Interview With a Fisherman.
The Rev. H. LEWIS’ Fourth Letter.
[From The Twillingate Sun of December 5, 1885.]
To the Editor of the EVENING MERCURY:
Black Head, Bay de Verde.
During the past week I have received a number of letters from men holding prominent positions in the country, thanking me for what is being done towards reverting the ill usage, females and others are subjected to, on board the craft going to Labrador. As much as I prize the kindly greetings of merchants, magistrates and ministers, the words of communication I have received from the poor men and women, whose cause I have at heart, are far more welcome.
Lately, owing to the annual Missionary meetings, I have been to Harbor Grace, Carbonear, and other places, and several fishermen have made themselves acquainted with me, in order to speak their minds on this subject. I will give you the conversation of one, so that you may judge how these poor creatures get along. I suppress names.
“The people are glad you wrote that letter,” said the fisherman, who was a stranger to me before this. “We people go through a sight sir!”
“Who were you with?”
Mr. --------‘s craft; she’s 78 tons, and we carried about 164 people, men, women and children.”
“What accommodations did you have?”
“None at all sir, you might say, and most of us were in the hold and had to sleep where we could, because sleep you must, after being out some days and nights. Some would sleep in the punts on deck, but most shoved their heads into any place they could get, down below.”
“Were the women and men kept apart?”
“Dear me, no sir, but everybody mixed up.”
“That’s a painful way for young men and women to be isn’t it?”
“Aye sir, you might think you know a lot about these vessels, but I should not like to tell you about the dirt and sin there is aboard these craft.”
“How many years have you been going?”
“Going on ten years, sir.”
“How do you manage for cooking?”
“Well, I’ll tell you sir, how we managed coming home, it was much like going down to the Labrador. We had a puncheon sawed in two and then rocks put into one half to make a galley. Well, one night the boys made a fire on to warm themselves and cook victuals. The fire got down atween the rocks and burnt a hole through the bottom of the galley and through the deck. Well, they knowed nothing of it until they went to put the fire out with water; but you see, the rocks were very hot, and the water, boiling hot, was poured down through the hole in the deck right on a poor sick woman with a baby.”
“How old was the child?”
“Only born the day afore we started sir. They didn’t hurt the baby, but the poor woman was scalded a goodish bit. The poor mortal did screech and that frightened the rest of the women folk. The deck was lumbered up so that you couldn’t move. Well sir, many a poor woman has got her death in those craft. I hopes you will get the thing stopped.”
With a few other words, that man left me not much the wiser, for I know of plenty of like experiences, but he left me sadder; sadder because he told me of evils that I dare not put into print. I could fill column after column with such narratives; year after year I have seen and heard such things. Letter after letter reveals more of the same nature. The other day a poor widow told me of the graves of her husband and only son, who died of chills, brought on by having to sleep on deck going to and from Labrador.
What astounds me is that so much ignorance should prevail about this subject. Truly, the conspiracy of silence has been doing mischief, or rather, permitting mischief to prosper. I have been told that the merchants will be down on me for commencing this agitation; let it be so! But I am convinced sir, that every man, unless he is a knave or a fool, will lend you a helping hand in this crusade. I am thankful to see the HARBOR GRACE STANDARD and THE TIMES, coming out plainly on the matter. I am confident that the mercantile element in this colony will not neglect its duty in the matter. The commercial men of this country have well nigh our omnipotent power, and if they will only bestir themselves, the disgraceful system will now be a thing of the past.
I have confined myself to stating facts, nor have I exaggerated or exhausted them. It is not a subject upon which anyone can afford to mince matters. Being "on the fence” when the morality of a community is involved, is a crime. It is to be hoped that your words of counsel to pulpit, press and public, will be heeded, and that no party feeling or sectarian strife will hinder the amelioration of the poor and wretched.