The back cover of Dick Francis: A Racing Life, a biography by Graham Lord, calls it “warm, affectionate, yet sharp and perceptive.” I usually read the jacket information before starting a book. This time I didn’t. I’m glad because I know it didn’t skew my impressions of the book.
The only word of that description with which I would agree is “sharp.” I found the book sharp to the point of nasty and petty. The first page puts the thesis forth that Dick’s wife Mary probably wrote the novels. Throughout 373 pages of text, Lord jibes and pokes about it at every chance.
The argument is that Dick Francis did not like or do well in school and that Mary did. Dick quit school as soon as he could to become a horseman. Mary went on to university, gaining a degree in French and English. Lord illustrates with facts and speculation what he calls “the most amusing literary camouflage since Marian Evans pretended to be George Eliot.”
An apparent fact is that Dick repeatedly said that Mary should be named as co-author. But Mary and the publishers thought the books were more marketable under the name of a champion jockey. Lord does paint a picture of the personalities of both Dick and Mary. What I take from his portrayal of Dick is of an unassuming man who was honest as a jockey and in all other aspects of his life. The impression of Mary that I gained from Graham Lord is that, as they say, she wasn’t backward about putting herself forward.
Mary Francis – Researcher or writer?
There has never been any hiding of the fact that Mary did much of the research for the books. In Lord’s book, I learned that she turned many of the novels’ subjects into businesses or avocations for herself. She became a pilot and ran an air taxi service, she bought into a wine importing business and she took up photography to the professional level. All this was to better research Dick Francis books. With the literary aspirations that Lord says she had, I am amazed that she did not claim the credit for them if she believed herself to be the sole or major author.
Lord says that the physical afflictions suffered by characters are those suffered by Mary, not Dick. She had polio as a young woman, so does a character. She suffered from asthma, so does a character. Literary allusions are ones that would only be known to Mary with her education, not Dick with his. The portrayal of the male heroes and the female characters seem to be written more from a woman’s perspective than a man’s. It is Mary’s sensibilities, interests and afflictions that fuel the books, Lord says.
Racing and horses are central
Ok, but I would argue that those are story elements attainable through good research and from drawing on experiences of others. At the heart of Dick Francis novels is racing and horses. You are riding in the Grand National with the book’s hero. You know the horses as sentient beings through the eyes of jockeys or grooms. And that is not Mary’s experience. She didn’t particularly like horses or racing. And physical afflictions? The descriptions of broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders are from Dick’s experience.
Lord is disparaging toward Dick about his respect for the Royal Family. As an example of what he sees as Dick’s fawning, he says that Dick asked the Queen Mother’s permission before entitling his autobiography The Sport of Queens. Why, Lord asks, should Dick think it necessary to ask permission to use that phrase? Perhaps because the phrase is actually The Sport of Kings? By changing it to Queens, Francis was making direct reference to his riding career. At that time there were two Queens and no King. As well, he rode for the Queen Mother. Perhaps he was just being polite.
Graham Lord makes much of Dick saying that writing was hard for him. Hard to believe, Lord says. Maybe, but I’ve read more interviews with best-selling authors about the difficulty of writing than those saying oh, it’s a snap. There’s also cringe-making recitations of interviews with Francis by writers for literary journals where Dick could not discuss concepts of formalism or semiotics in literature. Oh, for heaven’s sakes, not being au courant with literary analyses is hardly proof that someone can’t put pen to paper and write a good story.
Before and after reading Lord’s book, I did not think that Dick wrote the books entirely on his own. Why wouldn’t Mary contribute, edit, add her own words? Especially with their long symbiotic marriage, it seems they became almost inseparable. Their son Felix also became part of the writing machine. But at the core of all Dick Francis books are horses, racing and jockeys. Neither Mary nor Felix lived in that world. Dick did.
Graham Lord better on James Herriot
In 1997, two years before A Racing Life, Graham Lord published James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet – the “warm but incisive” biography its cover promised. Dick Francis: A racing life is not. At 262 pages, his Herriot biography is the length A Racing Life would be if Lord cut out the waffle. That would be most of the first three chapters and the long descriptive word lists throughout. I began skimming very early.
Tracy told Steve she was contemplating an abortion because she couldn’t handle one baby, let alone twins, on her own. “You’ll find someone,” he tried to console her. No, I need you, us – a couple.
Backed into a corner, Steve threw his fate into the hands of a metaphysical force that allowed him to disclaim all responsibility for what he was about to do: hitch his wagon to Tracy. About the 2 for 2 pregnancy rate they have going on, he said “Mother Nature is screaming something at me and you and I think it’s about time we listened.” If Mother Nature is telling you anything, Steve, it’s stay away from her or get yourself fixed.
I can’t really blame Steve, I guess. Tracy had me sucked in for a few minutes: ah, wouldn’t it be nice if they could be happy together. Then I pulled myself together: no, run Steve! She will not stop until she’s got you legally ensnared. And if you think Karen was a lot of work and Becky difficult! Roll them together and you still won’t have any nightmare near Tracy as Mrs. McDonald.
