Sealer's Song (II), The
DESCRIPTION: "The Terra Nova, Captain Kean, With two hundred and three men, Went through the gap this morning To try their luck again." A total of 20 ships and captains set out for the ice. The singer hopes they all return safely and with large loads of seals
AUTHOR: Johnny Burke (1851-1930), according to Ryan/Small
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (MUNFLA/Leach)
KEYWORDS: hunting ship moniker nonballad
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 79, "The Sealer's Song" (1 text\)
Morris Houlihan, "Sealer's Song" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
cf. "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full" (ships)
cf. "Arrival of the 'Grand Banks' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips" (ships)
cf. "Arrival of 'Aurora,' Diana,' 'Virginia Lake' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded" (ships)
NOTES [1871 words]: Although most sources attribute this to Johnny Burke, it is not in his most extensive collection, Johnny Burke (William J. Kirwin, editor), John White's Collection of Johnny Burke Songs, Harry Cuff Publications, St. John's, 1981.
Although this deals with the same subject, and even some of the same ships, as "The Sealer's Song (I)," the two are clearly distinct: this deals with the departure of the ship, that with their return. It is even closer, in terms of ships named, to "Captains and Ships" -- not surprising, since the two ships describe events separated by just three years.
Taking the ships in order:
The Terra Nova is the subject of "The Terra Nova." The Captain Kean who commands her is clearly Abram Kean (the subject of "Captain Abram Kean"); he commanded the Terra Nova 1906-1908 and then, when all the steel sealers were lost in World War I, again in 1917-1926 and 1932-1933; two of his sons commanded her in 1927 and for one of two trips in 1929 (Feltham, p. 134).
There were two sealers named Eagle. For these two ships, see the notes to "The Ice-Floes." The second Eagle was commanded by Joe Kean, the oldest of Abram's eight sons, from 1907 to 1911 (Chafe, p. 99).
For the Aurora, see "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full." Her captain Dan Green is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships." He commanded the Aurora 1906-1911; she was his last command (Chafe, p. 98).
The Algerine is the subject of "The Loss of the Algerine." S. R. Winsor (here called "Bob Winsor," but apparently the same as the "Sam Winsor" of "Captains and Ships"; see that song and "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912" for the Winsor family) commanded her 1907-1908 (Chafe, p. 98).
For the Vanguard, see "Arrival of 'Aurora,' 'Diana,' 'Virginia Lake,' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded"; for the family of her skipper Darius Blandford, see "Sealer's Song (I)." Darius Blandford (1843-1917) commanded the Vanguard 1907-1909, losing her in the last of those years. Ironically, given the song's wish that he live long, his career was short -- having first served as a captain in the Iceland in 1898, he never commanded another sealer after the loss of the Vanguard, although the crew was rescued by the Algerine (Feltham, p. 151).
The original Bloodhound was, along with the slightly larger Wolf, the very first steamer to be used for sealing, in 1863 (Busch, p. 66; Chafe, p. 24; Feltham, pp. 70, 160; O'Neill, p. 916). She vastly exceeded the hauls of most ships that went before her, averaging about 5900 seals per year before sinking off the coast of Labrador on April 4, 1872 (Feltham, p. 160). This was, to repeat, a higher total than the brigs that had preceded her, but a pitiful total compared to what the steamers would average over the coming decades. Nonetheless, after her loss, another Bloodhound was built in the following year (O'Neill, p. 916).
The reference in this song is clearly to the second Bloodhound. O'Neill, p. 916, says that this second Bloodhound lasted until 1917 (although on p. 971 he incorrectly says that she foundered in 1880), so song's reference to her as "old" makes sense; even though she was the "new" Bloodhound, by the time of this song, she was one of the older steamers. The captain listed for her, "Bill Windsor," is probably an error for William Winsor (no "d"), a member of a family of well-known sealing captains already mentioned above under the Algerine. William Winsor commanded the second Bloodhound 1907-1908; Jacob Winsor commanded her 1909-1911 as his last command; Jesse Winsor (the "Jessie Winsor" of this song) was her skipper 1913-1914, and also ended his career after giving her up (Chafe, pp. 96. 98). There is a photo of the Bloodhound facing p. 36 of Chafe, and one on p. 26 of Ryan/Drake.
For the Iceland see "Captains and Ships." Joseph "Joe" Barbour never commanded her (Chafe, p. 87), but James Barbour (whose only previous command had been the Diana in 1897) commanded the Iceland 1904-1907.
The Greenland was infamous for her part in the Greenland Disaster (see "The Greenland Disaster (I)"; see also "The Sealing Trip of the S. S. Greenland 1891"). The most famous Captain Bragg was Robert Bragg, who commanded the Walrus 1886-1891, 1902-1903 and the Ranger 1892-1897, but he never commanded the Greenland. So the captain here must be Dan Bragg, an inexperienced skipper whose only previous command was the Southern Cross in 1905-1906 (Chafe, p. 88). Bragg lost the Greenland on his 1907 trip, his first year as her captain. Bragg was given the Iceland in 1908, but never commanded again after that.
For the Southern Cross see "The Southern Cross (I)." There is a picture of Peter Carter on p. 184 of Feltham and another on p. 80 of Ryan/Drake. His was a most unusual career for a sealing captain. Born in 1869 (Ryan/Drake, p. 80), and long associated with the cod fishery, he became a sealing captain relatively late, commanding the Southern Cross in 1907 (Chafe, p. 89). He didn't get another command until 1925, then served every year until 1931, missed 1932, and served three final seasons in 1933-1935. In 1933, he set a record for seals taken, mostly because he found a large patch of older seals. He died in 1959 (Ryan/Drake, p. 80). Although his 1933 trip set a record, the seasons at the end of his career cannot be the subject of the song, because too many of the vessels mentioned had been lost by then.
