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-HaulinRopeAndGaff, p. 82, "First Arrival from Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912" (1 text)
NOTES [2139 words]: Although Ryan/Small-HaulinRopeAndGaff 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).
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.")
For some reason, the Fogota had a very low number of sealers aboard 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 her small size is another likely factor, and the fact that she was new played might have played a role as well. Also, based on the photo on p. 43 of Winsor, in addition to being small, she looked small, and was clearly a steamer only, with no masts on which to set sails; she looks like a nice steam yacht, but maybe the men didn't trust a ship that couldn't move without her engine. 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); WInsor, p. 43, says that it took only about 9000 seals to fill her, which is a surprisingly low total for a serious sealer.
I have never seen an explanation for the name Fogota, but her owners Crosbie & Co. used her "in the Fogo mail service" (Penney/Kennedy, p. 96), so I would guess she was named for the island she served.
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" (i.e. Jesse Winsor; Winsor, p. 43; there is a photo of him on p. 75 of 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. Busch, p. 77, says there were seven sealing Winsors; if anything, that number is low.
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, who was apparently known as "Sam-Bob" (see "The Sealer's Song (II)").
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-HaulinRopeAndGaff. 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; Winsor has a photo of him on p. 76. "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). Apparently he missed one year on the ice because the government wouldn't let him both serve in government and be a sealing skipper.
In the final Newfoundland government before the dominion went bankrupt and was taken over by the Commission of Government, Winsor was appointed Minister of Posts and Telegraphs (Letto, p. 23). It doesn't sound as if this was based on any particular experience he had in managing the mail; what they wanted most was his drive and desire for discipline (Letto, p. 240.
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).
One of the men who sailed under him, Roland Batten, declared "Billy Winsor was a rough man who swore a lot. Now, Billy Winsor was also a great captain, a darn good captain" (Ryan-Last, p. 136). There seems to be the general consensus that he was great at finding seals but not always easy to serve under; Jacob Best said, "Billy Winsor would cuss on you, 'Oh you bloods of bitches!' And he would swear all the time" (Ryan-Last, p. 139). One man, Thomas Best, even describes him as giving order to shoot strikers (Ryan-Last, p. 143). Arthur Maddox declared "I'd say he was the worst that was out there," and Arthur Maddox said, "As long as he got the seals, he didn't care what the men did" (Ryan-Last, p. 421). Recollections of him occupy pp. 419-423 of Ryan-Last, with others scattered throughout the book; other than Abram Kean, no other sealing captain had anything close to the number of mentions of Winsor.
Nine different Winsors have entries in DictNewfLabrador, including also Naboth Winsor, the author of the book cited as Winsor who became one of the top officers of Newfoundland's United Church, and Robert George Winsor (1876-1929), the son of William Winsor, who would become famous as the first sealing captain to join William Coaker's Fisherman's Protective Union (see "Coaker's Dream"), and eventually became manager of a store in the Wesleyville area (DictNewfLabrador, p. 363).
"The Sealer's Song (II)" also mentions Bob Winsor and Jessie Winsor (sic.) -- Jesse being the son of William Winsor Sr. (Chafe, p. 32), and, as we saw, the Captain Winsor of this song. Jesse Winsor (1874-1933) commanded the Panther 1906-1908 (losing the ship in the latter 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 had more success, or at least more notoriety, as a fisherman, going on to be a big deal in the United Fishermen's Union in 1923-1924 (DictNewfLabrador, p. 363). He became "the leader or at least main spokesman" of the United Fishermen when it tried to hold out for better prices for dried cod (O'Flaherty, pp. 312-313) -- but that was a decade after the events in this song. And the attempt failed (O'Flaherty, p. 313). Jesse later quit 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).
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 pounds). 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) -- and "Billy" Winsor was the most famous Winsor of all. 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, she was rather underpowered even by the standards of the day (a joke went that her skipper 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; WInsor, p. 59) -- seventy trips in all. 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 men didn't like her much, either, because she was old and very tired and didn't take enough seals to pay off much. Thomas Bragg, for instance, said that "the worst [sealer] was the old Ranger" (Ryan-Last, p.366). Indeed, by the end, she was literally lousy; there are several accounts, including one on p. 129 of Ryan-Last, of the men having to fight the lice which infested her.
In connection with the name Ranger it is interesting to note that, in Newfoundland, "ranger" could mean "the common seal... esp[ecially] in its third year" (StoryKirwinWiddowson, pp. 405-406).
The Ranger had many problems over the years; her engine broke down and she was "nipped" in 1908; she lost a propeller in 1932 (Winsor, p. 59), and she 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) off Baccalieu (Ryan-Last, pp 351-352); 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 photo of him on p. 75 of Winsor.
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; Winsor shows her on p. 59.
"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 5.3
- 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 Floes: Telling the Romance of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery, Hutchinson & Co, London (PDF available on the Memorial University of Newfoundland web site)
- Letto: Doug Letto, Newfoundland's Last Prime Minister: Frederick Alderdice and the Death of a Nation, Boulder Publications, 2014
- O'Flaherty: Patrick O'Flaherty, Lost Country: The Rise and Fall of Newfoundland 1843-1933, Long Beach Press, 2005
- O'Neill: Paul O'Neill, A Seaport Legacy: The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland, Press Procepic, 1976
- Penney: A. R. Penney, A History of the Newfoundland Railway, Volume I (1881-1923), Harry Cuff Publications, 1988
- 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
- Winsor: Naboth Winsor, Stalwart Men and Sturdy Ships: A History of the Prosecution of the Seal Fishery by the Sealers of Bonavista Bay North, Newfoundland, Economy Printing Limited, 1985
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