First Arrival -- "Aurora" and "Walrus" Full
DESCRIPTION: "The first arrival from the ice Has just come in today; The good old ship Aurora And her colors waving gay." The ship arrives full of seals on Saint Patrick's Day. Captain Kean is celebrated. The Walrus is the next to arrive
EARLIEST DATE: 1904 (Old Home Week Songster)
KEYWORDS: hunting ship
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 72, "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus" Full" (1 text)
cf. "Arrival of the 'Grand Banks' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips" (theme, ships)
cf. "Arrival of 'Aurora,' Diana,' 'Virginia Lake' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded" (theme, ships)
cf. "The Sealer's Song (II)" (ships)
NOTES [918 words]: The Walrus was a very old steamer, going back to the 1860s, which had begun her service running between St. John's and the outports (O'Neill, p. 508). She belonged to the small firm of Stewart's, which closed down in 1893 (Feltham, p. 77 n. 47). She went to the ice a total of 38 times (Chafe, p. 105); the only year she missed between 1870 and her loss in 1908 was 1892 (Ryan/Drake, p. 14). She was almost destroyed in 1897, and the crew wanted to abandon her, but Captain Alpheus Barbour refused; she took no seals, but was saved and repaired. There is a photo of her on p. 14 of Ryan/Drake.
For the family of her "Captain Winsor" see "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912." It's not immediately evident which "Captain Winsor" is meant here; William Winsor Sr. commanded her in 1898, and S. R. Winsor 1904-1906; Jacob Winsor took charge in 1907, and lost her the next year (Chafe, p. 96).
The sealer Aurora had a long and complex history. She was built in Dundee in 1874, and was a sealer (and whaler) from the start (Ryan/Drake, p. 27) -- but, until 1894, she was based in Britain (Feltham, p. 22). She had rather mixed results in those years. She had a few good years, but wasn't noteworthy for her successes when sailing from the British Isles (Feltham, p. 24). In 1894, she was taken over by Bowring's, the Newfoundland shipping company, and started using local crews -- which much improved her results. Her first commander after that was Arthur Jackman (not to be confused with another famous captain, William Jackman; for Arthur Jackman, see also "Sealer's Song (I)," and for his work in the Aurora, see also "The Old Polina"). The famous Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") commanded from 1898 to 1904 (Feltham, p. 24), and averaged about twice as many seals per year as during her Dundee period. In 1904, he brought in an amazing 34,000 seals.
Which is not to say that she always had good luck. In 1886, a run-in with an iceberg caused her crew to abandon her for a few hours, and some never came back (they reported her missing, and a rescue mission was being mounted when she showed up, leaking and barely seaworthy; Archibald, p. 126). In 1893, Captain Harry McKay was fined for not issuing the proper lemon juice ration, resulting in one of his sailors suffering from scurvy (Archibald, p. 127). On November 15, 1895, when she was carrying a load of gunpowder and ammunition, she caught fire, and only prompt action by the firemen of St. John's prevented an explosion (O'Neill, p. 637). She also suffered ice damage in 1905 and 1908 (Archibald, p. 127).
From 1906 to 1911, Aurora was commanded by Captain D. Green, and although she didn't succeed as well as under Kean, she did average about 11,000 seals per year (Feltham, p. 28).
1908 (after this piece was written) was a bad year for the Aurora, which was damaged during the seal hunt, but a worse one for the Walrus, which was sunk when her bow was stove in (Ryan, p. 191), although with light casualties (O'Neill, p. 972).
After 1911, the Aurora was converted to an Antarctic exploring vessel (apparently because she was considered one of the inferior ships in the fleet; Ryan, p. 195), at first under Sir Douglas Mawson (Keir, p. 204). She spent almost a year stuck in the ice starting in 1915 (Feltham, p. 29). This trip is reportedly described in Richard McElrea and David Harrowfield's book Polar Castaways, which I have not seen. Another book about her is David Moore Lindsay's A Voyage to the Arctic in the Whaler 'Aurora' (1911); I haven't seen that either. On June 26, 1917, she left Newcastle, Australia, for a commercial voyage carrying coal -- and vanished (Tarver, p. 15; Archibald, p. 127, says the only trace of her was a buoy with her name on it that washed ashore in Australia; Feltham, p. 29, says it was another trip to Antarctica). At least some thought the Germans responsible (Tarver, p. 16), but she wasn't big enough to be a noteworthy target and she was in the South Pacific anyway; there weren't any Germans there!
In addition to this piece, the Aurora is mentioned in "Arrival of 'Aurora,' 'Diana,' 'Virginia Lake,' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded," "The Old Polina," and "The Sealer's Song (II)." The Walrus is also mentioned in the latter. The Aurora is also the subject of "The Spring of '97" although she is not named in the song.
There is a picture of the Aurora unloading in St. John's on p. 172 of Feltham and a different photo on p. 27 of Ryan/Drake; there is also one facing p. 1 of Kean.
To date this song, we must seek a year in which Abram Kean commanded Aurora and a Captain Winsor commanded Walrus. That gives only two possibilities: 1898 and 1904, with William Winsor Sr. commanding Walrus in 1898 and S. R. Winsor in 1904. Both years were good; Aurora took 25633 seals in 1898, and 34849 in 1904 (Chafe, p. 92); Walrus had 14702 in 1898 and 16720 in 1904. But the Aurora's 1904 total matches the "four and thirty thousand seals" mentioned in the song, and the Walrus's matches the "sixteen thousand prime young harps." Checking first returns, Aurora and Walrus were first in 1904 (Chafe, p. 71); they were relatively late in 1898. There is one minor complication: In 1904, the Aurora sailed from Wesleyville, but the Walrus from St. John's (Chafe, p. 71), reversing what is implied in the song, but this is likely just a minor reversal. Every other indication fits the year 1904, which was also the year the song was published. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Archibald: Malcolm Archibald, The Dundee Whaling Fleet: Ships, Masters and Men, DUndee University Press, 2013
- 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)
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- Kean: Abram Kean, with a foreword by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Old and Young Ahead, 1935; I use the 2000 Flanker Press edition edited and with a new Introduction (and new photographs) by Shannon Ryan
- Keir: David Keir, The Bowring Story, The Bodley Head, 1962
- 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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