NL GenWeb

Notre Dame Bay Region ~ Fogo / Twillingate District

Payne Family Tragedy, Trafalgar Day 1902

The following article sent to me on October 17, 2000 by May Payne Richardson of Botwood, at that time she was a young 104. May Payne was born June 30, 1896 in Fogo, daughter of James Payne and Rebecca Oake. May was married to George Bennett Richardson. -- Tammy Hammond


In the records of the Newfoundland House of Assembly for the year 1874 there is a small paragraph indicating that the Honorable Member for the District of Fogo had moved that a licence for the Piloting of Fogo Harbor be granted to one John William Payne of that place. The motion was carried.

In fact, from time immemorial, the Payne family of Fogo had been pilots guiding the ships through the treacherous shoals and sharp rocks that abound in those waters. The Fogo of the nineteenth century was one of the larger and most prosperous fishing communities of the Northeast Coast. The ships that sailed in there in those days were the large sailing brigs that brought supplies and took on fish for domestic and foreign ports.

On October twenty-first (Trafalgar Day), 1902, a Danish vessel was sighted early in the morning and John William Payne collected his crew together to go out and pilot her in. Now, the crew of the pilot boat consisted of Payne's sons -- four brothers who sailed with their father, three at a time. That day is was the turn of the three younger brothers, Alfred, Charles and Gilbert to go, and that of the elder brother, William Banks Payne, to remain at home. However, there was a good breeze blowing and William insisted on taking Gilbert's place as the latter was but a lad of twenty. William, his wife Julia, who was expecting her fourth child in January, and their three children had just moved into a new house, and had staying with them a cousin from Campbellton, one Jabez Hooper, who had planned to return home on the eighteenth but had remained for a few more days. He decided to go along with William and the rest of the crew.

Shortly after lunch the pilot boat with the five men aboard put out from Fogo. A little later John Payne's wife, Mary Ann, went up to her "Widow's Walk", which was on top of a nearby hill. Through her spyglass she watched the vessell come into Fogo and anchor. She rushed down the hill to her daughter, Elizabeth Jane, and said "your father was not on that boat; he would never anchor a boat so badly or in such an unusual place".

Gilbert Payne had attended an S.U.F. meeting in the absence of the rest of the family and on his way home he too noticed with consternation the anchoring of the boat. After talking to his mother he fetched a cousin, George Oake and went to the newly arrived ship. The captain declared that he had seen no pilot boat and neihter had any member of his crew.

Although it had been breezy that day Mary Ann Payne knew her husband to be an excellent sailor and knew that there had been many more stormy days that had seen him out and safely returned. This time, however, no sign was seen of the pilot all through that evening and night.

Rumors immediately began to fly in Fogo that the pilot boat had been cut down by the large vessel. Some men reported to have seen this from the hills near Barr'd Islands. One man was heard to remark "the poor Paynes are gone -- -- I wouldn't give a chew of tobacco for the whole Payne family this morning".

Investigators arrived from St. John's, They questioned many people but the answer was always the same, "I saw nothing". The pilot boat was found on little Fogo Island and gave evidence of having been swamped. No bodies were ever recovered. The investigations ceased.

Many years later, an officer of the sailing vessel settled in Fogo and Gilbert Payne upon talking to him, finally decided that as far as he and his family were concerned, his father and brothers were victims of foul play. The story that the officer told was that when the vessel left St. John's, a Fogo man had boarded the ship as a passenger. This man had a long-standing grudge against John Payne and fancied himself quite a pilot. On nearing Fogo he took the wheel and on seeing the pilot boat coming, he said, "No Payne is going to board this boat today." However, the man had died within weeks of the incident; so closed the case of the tragic drowning of a father, his three sons and his nephew.

Mary Ann Banks Payne, John Payne's widow, was in a state of shock for months and never fully recovered from this blow. She died a hort time later. Of the widows of the three sons, two were childless. All three eventually remarried. Three of William and Julia Payne's four children are still living (at the time of this article). Gilbert Payne later married and had one daughter. He died on November 1, 1960 at fogo, fifty-eight years and ten days after his father and brothers found a watery grave.

So ends the chronicle of the last of the pilots of the family Payne of Fogo, Newfoundland.

© 2007 Tammy Payne Hammond, May Payne Richardson and NL GenWeb

Fogo / Twillingate