Terra Nova Seal Fishing
DESCRIPTION: "Ye talk o' this, and talk o' that... But list taw me -- I ken ye weel Wad like tae hear aboot the seal." The singer describes the difficulties of sailing north to the ice, the difficulties of killing adult seal; he ends by describing the types of pelts
AUTHOR: Robert Brown
EARLIEST DATE: 1867 (Harbour Grace Standard)
KEYWORDS: hunting ship nonballad recitation
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, pp. 27-28, "Terra Nova Seal Fishing" (1 text)
NOTES [212 words]: "Terra Nova" was one of the old names for Newfoundland, home of the great seal hunt. There was also a Newfoundland ship, the Terra Nova; see "The Terra Nova."
The description of seals in this song is about right; the harp seal (phoca groenlandica)-- the main target of the seal hunt, because they were easy to kill -- had a white coat in its early days, and the sealers came out in mid-march because this was when the whitecoats were young and unable to flee off the ice (Busch, pp. 42-44).
The hooded seal, or "hood," (Cystophorq cristata) was larger and more dangerous (Busch, p. 45); although sealers would take one if they found one, they did not generally attack or seek "hoods."
Bedlamers are second year seals, not yet fully mature but able to care for themselves -- sort of the seal equivalent of teenagers. The title is a description of age; a bedlamer may be either a "harp" or a "hood." The origin of the name is uncertain; some connect it with "bedlam," because they create bedlam, others with French "bete de la mer," "beast of the sea" (Young, p. 33; StoryKirwinWiddowson, p. 37, prefer the "bedlam" sense, and first cite the term from 1766. Their second meaning, "bedlamer [boy]," refers to a youth approaching manhood; it is not attested prior to 1896). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Busch: Briton Cooper Busch, The War Against the Seals: A History of the North American Seal Fishery, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985
- StoryKirwinWiddowson: G. M. Story, W. J. Kirwin, and J. D. A. Widdowson, editors, Dictionary of Newfoundland English, second edition with supplement, Breakwater Pres, 1990
- Young: Ron Young, Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador, Downhome Publishing Inc., 2006
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