I think Tracy might have genuinely felt overwhelmed by the thought of twin babies to care for on her own. Fair enough, also fair enough for Steve to momentarily feel sympathy for her. But then it’s time to snap back to reality.
Tracy’s score as a mother
Tracy, as she said, has been a lousy mother. She tried to sell Amy once. She’s palmed her off on anyone who would look after her throughout her whole life. She has manipulated and used her repeatedly. She’s been the kind of mother that people write about when they’ve grown up and gone through years of therapy.
The best thing for Steve and the unborn children would be to say, yes, Tracy it will be hard for you so how about I take full responsibility for the babies and raise them on my own, and I could take Amy too. Then you’re free to go to London and work as a florist. Or start a paid career as a dominatrix in a sado-masochism club.
The telling of a place often is told through the people who make up the place. Conversely, the telling of a family can be told through the place they lived. Here are books about places or families in Newfoundland that may be of interest to those researching their origins.
Many prolific writers and storytellers have told Newfoundland’s past and present. There are also historical sources and contemporary analyses of Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. I have not included those here.
These books are about specific family or community history. They have real names and details of family history as well as the history of areas in which Mi’kmaq people lived. The exceptions are those by Kevin Major, Horwood and Butts, Erin Sharpe, Percy Janes, and Barbara Rieti. You may not think of Kevin Major’s book when you think “history”, but it’s well worth reading. Horwood and Butts’ book tells about the pirate Peter Easton in Newfoundland. Erin Sharpe’s article, through the eyes of one young woman, gives the reasons why people track their Mi’kmaq ancestry. Percy Janes’ novel beautifully presents place; Corner Brook in the first half of the 20th century. Barbara Rieti studies witchcraft beliefs in all of Newfoundland, but includes Mi’kmaq people and areas.
Please let me know if you know of a book that should be here. The titles below are links to find them. If you buy from Amazon, doing so through my links (or ‘Search Amazon’ box in right sidebar) means a fraction of every sale goes to me. For that, I am most appreciative.
Relevant, but included elsewhere in this site, are Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting Into Doom, my own Nogwa’mkisk: (Where the sand blows): Vignettes of Bay St. George Micmacs (out of print) and Lark Szick’s Young/LeJeune Family.
Click book titles (in green) for info and purchase
Dunraven, 4th Earl of (W. T. Wyndham-Quin) Canadian Nights Leopold Classic facsimile of 1914 ed. (Amazon) Chapter 6 "Newfoundland in the [1870s]" includes Joe family of Hall's Bay. Also at archive.org.
Rogers, John Davidson Newfoundland Vol. V, Pt. IV of A Historical Geography of the British Colonies Clarendon, Oxford 1911 Forgotten Books Classic Reprint Series 2012 Esp. ch. 8 for Mi'kmaq history (Amazon sometimes, or libraries)
Rundquist, Marie Revisiting Anne Marie: How an Amerindian woman of seventeenth-century Nova Scotia and a DNA match redefine American heritage 2009, 2012 (How a DNA test took a woman from her French-from-France heritage to the Cajuns and then to Mi'kmaq and Acadians. Continue the story with her Cajun By Any Other Name: Recovering the lost history of a family and a people 2012 - both available at DNA-Genealogy-History.com)
Speck, Frank Beothuk and Micmac New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation 1922 (online - see top left for formats, also on Amazon hard copy and Kindle)
Styles, Cindy 3 or 4 Years an Indian Friesen Press 2015 ("A little story about one girl's attempt to claim her heritage, and the maneuvering by the Canadian government to discredit that heritage." - Amazon blurb. Kindle, paper, hardback eds.
Walbourne-Gough, Douglas Crow Gulch Icehouse Poetry (Goose Lane), Fredericton NB 2019 ("This book is my attempt to... remind Corner Brook of the glaring omission in its social history." - the author, on Amazon)
If I’d laid a bet on how long Carla would cope with Maria as helpmeet, I’d have lost. Carla lasted longer than I’d expected. But, even so, it wasn’t long.
The scene that made my jaw drop and made me laugh was the two of them in Carla’s living room while Liam cries in his bed. Maria yells “Liam, go to sleep.” Then Carla agrees with her: “Do what you’re told and go to flamin’ sleep”. Well, the icy cold glare of affront that Maria turned on Carla! As in, how dare you yell at my precious babe the chosen one!
To be reasonable, Carla simply said exactly what Maria had said, other than adding the word “flaming” but Carla had forgot the cardinal rule of motherhood (especially in St. Maria’s world) – only the sainted mother may yell at the sainted child. However, motherhood and any kind of kin feeling are rarely reasonable. I know that I feel within my rights to tell my dogs to shut up. Still, I don’t like it when someone else does.
Carla brushed off yelling at the sainted child, without pointing out that she’d only followed Maria’s lead. But it escalated of course. Maria can always make it all about her and she did so once again. With incredible sanctimoniousness she said, “I realize you’re in a lot of pain. But taking it out on Liam isn’t going to help.” Ya think? Just been raped, and a child screaming his lungs out? So Carla told Maria that she’d been there long enough, get out now.
