Captain Bill Ryan Left Terry Behind
DESCRIPTION: "Terry is a fine young man, But he has lots of 'chaw.'" As several ships, including Terry's Esquimaux, get stuck in the ice, Bill Ryan abandons Terry "To paddle his own canoe."
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Doyle)
KEYWORDS: hunting ship disaster
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Ryan/Small, p. 32, "Captain Bill Ryan Left Terry Behind" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Shannon Ryan, _The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914_, Breakwater Books, 1994, pp. 152-153, "Captain Bill Ryan Left Terry Behind" (1 text)
ST RySm032 (Partial)
cf. "Paddle Your Own Canoe" (tune)
NOTES [1297 words]: Although Ryan/Small does not date this piece, it appears certain that it refers to events of 1867, although it's not clear from the piece just what is being referred to. Naturally, I spent a great deal of effort piecing it together before finding that Ryan, p. 152, documented the whole thing.
According to FelthamSteamers, p. 160, the Bloodhound and the Wolf were the first two Newfoundland-based steamers to be involved in the Newfoundland seal hunt, in 1863. (The first steamers of any kind to be involved were a handful of Dundee whalers in 1862.) Within four years, there were seven other steamers in the hunt, but the two pioneers were not very successful; the Wolf averaged only about 3500 seals per year before being lost on May 3, 1871.
It doesn't necessarily follow that this is the Wolf involved in this song. A second Wolf was launched in 1871 and joined the seal hunt in 1872 (FelthamSteamers, p. 160). She was much more successful as a sealer than her namesake, averaging more than 15,000 seals per year over a career that lasted for a quarter century; the Wolf II was lost in 1896 when she was trapped and crushed in the ice off Fogo Island; her captain Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") and crew had to walk home.
The Wolf in this song, however, appears to be the first one, because Captain Bill Ryan is William Ryan (1825-?), whose last turn as a sealing skipper was in 1872 in the Eagle. Before that, he had commanded the Bloodhound 1866-1868 and the Merlin 1869-1871 (Chafe, p. 95). His father was Charles Ryan, who had been a famous captain of sealers in the days of sail (Ryan, p. 219). William had first gone to the ice as early as 1836, at the age of eleven. It is likely that he first commanded a sealer in 1857 (Ryan, pp. 219-220).
Although there were several famous sealers named Dawe (Henry Dawe is mentioned in "The Sealing Trip of the S. S. Greenland 1891," "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips," "I Am a Newfoundlander," and "The Sealer's Song (II)"), the only Captain Dawe to command a sealer Lion was Robert Dawe, whose only year in command of a steamer was in 1867 as skipper of the Lion (Chafe, p. 90). So the year must be 1867. According to Ryan, p. 207 n. 115, he went back to sailing ships after 1867; in 1872, he commanded the Huntsman, which was one of several sealers which sank in that year (taking Dawe, his son, and many of his crew with it; Galgay/McCarthy, pp. 75-82, have an account; most of the men on the other wrecked ships survived, but because the Huntsman was trapped and then overwhelmed by waves; only eighteen men of a crew of about sixty survived. A partial list of the dead is on pp. 168-169 of Galgay/McCarthy).
The career of the Lion supports the 1867 date on other grounds. Her first trip to the ice was in 1867 (Chafe, p. 101); she returned every year until 1881. On January 6, 1882, on a non-sealing trip (she is believed to have carried ten crew and eighteen passengers; Galgay/McCarthy, p. 84), she left St. John's and was never seen again, although a small amount wreckage and a body were eventually found off Baccalieu (FelthamNortheast, p. 20; Galgay/McCarthy, pp. 86-87). The reason for the loss of the ship is unknown; a boiler explosion has been suggested (Ryan/Drake, p. 13), or perhaps an explosion of the gunpowder she carried to blow up ice (Candow, p. 87), but it has been pointed out that, if that had happened, it would surely have been heard (FelthamNortheast, p. 21). A collision is unlikely, since the weather was clear (FelthamNortheast, p. 20). So we will surely never know the answer with certainty. There are reports of a ghostly version of the Lion sometimes appearing off Baccalieu (FelthamNortheast, p. 21).
There is a picture of the Lion on p. 13 of Ryan/Drake; I can't help but notice how very many sails she had. She was formally a steamer, but clearly the sails were her primary movers. A partial list of those lost with her is on pp. 169-170 of Galgay/McCarthy.
