you might want to ask!) The other day I came across some news in the Daily News of 1907 sent in by a writer from Fogo who didn’t give his name. He described, quite matter-of-factly, I think, about a monstrosity of a storm that hit Fogo on the 18th and 19th of September, 1907. I give it to you, as he wrote it.  (And just by the way, and he makes no mention of this, that is, whether the 18th and 19th of September were between Monday and Friday; but if it were, I’m allowing that the schools were not closed. And, if it were on Sunday, there were church services and Sunday school as usual, you can be sure!) This, then, is what that reporter from Fogo wrote at that time:

The big gale of the 18th and 19th September was felt in all its severity in this neighbourhood, and as a result I have to report several wrecks which occurred in our harbour. The schooner ‘Nina Pearl’, belonging to Captain Ambrose Payne, became stranded and is still on the rocks. A survey has been held, the decision being made to refloat the craft. Mr. John Jones, who was in charge of the work, expects to make a successful job of it, and in all likelihood, this staunch vessel will be afloat ere many days elapse.

‘The Osprey’, owned by Mr. Earle, also went ashore, but was got off and is now ready to proceed on a voyage. A Danish fish vessel, slightly damaged by contact with the rocks, awaits survey before loading can take place. A number of fishing boats were totally broken up and lost, as well as great destruction to stages, flakes, and in some instances, quantities of fish destroyed.

At Barr’d Islands and Joe Batt’s Arm similar conditions existed, and it will take some time and expense to make good the damage. Little Fogo Islands have suffered considerably, - about fifty boats, skiffs, punts being more or less damaged, besides the destruction of flakes and stages, as well as their contents in some cases. Tilting Harbour was more fortunate, the loss sustained being slight.

The schooner, ‘Leslie E.’, Captain William Snow, bound for Flower’s Cove with general cargo was lost in the morning of Thursday, the 19th September, at Northern Bond Island. The captain and crew came around at Seldom Come By, it having communicated with the Relieving Officer at Fogo, that officer then proceeded to Seldom Come By and made arrangements to transfer the men to Twillingate by the ‘SS Clyde’. Captain Snow who had received a nasty cut in the leg was treated by the doctor on the steamer ‘Elinor’, (a surveying ship that may have been at Seldom Come By at the time) and on Monday was conveyed to Fogo by wagon. Mr. A.J. Fitzgerald, the Relieving Officer, with his customary thoughtful consideration for ships and mariners, conducted the arrangements in this case in a highly creditable manner. Mr. Stone, Wreck Commissioner, has begun in recovering several boat loads of material from the ‘Leslie E.’

Twillingate, Fogo’s sister port, was also severely hit by this storm and a graphic report of how it fared during this storm was written in the July 21, 1983 edition of the Grand Falls Advertiser, perhaps originally reported in the Twillingate Sun at the time of the storm, although I am not able to confirm this. I’ll include it just so that you may get an idea of the severity of this particular storm especially in this area:

“Twillingate Island was ravaged by a terrible hurricane in 1907. Twenty-five schooners were at anchor in Twillingate when the ‘Liner Breeze’ struck. Only two of the schooners escaped being driven ashore by the fierce gale. The people of the town could only watch anxiously as one schooner after another broke her moorings and was thrown upon the beach. One of the vessels even drove her mast through a store window where several workers were watching the progress of the storm. Many of the schooners had their summer’s catch of fish on board. Fortunately a high tide which accompanied the hurricane swept the schooners upon the beach and so saved their valuable cargo. Many of the schooners needed only to be launched, while some required repairs.” (How is that for seeing a silver lining?)

There was similar damage at Bonavista, and it has been captured in a ballad “The Loss of the Snorre.” The author is unknown. I’ll include just a few stanzas that will describe the extent of the storm in Bonavista:

Many happy ones returned home back from the Labrador, They prosecute the fisheries, oft-times have done before; With loaded schooners full of fish, the commerce of our land, How glad we were to greet them and shake them by the hand.

But on this memorable night round Bonavista shore, The destructions of the elements, the like unknown before; Here many a fine and sporting craft this time did meet its doom, Some with their summer’s catch on board, lately arrived at home.

The fishing schooner ‘Harold F’. became a total wreck; The ‘Olive Branch’ and ‘Planet’, too, were smashed from keel to deck. The foreign-going ‘Reliance’ to the water’s edge cut down; And many of our small fishing boats next morning were not found.

It was not the sea alone but on the land as well, The gale caused much destruction, it’s hard for one to tell; How many of our small fishing boats were smashed upon the shore, And down went flakes and stages which caused a great uproar.

You may be wondering about the title “The Loss of the Snorre.” That is the ballad’s main thrust.  “The Snorre” was a Norwegian sloop chartered by J. Ryan, a mercantile business in Bonavista at the time. She was on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, and safely made it to moorage in Bonavista. With the exception of five who stayed on board to watch the ship, all the rest of the crew went ashore. During the evening, however, the storm came on and worsened into a raging gale, causing too much strain on the anchors. Eventually ‘The Snorre’ was cast free and completely destroyed. With tremendous heroism by the men of Bonavista, the men on the ship were saved with the exception of two boys, one of whom was only 13. The men of Bonavista were eventually honoured by the Carnegie Foundation and decorated by King Haarkon of Norway. Incidentally, the “Daily News” of St. John’s, May 12th, 1908, featured a photograph of the then governor of Newfoundland, William MacGregor, at Bonavista presenting those medals on behalf of the King of Norway.

I do not doubt that the Hurricane Igor as previously mentioned may very well have been the most destructive tropical hurricane to strike Newfoundland on record, but I do wonder what criteria were used. During this particular storm in 2010 it was reported 150 communities were isolated; that was a way of life in 1907. It also reported that large stretches of roadways were washed out by severe flooding in 2010. 1907? Where were the roads? It was reported in 2010 that one person was killed because of Igor. The “Daily News” for Sept. 19, 1907 reported succinctly that there was a disastrous storm on that particular, that the Duchess of Fife had been wrecked at Lance Cove, the Hobson a total wreck at Seal Cove and that Effie M with all hands on board, lost. After Igor, military personnel were called in to assist in recovery efforts and distribution. 1907? We didn’t have a military, nor was there any help from any government, nor was there any forecast predicting the storm. People just picked up their pieces, and went about their business, as usual.  

 

bensonhewitt@eastlink.ca                                                

Organizations: Daily News, Snorre, Relieving Officer Olive Branch Carnegie Foundation

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Bonavista Twillingate Little Fogo Islands Atlantic Norway Seal Cove

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