It was harsh, especially the business about living in the lap of luxury at Carla’s apartment compared to Maria’s own “flea-pit”. But Carla is angry and needs to vent that anger at someone and Maria was handy. Carla was also half in the bag and probably fed up to her eyeteeth with Maria being around all the time. Just the thought of Maria being there with me all the time, being comforting, dispensing wisdom – aaagghh! I am surprised only that their moment of sisterhood lasted as long as it did.
St. Maria has returned, after Carla’s attempt at suicide, to be her support system. First she came back to the lap of luxury of Carla’s apartment, then she talked Carla into going to her house. Even then, it didn’t take her long to strike the injured pose and turn it back to being about Maria – I’m only trying to help etc.
Here’s a hint, Carla: if you need support and companionship and only have the resources in Maria’s house to find it in, pick Ozzy. I’m not much of a Lab person myself, but I think he would be much more help with getting your head screwed on straight. Maria? Kind of like having an irritating pet rock.
Thirty years ago the Ocean Ranger drill rig sank off the coast of Newfoundland. The entire crew, 84 men, drowned. During the early hours of February 15th, in a bad winter storm, the rig began listing. Emergency personnel got there but there was nothing and no one left to save.
That night I was awake. My new cat had put her week-old kittens in bed with me. One by one, she picked them up in her mouth, jumped up on the bed and deposited them beside me. She then went as far away on the bed as she could get, gave me a look that clearly said “they’re yours” and went to sleep. Needless to say, I couldn’t, not with five tiny bodies beside me. So I listened to CBC Radio until it went off the air, then thought about stuff and drifted off for a few minutes at a time. When CBC came back on the air at 5:30 a.m., it was all about the Ocean Ranger.
No one knew what was going on. Announcers gave details as they got them then corrected themselves. Reporters were with officials and emergency responders from Mobil, Odeco and whoever else was available on land and at sea. Boats and helicopters searched for survivors. But the rig had sunk and no survivors. I knew many of the oil industry voices on the radio. I worked as an office temp, and drilling and oil companies, including Mobil, were my regular clients.
Everyone knew somebody
Like pretty much everyone in Newfoundland, I also knew people who worked on the rigs. A fellow student and friend worked on the Ocean Ranger. Was he on or off that week? I couldn’t remember. He was off, thank God. So was a friend of his, also someone I knew. But the husband of another fellow student was on the rig. She was widowed and their infant son left fatherless.
Newfoundland was shattered. The offshore oil industry was new and had so far delivered only jobs and good times for all. Then, just like that, 84 men dead – the biggest single sea disaster in many years. It took the shine off the paradise that Hibernia had promised. “And have not shall be no more”, in the ringing words of Premier Brian Peckford who got a good deal for the province in oil revenues.
Investigations into the disaster showed slipshod safety practices and rig design that really could not withstand the worst that the Grand Banks could give an unmoving platform. The workers’ nickname for the rig became widely known: The Ocean Danger.
I’ve never forgotten that night. The joy of a cat trusting me with her babies, all of us warmly tucked up while the storm lashed my windows. Then listening to early morning radio to hear panic and confusion happening right here, right now. So that’s why I never will have faith that any technology is fail-safe against nature’s powers.
The names of the men lost on the Ocean Ranger are:
Robert Arsenault, George Augot, Nicholas Baldwin, Kenneth Blackmore, Thomas Blevins, David Boutcher, Wade Brinston, Joseph Burry, Paul Bursey, Greg Caines, Kenneth Chafe, David Chalmers, Gerald Clarke, Daniel Conway, Gary Crawford, Arthur Dagg, Norman Dawe, Jim Dodd, Thomas Donlon, Wayne Drake, Leon Droddy, William Dugas, Terrance Dwyer, Domenic Dyke, Derek Escott, Andrew Evoy, Robert Fenez, Randell Ferguson, Peter Fogg, Ronald Foley, Melvin Freid, Carl Fry, George Gandy, Guy Gerbeau, Reginald Gorum, Cyril Greene, Norman Halliday, Fred Harnum, Tom Hatfield, Capt. Clarence Hauss, Ron Heffernan, Gregory Hickey, Robert Hicks, Derek Holden, Albert Howell, Robert Howell, Robert Howland, Jack Jacobson, Cliff Kuhl, Harold LeDrew, Robert LeDrew, Robert Madden, Michael Maurice, Ralph Melendy, Wayne Miller, Gord Mitchell, Perry Morrison, Randy Noseworthy, Ken O’Brien, Paschal Joseph O’Neill, George Palmer, Clyde Parsons, Donald Pieroway, John Pinhorn, Willie Powell, Gerald Power, Douglas Putt, Donald Rathburn, Darryl Reid, Dennis Ryan, Rick Sheppard, Frank Smit, William Smith, William David Smith, Ted Stapleton, Benjamin Kent Thompson, Greg Tiller, Craig Tilley, Gerald Vaughn, Woodrow Warford, Michael Watkin, Robert Wilson, Robert Winsor, Stephen Winsor.
from memorialsonline.com/ranger.asp and Gonzaga High School Annual Prayer Service Feb. 13/15 (in photos on Friends and Family of the Ocean Ranger FB page )
I saw my scene Tuesday and wrote about it. Friday put my impressions in a different perspective. So here’s both, about Carla, with observations on Friday first.
