Have Sword Will Travel!

Reprinted from The Evening Telegram,
January 10, 1998

It may not look Impressive, but a sword used to fight in the Welsh mountains 300 years ago is now proudly on display at the Newfoundland Museum.

By Jean Edward Stacey

At the Newfoundland Museum on Duckworth Street there’s a sword which, if inanimate objects could talk, could tell a riveting tale.

The artifact, which resembles an old cavalry sword, is not a glamorous-looking object. It has a rude handle, like a piece of ordinary blacksmith’s work, and there’s nothing particularly distinguishing about it.

But if the sword could speak it would tell a story of fighting in the mountains of Wales, of being brought to Newfoundland and used against marauding Frenchmen and then, in a complete about turn, of accompanying its owner in ships that went sealing and fishing for a period of 40 years.

The sword was given to the museum by Nicholas Peddel (the unusual spelling is his own), a native Newfoundlander who was a fisherman, a poet and a self-made historian.

This Saturday section of The Evening Telegram recently featured a three-part series on Peddel, who was a resident of Bristol’s Hope (then known as Mosquito) in Conception Bay at the turn of the century.

The first feature was an Offbeat History column about Peddel written in 1974 by retired historian and former Telegram editor Michael Harrington.

The other two features consisted entirely of the lengthy introduction Peddel wrote for a 1908 second edition of his book of poems. The extensive introduction was basically a chronicle of the Newfoundland seal hunt written by a man with first-hand knowledge.

In a 1973 English assignment, then-Memorial University student Sally Trainor wrote a paper about Peddel based on interviews with his daughter-in-law and Martin Lee of the Harbour Grace Museum.

In her English 3850 assignment for professor Patrick O’Flaherty, Trainor wrote that Peddel, who was born in Bristol’s Hope in 1837 and died there in 1922, had one sister named Virtue as well as three brothers: Thomas, James and William. He was educated at the one-room school in Bristol’s Hope and the old grammar school in Harbour Grace.

After he left school, Peddel went fishing on the Labrador with his father. He soon became captain of his own vessel and spent the next 40 years fishing and sealing. He also worked in the copper mine at Tilt Cove and the slate mines on Random Island in Trinity Bay.

After he retired as ship’s skipper, Peddel became the “doctor” on board the vessel Virginia Lake, which was owned by the Reid Newfoundland Company.

Peddel was married three times. He had three children by his first wife and seven by his second. His third wife was Catherine Wells, a widow whose children became his step-children.

Peddel, a short, stocky man with a white beard, loved to read and had a large collection of books, most of which were about the seal fishery and agriculture. He also enjoyed reading histories.

At night, he liked to sit at the kitchen table and write poems which he referred to as songs and which he intended to be set to music and sung.

The subjects he wrote about were varied and included everything from sealing tragedies to pet cats.

The Sealer’s Song was a poem about the S.S. Greenland tragedy. Grandma’s Tabby Cat was an ode to a “purely, busy tabby cat.”

In 1904 Peddel took his first book of poems to the Harbour Grace Standard, a newspaper then owned and operated by James Munn. Munn agreed to print and publish the poems for a cost of $60. Peddel agreed.

Sales of the book were so successful that a second edition, containing an extra 10 poems, was published in 1908. At that time thousands of copies of the book were published and sold for 10 cents a copy. Both editions of Peddel’s work were titled Newfoundland Poems.

Although it seems that no one ever reviewed Peddel’s poems, William A. Munn, a prominent businessman in Harbour Grace and St. John’s, did talk with Peddel in 1910.

In that year, which was the 300th anniversary of John Guy’s establishment of a colony at Cupids, Munn – who had a keen interest in Newfoundland history and was an active member of the Newfoundland Historical Society – went to great lengths to unearth little known information about Cupids and nearby communities such as Bristol’s Hope.

During his interview with Nicholas Peddel, Munn learned that the Peddel family had been in Bristol’s Hope for about 200 years.

The family originally came from South Wales with the first immigrant being Levi Peddel, a rebel from the Welsh mountains.

At the time of the interview Nicholas Peddel had in his possession the sword that Levi had fought with in Wales and then brought with him when he emigrated to Newfoundland.

The sword that Levi had used in Wales was also put to use in Newfoundland in 1697.

The Newfoundland story of Levi and his sword actually began in 1696 when the French, under Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville, set out from Placentia and began ravaging settlements on the Avalon Peninsula.

Hearing about what was happening, British settlers in the Carbonear area decided to build a fortification on nearby Carbonear Island.

After capturing and burning St. John’s and most of the communities in and around Conception Bay and the Southern Shore, the French under D’Iberville arrived at Carbonear on Jan. 24, 1697.

They destroyed the community but much to their chagrin they discovered that the approximately 200 residents of Carbonear and neighboring communities, including Bristol’s Hope, had retreated to Carbonear Island.

From that vantage point, the settlers fired upon the French and refused D’Iberville’s demand that they surrender.

Nicholas Peddel told Munn that when the French tried to land at Carbonear Island it was Levi, brandishing his home-made sword, who led the attack against them.

The first one of D’Iberville’s men who attempted to land received a thrust of Levi’s Welsh sword in the breast and no other landing was attempted.

The French were eventually forced to return to their home base of Placentia leaving Carbonear Island as they had found it.

Levi’s trusty and well-used sword was later put to use by his ancestor, Nicholas.

Although no one knows whether or not he ever had occasion to actually use it, Nicholas Peddel always made a point of having the sword with him during the years he was captain of his own vessel.

Peddel later gave the sword to the Newfoundland Museum and that is where it rests to this day.

The Sealers Song
On the stormy coast of Newfoundland,
In the spring-time of the year,
When Boreas thunder forth its blast,
From the Arctic regions drear,
Where icebergs surge with a dismal crack,
Through the Northern frozen pans,
Who braves those dangers without fear,
The sons of Newfoundland.
They sailed from home in the month of March,
To the home of the bear and the seal,
In search for gain on the storm-tossed main,
Away on the cold ice-fields;
Where the baby seal in its innocence,
Send forth a piteous cry,
But the sealer’s knife will end its life,
In the cradle where it lie.
Ten thousand taken in one day,
By a hardy fearless crew,
They will take a trip miles from their ship,
Those men will dare and do,
In the dead of night when the storm king rage,
What heroic deed are done,
They will battle for life on pans of ice,
For the treasure they had won.
Equipped they go o’er the cold ice floes,
With rope and gaff to guide,
And always true to a comrade.
Whatever may betide.
The storm may beat with snow and sleet,
But on and on they go,
To gain the goal, the ship to load,
From the Northern great ice flows.
Success attend those seal hunters,
May their courage never fail,
May Providence protect them,
When on the raging main,
S. Blandford and A. Jackman,
H. Dawe and many more,
And Knee and Koan and Winsor,
God send all safe on shore.


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, September 2017

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.