Neptune, Ruler of the Sea
DESCRIPTION: "The Neptune, ruler of the sea, she rides in court today, Filled up with white-coats to the hatch and her colors flying gay.... While bats did rattle on their heads, the murder then began. " Captain Kane's ship returns home with 30,000 harp seals.
EARLIEST DATE: 1960 (Leach-Labrador)
KEYWORDS: hunting sea ship
1873-1943 - Career of the sealer "Neptune"
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Leach-Labrador 81, "Neptune, Ruler of the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ryan/Small, p. 119, "'Neptune,' Ruler of the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
ST LLab081 (Partial)
NOTES [590 words]: There were two Newfoundland ships named Neptune, one of which, a schooner, went missing in 1929 (O'Neill, p. 985), but her sealer namesake still had many more years of service ahead of her.
Leach's text (the source also of Ryan/Small's) gives the ship's master as "Captain Kane." This is almost certainly an error -- in fact, probably a double error, one by the singer or author, one by the transcriber. The transcriber's error is the name "Kane"; it should be "Captain Kean," after Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") and his many seal-hunting uncles, sons, and other relatives.
But although members of the Kean family commanded many, many ships over the years, none of them ever took charge of the Neptune. The list of her captains, on p. 93 of Feltham (and checked against Chafe, p. 102, for the years up to 1923), includes four members of the Barbour dynasty (probably Alphaeus, Baxter, George, and Samuel), the famous Robert Bartlett, William Winsor (for whom see see "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912"), Samuel Blandford (for whom see "Sealer's Song (I)"), Edward White Sr., and three others not quite so well known.
As a wild guess, perhaps the reference to Captain Kane is to Abram Kean in his unofficial role as commodore of the sealing fleet, which would explain the reference to "fly[ing] his long burgee." (Either that, or the line floating in from a song about a sailing club or something.)
The Neptune was built in 1872-1873 in Dundee, reportedly under the supervision of Captain Edward White (Ryan/Drake, p. 70; this page also has a picture of White), who commanded her 1873-1879 (Chafe, p. 102); she was rebuilt shortly before 1900, with her masts reduced so that she no longer took a full set of sails (Ryan/Drake, p. 20, who have a picture of her in her rebuilt state; Feltham, p. 177, also appears to show her after her rebuilding. A third photo, on p. 185 of Feltham, shows her alongside two other sealers as they prepare to go to the ice. Candow, p. 56, shows her in 1901).
The Neptune was famous as the only ship to take more than a million seals in her career (Feltham, p. 92); eleven times in the period 1873-1900, she took more seals than any other ship in the fleet (Feltham, p. 93). She was built in 1873 and participated in the seal hunt for 66 years from 1873 to 1941, missing only 1904, 1932. and 1933. She had a 120 horsepower engine, giving her a lot of power and making her unusually able to make it into the ice (Feltham, pp. 92-93). This probably contributed to her longevity (as did World War I, which saw many of the newer steel ships requisitioned for other uses or simply destroyed; Feltham, p. 95).
In addition to her sealing work, she did some arctic voyaging. In 1905, Sam Bartlett (for whom see "Captain Bob Bartlett") brought her home to St. John's after making the latest trip to Hudson's Bay ever managed up to that time (Horwood, p. 91).
She finally was lost in a storm on March 4, 1943; the tug sent to help her managed to take off her crew, but it was too late to save the leaking ship (Feltham, p. 97). That left only two of the old wooden walled sealers.
The Neptune is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships," "The Sealer's Song (II)," "Ballad of Captain Bob Bartlett," "Success to the Hardy Sealers," "Loss of the S. S. Algerine," and "Cotton's Patch (II)." See the latter song for her brief career as an "aircraft carrier." She is almost certainly also the Nipshun of "Success to Every Man." Ryan, p. 308, has another poem which mentions her. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Chafe: Levi George Chafe, Chafe's Sealing Book: A History of the Newfoundland Sealfishery from the Earliest Available Records Down To and Including the Voyage of 1923, third edition, Trade Printers and Publishers, Ltd., 1923 (PDF scan available from Memorial University of Newfoundland)
- Candow: James E. Candow, Of Men and Seals: A History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1989
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- Horwood: Andrew Horwood, Newfoundland Ships and Men, The Marine Researchers, 1971
- O'Neill: Paul O'Neill, A Seaport Legacy: The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland, Press Procepic, 1976
- Ryan: Shannon Ryan, The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914, Breakwater Books, 1994
- Ryan/Drake: Shannon Ryan, assisted by Martha Drake, Seals and Sealers: A Pictorial History of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery, Breakwater Books, 1987
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