Playing with Fire
When Carla realizes she can’t go through with marrying Frank, she tries to tell him “gently”. She wishes to spare his feelings and protect her business. It doesn’t go well. She must tell him she loves Peter in order to convince him. Frank then rapes her.
Mercifully for us, they only show before and after. But it’s enough to see it was done in cold fury, not passionate anger: to debase and dominate her. Don’t mess with me, lady, he’s saying in the cruelest way there is.
He leaves her on the floor, and goes to his car where he prepares to run down Peter. It’s the same spot where he “protected” Carla by saying he’d been driving when Carla, in the same car, struck Stella. “I’ll do anything for you,” he told her at the time. She didn’t think about the flip side of such ‘devotion’.
Carla plays on the knife’s edge of attraction to “the bad boy”, wanting to exert control yet have a strong man at the same time. With Frank, it backfired in the most horrible violation of her person. No one deserves that. I hope he is caught and stopped.
Tuesday (before Frank rapes Carla)
Frank has everything a woman could want: he’s handsome, suave, has money and good taste. And, meeting Carla’s apparent tastes, he also has a strong streak of control freak and possible psychopathic tendencies. However, he is missing the one thing that is the deal breaker for her: a wife. I have wanted to write about Carla and her obsession with other women’s men for a while. She gave it to me on a silver platter Tuesday.
I like Carla. She would scare me in real life. At the safe distance of a tv screen, though, I find her complex, strong and interesting. But the little speech she gave Peter Tuesday, about how she knew he really loved her, not Leanne, because of The Kiss! Get real, lady, I said to the tv, he’s a man and he’s got a pulse. Of course he returned your kiss. He’d probably do more than that if you pull a stunt like that again. It does not mean he “loves” you or that you “love” him or that the two of you would last more than five minutes together. It means he’s a man and he’s not dead yet – that’s all!
Her unattached lovers and husbands have all been murdering lunatics with control issues, starting with Paul Connor. Her “undying love” for Paul’s brother Liam only was revealed when Liam had impregnated Maria and was marrying her. She rebounded to an unmarried man, Tony, another murdering lunatic with control issues. A quick interlude trying to mould Trevor into suave, wealthy businessman. Then bouncy bouncy to Peter who has problems saying no to pretty women. That’s how he ended up married to two of them at once.
He’s now trying to be a responsible husband and father. Just let him be. But no, she won’t until she’s managed to split him and Leanne up and cause Simon to lose another mother. Then there will be five minutes of let’s play house. If Peter continues to be “good Peter” she’ll quickly tire of him and enforced motherhood. If he goes back to “bad Peter”, she will not tolerate playing second fiddle to alcohol or other women. I actually can’t see her playing second fiddle to anything, including his son or his business. She’d have Simon packed off to boarding school and Peter as yet another “partner” in the factory. That way, she’d be in control. Until another married man crossed her path…
Back to Friday (after the rape)
I hope Maria can help Carla heal, and that they can help each other. They’ve got a lot of history for women who aren’t friends. Their recent lives are entwined through the same men. Carla should have called the police, but it’s karmically good that she called Maria.
These are the gravestones of Nancy Mabee Ostrander and her family at Jackson Cemetery near Courtland. Len Fluhrer, a London local history writer, sent me the photos. He took them while at the cemetery with Kate Ford who is part of the Canada GenWeb Cemetery Project.
Jackson Cemetery is just outside Courtland. Nearby, on the Otter River, is the site of the Middleton Hotel. It was owned by James Clark(e) Ostrander with his first wife Nancy Mabee and then his second wife Louisa Maria Haney. About 1910, the hotel was washed away in a river flood.
If you’d like to see these places on an old map, follow Mr. Fluhrer’s directions:
“Go to the Historical Atlas from 1878 online free from McGill University. Select Middleton Township from the map. Click on to view a large version and wait – the map is huge.
Follow the Goshen Road into Courtland the cemeteries are on the line of the old road I believe. The name Goshen itself has a hidden meaning to the Quakers, Methodists and Baptists and it connects the faiths to Genessee Conference which dates back to the early Calvinists in the 1600s.
Follow Talbot Street back out of Courtland to the left of the map. Near the bottom you will see Little Otter Creek. John Ostrander’s place is on the right of the map at the river. Go to the very bottom left corner. Follow Col. Bostwicks Road to Lot 8. At the first cross-roads, that is the Jas. Clark(e) Ostrander hotel.
Mabee’s Corners is still marked on Google Maps. It’s south of Tillsonburg on 38 Talbot Road leading out of Courtland. On the old map Mabee’s Corners would be almost directly above the Ostrander Hotel on the Talbot Road.”
