First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912
DESCRIPTION: "The first arrival from the front Is just come in today; The little ship Fogota WIth her colors waving gay." The Fogota had set out early and taken a fine load of seal. Now they return to cheers. The singer wishes captain and crew well
AUTHOR: apparently Johnny Burke (1851-1930)
EARLIEST DATE: 1912 (Burke's Ballads)
KEYWORDS: ship travel hunting return
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 82, "First Arrival from Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912" (1 text)
NOTES [1480 words]: Although Ryan/Small got this from "Burke's Ballads," it is not in the collection of Burke's poems published in 1981 by William J. Kirwin. For a brief biography of Johnny Burke, see the notes to "The Kelligrew's Soiree."
The Fogota was not one of the better-known sealers; this song is the only one to mention her. Probably this is because she made only four trips to the ice, in 1912, 1914, 1918, and 1919 (Chafe, p. 98). She was owned by Crosbie & Co., who had only a relatively small fleet (the list is in Chafe, p. 26); she was one of their first purchases (Ryan-Ice, p. 195).
For some reason, the Fogota had a very low number of sealers in 1912 -- just 85, compared to the usual crew of 200 or more. Ryan-Ice, p. 195, speculates that this was because she couldn't find all the men she needed at an iced-in port, but perhaps the fact that she was new played a role as well. She didn't take a lot of seals, but with such a small crew, the men aboard her came in second in the fleet in per-capita pay. But the small total perhaps explains why she wasn't sent out in 1913 (she instead had been contracted to run mail).
The song is right to call her a "little ship"; Ryan-Ice lists her at 238 tons, which made her one of the smallest ships in the fleet; Crosbie's other ship, Sagona, was almost twice as large. (For more on the "Sagona," see the notes to "Greedy Harbour.") This might be another reason she had a small crew.
The Fogota, according to Greene, p. 279, was later sold to a Greek owner as the Ellenes, then came back to the North Atlantic as the Chedabucto, but sailed from Halifax, not Newfoundland.
The Fogota's skipper "Captain Winsor" is more familiar than his ship; many of the most famous sealing captains were parts of dynasties, such as the Keans (for which see "Captain Abram Kean"), the Barbours, the Knees, and the Winsors. In all, there were seven sealing Winsors (Busch, p. 77, but see below).
The patriarch of the clan was William Winsor (Sr.) (c. 1846-1907), but I find no clear mentions of him in the songs in Ryan/Small. It appears it is his son William (Jr.), or William C. Winsor (1876-1964), who is mentioned in "Capt. Frederick Harris and the Grates Cove Seal Killers of 1915" (since William Sr., whose first command was the Vanguard in 1881, ended his service in 1906). Similarly, William Jr. must be the captain in "Arrival of the 'Grand Lake' and 'Virginia Lake' With Bumper Trips"; William Jr. commanded the Virginia Lake 1903-1904. William Winsor Jr, is also mentioned as "Bill Windsor" (note the incorrect "d") in "The Sealer's Song (II)."
There is a small picture of William C. Winsor, and a larger photo of his Wesleyville home, on p. 78 of Ryan/Drake. "The Sealer's Song (II)" correctly identifies the family home as Wesleyville. Ryan/Drake add that he continued to work the seal fishery until 1949, and joined the Newfoundland legislature in 1908-1909 before being defeated by William Coaker, the labour organizer (for whom see "Coaker's Dream"). Winsor was elected again 1924, became Minister of Fisheries and Marine, was voted out in 1928, then voted in again in 1932, shortly before Newfoundland lost its legislature (DictNewfLabrador, p. 364).
This doesn't mean everyone liked him. In 1913, William Winsor's Beothic had collided with the Bonaventure and missed the sealing season (O'Neill, p. 984), making him very cautious in leaving port in 1914 (and causing him to be lampooned by James Murphy in a verse printed on p. 198 of Ryan-Ice), and later that season, after the Newfoundland disaster and when loss of the Southern Cross was starting to be suspected, he hurried the Beothic home to gain the honor of being the "first arrival" of 1914; "his insensitivity was remarked by all" (Ryan-Ice, p. 199).
"The Sealer's Song (II)" also mentions Bob Winsor and Jessie Winsor (sic.) -- the correct spelling of the latter's name being Jesse Winsor, as you might guess; he was the son of William Winsor Sr. (Chafe, p. 32), and is the Captain Winsor of this song. Jesse Winsor (1874-1933) commanded the Panther 1906-1908 (losing the ship in that year), the Newfoundland in 1909, the Fogota in 1912, and the Bloodhound in 1913-1914. Given that he never took more than 9097 seals in a year, and averaged less than 6000 in his seven years as a captain, it's perhaps not surprising that that was the end of his career. (He did go on to be a big deal in the United Fishermen's Union in 1923-19242 before quitting because he felt the union was too political; DictNewfLabrador, p. 363.) We find two other Winsors, "Sam Windsor" and "Gate Windsor," in "Captains and Ships." "First Arrival -- 'Aurora' and 'Walrus' Full" mentions another captain Winsor, exact identity not listed in the song (but probably S. R. Winsor).
