Hannah tragedy

Considering the season of the year, the passage of the Hannah from Newry to Quebec up to the 27 April 1849 was as favourable as one could expect.    But the season was most unsuited to such a sailing.

The spring ice-floes were calving from the great northern glaciers. Some sixty years later another vessel from the North of Ireland would flounder here with terrible loss of life. The name Titanic has gone down in history.  We will later cite other local shipping losses.

As she approached her destination the Hannah encountered heavy winds and a quantity of floating ice.  The master bore off in order to clear it but it floated round in large masses.  About four o’clock on the morning of the 29th the unfortunate ship struck on a reef of ice of such magnitude as to carry part of her bottom. 

The sounding of the pumps at once convinced the crew that the vessel was foundering as there were several feet of water in her hold and the volume was rapidly increasing. This being the only chance of keeping the ship afloat, a cry was raised to keep to the pumps, until assistance could be obtained from some passing vessel – as also, it is presumed, to allow the boats to be prepared for the rescue of emigrants. 

No mention is made in the report received of any steps to secure the preservation of the lives of the passengers.  Indeed a charge is laid against the master, and the first and second officers, of their having been guilty of one of the most revolting acts of inhumanity that can be conceived.

Dr Graham was the Hannah’s doctor.  His disposition, with that of Richard Irving, one of the sailors on board the Hannah (which corroborate each other) were both forwarded to Mr. James Ferguson, the charterer of the vessel in Newry. Their testimony is most damning of the Ship’s Captain, Curry Shaw and of his principal officers.

The Captain had addressed the terrified passengers, informing them to,  ‘Keep quiet and I will save you all!’. They had got the life boat out, and the moment they found the vessel would inevitably go down, they jumped into it, abandoned the wreck with the living mass on board.  Screams for help now rent the air.   Doctor Graham bounded onto the ice, rolled into the sea and swam towards them to reason with the fleeing captain and crewmen, who kept the lifeboat to themselves:  but they struck out with their oars to drive him away.

Fortunately the ship’s hull was caught fast at the prow by the ice with which it had collided. It was with difficulty that the remainder of the crew could induce the frantic creatures on board ship to comprehend the only chance left of saving their lives.   The ice was firm under the ship’s bows and the seamen,  convincing them as to its security, many got on it.  Its solidity being then apparent, a desperate struggle took place among the emigrants to leave the wreck.  Men, women, and children, with nothing on but their night attire, were to be seen scrambling over the mass of ice.  Many of the poor creatures slipped between the huge masses, and were either crushed to death or met with an ice-cold, watery grave.

The last to leave the wreck were some of the faithful crew, who contrived to save a small portion of spirits and a few blankets.  Soon after they had got clear the ship’s stern rose as it were above water, and went down head foremost, just forty minutes after the collision with the ice. 

The sufferings of the wretched creatures, exposed as they were amid towering masses of ice, with a raging freezing gale of wind from the S.S.E., were most harrowing.  The seamen who were among them humanely gave up what covering they had to the females, who had been shockingly wounded and bruised in their course over the ice. Thus were they exposed the whole of that day, till five o’clock in the afternoon when a vessel hove in sight, and bore down to the edge of the field of ice.

It was fortuitous that the collision happened in the St Laurence seaway, Cape Ray being S.E. by E. about twenty-seven miles distant – for this busy shipping lane might afford rescue from a passing ship. That ship, coming some fourteen hours later, proved to be the barque ‘Nicarque’ of Captain Marshal, also bound for Quebec.

The statement made by that gentleman relative to the steps taken by him and his crew for the recovery of the survivors, is to the following effect:-

On the 29th, about half past six, the wind blowing a strong gale from the S.S.E. and a thick fall of sleet, the ship laying to the windward to a large field of ice, we discovered something on the ice which subsequently turned out to be a flag of [cannot read, blotted].   We made all sail, and gaining the edge of the ice, found to our astonishment a mass of living people upon it.   We got the ship’s ice fenders down, and prepared to take the ice.   In the course of two hours we succeeded in getting hold of about fifty of the poor creatures, and placing them on board our vessel.

The remainder stood crouched together in another part of the ice, some distance off, inaccessible from the position of the ship.  Captain Marshal had all sails cleared up, and got a rope fastened to a piece of ice, and with the long boat pushed off with his men to the spot.  After considerable difficulty we succeeded in getting to the edge, where the miserable creatures remained huddled together.  The whole of them were saved.

No pen, Captain Marshal observes, can describe the pitiable situation of the poor creatures.  They were all but naked, cut and bruised, and frostbitten.  There were parents who had lost their children, children who had lost their parents; many perfectly insensible. The number that got on board the Nicarque was 120, passengers and seamen. The greater part of these were frostbitten.’

As far as Captain Marshal could ascertain from the survivors, those who perished by being crushed between the ice, and frozen to death were from 50 to 60.  When he had succeeded in getting all on board, the ship was got under way and proceeded in the direction of Cape Ray.  Every comfort that his means and the ship’s capacity afforded were placed at the sufferers’ disposal.  Next day, meeting with the barque Broom of Glasgow, 27 of the poor creatures were transferred on board of that vessel; and in the course of the following day, forty-nine of the survivors, for the sake of comfort, were placed on board three other vessels.  The Nicarque reached Quebec on the 10th of last month, where the remainder of the sufferers were landed.

Among their names were: Alexander Thompson, his wife and four children; William Tadford, wife and one child; William Anderson, wife and four children; John Murphy, wife and four children; David Gurwin and wife; Patrick M’Gill, James Murphy and wife; Dr. William Graham, Peter M’Fearling (his father, mother and rest of family drowned): and also the following seamen of the Hannah -John Offin, John Smith, John Parker, Richard Harwin, Alexander Harris, and David Jordan.   Families were decimated. Of the 49 passengers lost, 28 were children and 8 were women. Joseph Kerr and his wife lost five of their seven children: Edward McElhern lost his mother and six of his seven children: Peter McFarlane was the sole survivor of his family; his father and two brothers were lost in the tragedy.

The names of other emigrants shipped on board the vessel from the Nicarque are not
mentioned. The fate of the others who took to the life-boat, and abandoned the emigrants, is not known.   It is however believed that the cowardly Captain and his first officers escaped without trial or punishment.

Survivors at Quebec were well treated, given clothes and food and allowed to proceed free of charge to their separate destinations.

… The Newry ? …

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