Mr. Fluhrer, a local history writer, is also looking for information on the career of Dr. George Haney, a relative and noted physician of London Ontario. Dr. Haney’s gravestone is in the nearby Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery (853 Colonel Talbot Road, Middleton Township, Norfolk County). If you wish to contact Mr. Fluhrer, please comment on this page and I will send the information on to him.
Monday and Tuesday – great writing, acting, story and character development. Hard to pick one scene but that’s the task I have set myself. So, Audrey and Kylie at the salon when Kylie hopes to get her job back.
A static scene, just the two of them talking. But the ‘story’ told! Audrey’s anger and heartbreak. Kylie’s guilt combined with defiance. With facial expressions and minimal movement, both showed what was in their minds, how they felt about each other and their memories of what had happened the previous day. It was heartbreaking to watch and also kind of scary, not knowing which one of them might explode.
Kylie clearly felt bad about the maelstrom she had caused, thinking she was oh so clever. She was also scared, knowing that she had indeed pushed too many people too far. Her whole little world and its hopes and dreams might well collapse. And there was nothing she could do about it. She was also angry and feeling put upon because, after all, nothing is ever Kylie’s fault, somebody is always to blame.
And Audrey was badly shaken, by her own feelings of cowardice as much as by her realization of just what a nasty little cow Kylie really was. She felt betrayed and she felt herself to be a betrayer, yet she had to deal with Kylie right then as employer, business heir and granddaughter-in-law. You could see she really just wanted to go in the back room and cry. She looked tired and fed up with dealing with nastiness and idiocy. And during this, she was herself feeling that she had been both nasty and idiotic to Marc.
Kylie put the cat amongst the pigeons by threatening to show a video she took of Audrey with “Marcia” if Audrey doesn’t rehire her. Audrey tells Marc who suggests making his alter-ego Marcia public so Kylie’s threat will be meaningless.
Marc clearly wants Marcia to come out and Audrey clearly doesn’t. But both put it in terms of what they can and cannot ask of the other, not what they themselves want. Read between the lines, people!
Marcia is out!
So Marcia appears at the Rovers, asking “room for a little ‘un?” at the table with Audrey, Rita, Gail, Sally and Mary. Rita and Mary, even Sally, pick their jaws off the floor quite quickly and are fine towards Marc/Marcia. Not so Gail and Audrey. Later, Audrey tells Marc she had thought and hoped she could handle it but she can’t: their relationship is over. And she’s devastated, both at losing him and at being less open-minded than she thought she was.
Kylie, who has created chaos because David didn’t phone her on her birthday, realizes it’s all over when she sees Marc in the Rovers as Marcia. She has no more cards up her sleeve to get out of this mess. Of course, it’s all Gail’s fault for causing what Kylie calls this “nightmare on Coronation Street” when moaning to new BFF Eva.
Another storyline I must mention as unfolding beautifully was Owen, Katie and Ches recognizing the possibility of Katie’s baby having the disease Izzie has. The writers gave a lot of material for thought and the actors portrayed it deftly. All told, these episodes were Corrie Street at its best.
SW Ont. Corrie fans – former Corrie actors are coming to Althouse Auditorium, UWO March 30th. Yes!
In January 1883, a dory was lost at sea off the south coast of Newfoundland. On it were Howard Blackburn and Tommy Welsh. They became separated from their schooner in a sudden storm. The Captain and crew reluctantly had to give them up for dead.
Sixteen-year old Tommy Welsh did die, but Howard Blackburn managed to put in at the tiny village of Little River (now Grey River) near Burgeo on the south coast of Newfoundland. There, through the skill of Jenny Lushman and Susie Bushney, he was brought back to health, minus his fingers and toes.
An incredible story, made more incredible by Blackburn’s continued adventures sailing solo across the Atlantic and north on the Pacific. His rowing abilities are commemorated in The Blackburn Challenge, a rowing event in Glouchester Mass.
But the story doesn’t end with him. Publicity around his survival led to the reunification of a family after fifty years and the discovery of branches of the family totally unknown to each other.
Lushmans of Little River and USA
Blackburn had lived with the Lushman, or Lishman, family of Little River. The story of his rescue came across the desk of a Massachusetts newspaper editor named Litchman who showed it to his father. The senior Mr. Litchman, as a boy, had left Newfoundland with his father in search of work. The father then left Massachusetts and the son stayed, later changing the spelling of his name from Lishman to Litchman.
Hmm, the Litchmans thought, worth a letter to Little River. So the Lishmans of Little River found their brother who had left for the United States 50 years earlier. Siblings were reunited, but what had happened to the father who had left Newfoundland and then Massachusetts?
Publicity about this led to another man making a connection. A letter he’d found in his late father’s possessions explained the missing father. He had gone to Louisiana and indeed had tried to find his son in Massachusetts.
The trail went cold until a woman from Minneapolis contacted the Litchmans. She had been born a Lishman in Louisiana. Her late father had come from Newfoundland. She knew nothing more about his family. Yes, she was a half-sister.