Several of these Winsors mentioned in sealing songs are mysterious. The full list of Winsors, as found on Chafe, p. 96, is James (commanded 1867-1868), William Sr. (1881-1906), Jacob (1893), John (1896), William Jr. (1893-1949), S. R. (1904-1920; born 1872), Jesse (1906-1914), and Jacob (1907-1911). I would guess that "Sam Winsor" is S. R. Winsor, and "Gate" might be a mis-hearing of "Jake," i.e. "Jacob," but I cannot guess as to "Bob" -- except that, based on the ship he commanded, it's probably another name for S. R. Winsor.
The third verse of the song should not be read as saying that Fogota killed 30,000 prime harps (which was how I first read it) when they hit the main patch; observe that the words are "thirty hundred." The Fogota took only 9097 seals in 1912, and averaged less than 7000 per year in her four years. Which might explain why she was dropped from the fleet.... Does "thirty hundred" harps mean three thousand? Or perhaps thirty hundredweight? (A standard measure of seal fat; a hundredweight, or quintal, was 112 points). If you combine either of those figures with the three thousand or so she's listed as taken on other days, it adds up to less than 9000, but not too far off in the former case, so that's perhaps the intent.
There is another possibility, and it comes from all those confusing Winsors. The ship that took the most seals in 1912 was not the Fogota; it was the Beothic (Ryan-Ice, p. 195), which took home 34561 seals -- and was commanded by William C. Winsor (Chafe, p. 96). In other words, if we confuse the 9,000 seals taken by Jesse Winsor in the Fogota with the 30,000 taken by Billy Winsor in the Beothic, we could get the third verse.
The other ship mentioned in the song, the Ranger, is much better known than the Fogota, although more for longevity than anything else. Built in Dundee in 1871, and rather underpowered even by the standards of the day (a joke went that her skipped should not blow her steam-powered foghorn; she had so little power that "if you blow the foghorn... you'll take two knots off her speed"; Ryan-Last, p. 56). "The SS Ranger was undoubtedly the Methuselah of the sailing fleet. She made her first voyage to the ice fields in 1872 and her last in 1942, from which she failed to return" (Feltham, p. 115). She went out every year in that time except 1915 (Feltham, pp. 115-116). That long service meant that she had the second-highest career total of seals taken (Ryan/Drake, p. 25), even though she rarely turned in a truly outstanding year.
The Ranger came very close to sinking in a storm in 1939, but with the help of the Imogene and others, she survived (Feltham, pp. 123-124). On April 11, 1942, her engine was damaged and her crew left her shortly before she went aground (Feltham, pp. 124-125); many of the men went to the Terra Nova (for which see "The Terra Nova"), another of the very last of the old sealers. According to Feltham, only four ships went to the ice in the year the Ranger was lost (the Ranger, the Terra Nova, the Neptune, and the Eagle, the latter three of which are discussed in "The Terra Nova," "Neptune, Ruler of the Sea," and "The Ice-Floes"), and obviously only three returned.
The "Captain Knee" listed as commanding the Ranger, according to Chafe, p. 93, 103, was Kenneth Knee, who was new to command; he skippered the Ranger 1912-1914, then never held another command despite coming from a famous sealing family. Perhaps not surprising; he had a decent year in 1912, but had disastrously poor harvests the next two years (2729 and 1585 seals, respectively; a good sealer could take 15,000 or more).
There is a 1935 photo of the Ranger (in a form very unlike her early appearance) on p. 25 of Ryan/Drake; Andrieux has a photo on p. 118.
"Sheelah's Day," mentioned in the third verse, is March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day; Sheelah/Sheila/Sheelagh was regarded as Patrick's wife or housekeeper or other associate, and Sheelah's brush was a major storm which occurred on or about her day (StoryKirwinWiddowson, pp. 469-470). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.5
- Andrieux: J. P. Andrieux, Marine Disasters of Newfoundland and Labrador, O.T.C. Press, 1986
- 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)
- DictNewfLabrador: (Robert H. Cuff, managing editor), Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador Biography, Harry Cuff Publications, 1990
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 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-Ice: Shannon Ryan, The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914, Breakwater Books, 1994
- Ryan-Last: Shannon Ryan, The Last of the Ice Hunters: An Oral History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Flanker Press, 2014
- Ryan/Drake: Shannon Ryan, assisted by Martha Drake, Seals and Sealers: A Pictorial History of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery, Breakwater Books, 1987
- StoryKirwinWiddowson: G. M. Story, W. J. Kirwin, and J. D. A. Widdowson, editors, Dictionary of Newfoundland English, second edition with supplement, Breakwater Pres, 1990
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