Sealing Cruise of the Lone Flier, The
DESCRIPTION: The song chronicles the life of sealers traveling from Twillingate to St. John's then north to the ice fields for seals. Miscellaneous mishaps and achievements are told during the song and many names and factual information mentioned.
AUTHOR: (supposedly the whole crew in question)
EARLIEST DATE: 1929 (Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland)
KEYWORDS: sea travel hunting moniker
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 123, "The Sealing Cruise of the Lone Flier" (1 text, 1 tune)
Doyle-OldTimeSongsAndPoetryOfNewfoundland, "The Sealing Cruise of the Lone Flier" (1 text, 1 tune): pp. 14-15 in the 2nd edition
Blondahl-NewfoundlandersSing, pp. 76-77, "The Sealing Cruise of the Lone Flier" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ryan/Small-HaulinRopeAndGaff, pp. 126-128, "The Sealing Cruise of the Lone Flier" (1 text, 1 tune)
ST Doy14 (Partial)
NOTES [1178 words]: The cruise in question is reported to have taken place from March 10 to April 25, 1929.
Very formulaic introduction of the "come-all-ye" variety with the singer assuring that he will neither "offend" the listener or run too long. [This even though Doyle's version runs 16 verses! - RBW] This is a very typical humble attitude of singers from Newfoundland as shown in many songs. - SH
Starting in the 1860s, sealing had been done by large wooden steamers; in the early twentieth century, steel ships had started to join the hunt. All the latter were lost or sold by the end of World War I (the Russians bought them because they needed icebreakers; Candow, p. 45), and the wooden steamers began to fail also as the years wore them out; with demand for seals falling, and the seal population badly hit due to hunting, there wasn't much money to replace the big ships.
The Fisherman's Protective Union, or FPU (for which see "Coaker's Dream"), had an answer: instead of large steamers, which were expensive, or pure sailing ships, which just didn't have enough power, they came up with small schooners with auxiliary diesels. The first of these, Young Harp, went into service in 1927. It was a tremendous success, taking 4353 seals -- far fewer than the big steamers, but the big steamers had crews of 200 or so, and the Young Harp just 27 (similar to the 28 sealers mentioned in the twelfth verse of the song); on a per-man basis, the Young Harp was astonishingly successful. In 1928, her crew of 29 took 6175 seals on a first trip, and 2381 on a second, making her an even greater success (Ryan-Last, p. 448).
There is a photo of the Young Harp on p. 82 of Winsor.
In 1929, seven auxiliary schooners went to the ice, with the Lone Flier being one of them (Candow, p. 49). It proved a very temporary boom; there were six auxiliary schooners in 1930, but just two in 1931 (Candow, p. 50). This presumably because, in 1929, "The auxiliary sealing schooners met with poor success"; even the experienced Young Harp managed only 959 seals, and the Lone Flier, under Sol. White, managed just 900 (Ryan-Last, p. 449). Thus the 1929 dating seems very likely.
According to Galgay/McCarthy, p. 110, a ship named the Lone Flier was wrecked on North Penguin Island on July 10, 1941; I assume that was this ship.
I suspect the Harp, mentioned in the song, is actually the Young Harp. In any case, it's a logical name for a sealer, since the primary target of sealers was the species known as harp seals, especially the infant harp seals, known as whitecoats because of, well, their white coats.
These schooners didn't last long, but they arguably foreshadowed the Motor Vessels, or MVs, for which see "A Noble Fleet of Sealers."
The Nascopee is properly the Nascopie, which was one of the last attempts to revive the steel sealers. She was built in 1911-1912 at Newcastle and was lost in 1947, running aground near Cape Dorset on Baffin Island (Feltham, p. 91); she served as a sealer 1912-1915 and 1927-1930 (Ryan/Drake, p. 41). She was built for the Hudson's Bay Company to serve their northern posts in the summer, but the icebreaking abilities that served her so well in the north were also helpful for dealing with the ice where the seals whelped (Feltham, p. 86). In her 1912-1915 period as a sealer, when she was among the most successful ships in the fleet (WInsor, p. 54), her captain was George Barbour, for whom see "The Greenland Disaster (I)"; in her second stint, she was commanded by Abram Kean (Feltham, p. 86), for whom see "Captain Abram Kean." Except for a disastrous 1915, she took more than 17,000 seals in all her years in the ice, and she three times (1913, 1927, 1930) she took more than 30,000 -- a very good number indeed.
