Ella M Rudolph, The

DESCRIPTION: Ella M Rudolph sails with a crew of eight, including Mary Jane Abbott. When the ship strikes a rock in a storm the only survivor "was hurled into the cliff." He reaches Levi Dalton's door. A rescue party finds Mary Jane's body washed ashore
AUTHOR: Hugh Sexton and others (see NOTES)
EARLIEST DATE: 1926 (Trinity Bay Trinitarian)
KEYWORDS: death sea ship storm wreck
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
Dec 6, 1926 - Ella M. Rudolph with Captain Blackwood en route from St John's to Port Nelson with a cargo of fish was stranded in a storm at Brook Cove in Trinity Bay (Northern Shipwrecks Database)
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Cox-Newfoundland, pp. 62-66, "The Ella M. Rudolph" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lehr/Best 32, "The Ella M Rudolph" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: John Feltham, _Northeast from Baccalieu_, Harry Cuff Publications, 1990, pp. 35-36, "The Ella M. Rudolph" (1 text)
Bruce Stagg, _The Blackwood Schooner_, Flanker Press, 2009, pp. 183-188, "(no title)" (1 text)

Roud #2491
NOTES [1226 words]: The Ella M. Rudolph wreck was famous enough to inspire a book, Stagg's The Blackwood Schooner, as well as sundry shorter articles. I find Stagg's book hard to read; he seems to think it's non-fiction, but much of it consists of conversations between people who did not live to record what they said. It has many photos of those involved in the tragedy, but a number of them appear to have been incompetently doctored (after much examination, I think they were Photoshopped out of group photos by someone who understood neither Photoshop nor human physiology).
The title of Stagg's book doesn't refer to the material of the boat; it refers to the family which owned and operated her. According to Feltham, p. 33, the Rudolph was a 54 ton fishing schooner, commanded by Eleazar Blackwood, with seven crew and a woman as cook.
The Blackwood family hadn't owned her long. She had been built in 1912 in Nova Scotia (Stagg, p. 14), and went through five owners in the course of thirteen years before the Blackwoods bought her in 1925 (Stagg, pp. 14-15). This was a pretty typical story by this time; Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") notes that the depressed state of cod prices was ruining the Newfoundland fishing economy; the number of ships was falling, and the building industry doing even worse: "Many of the vessels were not built in this country but bought from Nova Scotia at about one-eighth of their original cost. Why? Because at the low price of fish it would never have paid to have new schooners built" (Kean, p. 108).
The "crew" was less a crew than a family -- Captain Eleazar Blackwood and his three sons, plus four others, one of whom had married Blackood's sister as his first wife and another of whom was Eleazar Blackwood's wife's nephew. The cook, Mary Jane Abbott, became engaged to one of Blackwood's sons while on the trip; a second son also was engaged. There was apparently a story that the 18-year-old Abbott was pregnant (Stagg, p. 58). It strikes me as possibly significant that First Mate Bert Blackwood, Eleazar Blackwood's oldest son, was already a widower; his wife had died in 1923 (Stagg, pp. 20-21), so he may have been depressed. The family dynamics must have been complicated. (All of this is gleaned from Stagg, but often it's hard to cite a page because he's so vague and so full of fiction.)
Supposedly the crew, on their way to St. John's, saw an apparition of their boat coming the other way (Stagg, p. 62). Right. (Stagg tells of another ship-as-death-portent on p. 133. And he pretends his book is non-fiction. Oy.)
The tragedy could surely have been avoided. Most ships the size of the Rudolph would not have been sailing in December; the waters off Newfoundland were too dangerous. But apparently Eleazar Blackwood had been late in getting his fish dried due to bad weather (Stagg, p. 58), and then ended up staying in St. John's too long trying to get a good price (Stagg, p. 67). Despite the late season, he wanted to take the schooner home for winter. But the weather kept getting in the way. (In a small mercy, Eleazar Blackwood's wife and young daughter who were to sail with them decided to go home by train, and so survived; Stagg, p. 72. Another man, Jim Wicks, was left behind in their haste and also survived; Stagg, p. 75.)
