Capt. Frederick Harris and the Grates Cove Seal Killers of 1915
DESCRIPTION: "Attention all, both great and small, A tale I have to tell Of Captain Frederick Harris And young Florizel." The singer lists various seal hunters, tells of the beginning of their voyage, and wishes them success
AUTHOR: Joshua Stanford
EARLIEST DATE: 1952 (Stanford, Fifty Years of My Life in Newfoundland)
KEYWORDS: ship hunting moniker
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 101, "Capt. Frederick Harris and the Grates Cove Seal Killers of 1915" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES [514 words]: In earlier editions of the Index, I wrote, "From internal indications, it appears that the Florizel of this song is not the passenger ship described in 'The Wreck of the Steamship Florizel.'" I was wrong. It's a sealing ship from 1915 named Florizel, and called "young"; I think it nearly certain that it was in fact the same ship (the Florizel was built in 1909, so it was still fairly new in 1915, and although it was a passenger ship for most of the year, it regularly went to the seal hunt in March).
Nonetheless, it is very easy to misunderstand the song. At first glance, for instance, you would probably think that Captain Frederick Harris commanded the Florizel in 1915 (or in some year, anyway). Nope. For her entire eight year career as a sealer, the Florizel was commanded by one of the Kean dynasty of sealers, either Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean") or his son Joseph Kean. Abram -- the "Bumper" Kean of the song, so-called because he so often filled his ship to the bumpers -- commanded the Florizen 1909-1911, then turned her over to son Joe for 1912-1914. After Abram was faulted for his part in the Newfoundland Disaster (for which see "The Newfoundland Disaster (I)"), Abram went back to the Florizel for 1915 and 1916 (Chafe, p. 100).
There was no sealing captain named "Frederick Harris" (Chafe, p. 91). I'm guessing that he is not a ship's captain but an army captain, of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during World War One; many members of that regiment had been sealers before volunteering to serve in Europe.
William Winsor, mentioned in the song under the name "Bill Winsor," was a member of a famous family of sealer captains; for him, see "First Arrival from the Sea Fishery S. S. Fogota, 1912." William Bartlett was the father of Robert Bartlett, for whom see "Captain Bob Bartlett."
The comment at the end about everyone looking around for "Bumper Kean" is very real. Abram Kean had such a towering reputation that other captains often followed him to try to find the "main patch." "One of his favourite gambits was to head off in one particular direction until the other ships were all following him: then, with his stokers tending their furnaces carefully to avoid emitting sparks through the funnel, he would change course abruptly after nightfall for the point where he estimated that his prey would be found. Captain Kean was in some respects as sought after as the seals, but both his pathfinding and the task of keeping up with him could be strenuous work" (Keir, p. 126).
Similarly England, pp. 80-81: "The Thetis and Diana dogged our every 'jife' and 'cut.' They spied on us. Not if they could help it should Cap'n Kean steal a march on them. He, 'admiral of the fleet,' should not be allowed to strike the fat and leave them out of it.
"'An' if they make a blank, I'll be blamed,' the Old Man complained. 'Whatever happened, I'm blamed. I mind one spring they all tagged me, an' it was an off spring. Nobody got into the main patch at all. An' what d'you think, ir? They blamed me for leadin' 'em 'stray!'" - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- 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
- Keir: David Keir, The Bowring Story, The Bodley Head, 1962
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