Kite Abandoned in White Bay, The
DESCRIPTION: "Come all ye rambling sailor boys And hearken please to me And hear what fishermen endure...." The Kite sets out with the sealing fleet, but her slow speed causes her to be left behind. 22 crew leave her to go home and seek better work
AUTHOR: probably Johnny Burke (1851-1930)
EARLIEST DATE: 1978 (Ryan/Small)
KEYWORDS: ship hunting abandonment
1902 - the jamming and nesr-abandonment of the "Kite"
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 103, "The 'Kite' Abandoned in White Bay" (1 text)
cf. "The Banks of Newfoundland (II)" (tune)
NOTES [778 words]: This apparently comes from a manuscript with no indication of author, date, or tune. Ryan/Small say that this is probably the work of Johnny Burke (1851-1930), and certainly it is similar to other pieces Burke wrote (he had several other songs that started with a "come-all-ye" line), but it is not in the collection of Burke's poems published in 1981 by William J. Kirwin.
Looking at the form and certain of the words, I think it effectively certain that "The Banks of Newfoundland (II)" was the author's model. (And Burke often used existing songs as a basis for his own.)
The Kite was one of the most-mentioned vessels in sealing songs; there are references to her in "Sealer's Song (I)," "Captains and Ships," "Success to the Hardy Sealers," "Ballad of Bob Bartlett, Arctic Explorer," "The 'Kite' Abandoned in White Bay," and "Success to Every Man."
The Kite was built in Germany in 1873 and became a Newfoundland vessel in 1877. She was part of the seal hunt every year from 1877 to 1914. She then performed other duties until her final voyage in 1918. (Feltham, p. 78). She was smaller than most sealers, and with only a 50 horsepower engine, couldn't do much in heavy ice (Feltham, p. 79). That perhaps contributed to some ill luck for her; in 1902, for instance, she got stuck for almost a month, causing the crew to form a plan to walk home, resulting in newspaper claims of a mutiny. At minimum, the captain put the men on reduced rations, and they eventually demanded the right to walk home. Captain Daniel Green gave them two days' rations and let them go (Feltham, p. 81). I assume the 1902 "jam" was the inspiration for this piece, although Ryan/Small do not say so.
She also got stuck in 1905 -- although that year, with Joe Kean in command, she found herself in position to take in an unusually large haul of seals (Feltham, p. 82). She rarely had much luck in the years after that; she was just too small and too weak. In 1913, she couldn't even get a full crew because the ice made it impossible to get into port -- she ended up with more stowaways than men properly hired! (Ryan, p. 196). She took only 1280 seals that year, and her captain Fred Yetman -- a first time skipper -- was not given another ship after that (Chafe, p. 96).
After the difficult 1914 sealing season, she did not go to the ice in 1915-1917 (Chafe, p. 101), but returned in 1918 (I'd guess this was because so many steel ships had been withdrawn from service that the sealing firms needed their old ships back). She was wrecked on the Gaspe coast on August 12, 1918 (Feltham, p. 83).
I'm guessing that her small size meant that few officers wanted to serve on her if they had any other option; Feltham, p. 84, counts 21 different captains who had charge of her in her 39 years on the ice. Only William Knee -- the captain listed for her in "Sealer's Song (I)" -- commanded her for as many as five years in a row, though Dan Green had charge of her for six years in all: 1894-1897 and 1902-1903.
She had one brush with fame: in 1891, she took Robert Peary on what was supposed to be an expedition to Greenland. At one point, her rudder hit ice, and tore her helm out of the helmsmens' hands. Peary was thrown against a wall and his leg broken. Amazingly, Peary apparently was willing to be picked up by the same ship a year later (Keir, p. 172).
In 1901, she was the first command of Robert Bartlett (Feltham, p. 80; for Bartlett see "Captain Bob Bartlett"), who, since he later commanded the ships that took Peary toward the North Pole, was probably the most famous sealing captain outside Newfoundland. He didn't have much luck with her, though, He got her stuck in the ice once, grounded her once, and had her hit bottom one other time (Horwood, p. 182). And, after all that, he took only 8034 seals -- her best total in five years, but less than half of what she had taken under William Knee in her first year (Chafe, p. 101). Perhaps it's no surprise that Bartlett didn't get a command the next year! (Chafe, p. 87).
Few other famous captains seem to have been willing to take on such a feeble ship, but Joseph Kean of the famous Kean clan (for which see "Captain Abram Kean") had her in 1905 (Chafe, p. 101; she was only his second command, according to Chafe, p. 93, but he still managed to take 20% more seals than Bartlett), and Baxter Barbour (for whom see "The Nimrod's Song") commanded her in 1908 (Feltham, p. 83).
For another story of the Kite, see "Uncle Bill Teller."
There is a photo of the Kite on p. 174 of Feltham; it's a very muddy image, but even in that, it's clear that her sails were far more important to her than her coal-burning engine. - 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)
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- Horwood: Harold Horwood, Bartlett: The Great Canadian Explorer, Doubleday & Co, 1977
- Keir: David Keir, The Bowring Story, The Bodley Head, 1962
- Ryan: Shannon Ryan, The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914, Breakwater Books, 1994
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