Here’s my transcription of the story from the Dec. 1912 Newfoundland Quarterly by Sir Edward Morris, Prime Minister of Newfoundland. The only point that confuses me is that Francis Lishman says his mother’s name was Susannah née McDonald and in Earl Pilgrim’s book* she is called Jenny. But that’s a small mystery compared to those with which these people lived. Family vanished – abandoned or lost, a daughter orphaned. Loss and grief, betrayal, survival, reconciliation and renewal. As Morris says, it’s the stuff of novels. I say movies too.
*Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting Into Doom led me into this incredible tale. I wrote about it here.
Howard Blackburn and Thomas Welch – A Tale of the Sea
By The Right Hon. Sir Edward Morris, P.C, Prime Minister
It is just twenty-five years since I first visited Little River, twenty-one miles east of Burgeo, on the South Coast. It was the Jubilee Year of Her late Majesty, Queen Victoria. We were on the good ship Leopard, Captain Feild, with the late Mr. Justice Pinsent presiding. We had a goodly company, plenty of law work at the points touched, glorious weather, and good fishing. Only a few remain of those who were on that Circuit. Judge Pinsent, D. J. Greene, I. R. McNeily, T. Walsh, James Milley, M. H. Carty, Captain Field, John Burke the Crier of the Court, and the late R. H. Parsons, Photographer — have all passed away.
We put into St. Pierre on the way, and were the guests of the Anglo American Telegraph Company at the Jubilee Ball, and were also entertained at dinner by the Governor of St. Pierre. We stopped at Little River for some fishing and were not disappointed in the result. Little River is a long, deep inlet, about 130 yards wide, extending about five or six miles, where it branches out into the North-East and South-East Arms. The shores are steep and bold, falling precipitously from a height of a thousand feet. The scenery is not unlike that of Bonne Bay, Placentia and Bay of Islands, perpendicular hills, through which the tide rushes with great velocity at ebb and flow. On the evening of the second day at Little River, returning from fishing, I first learned from my guide, the astounding story of Howard Blackburn, his marvellous escape from death, as well as the sad fate of his dory-mate, Thomas Welch.
This summer, when at Burgeo, I went over the incident again with my friend, Magistrate Small, from whom I obtained further particulars. The story aptly illustrates the time worn adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.” A three volume novel might be written from the facts which make up this story; the tragedy of the cruel sea, the romance of quiet lives, and the heroism of those who go down to the sea in ships. At the present time I shall have to content myself with the barest outline.
Christmas Eve, 1834
The first streaks of dawn on Christmas Eve 1834 were just perceptible when William Lishman with his little son, aged eight, left his home at Little River, his wife, two sons and three daughters, never to return. His course lay through the trackless woods between Little River and Burgeo. Arriving there he put up for the night, and on Christmas moming, with several inches of snow on the ground, he and the boy started for LaPoile. There he boarded an American fishing schooner, bound for Marblehead, Mass., on board of which he was taken and given a passage. That was the last ever seen or heard of William Lishman and his boy, either by his family at Little River, or by his aquaintances at Burgeo or La Poile; and it is probable that if it had not been for the casting away of Howard Blackburn, and Michael [sic] Welch on the Burgeo Banks fifty years later we should never more have heard of them.
Christmas Eve, 1882
With flags flying, in good trim, with fresh bait, iced down, and everything promising for a successful halibut voyage, the schr. Grace L. Fears sailed out of Gloucester Harbour, bound for the Burgeo Banks. After fishing there for three weeks, and with fair success, on the morning of the 25th January, 1883, shortly after dawn, the crew left the schooner’s side in eight dories, to overhaul their trawls, the position of the vessel being then about thirty miles from the Newfoundland coast.
In one of the dories was Howard Blackburn, by birth a Nova Scotian, from Port Medway, then a citizen of the United States, and Thomas Welch, a native of Newfoundland. The weather was not stormy, but it had been threatening snow. They had only been a short while from the side of the vessel, when the wind started to blow, the snow falling thicker and thicker. The hauling of the trawls half-filled the dory with halibut, and the boat continued to ride with safety the sea which the freshening breeze had made. As the day wore on, the wind veered from south-east to north-west. The effect of this was to alter their position with regard to their vessel, placing them to leeward. On realizing this both men started to pull towards the schooner, but owing to the strong wind and the buffetting waves, they were forced to anchor.
Shortly after dark the weather cleared, and they could discern the schooner’s riding light, as well as the flare-up which their shipmates maintained on board to indicate their whereabouts. On seeing their ship, they pulled up anchor and bent all their energies in an effort to reach her, but, owing to the wind which by this time had increased to almost a gale, no headway could be made. An attempt was then made to again anchor but they had evidently drifted over the shoal ground and were now in deep water, and could get no anchorage. Accordingly their dory drifted away to leeward. Their first night was spent in the open boat, with the weather bitterly cold and a piercing wind, with no food or water, both men being occupied pretty well the whole time in keeping the dory free. At that season of the year there is not much daylight before seven o’clock, and dawn brought them no sight of their ship.
