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Fatal accident at Joe Batt’s Arm May 4, 1882


If you were in St. John’s on the above date and picked up the Evening Telegram, you would have seen the above headline, or words to that effect. The news item was curt and said only the following: A boat with a crew of three men left Fogo for Joe Batt’s Arm on the 4th inst. when off Brown’s Point, the boat capsized, and sad to relate, one of the men named John Hamilton, was drowned. We are informed that the accident and loss of life was caused through drink.

That may very well be the first drinking accident to be reported from Fogo Island to the outside world, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t much drinking here. Liquor may not have even been controlled and could be bought from the merchants for hard cash. Meanwhile the above accident resulted in a magisterial inquiry called by Magistrate Fitzgerald and was held in the police office on Monday, May 8. That was just a few days later ‘to investigate the circumstance connected with the drowning of one John Hamilton of Joe Batt’s Arm, fisherman, on Wednesday evening, the 3 of May, 1882.’

It appeared from the evidence of Michael Burke and Charles Penton who were in the punt with John Hamilton, and now obliged to return to Fogo, that the three young men left Fogo for Joe Batt’s Arm on Wednesday evening, May 3, in a small rodney punt.

They stated that Hamilton and Penton were nearly intoxicated before they left Fogo. Further to this they stated that Hamilton had a bottle containing about three half-pint of brandy which they all drank crossing Shoal Bay en route to Joe Batt’s Arm.

The two further testified that the punt was under sail, and that Burke was steering the punt with a paddle. They also stated that everything went all right until they got into Joe Batt’s Arm Harbour and when just passing Brown’s Point, the punt capsized. All three, it was stated, were thrown into the water, but Burke was able to hold onto the keel of the punt and Penton was able to get hold of the paddles and thus both of them were able to save their lives. Hamilton, they stated, sank and drowned. Fishermen from Brown’s Point must have rushed to the scene and were able to save Burke and Penton. They were not able to recover the body of John Hamilton until two or three hours after the accident happened.

The only information given with regards to the drowned man was that he was unmarried and about 32 years old. It was also pointed out that he was the principal support of his widowed mother.

At the conclusion of the inquiry both the witnesses, Michael Burke and Charles Penton stated that their getting intoxicated on the brandy was the cause of the melancholy accident.

Break and Entry at Barr’d Islands, May 10, 1899

 

When I was growing up in Barr’d Islands you might still hear the name of Thomas Anthony, then deceased for some time, mentioned from time to time. He was the agent for H.J. Earle, Esq., Fogo, and was, as well, very much involved in the community, especially the church. He lived just inside the hill that is his namesake in Barr’d Islands, Anthony’s Hill.

On this particular Sunday, Mr. Anthony and his wife went to church, as they most likely did every Sunday perhaps twice. Being a family of means, I suppose, they had two servant maids who were left at home to cook the Sunday dinner, and perhaps, make the beds, sweep the floors, wash the dishes, etcetera. I almost forgot; there most likely was a baby that they were looking after.  The pay was low, very low, but they got their keep, as was the expression.

Undoubtedly they got any of Mrs. Anthony’s old clothes. They never got to sleep in, you can be sure. None of what I just written is going to excuse them for what they did this particular morning, and, a Sunday morning at that. This is what the two of them did. They took a baby’s pram and, knowing where Mr. Anthony kept the keys to the shop, decided to go there and help themselves. This is what was reported to be stolen: cocoa, ribbon, tobacco, and whiskey. Surely goodness they, being girls, didn’t smoke and drink back then. They probably like cocoa.

When Mr. Anthony discovered the theft, and most likely knowing who they were, he contacted Constable Shave in Fogo who came to Barr’d Islands right away, and arrested the two servant girls. (Most likely, by the way, he stayed overnight at Mr. Anthony’s.) It was the talk of the town, if Barr’d Islands could be called a town. No doubt it was the talk of the town of Fogo.

The senior Justice of Peace for Fogo district was the businessman, Robert Scott, but he was away; most likely in St. John’s. Dr. Malcolm was the junior Justice of Peace and it was left to him to handle this particular case. According to reports that because he lacked experience and this being his first case, matters did not seem to go smoothly. Perhaps he pitied the girls. You have to wonder why though, but no details were given.  In fact, it seems that he wasn’t able to decide on a sentence, and the case was postponed until the Circuit Court visited Fogo the following September. The reporter for the Telegram ventured to say, however, that come September a more powerful hand would adjust matters. He certainly didn’t show any sympathy for the servant girls.

If I find further information on this particular case I’ll report it in a further column. The names of the two servant girls were given but I have preferred not to say who they were. They could very well be someone’s distant relatives, including myself.  I am having some sympathy for the girls, meanwhile, and I want to say that if they were paid a decent wage they probably wouldn’t have to steal ribbon and cocoa.

 

bensonhewitt@eastlink.ca

 

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