American Aginora, The
DESCRIPTION: A ship from Limerick to St John's is disabled. Two men drown. The food is lost. The captain has those without wives cast lots. The lot falls to O'Brien; the cook is forced to cut his throat. They drink O'Brien's blood. The next day they are rescued.
EARLIEST DATE: 1903 (Murphy, Songs and Ballads of Terra Nova, according to Michael P. Murphy); 19C (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 17(172a))
KEYWORDS: drowning sea ship storm wreck sailor rescue cannibalism starvation husband
Dec 18, 1835 - Patrick O'Brien is killed on Francis Spaight
Dec 23, 1835 - The crew is rescued by Agenora. (See Notes)
FOUND IN: Ireland Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Ranson, pp. 38-39, "The American Aginora" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Michael P. Murphy, _Pathways through Yesterday_, edited by Gerald S. Moore, Town Crier Publishing, 1976, pp. 42-44, "The Wreck of the Fanny Wright" (1 verse only, but with a long description of the plot)
Bodleian, Firth c.12(98), "Loss of the Ship Francis Spede, Dreadful Sufferings of the Crew ("You landsmen and you seamen bold "), J. Scott (Pittenweem), 19C; also Harding B 17(172a), "The Loss of the Francis Spaight"
cf. "The Ship in Distress" (plot) and references there
cf. "The Banks of Newfoundland" (II) (plot)
NOTES [635 words]: The plot is that of "The Banks of Newfoundland" (II) with the rescue too late to save the lottery loser. Note that the Aginora is the rescue ship. As in "The Banks of Newfoundland," the ship planning/practicing human sacrifice is not named.
There are a number of references for the event:
Bourke in Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast v3, p. 123, is writing about songs and ballads, including Ranson, as sources for his information: "The story of the Francis Spaight on 22 November, ... year unknown before 1836, describes cannibalism of the cabin boy Patrick O'Brien and eventual rescue of fourteen of the eighteen survivors by Captain Tillard.."
Northern Shipwrecks Database has the date as November 1836, has "Francis Spaight" sailing from Saint John, New Brunswick, bound to Limerick, Ireland, and the rescuer as "Angeronia." The Bodleian broadsides have the rescue ship as "The Agonary of America."
Death of a Cabin Boy on the Askeaton Step Back in Time site: "Few Limerick people today will have heard of Patrick O'Brien. His name has not entered any of our major works of local history. There is not even a plaque or stone to his memory."
The story is told about O'Brien, about the disaster on December 3, and finally of the decision by the captain, Thomas Gorman, "that one of the crew should be killed to keep the rest alive." After O'Brien was killed "three other crew members were similarly put to death ... and they too were eaten by their ship mates.... The captain of the Francis Spaight was engaged in eating the liver and brains of his cabin boy when rescued. After their return to Limerick, the captain and crew were tried for murder and acquitted... rendered [by their ordeal] ... unable to labour ... during the rest of their lives."
The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild site has an expurgated text of Captain Gorman's letter to the ship's owner, naming the rescue ship as Agorona and its captain as Jillard. As to the storm, the site, quoting Limerick Times notes "On a reference to Lloyd's List we find that twenty vessels are reported as having foundered on the same night."
The Jack London Ranch Album site has the complete text of The "Francis Spaight" A True Tale Retold by Jack London, a short story from "When God Laughs and Other Stories" (Macmillan, 1911). London's story is closer to the ballad than to the reports.
The facts: the Francis Spaight sailed Nov 24 [,1835], was wrecked December 3, and the rescue ship was Agenoria from America. ["The Wreck of the Francis Spaight," The Times of London, Wednesday, Jun 22, 1836; pg. 7; Issue 16136; Start column: C. (Copyright 2002 The Gale Group)] - BS
In the Michael Murphy fragment, no names are named; I would never have known it was the same song except for Murphy's description. He says that the ship was the Fanny Wright (a name which could easily be a corruption of the "Francis Spaight," although I thought first of "Amphitrite"), the four boys who drew lots to die were Burns, O'Brien, Sheehan, and one other whose name was forgotten, O'Brien was the one who drew the short straw, and the man chosen to kill him was the cook, O'Gorman. Murphy claims that O'Gorman is the only Newfoundlander to have appeared in a Jack London story; the tale is found in Love of Life and Other Stories.
Murphy also claims that "The Fanny Wright" appeared in James Murphy's 1903 collection Songs & Ballads of Terra Nova, Evening Telegram publishing, 1903. However, I do not find it in the edition of Songs & Ballads of Terra Nova on the Memorial University of Newfoundland site. The song has been collected twice in Newfoundland, so it was known under that title, and may well have come from a James Murphy book -- possibly even a different edition of Songs & Ballads of Terra Nova. But seemingly not the 1903 edition. - RBW
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