NL GenWeb

Notre Dame Bay Region ~ Fogo / Twillingate District

Historical Information

Christmas 1947


9:00 AM, Thursday December 18th. 1947. Time to start the walk to school at Riverhead. It is a grey December morning with a little wet snow on the ground. A storm has gone through during the night with strong winds and snow flurries. Next week will be Christmas holidays and we are all looking forward to Christmas.

Waiting for the bell, children are standing around in groups, asking questions. Others, older students are trying to give answers. What is all the excitement about? The Francis P. Duke is Missing. Many of our schoolmates have fathers on the schooner and she has not been heard from since she left Fogo yesterday.

Francis P. Duke is a schooner owned by Captain Patrick Miller of Fogo. The Millerís are a family of merchants and ship owners who for many years have been engaged in the Labrador fishery and coastal freighting between St. Johns and East coast ports. They own two schooners, the Sylvia Hanson a large Banks schooner and the Francis P. Duke a smaller schooner. The vessels are crewed by Captain Miller and his four sons, Ned, Bill, Ignatius, and Patrick plus a number of hired seamen.

The Duke left Fogo on Wednesday, December 17th. to pick up freight at St. Johns and return to Fogo. Bill Miller was in command, with Nash Miller, Don Bryan, Stewart Keefe, Max Payne and Gus Pickett as crew. It is a very experienced and competent crew. The Miller brothers have practically grown up on the schooners; Bryan, Keefe and Payne are a little older and experienced seamen. Gus Pickett has just completed six years war service in the Royal Navy.

When the ship departed Fogo Harbour there was some concern that a storm might be brewing. She proceeded anyway, the plan being that if the weather deteriorated she would not attempt crossing Bonavista Bay, but would seek shelter at Seldom-Come-By a harbour of refuge on that coast. The crossing would be made after the storm passed.

As time passed with no report from the ship, the owner became concerned . Captain Miller went to the telegraph office and called the operator at Seldom, who reported that she had not arrived there. The only hope now was that she had ridden out the storm, crossed Bonavista Bay and would check in at Catalina.

Thursday and Friday in Fogo, people listened to every radio broadcast, every rumour, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. By the weekend most had given up hope.

After a couple of days of uncertainty and no news of the schooner, pieces of wreckage started drifting in on the North side of Bonavista Bay. This led searchers to the Shag Rocks area near Valleyfield, where wreckage and a couple of bodies were recovered. The schooner had been driven ashore by the Southeast gale and all the crew had been lost. It would be a sad Christmas nineteen forty seven.

Crew of Francis P. Duke
William Miller23   captain.
Ignatius Miller 21
Donavan Bryan 31
Stewart Keefe36
Maxwell Payne40
Augustus Pickett 27
Mr Mullin passenger


© Don Bennett and NL GenWeb
Fogo / Twillingate District