Following is a commentary on the distribution of a public subscription that was initiated by the House of Assembly, at St. John's, to assist the survivors of the Trinity Bay Disaster. This article was summarized in the column Offbeat History by Michael Harrington in The Evening Telegram, May 7, 1979. Also included is the list of recipients of the subscription and the amounts they received. This information is from the Newfoundland Provincial Archives.
Generally, whenever we hear of a disaster in this province we think of a sealing disaster; and when we hear of a sealing disaster we think of ships at the Front or in the Gulf. However, on February 27, 1892, there occurred a sealing mishap - the Trinity Bay Disaster - in itself it was as violent and as victimizing as any other.
A quick glance through the list of fatalities will indicate that it was indeed a Trinity 'Bight' Disaster as all were from that small loop of Bay held between the Horse Chops and Bonaventure Head. However before long both sides of the Bay were engaged in the search, rescue and sympathetic operations that were to be needed.
That day, a Saturday, dawned fine and clear. About 200 men and boys from the Bight took off in their bulleys (2 or 3-men row-boats with sails) to go to the edge of the ice that was so easily seen at about mid bay. By 11 a.m. the wind had sprung up suddenly from the NNE. This was accompanied by severe frost. The wind then increased to gale force.
What followed was a mad rush to escape the fury. Some made it to land, others took to the floes for safety. Survivors landed at almost every settlement in the eastern sector of the bay. Twenty or so sealers never made it through the night, most of these were never heard of again.
The whole story of the disaster is ably told by R. W. Hayter in the Clarenville Packet, February 26, 1976. The intent of this account is to relate the outcome of the subscription fund. Before the House of Assembly closed on February 29th it opened a subscription list for the benefit of sufferers in the disaster.
Further mention of a public subscription came on March 2nd, when it was reported that the Union Bank had set aside "10 pounds for families of unfortunate fishermen who lost their lives." On the very next day the newspaper, The Newfoundland Colonist, was asking for a public meeting and a public subscription. On March 15th a list was opened at the City Club.
On March 15th the government appointed the following "to collect and distribute the funds": Hon. Sir F.B.T. Carter KCMG (President), Hon. Sir M.V.Whiteway, KCMG, Hon. Edward Shea, Hon. James Pitts and Rev. H. Dunfield. However by this time; and, obviously, without their help, the sun of $1577.45 was already collected.
Rev. Dunfield took out newspaper ads on the 21st saying that lists were now open at the Colonial Secretary's Office, Savings Bank and Reading Room, as well as at the Commerce and Union Banks. With the first list of donations on April 12th we learn of a London subscription.
Various churches held services with hymns, sermons, magic lantern shows and, of course, collections. The Evening Telegram of March 29th reported that the fund had then reached $3586.39.
The government subscription Committee filed their report to the Governor on October 26th. The final result was a magnificent sum of $8203.00. they had to spend $435.00 to provide for "pressing wants" this amount was mostly paid to members of the clergy so one can surmise it to be allocated for funeral expenses.
The report goes on to say:
"The Committee then proceeded to procure exact statistical information as to the number os widows and orphans ... and also of the ages and sexes of the later. They found that there were eleven widows and twenty-one orphans - children under the age of fourteen years nine boys and twelve girls.
"Besides these, there were five families which had lost the help of young men and were in need of aid. Two men also, seriously injured by frost, one young woman twenty-four years of age, an imbecile, who had lost her father and two aged men - one with wife living, who had lost their bread winners.
"The Committee have drawn up a scheme providing first for the orphan children until they shall respectively reach the age of fourteen years. Next for widows providing for them an allowance of varying sums, ranging from three to seven years according to their needs.
"The rest of the sufferers are also included in the scheme as their circumstances seemed to the Committee to require."
"Several amounts have been paid also to those who rendered assistance at the time ... ". Of those who so helped, it was the clergy who got the lion's share ($415.00) another $147.00 was paid out to local merchants. One suspects that these expenses were related to the funerals and transportation. Captain Richard Fowlow, whose schooner "Roselear" was dispatched to mid-bay to search for survivors, received a grant of $110.00. The churches were paid on April 4th, while the merchants and Capt. Fowlow had to wait 'til the 24th of June.
Widows were awarded $40-a-year pension for up to 5 years each. It sort of appears, from the list, that the projected ease of re-marriageability was the prime factor in determining the years of payment. A pregnant widow, for example, was taken care of for just one year but the child was taken care of for 14 years.
