14 October 2008

Canadian history from British newspapers

Recently I had an email exchange with friend and former work colleague Bob Jones. Bob maintains a list of Canadian disasters that took 20 lives or more, a project he started while with Environment Canada. Part of the motivation was to see if weather had become less significant as a cause, or contributory cause, for disasters over the years as weather forecasts improved. It turns out that other technological improvements confound the attribution.

Over the years I've been able to make suggestions for additions to Bob's disaster list as I stumble upon incidents. One that cropped up earlier this year, in Louise Campey's most recent book An Unstoppable Force, is the vessel Rambler, of Leith, listed as being wrecked in 1807 with loss of 138 lives "near Newfoundland" in a crossing from Thurso, Scotland, to Pictou.

Bob went in search of confirmation. Surprisingly neither Newfoundland marine history expert Robert C Parsons, nor Sue Swiggam of The Ships List, had any record of this incident.

I hoped that there might be a Newfoundland newspaper at LAC covering the period, no such luck. The earliest Newfoundland newspaper LAC has on microfilm starts a bit later.

As the crossing was from Scotland the news eventually made its way back there. A newspaper search found an item from the Caledonian Mercury of 12 December 1807 quoting a letter dated 4 November 1807 from Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland:

"Since writing you this day a boat has put in from Ferryland with the survivors of the wreck of the unfortunate brig Rambler, of Leith, which was totally lost near Cape Broyle, on the night of the 29th ult. The following is a list of the persons saved:- Adam Drysdale, second mate; Daniel McKay, seaman; William Cathin, John Morton, John Fulsick, apprentices; James Campbell, James McKay, Jean Gunn, passengers. It would appear that 138 passengers were drowned."

The loss was also noted briefly in Lloyds Marine List for 15 December 1807 published in the same paper.

The Observer of 24 January, 1808 carried another report:

"The brig Rambler, Norris, from Leith, with 250 passengers on board, bound to Picton, was wrecked on the coast of Newfoundland, on the night of the 28th of October, when every soul perished, except six men and one woman, and they are so much cut and bruised by the rocks, that their recovery is doubtful."

If you want to find out about early Canadian historical events, especially anything with a British connection, check the British newspapers. These days with increasing digitization of those papers the search is much easier --- if you can get access. You may be able to do so at a local university library. Unfortunately LAC and most Canadian public libraries don't provide this access to their clients, and the subscription model used by the companies selling the service only applies to corporate entities.


Anonymous said...

Hello John:
An item that might be of interest to Bob Jones.
I could not see mention of the sinking of the HMCS Shawinigan in the mouth of the St Lawrence in 1944 with 93 soles lost. My mother's cousin was one of the lost crew and his mother wasn't told for 2 weeks and was also sworn to secrecy until the disaster was confirmed in the newspapers.

JDR said...

Hello Arlene:

Thank you for posting.

The sinking appears to have been a U-boat attack, an act of war, and if so wouldn't meet Bob's criteria. However, I will being it to his attention.