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 Ethie’s Crew and Passengers Had Terrible Experience

The particulars to hand so far concerning the loss of the S.S. Ethie go to show that one of the worst marine tragedies in the history of the [sic] the country was averted only by the coolness and undaunted courage of Captain Edward English and the devotion of duty of his heroic crew. The Ethie left Cow Head on Wednesday evening at 4 o’clock and shortly afterwards ran into the height of the gale which veered from south west to north west and increased to hurricane force with blinding snow squalls. The only course left open in the face of such conditions was to head the ship off the land and avert the terrible danger of a lee shore in such a gale.

Full steam ahead was kept up all Wednesday night while the seas made a clean sweep from the forecastle deck to tafrail [sic], rolling over the ship with such frequency as to keep her practically submerged the greater portion of the time. When daylight broke the land was plainly visible on the port quarter, and the Captain realized that the long and terrible night they had passed through under full head of steam had not taken their ship one miles further off land then they were when darkness set in the previous night. The wind had now gained force and the thermometer was at zero. Every portion of the ship from waterline to mast heads was coated with ice, the deck being iced almost to the level of the rails. Nothing moveable was left above decks, boats were smashed and frozen solid in the chocks. Weather shields of the bridge and portions of the permanent bridge structure were torn away, saloon windows and doors smashed as the ship labored heavily in the mountains sea. Realizing the awful conditions, the captain went below and made a personal appeal to firemen and engineers, to make a desperate struggle to force the ship a few miles along the coast in the hope that the bluff rugged headland which lay leeward of them be passed where the only possibility of rescue after stranding which was now inevitable was offered.

He had been twelve hours on the bridge with a couple of short intervals for a “mug-up.” Leaving the engine room he passed through the saloon and second cabins to hearten the terrified women and children and other passengers, and then went again to the bridge. The gale seemed to increase with the rising sun and the ship made little headway along the rock-ribbed coast a few miles to the leeward against which the seas dashed hundreds of feet high and where instant destruction awaited the ship and ship’s company if they could not weather it and round the headland five miles beyond.

Every fireman and engineer stripped to his work and assisted by seaman labored as only Newfoundland seaman can labor when face to face with such conditions. No man could live on the ship’s deck below the bridge during the five terrible hours which followed in battling for life on the lee shore in a practically helpless ship. To allow her to get broadside to wind and sea meant instant destruction so the ship had to be kept bow on to the sea heading off while endeavoring to progress along the coast to round the headland known as Martin Point to the south of which was the cove into which the distressed ship might be run with some chance, though a desperate one, of saving those on board.

Hour after hour passed as the little ship staggered along the lee shore under a steadily increasing hurricane drifting nearer and nearer to the rugged headland, against which the mountainous seas dashed, sending form and sprays inland before the gale. The whole coastline was one mass of ice from the summit of the cliffs to the shore. At times it seemed their efforts would be vain and then a lull would give them hope and they would forge ahead and gain a little off the shore.

In this way the little steamer fought her way towards the coveted goal which was gained shortly after noon. It was then up to the Captain to make the dash which meant life or death to those on board. Gauging the chances with an accuracy that could not be excelled Capt. English took the plunge. Having rounded the headland he put the ship before the gale and dashed into the little cove named Martin’s Point, putting her head on into the rocky shore. The ship struck with terrific force, settled for a minute or two, and the sea made a clean breach over her stern, sweeping the full length of ship and the next instant she was lifted bodily and carried the length of herself, shoreward, listing heavily to portside and lay solidly wedged amongst the rocks. Even then safety did not seem any nearer at hand to the anxious passengers and to all the scene which was presented as mountainous seas washed against the shore and retreated in boiling foam, the gale soaring at its highest while snow drifts made it at time impossible to see more than a few yards distant. There were no boats to launch and even had there been they would have been utterly useless. Capt. English conferred with his crew as to what could next be done and volunteers were forthcoming to make the attempt to reach the shore with a line. This was, fortunately, not necessary as the residents of a settlement appeared on the shore inside the ship signifying their readiness to assist. Lines attached to empty keys were put out and these driving quickly ashore the men on land secured the ropes, and by this means a cable was hauled from the ship, and fastened to the cliff above. Then a boatswain’s chair was rigged and the work of rescue begun. Women and children were one by one placed in this chair and safety transferred to the shore by the united efforts and daring of the seamen and residents. The male passengers followed and finally the crew, the Captain being the last to take his place in the life saving chair to be hauled to shore.

One child, two years old, was placed in a mail bag, and taken in the arms of one of the male passengers and safely landed and the child shows no ill effects of the ordeal. There were sixty-twp [passengers and fourteen crew with mail clerks and purser all of whom escaped without any injury except frost bites and bruises…

The Evening Herald

December 17, 1919