She is supposedly the only sealer -- indeed, the only ship -- to have replaced a propeller while at sea (Feltham, p. 88). She also had the unique distinction, for a sealer, of sinking a German submarine during World War I (using a gun installed for defensive purposes; Ryan/Drake, p. 41).
There is a book that is sort of about the Nascopie, i.e. Wild, but it is primarily about Smellie, not his ship, and devotes only a single paragraph to her service as a sealer before Smellie took command, saying that she had had one good year and "smelt like a sealer and was full of cockroaches" (Wild, p. 84. The same page explains that the Nascopie managed to sink that sub with her stern gun because the sub had to dodge an ice floe). She served well as an Arctic steamer under Smellie until 1945 (when he retired), and then was lost two years later under another master, but she did not return to sealing. (I found Wild very hard to read; he seems to worship Smellie, even though Dennis Jordan on p. viii of the Introduction declares he was a martinet.)
Feltham, p. 176, has a photo of the Nascopie, Kean has one on p. 30, WInsor on p. 54, and Ryan/Drake on p. 41. Wild has photos facing pp. 72, 73, 104, 169, but all of them are of her post-sealing days.
The third verse refers to the "crop." Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland give an explanation of this so short as to be almost deceitful. Each sealer had to have certain equipment -- a gaff, a hauling rope, a sculping knife -- and was expected to supply this. The sealers were not given an advance to buy the equipment; they were given what amounted to a voucher in the amount of $9 with which to purchase their supplies from the merchants of St. John's, at an inflated price. For this $9 worth of credit, the sealers had $12 deducted from their wages at the end of the trip. It didn't matter if they already had all their equipment and didn't need to buy anything; the sealing companies knocked $12 off their wages. The only consolation was that if the sealing trip went badly and the men failed to earn $12, they were not required to refund the rest. (Ryan-Ice, p. 185). It was nonetheless a clear abuse of the sealers, with the profits being split between the St. John's merchants and the sealing companies. For more on the "crop," see the notes to "The Sealer's Strike of 1902 (The Sealers Gained the Strike)."
The ninth verse refers to one man getting a "cat." That is not a reference to a feline; a "cat" was a stillborn seal pup, or one that died shortly after birth. They were desirable finds; cats had finer pelts than ordinary seals. And harps, to repeat, are harp seals, not stringed instruments. "Hoods" are the other species of seals the hunters sought; hood seals were more dangerous (instead of running, they fought to defend their babies, and they were bigger than harps, so they couldn't easily be killed with a gaff) and generally less desirable, but sealers turned to hunting "hoods" if they couldn't get enough whitecoats.
The "Mr. Ashbourne" of the last verse is probably Thomas George William Ashbourne (1894-1984), who was one of those who helped negotiate Newfoundland's entry into Canada; after his father William's death in 1923, he became president of the family's fishery supply firm (DictNewfLabrador, p. 6). - RBW
Last updated in version 6.0
- Candow: James E. Candow, Of Men and Seals: A History of the Newfoundland Seal Hunt, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1989
- 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
- Galgay/McCarthy: Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy, Shipwrecks of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume II, Creative Publishers, 1990
- Kean: Abram Kean, with a foreword by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Old and Young Ahead, 1935; I use the 2000 Flanker Press edition edited and with a new Introduction (and new photographs) by Shannon Ryan
- 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
- Wild: Roland Wild, Arctic Command: The Story of Smellie of the Nascopie, with a Foreword by Sir Patrick Ashley Cooper and an Introduction by Dennis Jordan, Ryerson Press, 1995
- 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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