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Historical Information

West Coast Region - Bay St. George District

The Loss of Donald L. Silver


The following was originally written by Don Morris, in a column he wrote called Vignettes of the west.

Transcribed by Steve Gillis with permission granted by the Western Star

Loss of the Donald L. Silver

The news of the marine disaster was sped by telegraph to St. Johnís and the North American continent. The schooner Donald L. Silver had been wrecked and all aboard her, seven men, were lost. The sad tidings were profoundly felt in seaports such as Gloucester and Lunenburg, which were so closely identified with the fish trade.

The Silver was a herring fisher engaged in the ancient Bay of Islands winter herring fishery. Now she was lost with all hands and a full cargo. The sea claimed her in the earliest hours of January 1924.

First reports

The first intimation the Newfoundland public had of the West Coast tragedy was carried in the local newspaper of January 4. Few particulars were available in the initial report, which said:

"We learn that the department of Customs has received a message from Robinsonís, Bay St. George, that a schooner Donald L. Silver is a total wreck and that four or five bodies of her crew have been washed ashore at Fishels. The Donald L. Silver was carrying a cargo of barreled herring from Humbermouth. The customs message was received over the Newfoundland Government Railway (telegraph) line."

Body picked up

Messages continued to be received throughout that day and the following day from Customs officials and others on the West Coast. One message dated Jan. 5 and published on that date said:

"To H. J. Russell (railway manager) from railway agent, Robinsonís: James MacIsaac from Heatherton reports picking up body of one man at Fishells. Vessels name was Donald L. Silver with a load of Scotch packed herring. Canít identify the names of other bodies picked up. Please notify the authorities. Signed G. Cobb."

Within a few days the full story of the loss of the Silver and the names of her captain and crew were carried by newspapers in Newfoundland, Canada and the United States.

Severe tragedy

One representative source said the loss of the Silver with her crew, most of whom were from the Bay of Islands, was the most severe tragedy that had touched Bay Of Islands in the history of its herring fishery. The ill-fated schooner had sailed from Woodís Island on Monday (which was Dec. 23, 1923) bound for Gloucester, Massachusetts, with a cargo of herring.

The news source then identified the Silverís crew, which consisted of Captain Joseph Hackett, married with a large family, skipper; James Hackett, mate, single; Captain John Hackett, married with a large family, who was going to take command after the schooners arrival at Gloucester, as Captain Joseph Hackett intended returning home to Curling for the winters; William Ruth, single, son of James Ruth; Lawrence Wheeler, all of Bay of Islands.

Also lost: Frank Swyers, married with a large family; Harold Swyers, married, both of Sandy Point, St. Georgeís Bay; the latter being a brother of Mrs. Joseph Cunning of Curling.

Severe storm struck

The schooner had on board 1,010 barrels of salt herring, 282 barrels of Scotch pack, and 105 barrels of pickled herring. The news source said that on New Years day the Donald L. Silver was reported off SouthHead. The following day a severe storm came on and continued for three days with blinding snow and hurricane winds.

Said the news report which originated from Curling: " On Friday (Jan.4) Mr. Barry received a message from Magistrate Carty of St. Georgeís stating that the schooner Donald L. Silver foundered off Heatherton with the loss of all her crew and that five bodies had been recovered. Barry and Mr. John Hunt joined the nights express and went to the scene. They identified the bodies recovered as those of Captain Joseph Hackett, William Ruth, Lawrence Wheeler, Frank Swyers and Harold Swyers. They had them coffined and brought along by Sunday Express. The latter two were taken to their homes in Sandy Point and those of Bay of Islands were brought here."

Placed in church

The report continued: "The remains of Captain Joseph Hackett were placed in the church of the Sacred Heart, from the train, at Petries, and those of William Ruth and Lawrence Wheeler were placed in St. Maryís Church at Curling, the presence of ice in the Humber Arm preventing the taking of the bodies to their late homes at Summerside."

Apparently, the bodies of James Hackett and John Hackett were not recovered at the time the Curling report was published.

The Donald. L. Silver, according to another report, was a staunch schooner of 94 tons and was built at Lunenburg in 1911. She was described as being owned by "local parties" at Bay of Islands. She had been fitted with new sails and good gear. The report concluded:

"By wreckage picked up at the scene of tragedy, it is evident that the schooner was under double reefed foresail at the time. Both Captain Joseph Hackett and Captain john Hackett were men of undisputed ability as master mariners and prominent figures in shipping in Bay of Islands, and most of the Silvers crew were men of extreme seamanship experience."

© 2001 Stephen Gillis and NL GenWeb