I think I am right in saying that Wakeham’s approach was to take the thread of a story, or a rumour or traditional tale, and put meat on its frail bones. His stories were thoroughly enjoyed. At the same time, it is clear that Wakeham and (I feel certain) most of his readers, while relishing his newly shaped stories, retained more than a smidgen of healthy doubt.
But that leaves a smidgen of truth.
Late last summer, I accompanied Gary Grant of Bay Roberts out to Green Point. An innocuous looking piece of flat, coastal land, Green Point lies to the back of Hibbs Cove/Port de Grave. To my eye (from the land, of course) there is no sign of a “point.”
We were not carrying shovels and picks. We carried cameras and a notebook. What did we expect to see? Well, first back to that pub in London.
The two men in conversation in it are an old seaman and Herbert Philips of Bay Roberts. Philips had gone to London after crossing from Newfoundland on a goods-laden windjammer.
In the course of a casual drinking conversation, the older man discovers to his amazement where Philips is from. He then tells Philips a story which had come down from the old man’s grandfather who had been first mate on the “Thunder,” one of the vessels said to have sailed under the command of pirate Peter Easton.
Wakeham’s version of the story is totally void of dates. We do know, however, that Easton was seen in Newfoundland waters from about 1611-14.
He was especially active in the southern Atlantic and Caribbean where he could intercept gold-laden galleons heading home to Spain. On one occasion, aboard the “Thunder” carrying a payload courtesy of the Spaniards, Easton and crew sailed north to Newfoundland’s east coast. Nearing the island, he is said to have spied a British man-o-war and, fearing he might be overtaken and out-gunned, he ducked into Conception Bay, conveniently under cover of a brewing storm.
Skirting close to the land, he sailed toward those arms which embrace Cupids, Bay Roberts, Spaniard’s Bay, Harbour Grace and so on. The wisest thing Easton could do was to offload the treasure and return for it later. Accordingly, a small clutch of men put ashore in a bully boat at a vacant spot called Green Point. “They went up the slope from the beach three hundred paces.”
The old man advised Philips that when he got back to his home, he should get a crew of men and go to Green Point and “look for a large flat stone with an arrow chiselled into it.” The arrow should point northwestward … from there he should follow on 200 paces in a northwesterly direction.
“When you have travelled the full distance you should find a slight mound. And, if that treasure hasn’t been already dug up, you’ll find more gold and diamonds belonging to Captain Easton than you ever thought existed.”
Wakeham writes that as far as he is concerned, “if Easton did bury a wealthy fortune on Green Point, it is still there. Up to the present, no information has been obtained of anyone finding the supposedly buried wealth.” (However, would you advertise it if you had?)
The story says Philips went on to find himself a wife in New England and never did return home. How likely is that? He was a seaman, the trip from New England back to Conception Bay would have been of no consequence for him.
He could not have believed the sailor’s story. For his part, the old man said that he had always wanted to find a ship back to Newfoundland to dig up the treasure for himself. He couldn’t and now he was grown too old. (How likely would it have been that in London he could not find a Newfoundland-bound ship?)
And why would Easton never have tried to retrieve it? On the other hand, maybe he did — and successfully.
• • •
We now return to the present day and the weekend mission of Messrs Grant and Sparkes.
Perhaps it was 20 years ago that Grant had hiked out to Green Point and spotted a large stone somewhere out there with odd markings on it. It was with this in mind that we decided last year to visit the site some fine day.
And now, we parked back some distance from “the point” and walked out toward the unmanned lighthouse. We turned, and with backs to the water, trudged up the rise of land, and criss-crossed it, looking down at the rocks, but also stopping every so often to admire a sailboat cutting past where Easton may well have sailed in the “Thunder” four centuries earlier.
We brushed low-growing juniper back from several rock faces and imagined frost cracks and natural fissures to be the remnants of scrawled lettering.
It was all very good exercise, but worse than looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, as we had no guarantee there was a needle. After a while, I stood up and called to Grant, some yards away. “I’m ready to go back! You?”
He was gesturing down toward a rock at his feet. I tramped over.
There on a narrow face of rock was well-seasoned lettering and numbering; perhaps it was initials, perhaps code. But there was also an awkward arrow.
Nearby was another piece of rock, also bearing lettering. None of it conveyed anything that we could understand. There was no distinct rise of land northwest of the arrow which, by the way, points roughly in that direction.
Coincidence, or clue? It was kind of amazing to stand there, photographing the rock in any number of directions and from varying distances, and think that perhaps we were looking at a cryptic message from four centuries earlier.
As we walked back toward the car, I wondered whether we had heard the last of Easton’s Spanish booty.
• • •
Cochrane trouting tradition
Last Monday’s column (June 9) on the Gus Cochrane family and their trouting tradition neglected to identify the fisheries officer shown in a photo passing his record book to A.M. (Gus) Cochrane for signature during a trouting checkup. The officer is Anselm Griffiths. Apologies for the oversight. — P.S.
Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.