The "Terry" of this song seems to be mentioned also in "Captain Henry Thomey" and "Sealing Fifty Years Ago." However, he is not "Captain Terry"; he is Captain Terrance Halleran, who commanded the Esquimaux in 1867, the latter's first year on the ice (it had been built in 1865; Archibald, p. 62, and was first used to take a cargo to Archangel, but was promptly converted to a whaler; Archibald, p. 149). She would not serve as a sealer again until 1878, although she didn't miss another year until 1895 (she went ashore in the Davis Strait that year; Archibald, p. 149) and made her last trip in 1900 (Chafe, p. 99), when she was involved in lawsuits because her captain was accused of stealing others' seals (Ryan, p. 182). After that she was renamed America and sent on an Arctic expedition (Tarver, p. 50), being crushed by the ice and sinking in 1903 (Tarver, p. 54). It's likely that the Esquimaux is the "Husky" of "The Old Polina"; that appears to be the only other mention of her in sealing songs.
It's perhaps no surprise that the Esquimaux did not get another sealing job for some time after Halleran commanded her, even though she was the largest sealing steamer of the period (Ryan, p. 152); she took only 150 seals in that year (Chafe, p. 99). Apparently Halleran, not used to handling steamers, got her stuck in the ice (Ryan, p. 152), (No wonder the song says she was "left behind.") Nor did Terrance Halleran ever command another sealing steamer (Chafe, p. 91). Probably he was getting old; "Captain Henry Thomey" implies that Halleran and Thomey went back many years -- into the age of sailing sealers, although the first mention I can find of Halleran is in 1859 (Chafe, p. 41). He had been a successful sealer in the days of sail, being the "high liner" in 1859 and 1861, when he took 9500 and 8600 seals, respectively (Ryan, p. 502) -- good numbers for a sailing ship, although the steamers would soon eclipse such totals. But many sealing captains who had been successful on sailing ships proved failures in steamers (Ryan, p. 221, who adds that it seems to have been more helpful for a steamer captain to have experience as a junior officer on a steamer than to have commanded a sailing ship).
Of the other ships mentioned in the song, the Panther was purchased for sealing by Harvey and Company in 1867 (Busch, pp. 66-67), and took a mere 2800 seals that year -- her lowest total until 1883. She was one of three sealers lost in 1908, along with the Walrus and the Grand Lake (O'Neill, p. 972) when ice stove in her bow (Ryan, p. 191). It was a bad time for sealers; seven were lost in the course of three years (FelthamSteamers, p. 151). The Mastiff brought home her crew (Greene, pp. 268-269). The Panther is also mentioned in "The Sealer's Song (II)."
The Mary Joyce was not a steamer or even one of the major sailing brigs; Ryan, p. 207 n. 115, says the was "a small St. John's sailer of 58 tons, which was the only vessel (clearing from St. John's, at least) owned by E. Smith and Co." Ryan speculates that she was mentioned either because she was nearby at the time of the incident or was simply much smaller than all the big steamers.
The Osprey was one of the first sealers, going to the ice for the first time in 1864. In 1867 she sailed under Captain James Winsor (whose only service as a sealing skipper was on the Osprey in 1867-1868; Chafe, p. 96). It's perhaps no surprise that he did not serve again, since she took only 2600 seals in 1867, and a mere 400 in 1868; no doubt the owners wanted a new captain! Never a very successful ship (only once did she take as many as 7500 seals), she was lost in 1874 (Chafe, p. 32), with the crew rescued by the Panther (Greene, pp. 268-269). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.4
- Archibald: Malcolm Archibald, The Dundee Whaling Fleet: Ships, Masters and Men, Dundee University Press, 2013
- Busch: Briton Cooper Busch, The War Against the Seals: A History of the North American Seal Fishery, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985
- Candow: James E. Candow, Of Men and Seals: A History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1989
- 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)
- FelthamNortheast: John Feltham, Northeast from Baccalieu, Harry Cuff Publications, 1990
- FelthamSteamers: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- Galgay/McCarthy: Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy, Shipwrecks of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume III, Creative Publishers, 1995
- Greene: William Howe Greene, The Wooden Walls among the Ice Flows: Telling the Romance of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery, Hutchinson & Co, London (PDF available on the Memorial University of Newfoundland web site)
- 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
- Tarver: Michael C. Tarver, The S. S. Terra Nova (1884-1943), Pendragon Maritime Publications, 2006
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