Bound Down to Newfoundland [Laws D22]
DESCRIPTION: Young Captain Stafford Nelson of the Abilene falls sick. Unable to get up on deck, he cannot navigate the ship, and none of the other sailors know the coast. Unable to reach Halifax, they wind up in Arichat, where the captain dies
AUTHOR: Captain Cale White
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (Mackenzie)
KEYWORDS: sea wreck disease death
FOUND IN: Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Laws D22, "Bound Down to Newfoundland"
Greenleaf/Mansfield 156, "The Schooner Mary Ann" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 905-906, "Bound Down for Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Doerflinger, pp. 201-203, "Bound Down to Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lehr/Best 73, "The Schooner Mary Ann" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-NovaScotia 104, "Banks of Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-Maritime, pp. 195-196, "Bound Down to Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie 87, "Newfoundland" (1 text)
DT 615, BNDNEWF* BNDNEWF2*
James Maher, "Bound Down to Newfoundland" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Joe Sutton, "Schooner 'Mary Ann'" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(588), "The Loss of the Mary Ann" A. Ryle and Co. (London), 1845-1859; also Firth c.13(58)=Harding B 16(132b), "The Loss of the Albion," unknown, no date
NOTES [535 words]: In Greenleaf/Mansfield the schooner is Mary Ann and the illness, which kills all but two, is smallpox. - BS
Smallpox seems to have been a recurring problem for Newfoundland -- perhaps not surprising given their primitive public health system. As late as 1924, there was an outbreak on the Annie M. Parker, killing one man and putting others in hospital (Parker, p. 203). Even more shockingly, since it involved a large, modern ship, in 1918, there was an outbreak of smallpox on the ship Florizel (Brown, pp. 6-7).d I seem to recall reading of smallpox epidemics among sealers in the decades immediately before that as well.
This story has interesting similarities to the story of the clipper Neptune's Car, though that ship sailed around Cape Horn rather than in Canada. The story has been widely retold; I found versions Baker/AmHist; in Paine, p. 356; in Cordingly, pp. 109-115; and in Hoehling, pp.11-12.
Shortly before the Car was to set sail from New York to San Francisco in 1857, her first mate broke her leg. Captain Joshua Adams Patten was forced to sail with a mate hired by the shipping company.
It turned out to be a bad decision; the mate may have been a ringer (Patten was racing two other ships around the Horn). Whatever the mate's reasons, he seems to have tried to slow the ship's passage. Patten had him arrested.
But that left Patten as the only qualified navigator aboard -- and he was suffering from tuberculosis (so Paine and Baker/AmHist; Hoehling calls it a "mysterious" ailment; Cordingly says that they thought at the time that it was pneumonia -- but it also caused him to temporarily lose his sight, and later his hearing. I wonder if he didn't have a venereal disease). He tried to work two shifts, and eventually collapsed.
In a sense, the story of Neptune's Car was happier than this song. Salvation came in the form of Patten's wife, a teenager who was pregnant for the first time -- but whom Joshua Patten had taught navigation on a previous voyage. With the help of the crew and the second mate (who could handle sail but could not navigate), she took over the ship, brought her through Cape Horn, and eventually got it to San Francisco. It was a slow passage, but they made it.
Her name? Mary Ann.
But if the Neptune's Car made it to port, the story then reverts to what is found in this song: The captain did not survive. Joshua Patten, who was barely 30, died in mid-1857, and Mary Ann Patten, not yet 25, had contracted tuberculosis and died in 1861. (The ship itself outlived them; Neptune's Car was still in service, under the British flag, in 1870.)
The Neptune's Car doesn't seem to have had a particularly happy history. According to Cordingly, on a previous voyage under Captain Patton, she had been hit by lightning, causing several injuries. Mary Ann Patten helped nurse the injured -- clearly she was a useful person to have around.
There were other instances of captain's wives helping to run ships, documented in Cordingly, p. 118fff. These do not seem to have been as well known.
The source of this song? Probably not. But one wonders if there might not have been a Neptune's Car song which mixed with the Greenleaf/Mansfield version. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.4
- Baker/AmHist: Julie Baker, "The Troubled Voyage of Neptune's Car," article in American History magazine, February 2005, pp. 58-65
- Brown: Cassie Brown, A Winter's Tale, Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1992
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
- Hoehling: A. A. Hoehling, Ships that Changed History (1992; I use the 2007 Barnes & Noble edition)
- Paine: Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World: An Historical Encylopedia, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
- Parsons: Robert C. Parsons, Cape Race: Stories from the Coast that Sank the Titanic, Flanker Press, 2011
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