Arrival of "Aurora," "Diana," "Virginia Lake," and "Vanguard," Loaded
DESCRIPTION: "All welcome to the northern fleet That just arrived today, Pounds filled up with prime harp seals." The accomplishments of Captain Kean, Captain Barbour of the Diana, Captain Knee of the Virginia Lake, and Captain Barbour of the Vanguard are listed
AUTHOR: possibly Johnny Burke (1851-1930)
EARLIEST DATE: 1978 (Ryan/Small)
KEYWORDS: hunting ship
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 73, "Arrival of 'Aurora,' Diana,' 'Virginia Lake' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded" (1 text)
cf. "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full" (ships, theme)
cf. "Arrival of the 'Grand Banks' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips" (theme, ships)
cf. "The Sealer's Song (II)" (ships)
NOTES [1716 words]: Ryan/Small say that this is probably the work of Johnny Burke (1851-1930), and certainly it is similar to other pieces Burke wrote, but it is not in the collection of Burke's poems published in 1981 by William J. Kirwin.
For the Aurora, see "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full." Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") commanded the Aurora 1898-1905, and had great success in all of those years except 1905.
The Diana was built in Dundee in 1870 as the Hector (Feltham, p. 37), renamed Diana and rebuilt in 1891 (Ryan/Drake, p. 15), sold in 1918, and sunk in 1922 (O'Neill, p. 967).
Captain William Barbour had captained her as early as 1890-1891, when she was still the Hector (Feltham, pp. 37-38). Barbour commanded her again on her first voyage as the Diana (Feltham, p. 39). In that year, she made two trips to the ice, and brought home 41,104 seals. Feltham, p. 40, shows a list of all vessels from 1863 to 1945 to bring home at least 40,000; almost all are either much earlier, before the sealers had badly reduced the seal population, or were later steel ships (which could do things the wooden walls could not). Thus the Diana could be considered a record-breaker of its type. She took more than half a million seals in her long career, making her the fifth-most-productive ship in the fishery (Ryan/Drake, p. 15). Little wonder the song called her the "Lucky old Diana."
That her captain was named "Barbour" isn't much of a dating hint. William Barbour continued to command her until 1896 (when he was taken sick; she hit a schooner on her way home, with both being damaged); J. Barbour took over in 1897; Alpheus Barbour (who is also mentioned in "The Sealer's Song (II)") was her skipper 1898-1908, and Baxter Barbour (mentioned in "The Nimrod's Song" and "Captains and Ships") commanded 1913-1914 (Feltham, p. 41; for Baxter Barbour, see the notes to "The Nimrod's Song"). Note that there is a second "Captain Barbour" mentioned in the song; we know that that is George Barbour.
The Diana finally broke down in the 1920s; in 1921 (John Parsons commanding), she lost two bow plates and had to return home in bad weather. In 1922 she went out for the last time; she follows Abram Kean in the Terra Nova and nearly lost a large group of sealers when the ice patch they were on broke loose; they had to be rescued by the Thetis, who brought them to a place where they could walk to the Diana (Brown, pp. 97-98).
The Diana's troubles weren't over; after that, her tail shaft broke on March 16, and then the ship was squeezed out of the water; she fell over on her side on the ice, badly holed; the crew started to abandon her (Brown, p. 99). But Captain Parsons wouldn't leave her, and eventually they came back. When the ice parted and she went back into the water, she was leaking substantially but not so badly that the pumps could not handle it (Brown, p. 100). Supposedly the rats left the ship at this time, leaving the crew upset. Parsons still wouldn't leave the ship. Then she hit an iceberg and suffered more damage (Brown, p. 101); further icebergs collisions followed (Brown, p. 102). After several more days of this, with the men spending most of their time trying to keep the ship afloat rather than sealing, the crew insisted that Parsons should send an SOS. He refused (Brown, p. 104). The crew in effect went on strike, threatening the captain, but Parsons still wouldn't back down (Brown, p. 105). Exactly what happened next isn't clear; did Parsons give in, or did the mutineers send an SOS? (Brown, pp. 105-106). The answer perhaps would determine whether the crew's actions were a mutiny.
The Sagona, under Job Knee, came to the rescue -- and wanted to take off the seals the Diana had already taken (Brown, pp. 106-107). Then... the Diana caught fire. The suspicion is obviously that the crew set the fire to get home sooner (Brown, p. 107), but there seems to be no proof. The captains and owners of wrecked ships had an occasional tendency to burn them, to make sure no one else could salvage them and to assure that the owners earned some insurance money (Ryan, p. 298).
O'Neill, p. 967, accepts this as a mutiny. Feltham, pp. 44-45, does not, saying that the only source for this is the account written by George Allan England two years later. In fairness, England does not say that the men on the Diana mutinied; he says that the men he was with on the Terra Nova understood them to be mutineers: "Mid-morning brought news that the crippled Diana was beginning to have trouble with her crew and that mutiny threatened.... with a broken tailshaft, she lay imprisoned; but most [of her crew] were beginning to demand relief from other ships" (p. 191). "Dey had a fair manus [=menace?], a rig'lar mutiny aburd, an' sunk 'er in de hice!" (p. 247). This, we should note, is based on England's contemporary notes, but was filtered through the wireless messages to Captain Abram Kean on the Terra Nova, so it is a secondary source. Whether the crew knew the truth or not, England, p. 228, reports that no one on the Terra Nova wanted to rescue Diana, making it likely that other ships felt the same way, so little wonder if the crew felt they had to leave.