Giving up all hope of reaching the schooner, they set to work to lighten their boat by throwing overboard their trawls and fish, and by the aid of their oars helped their frail craft to drift towards the land. The wind increasing towards noon, it was not deemed safe to continue running before the heavy sea and accordingly they “hove to” by improvising a drag made by attaching a trawl keg to a small winch. Whilst rigging this drag or floating anchor, Blackburn had the misfortune to lose his mittens overboard, a mishap which largely increased his after sufferings. Shortly afterwards, both his hands became frozen. On realizing this, he saw that there was nothing left for him but to grasp the oars, so that his hands might freeze around them, and thus, stiff in that position, when he required to row, all he would have to do would be to slip his hands over the oars.
During the whole of that day and the following night the boat lay to the drag, the two men continually bailing out the water. At five o’clock the following morning Welch succumbed to the cold, hunger and exposure, and died. The weather conditions that day were much the same as the preceding one, Blackburn’s time being fully occupied in bailing the boat. Another night passed, and another day dawned, and rowing again all that day he again anchored with his drag for the night, and early the next morning, resuming rowing, he saw the first sign of land. Pulling on all that day until the night, he again threw out his drag and on the following day, Sunday, reached the mouth of Little River, just inside the headlands where he saw a house. The house was unoccupied, but served as a shelter for Blackburn. He had the misfortune, however, of having his dory stove at the stage head during the night. In order to repair her next morning, he had to lift the body of Welch out, and in endeavouring to get it up the stage head it fell into twelve feet of water.
Having repaired the dory he headed her west, and after a few hours rowing up the river, was gladdened by the sight of the people who lived there. Notwithstanding his terrible condition, having been practically without food for five days and five nights, except portions of the frozen raw halibut, with hands and feet frozen, he refused any assistance for himself until the men went and recovered the body of his dory mate.
Within a few minutes after landing, Blackburn was comfortably housed in the home of Francis Lishman [sic], where cod-oil and flour, the local remedy, were applied to draw the frost from his feet and hands. In this process, he must have suffered excruciating pain. There was no doctor available, nearer than Burgeo. The fingers and thumbs of both his hands had been worn away in the work of rowing, and during the days that followed, gangrene set in and nothing being left in the end except two stumps. For over fifty days the process of decay went on. The heel and three toes of the right foot were completely destroyed, as well as some of the toes of the left foot.
For over a month the poor but hospitable people did everything in their power for him, and contributed to his comfort from their own small and meagre store. Fortunately the s.s. Nimrod that year was frozen in on the Burgeo coast, and, being boarded by the inhabitants, some few delicacies were obtained for the unfortunate man.
On May 3rd Blackburn left Burgeo, where he had gone a few days earlier, for treatment, and proceeded to Gloucester. The body of Welch which had been brought to Burgeo at the same time that Blackburn came there, was buried in the Church of England cemetery. The people of Gloucester subscribed $500 for Blackburn, and started him in business. It must be recorded to his credit that, having once established himself in business, he returned the whole amount, unsought, to the citizens, and it was transferred to the Fishermen’s Widows and Orphans Fund.
“Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction,” and there are more vagaries of romance in real life than would be admitted into any well-written novel.
Upon the first authentic story of the casting away of Howard Blackburn and Thomas Welch having reached Burgeo, Mr. J. P. Small now Magistrate wrote an account of it for the Gloucester Times with particulars of his rescue and whereabouts, pointing out that he had been cared for by one Francis Lishman of Little River.
It so happened that a copy of the Times containing the story fell into the hands of the Editor of the Essex City Statesman of Marblehead, Mass., whose name was Litchman. On reading the account he remembered to have heard his father say that his name had been Lushman, and that he had changed it, that he was born in Newfoundland, and that he had left that country when only a lad, with his father, who had carried him on his back and had conveyed him to Marblehead in a fishing vessel from LaPoile. Handing the paper to his father he said “It looks as if you had some relations living in Newfoundland.” The father, William Litchman, the boy that had left Little River fifty years before, on the, to him, memorable Christmas Eve morning, exclaimed – “This Francis Lishman must be my – brother. I remember him quite well, although I was very young when I left.” Communicating with Francis Lishman led to the identification of their being brothers.
William Litchman, with his father, having come to Marblehead. had there been apprenticed to the shoemaking trade, his father for several years continuing to fish out of Gloucester, seeing the boy from time to time. In the year 1838 he saw his father for the last time, and from then until 1883 had never heard of him and supposed he was dead. In 1845 young Litchman married, and had no idea that he had any relations whatever in the world. At the time of his marriage he altered his name to “Litchman.” Though, from the year 1838 he had never heard from his father, it afterwards transpired that it was through no fault of the latter. In 1874, thirty years after the death of one Mason, to whom the boy had been apprenticed as a shoemaker, on examination of his papers a letter was found written thirty-two years before, addressed to Mason by Thomas Lishman, as follows:
Franklin, Louisiana, March 27th, 1842.
