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. 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.
*I wrote about Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting Into Doom here. It is the book that led me into this incredible tale.