Success to the Hardy Sealers
DESCRIPTION: "The twelfth of March is drawing near And we must all prepare Our pipers and our pannicans The sealer's life to share." Ships preparing to go to the ice are listed. The singer hopes they return safely
AUTHOR: apparently Johnny Burke
EARLIEST DATE: 1912 (Burke's Ballads)
KEYWORDS: ship travel hunting
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 81, "Success to the Hardy Sealers" (1 text)
NOTES [738 words]: Although most sources attribute this to 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.
This must have been brand-new when it was published in "Burke's Ballads"; the Stephano, which is mentioned in the song, was finished in 1911 and went to the ice for the first time in 1912 (Chafe, pp. 78-79). Like other ships in the Bowring sealing/liner fleet, she was named after the Shakespeare character (O'Neill, p. 961). She was sunk by U-53 in October 8, 1916 -- although, happily, the passengers and were warned by the submarine and given time to abandon ship; there were no casualties (O'Neill, pp. 962-963). But she had only a handful of years as a sealer (which probably explains why this seems to be the only song to mention her; many other sealers were mentioned repeatedly).
Three other ships mentioned in the song were destroyed not long after the commissioning of the Stephano and were commemorated in song. One of these ships gives us an absolutely firm date: The Algerine, for which see "The Loss of the Algerine," was lost in 1912. Since the mention of the Stephano forces a date no earlier than 1912, and the Algerine forces a date no later than that year, obviously the year must be 1912!
Supporting the 1912 date is the first line, "The twelfth of march is drawing near" -- the sealing fleet sailed on March 12, 1912 (Chafe, p. 98), whereas it had usually sailed on March 10 until 1910 (sealing law didn't permit ships to sail before that date; Candow, p. 57), and the fleet sailed on March 13 in 1911, when the sealing companies agreed not to take any seals before March 16 (Ryan, p. 194).
It is interesting and unusual to see this song divide the ships into wooden ships (Algerine, Kite, Labrador, Neptune, Southern Cross, Viking) and ironclads. The earliest steamers were of course all wooden, but eventually the shipping companies started using steel ships, which could break the ice more easily. While they lasted, they were the most successful ships, and the ones everyone wanted to be part of. But they proved uneconomical; they cost more than the old wooden ships, and generally weren't well-suited for other tasks (Ryan, p. 200), and with the seal population in decline, it was hard to afford them. All went off to other duties in World War I, and many (like the Stephano and the Florizel) did not come back; after World War I, the sealing fleet once again consisted of wooden walls; Feltham, p. 95.
Of the other ships mentioned in the song, the Southern Cross was lost with all hands in 1914; see "The Southern Cross (I)."
The Florizel was wrecked in 1918; see "The Wreck of the Steamship Florizel."
The Neptune is the subject of "Neptune, Ruler of the Sea."
For the Viking, see "To the Memory of the Late Captain Kennedy."
For the Kite see "The 'Kite' Abandoned in White Bay."
For the Labrador see also "Captains and Ships" and "The Sealer's Song (II)."
This is the only sealing song to mention the Venture -- which probably shouldn't surprise us, since no such sealing ship is listed by Chafe! Probably the reference is to one of the sisters Bellaventure and Bonaventure, the former being the "Belle" and the latter the "Bon" of "Captains and Ships," or their older fleet-mate the Adventure, mentioned in "The Sealer's Song (II)" and "I Am a Newfoundlander." The Adventure, the very first steel sealer, first went to the ice in 1906 and ended her career in 1915; the Bellaventure and Bonaventure both served 1909-1915 (and it was the Bellaventure which had the sad fate of bringing home the survivors and the victims of the Newfoundland Disaster of 1914; see "The Newfoundland Disaster (I)"). All three ships were sold to Russia in 1916
The Beothictoo went to the ice 1909-1915; she is mentioned in this song and in "Captains and Ships." She had a near-disaster in 1913, when she was hit by the Bonaventure (O'Neill, p. 984), which took her out of the 1913 sealing season. The Bonaventure (which is mentioned in the "Ballad of Bob Bartlett, Arctic Explorer") was able to proceed on her way, but the Beothic was crippled and barely survived. (For this event, see also "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912.")
There is a picture of the Bonaventure and the Beothic on p. 39 of Ryan/Drake. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Candow: James E. Candow, Of Men and Seals: A History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1989
- 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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