England claims to have interviewed one of the Diana's officers, although he did not give a name. He quotes the officer on pp. 252-253: "We broke our shaft in clear water. Then the ice nipped, pretty soon, an' we laid there about twelve days.... We was only leakin' six inches in four hours an' could of kept afloat easy. But anyhow, after a while the Cap'n gave in to 'em.... Even then I didn't hardly think they'd quit.... But when I went on deck, one time, I found she was all afire, forrard. It was a bloody crime, the way she was burned, her an' all them thousands o' sculps [seal pelts with the fat]. The last I seen o' her, as we was goin' away on the Sagona, she was still burnin' but not yet sunk. She sunk later, o' course. Yes, sir, a bloody crime."
Interestingly, this was not the first time there had been trouble on the Diana. In 1893, the crew had also mutinied, although apparently the details are not known (there was a rather inconclusive trial; Archibald, p. 102); it perhaps had something to do with supplies that went missing and low pay rates for an exploratory voyage to the South Atlantic (the Dundee Antarctic Expedition; Archibald, pp. 95, 96, 99; for the expedition, see also "The Old Polina," because the Balaena, subject of some versions of that songe, was another member of the expedition. The other ships, the Active and Polar Star, don't seem to have left many memories in song). The Diana had also had engine troubles on that trip (Archibald, p. 102); despite her sealing success, she seems to have been somewhat jinxed.
The Diana is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships" and "The Sealer's Song (II)." For her captain John Parsons, see "Captains and Ships."
There is a photo of the Diana on p. 103 of Brown, others facing p. 28 of Chafe and facing p. 180 of England, and another, as she appeared in 1892, on p. 15 of Ryan/Drake. O'Neill on p. 945 has a photo of her as she approached her end, and England, p. 293, is a long-distance photo of her as she burns.
The Vanguard was an unusual ship in that she was apparently based out of Harbour Grace on Conception Bay rather than at St. John's. She was built in Glasgow in 1872 and first joined the seal hunt in 1873. The only time she had a Captain Barbour was 1899-1903, when George Barbour commanded her (Feltham, p. 149). These were the best years of her career; Feltham, p. 151, says that in the period 1899-1903, she took in 124,205 seals -- an average of 24,841 per year; in her other 31 years, she averaged just 9.185 seals per year. In 1909, she broke her main shaft and sank, but all the crew survived, either walking home or being carried by the Algerine (Feltham, pp. 151-152; Ryan, p. 309).
The Vanguard is also mentioned in "The Sealer's Song (II)." I suspect it is also the Van of "The Sealing Trip of the S. S. Greenland 1891."
There is a photo of the Vanguard on p. 181 of Feltham, and a photo of the crew, as they leave their ship, on p. 183. Ryan/Drake, p. 18, has a photo of her frozen in port in St. John's around 1900.
The Vanguard was commanded by George Barbour (obviously not the same Barbour as commanded the Diana) from 1899-1903.
The Virginia Lake also was lost in 1909, about a week before the Vanguard (Feltham, p. 151); see "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips." "Captain Knee" of the Virginia Lake must be either Job Knee in 1901-1902 or Jacob Knee in 1907-1909 (Chafe, p. 104).
In seeking a date for this piece, the fact that the Virginia Lake and Vanguard are mentioned obviously forces us to place the piece in 1908 or earlier. Abram Kean's command of the Aurora and his successful further restricts the date to 1898-1904. The fact that the Vanguard is commanded by Captain George Barbour makes a date 1899-1903 very likely. Job Knee and the Virginia Lake give us a date of 1901-1902.
Beyond that, we start to see some contradictions. If we look at arrival dates, Abram Kean and Aurora were the first ship to arrive in St. John's in 1899, but Diana didn't arrive for another month (Chafe, p. 66). Neither ship was among the first in 1900 (Chafe, p. 67). The two arrived more than a month apart in 1903 (Chafe, p. 70). Aurora was first, Diana next to last in 1904 (Chafe, p. 71).
In the key year of 1901, Aurora was second and Diana fifth, Vanguard twelfth, Virginia Lake dead last (Chafe, p. 68). In 1902, Vanguard was fourth, Aurora fifth, Diana sixth, and Virginia Lake ninth (Chafe, p. 69).
In neither year did the Virginia Lake bring in the claimed total of 22,000 seals; she had 20,297 in 1902 and 19,605 in 1901.
Thus there is no possible year which exactly fits the data in the song. I'd incline to 1902, though -- the Virginia Lake had a horrid year in 1901, not making it home until May 5 (a week after the next-to-last ship, and seven weeks after the Aurora), and although she pulled in a relatively respectable total, she had to do it by getting the difficult hood seals; her total of harp seals was just 11,963. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Archibald: Malcolm Archibald, The Dundee Whaling Fleet: Ships, Masters and Men, DUndee University Press, 2013
- Brown: Cassie Brown, Writing the Sea (an expanded edition of the earlier volume The Caribou Disaster and Other Short Stories, with more material about Brown but nothing new about the sea), Flanker Press, 2005
- 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)
- England: George Allan England, Vikings of the Ice: Being the Log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt (also published as The Greatest Hunt in the World), Doubleday, 1924
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- 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
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