Western Star, 1958

December 16, 1958

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Struggle in 1888: 
Nfld. Great Grandmother Looks Back to Trials of Shipwreck


A small, wiry woman who once served as cook aboard a Labrador floater and came close to losing her life, today celebrates her 89th birthday with almost as much agility and quickness of mind that led her to safety when she was 19.

This slim woman, now Mrs. Catherine Hiscock and a great grandmother 59 times over, went to sea as Catherine Dean from Fox Harbour (Southport) in Random Sound. She was aboard the schooner Sunflower when it was lost at Kettle Point off Pike Bay on the Labrador coast 71 years ago.

Today she is the only survivor of the crew of 13, including the master, Capt. John Peddle, and this is the story she tells of that epic voyage in her clear, quiet voice. She recalls vividly her experience as cook for the 12 men.

On or about the last of July 1888, the ship was up the shore around the Iron Bound Islands, and had on board 25 quintals of fish.

They left to go down the shore to Kettle Point off Pike Bay on a Saturday but reached there in the evening too late to put out the traps.

It was as very dull day, she recalls, with not a breath of wind, but with sounds of thunder in the distance.

They all went to bed, and before midnight and dawn the scene had changed. “I woke up,” she says, “and a storm of wind was blowing with hard driving rain. I was in bed and was aroused by the noise and bustle on deck. After getting dressed, I went on deck and asked one of the men, Abraham Young, a young man from Hodge’s Cove, how the wind was.”

“He answered immediately ‘It’s up and down the mast.’ The next thing I remember hearing is the anchor chains snap, the lights went out and before we knew anything more we had gone on the reef.”

“As soon as we grounded the crew prepared to go ashore, and we had to make land in the darkness in the trap skiff. I had a bundle of bedclothes and I was carried ashore on the back of one of the men. During this period there was no sea.”

“We made beds on shore in a long cove. The men were on one side of the cove and I was on the other.”

“We had to stay there all that day as the wind blew awfully hard. The sea was so high that it would sweep in over the island we were on and we had to stay crouched down in order to keep warm and somewhat dry.”

When the wind stopped on Monday, Abraham Smith, who was drowned on a later voyage, cooked doughboys and pork. They used the paddle from the Rodney to stir them.

After the storm was over they boarded the schooner, collected their clothing, and abandoned her.

Mrs. Hiscock says they left on Tuesday or Wednesday in the trap skiff to go to the nearest port.

This was the most trying part of their misfortune, as they were tired, hungry and did not have much room. They were carrying all their clothes and bedding and food.

They rowed all the way. “We found out afterwards that we had gone over 100 miles in this open trap skiff.”

Their first stop was onboard a schooner one morning, where they were given food. They went on from there in the evening bound for Fannie’s Harbour where they would await a schooner to take them to Trinity.

It took a week of more rowing to reach Fannie’s Harbour.

“We traveled by day and made camp by night. One of the places we made camp was an Eskimo village and there we found good friends. The Eskimo people were very kind, and one of them, an old lady who said she was 80, could speak English.

“She said to me ‘come up to my house,’ and I was taken to their hut. We expected to find some fire to make us warm, but there was none. The huts were made of skins and she sat on something odd, but I cannot remember what it was.

“The weather was cold and damp and after losing our schooner, which was like losing our home, we all felt very sad. The old lady, seeing how I felt, brought her shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders.”

The Eskimos had lots of food, that is, lots of salt meat, pork, and bread, and passed it freely to the stranded crew.

In the evening all hands came ashore, got a fire going and made supper. “The old Eskimo woman wanted me to come and sleep with her, but I was a little uneasy about that, so I stayed with the men and we sang all night to keep our spirits up.”

Fannie’s Harbour was a settlement where people from around the bay lived and fished during the summertime. They built their stages and flakes and made their fish.

“We stayed there for two weeks, while waiting for the streamer, which we joined and came south as far as Trinity in Trinity Bay.”

From there they took a small [boat] and rowed to Random Sound. “I was landed at my home in Fox Harbour, and the rest of the crew continued to their homes in Hodge’s Cove.”

The Sunflower was built by David Peddle of Hodge’s Cove and was lost off the Labrador coast during her 12th voyage.

The timbers for this 100 ton vessel were cut at a placed called Sunflower’s Droke, a few miles from Hodge’s Cove.

Mrs. Hiscock went to sea again the next summer as cook aboard the Orange Lily, and was married a couple of years later.

Today, as she celebrates her 89th birthday here in Corner Brook with her sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mrs. Hiscock looks to her lot with pride.

She has four sons and three daughters, 35 grandchildren and 59 great-grandchildren. She is very active for her years and out to church almost every Sunday. She can sew and threat a needle without the aid of glasses and her mind is very active, as one can gather from her story. All her children have more grey hair than she has, she said with a smile, in fact, she has hardy any.

Mrs. Hiscock lives in the summertime with her eldest son, Leander, in Grand Falls, and spends the winter months in Corner Brook with her two sons, Arthur, on Pine Street, where she is now, and with James, on Laites Lane.


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, October 2023

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