Having located myself in Louisiana, St. Mary’s Parish, and wishing to get some information of my son, that I left with you, I take this liberty to write this letter, and wish you to answer me and state where he is. In so doing you will much oblige me, as I wish him to come to this country. I expect to continue here for some time, and if he will come I will be able to do something for him. Direct your letter to me, Franklin, Louisiana.
Mr. Litchman was unaware of the existence of this letter until it was handed to him in 1874. Writing to his brother, after reading the article in the Gloucester Times, he received the following letter from Little River in reply:
Little River, Nfld., Nov. 21[or 28], 1883
My Dear Sir, — Your valued favour of June 5th received, and read with great interest. I will now give you a brief history of our family. It is as follows; — My father’s name was Thomas Lishman, a native of England. He married Susanna McDonald, a native of Hermitage Bay where he resided for some time, moving afterwards to Little River. My mother is now dead nine years. I am married and have eight children. My brother Thomas is living near me with a wife and three children. We both get a living by fishing, but as a rule we do not do well. My sister Bridget is dead six years. My father and brother William left Little River forty-seven years ago, and I have heard they resided at Marblehead, Mass., U.S.A. I have heard my father died four years ago; and I think it is likely that you are my brother. If so, you are minus a part of one of your fingers, as I remember a man named Organ cut it off by accident making kindling. I am fifty years of age, and my brother Thomas is fifty-three. If you are a brother, you should be between fifty-seven and fifty-eight. On reading the above, you will certainly be able to decide on the relationship, if any, between us. My brother and I will be much pleased to hear from you on receipt of this. With kind regards,
I remain, yours very truly, Francis Lishman
The Essex City Statesman published in its columns an account of the discovery by Mr. Litchman of his relatives in Newfoundland. This Item being copied into a Minneapolis paper, was read by a Mr. Smith, a lawyer of that city, who had formerly lived in Massachusetts. His wife was a Miss Lishman, born in the State of Louisiana. She was an adopted daughter of wealthy people, her father and mother being dead. She had informed her husband that her father had told her that he had come from Newfoundland. On Mr. Smith taking to his home the paper containing the article referred to, his wife was convinced that the Lishmans of Little River were half brothers and sisters of herself, and she then learned for the first time that her father had been married before he had come to Louisiana.
Mrs. Smith then opened correspondence with Mr. Litchman of Marblehead, and the proofs being enquired into, the relationship was firmly established. Mr. and Mrs. Smith also communicated with the Lishmans at Little River. In the following June, Mr. Litchman left Marblehead and proceeded to Burgeo where he was the guest of the Magistrate, Mr. Small. His two sisters, Susanna and Jane, had previously arrived from Little River, and the two brothers Francis and Thomas had also come up from there with their sons. Mr. Litchman remained eight or ten days with his relations in Burgeo. Whilst there he met one of the old fishermen, Charles Collier, the last man to whom he and his father had spoken on the memorable Christmas Morning, fifty years before, when they had left Burgeo for LaPoile.
On his return to the United States, Mr. Litchman visited Minneapolis, and saw his half-sister Mrs. Smith, who was undoubtedly a Lishman, she having every feature of the family. Believing her husband to be dead, Mrs. Lishman had married one Stiles in 1846, just fourteen years after her husband had left Little River. Since then the Lishmans of Little River and those of Marblehead and the Smiths of Minneapolis have been in communication, and no year passes without a tangible proof of the relationship from the wealthy relatives abroad to the kindly hospitable fisher-folk at Little River.
• • • • • • • •
If the tale were to stop here it would be in itself remarkable, as illustrating a most extraordinary adventure, involving the casting away from his ship, imminent peril, fearful exposure and ultimate rescue of Howard Blackburn, but this would seem to be only the beginning of the venturesome career of this most wonderful man.
One would think that after having been in such peril, and in the presence of death, and having by almost a miracle escaped, he would have been content to live at home in quiet and comfort, in his maimed condition, for the rest of his life. But no, his escape seems only to have fired him with a desire for further adventure.
In 1889, in a small thirty-foot sloop called the Great Western, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone, having sailed from Gloucester, Mass. on June 17th and arrived in Gloucester, England on August 18th, after a voyage of sixty-two days.
On October 18th, 1897, in company with some friends, he sailed for the Klondike in the schooner Hattie J. Phillips.
On June 9th, 1901, he again crossed the Atlantic alone, in the twenty-five-foot sloop Great Republic, having left Gloucester. Mass., on June 9th, arriving at Lisbon, Portugal, on July 18th, just thirty-nine days.
In 1905 he made an unsuccessful attempt to again cross the Atlantic in the seventeen-foot dory America sailing from Gloucester Mass. on June 17th. On Sunday. July 5th, when 160 miles South-East of Cape Canso, Nova Scotia, he had his little craft stove by a heavy sea, abandoned the voyage, was picked up and returned to Sydney, Cape Breton.
He is now a settled-down citizen in Gloucester, Mass., running a Tobacco Store at 289 Main Street.