All children were paid $30 a year until they reached the age of 14. This amount was also budgeted for an unborn child while a 24-year-old 'imbecile' received the money for 4 years. Although the Committee did not discriminate against sex it specified 'boy' and 'girl' in its final listings.
The families of unmarried victims were generally compensated by lump-sum payments of from $20 to $50. Dependant mothers, grandfathers, etc., however, had their payments extended up to 5 years.
Certain compensations were made to sufferers who were 'injured by frost'. One suspects that these were inflicted with severe injuries in the realm of finger, toe and limb amputations.
Agreement was reached that it "beneficiaries die before their amount become payable, such undistributed amounts shall remain with and at the disposal of the Committee ... for the relief of sufferers of the said disaster."
In spite of a major fire in St. John's in July of that year, Governor O'Brien was able to put the final signature to the drive on the fifth of November.
Name Description Age No. Years Rate ($) Total ($) Comments Wm Barnes Widow 51 5 40.00 200.00 do Boy 9 5 30.00 150.00 do do 12 2 30.00 60.00 do Girl 14 1 30.00 30.00 Martin Beston Family (no young children) 50.00 Given at once in full. Richd Beston lost 2 sons 3 20.00 60.00 Isaac J. Beston Widow 4 40.00 160.00 Robt Bannister do 5 40.00 200.00 do Girl 12 2 30.00 60.00 do do 6 8 30.00 240.00 do Daughter (imbecile) 24 4 30.00 120.00 Isaac J. Butler Father 3 30.00 90.00 Chas Dawe Family very poor 3 30.00 90.00 (Day written in pencil) (?) Walter injured by frost 4 40.00 160.00 John Nurse Boy 1 13 30.00 390.00 do Widow 5 40.00 200.00 do Boy 3 11 40.00 330.00 do Widow 5 40.00 200.00 (Appears to be repeated from above) Chas. Nurse do 4 30.00 120.00 Jas. Moores Boy 9 5 30.00 150.00 do do 13 1 30.00 30.00 do Widow 5 40.00 200.00 Jacob Moores do 40.00 immediate do child unborn 14 30.00 420.00 E. Pottle Mother (widow) 7 40.00 200.00 do Sister 8 6 30.00 180.00 do do 13 1 30.00 30.00 Solomon Penny Family (grandfather, etc.) 4 40.00 160.00 Jas & Tobias Penny Family 3 30.00 90.00 John Penny Girl 6 8 30.00 240.00 do do 9 5 30.00 150.00 do do 11 3 30.00 90.00 do do 1 13 30.00 390.00 do Widow 3 30.00 90.00 Wm Stockley Family 50.00 Geo Morris Boy 7 7 30.00 210.00 (Correct spelling Moore) do do 4 10 30.00 300.00 do Girl 13 1 30.00 30.00 do do 9 5 30.00 150.00 Patk Terry Mother (widow) 5 40.00 200.00 Jas Barnes injured by frost (only one arm) 4 40.00 160.00 Thos Butler lost 1 son 20.00 immediate Wm Nurse lost 5 son 5 40.00 200.00 Wm Oates Grandfather 5 20.00 100.00 John Ivany injured by frost 2 50.00 100.00 Mark Ivany do 2 30.00 60.00 Total 7300.00 (Pencilled in) Chas Bannister, Henry Nurse.
Should either of the beneficiaries die before their amounts become payable, such undistributed amount shall remain with and be at the disposal of the committee, or the survivor thereof, for the relief of sufferers by the said disaster.
I have (reviewed) this report with just () and say to thank the committee and will () for them () in their efficient manner in which they () executed their trust.
Gov House N.11.92
April 4 Cheque to Rev. T. Godden 200. do Rev. H. Hooper 140. do Rev. W. Weaver 70. 415. Paid Colonist Printing & Pub Coy 5.50 May 14 Cheque to R. () Stable 20. Paid to Lord Bp of Nfld to this fund in error 120. Jun 25 Amount of relief as per scheme 7300. I. J. Grant Bill 15. E. Christian do 41.30 E. Jerrett do 91. 147.30 R. Fowlow Grant 110. Oct 26 Deposited in Savings Bank 155.20 8203. May 27 By amt subscribed as per list published to date 7454.23 June 17 " do Sir W. V. Whiteway Com. Bank 48. " Cheque W.D. Reid 364.37 " do Little Bay 334.60 " Daily Graphic 1.80 8203. St. John's Nfld 26 Oct 1892