The Neptune (one of two) is the subject of "Neptune, Ruler of the Sea." George Barbour is discussed in "The Greenland Disaster (I)." He commanded the Neptune 1905-1908 and also 1916-1925 (Feltham, p. 93).
The Eric (actually Erik) was sunk by a German U-boat while hauling coal on August 25, 1918, and was captained by Job Kean from 1902 to 1913; for both, see "Captains and Ships."
For the Dianna (properly Diana) see "Arrival of 'Aurora,' 'Diana,' 'Virginia Lake,' and 'Vanguard,' Loaded"; that entry also explains why she was called lucky. Alpheus Barbour of the Barbour dynasty commanded her from 1898 to 1908 (Chafe, p. 88). This is the only song I know to mention him by name, but note the mention of George Barbour above; see also "The Nimrod's Song" for another Barbour, Baxter. Alpheus Barbour had his first command in the Walrus in 1896 and his last in Bloodhound in 1915 (Ryan, p. 498).
The Adventure is the subject of "I Am a Newfoundlander." She ha a relatively short sealing career; Henry Dawe commanded her 1906-1910, and Jacob Kean 1911-1915 (Chafe, p. 98). (There were actually two Captains Henry Dawe; this is the Henry Dawe of Bay Roberts.) Dawe first commanded in the Mastiff in 1879 and ended his career with this stint in the Adventure. This Henry Dawe is also mentioned in "The Sealing Trip of the S. S. Greenland 1891," "I Am a Newfoundlander," and "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips," as well as being mis-called "Captain Doyle" in "Captains and Ships." Chafe, p. 31, says that he was a popular captain.
Jacob Kean (1864-1939) was the nephew of Abram Kean (Kean, p. 19), and was still going to the ice as late as 1936, but spent most of his career commanding coastal steamers (starting in 1911; Tarver, p. 229). He had also worked some of the same mail ships as Uncle Abram (Kean, p. 19).
For the Grand Lake, see again "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips." Job Knee (the first of two captains of that name, who first commanded the Falcon in 1889 and was still sailing in 1923; Chafe, p. 93) commanded her in 1906-1908, when he lost her. He is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships."
The Newfoundland is the ship of the Newfoundland Disaster of 1914, discussed in "The Newfoundland Disaster (I)." She was the first command of John Parsons, who had charge of her from 1906-1908 before moving to other ships (Chafe, p. 94). He is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships."
The Panther is also mentioned in "Captain Bill Ryan Left Terry Behind"; Jesse Winsor (the correct spelling; he was another member of the Winsor family mentioned above) commanded her 1906-1908, when she was lost; he also held commands in 1909 and 1912-1914 (Chafe, p. 96). For Jesse Winsor, and all the Winsors, see the notes to "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912." The song is correct in saying he was from Wesleyville; Ryan/Drake, p. 78, shows William Winsor's Wesleyville home.
The "Walrus," one of the very first sealing steamers, is also mentioned in "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full." Jacob Winsor -- yes, another member of the Winsor family! -- commanded her in 1907 and 1908; she was lost in the latter year (Chafe, p. 105).
The Labrador is also mentioned in "Captains and Ships" and in "Success to the Hardy Sealers." She first went to the ice under George Hann (1850-1942) in 1892, and remained his ship all the way until 1908; she then served under Baxter Barbour 1909-1910 and D. Martin 1911-1913; she was lost in the latter year (Chafe, p. 101). Hann (called "George Hand" in the song) himself spent almost his entire career in the Labrador; his only other service was as captain of the Leopard in 1890-1891 (Chafe, p. 91).
For the Virginia Lake, see "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips." Jacob Kean (nephew of the famous Abram Kean) commanded her in 1907-1909, succeeding the famous Captain Samuel Blandford, under whom he had been the second-in-command (Ryan, p. 191); she was lost in the latter year (Chafe, p. 104). She was Kean's first command, although he did so well (more than 20,000 seals in his first two years) that he had no trouble getting ships despite that.
The song claims to list twenty ships, but Ryan/Small's text lists only 19 (Terra Nova, Eagle, Aurora, Algerine, Vanguard, Bloodhound, Iceland, Greenland, Southern Cross, Neptune, Eric, Diana, Adventure, Grand Lake, Newfoundland, Panther, Walrus, Labrador, Virginia Lake). It appears the missing ship was commanded by "a Bishop." This must be either Noah Bishop or Edward Bishop, since they were the only Bishops to command a sealer. Noah Bishop commanded the Algerine 1909-1912 (Chafe, p. 88) -- but it can't be him, since the Algerine is accounted for. Edward Bishop commanded the Algerine in 1906, the Ranger in 1907-1908, the Terra Nova in 1909, and the Eagle every year from 1912 to 1926 (Chafe, p. 88; Feltham, p. 47). All of those ships except the Ranger are accounted for. So the ship must be the Ranger (and hence the year must be 1907). This implies that the fourth verse has been corrupted; we should emend "Ranger" for either "stranger" or "danger."
The reference to the Greenland under Bragg, as well as the Southern Cross under Carter, forces us to date this song 1907, and the combination of the other dates confirm this: every ship listed went to the ice in 1907, and several were not around for the 1908 hunt, and the Havana of 1906 is not mentioned.
There were in fact 23 ships that went to the ice in 1907, not just 20 (Chafe, p. 74); the song has the Greenland, which is not in Chafe's list (presumably because she did not return), but omits the Nimrod, the Kite, and the Viking - 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
- 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
- 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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