When they finally set out, the wind reached gale force as they sailed. Stagg believes they waited too long to reduce their sail; by the time Captain Blackwood was finally willing to take it in, the wind was so high that they could not manage the sails (Stagg, pp. 88-91). The schooner went off course and crashed near Little Catalina. Marmaduke "Duke" Blackwood, the son of Captain Eleazar Blackwood, jumped off and survived (Feltham, p. 34); all the others died.
Duke Blackwood apparently jumped off the boat to the cliff just moments after the boat crashed (Stagg, p. 95), so we have little real information about the sinking except the location where she went down. Blackwood wandered for much of the night before finding his way to a settlement (Stagg, pp. 96-111). He was so frozen that he couldn't really explain what had happened, but eventually men set out to seek the Rudolph. They had to hunt for some time to follow Blackwood's trail before the eventually spotted debris at Brook Cove Beach (Stagg, p. 121). The boat had clearly gone to pieces on the rocks. There is a photo of those rocks on p. 112 of Stagg (and, unlike many of the photos, the incompetent photoshopper does not seem to have worked on it), and more starting on p. 130.
The rescuers managed to retrieve the cook's body soon after (Stagg, pp. 124-126); but it was two weeks before the second body, that of Eleazar Blackwood, was found (Stagg, pp. 146-147). Three more corpses were found a few days later; by that time, the bodies were so disfigured as to be difficult to recognize (Stagg, p. 149). There were more discoveries after that, but two bodies were never found (Stagg, p. 152).
Marmaduke Blackwood apparently only once gave a full account of what happened, almost fifty years later (Stagg, p. 173), which of course proves that all Stagg's dialog is fictional despite being presented in a non-fiction contest. Stagg's accounts of what happened to relatives of the victims, which occupy about the last third of the book, are presumably better (no fake dialogs), but have little to do with the story of the Rudolph. He does tell us (p. 171) that Marmaduke Blackwood, after his mother died, left his home, eventually ending up in Toronto. (But this, of course, was common for Newfoundlanders, given how poor the island was.)
Stagg, p. 174, reports that "Captain Kean" helped organize a relief fund for the survivors; Stagg does not identify which "Captain Kean" is meant (there were quite a few!), but the fact that he doesn't see a need to identify which one makes it likely that it is the aforementioned Abram Kean.
There seems to be uncertainty about just where the Rudolph sailed. Feltham, p. 33, says she was leaving St. John's to go to her homeport of Port Nelson, but the map on p. xiv of Stagg shows her leaving Port Nelson (I'm not sure what happened in the map, since Stagg's text says she went from St. John's to head home). They at least agree that she crashed near Little Catalina.
There is also dispute about the author(s) of the song. Lehr/Best, p. 56, and Stagg, p. 182, agree that Hugh Sexton/Hughie Gilbert Sexton was the lead author, but Lehr/Best claims that "Dukey" Blackwood, i.e. Marmaduke Blackwood, the sole survivor, was co-author; Stagg says the co-author was Captain Edward Blackwood (although he is unclear about whether this is Eleazar Blackwood's father or brother; I would guess, in the absence of a death date for the father, that it's the brother). Lehr/Best says that the piece appeared in the Trinity Trinitarian, December 26, 1926, which seems awfully early; Stagg mentions a 1927 printing by P. J. Brady. Given Stagg's report that Marmaduke Blackwood hated to talk about the event, I think the one thing that's sure is that he was not a primary author; either Sexton wrote the whole thing or Edward Blackwood was the secondary author.
No one seems to have recorded the source of the tune, but perhaps it wasn't always inspiring; Cox-Newfoundland reports his informant getting booed off the stage for singing such a long song. - RBW
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