The Western Star Newspaper, Curling, Bay of Islands, Newfoundland1935, Reel 7 on microfilm
Compiled by Peggy Gale Bennett
How Captain Wallace Parsons Met Tragic Death
Details Given By Gloucester Times
Many of our readers, particularly the fishing interests of Bay of Islands, some of whom annually helped to load Captain Wallace Parson’s vessels with herring in Bay of Islands and Bonne Bay during the Captain’s fifty-seven voyages to this coast have been anxious to learn particulars of that able mariner’s tragic death. We therefore give the following, clipped from the Gloucester Times of 5th January:
After bringing the all-sailing schooner Thomas S. Gorton, home safely from Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, through the toughest weather of the season, Capt. Wallace Parsons, walked off Davis Brother’s wharf last evening, and drowned before aid could reach him. Police, firemen and Coast Guardsmen dragged for his body until midnight but were unable to locate it. At 9:20 this morning, the body was recovered after the crew of the Angie and Florence saw it floating near one of the spiels at the old Cunningham & Thompson wharf, a firm from which Capt. Parsons had sailed for many years.
Capt. Parsons who was 65 years of age, leaves a widow and four children at Sandy Point, Bay St. George, Newfoundland. He was one of the most prominent mariners out of this port and had sailed from here mackerel seining and freighting salt herring for over 35 years.
The waterfront was shocked upon hearing the news of his tragic death, for he was very popular not only here but in every port in which he had touched during his long marine career. Capt. Parsons was particularly well liked at Bay of Islands to which port he had made 57 voyages after hearing for various Gloucester firms. He returned from his last voyage there last Tuesday, after being 12 days at seas through gale after gale, when it seemed to many here that he and his crew had gone down with their herring-laden vessel. Company officials at Gorton-Pew Fisheries to whom the cargo was consigned, were not so worried for they knew Capt. Parsons, and his ability to bring his craft safely home.
Capt. Parsons had been driven to Davis Brother’s wharf about 7:30 o’clock last evening by Harry P. Christensen, well-known rigger. Mr. Christensen parked his car at the head of the wharf, while Capt. Parsons instructed him to wait. The skipper was going aboard his craft, the Gorton, which lay at the dock, having been brought over there from the Slade-Gorton wharf to discharge 150 barrels of her herring cargo for Davis Brothers. Capt. Parsons intended getting some dozen herring for a friend. The wharf was pitch dark, and Mr. Christensen was getting the car into position so that he might throw the lights onto the pier, when Axel G. Borgeson, company watchman, and Harold P. MacArthur, watch aboard mackerel seining, during spring, sum-was a splash or thump in the water and figured someone must have gone overboard. MacArthur was in the vessel’s fo’c’stle at the time the skipper was about to board the Gorton and summoned the company watchman in an effort to ascertain the cause of the noise.
Cap Floating in Water
They went to the vessel and in the water, saw a cap that the captain had been wearing, floating on the surface. They lost no time in getting the police, and Capt. Charles I. O’Maley immediately assigned Patrolman Lemuel T. MacDonald, Reserve Officer Thomas Kane and Police Chauffer Harry W. O’Connell with grappling irons, lights and other equipment to begin dragging operations at once. The fireman were also notified, and their lighting unit proved a great advantage in illuminating the water and pier, Capt. John Anderson, Capt. Louis Francis, Fireman John Spanks, Henry Lowe, Frank Stockbridge, and John Anderson, Jr., arrived in the rescue squad wagon from Central Fire Station and after setting up the lighting unit, participated in the dragging of the neighbouring waters. However, their efforts were of no avail, and they gave it up for the night shortly before midnight. The bitter cold caused considerable suffering to the men who took part in the search.
They had planned to resume dragging operations this morning when the Gorton was moved out of the dock, but before this was done, Italian fishermen from the Fort district, shouted to the men on the Davis wharf that they had located the body, floating near one of the spiles of the former Cunningham and Thompson wharf.
Dr. Ira B. Hull, medical examiner, viewed the body shortly after, and pronounced death due to accidental drowning, caused apparently in falling from the pier while attempting to board the schooner. It is believed Capt. Parsons hit against the vessel, was stunned and floated partly under the surface of the water, causing death. The remains were taken by Undertaker Willard S. Pike.
Capt. Parsons is survived by his widow, Grace (LaRue), former school teacher of Bay St George, three daughters, the Misses Kathleen, Ida and Jean Parsons and a son LaRue Parsons, all of Bay St. George. He also leaves two brothers, Charles and Lewis Parsons of Bay St. George and three nephews, Capt. Harold Parsons, skipper of the Schr. Shirley M. Clattenburg of this port; Capt. Walter Parsons, skipper of the Schr. Florence K., of this port, and Haywood Parsons.
Everyone who knew Capt. Parsons was immediately won by his engaging personality, his ability to make and keep friends and the quiet gentle manner that was his. He was a very modest man, like most mariners who have brought thousands of dollars worth of employment around Eastern Point regardless of snow, or sleet. Even on this recent harrowing voyage he declined to speak of his experiences other than to say that it was the hardest weather he had ever encountered in 57 voyages to Newfoundland.
A Real Fisherman
He was beloved in the old days by most famous skippers who ever sailed out of this port, and very highly in the mackerel fisheries. He won the nickname of “Little Sol,” due to the fact that he was tutored under the expert guidance of that king of Gloucester fishermen, Capt. Solomon Jacobs. E came to Provincetown from Bay St. George in his early ‘teens, but shortly-after removed to the Gloucester waterfront, secured a sight with Capt. “Sol,” Jacobs and learned from many facts about fishing and the choice spots, “Little Sol” then graduated from the decks as they say, and was given command of Schr. Pinta, sailing from John Chisholm company. Halibuting was his game then, and was made good immediately.
His next command was the Schr. Harry G. French, in which he went the Gorton, heard what they thought mer and well into the fall, and afterward began his long career to Newfoundland for herring in the late fall. Schr. Nourmahal next saw him at the wheel, and in 1904 Schr. Ingmar was built for him. Schr. Saladin was his next vessel. During these years he was sailing from Cunningham & Thompson’s and was regarded as one of their skippers. Their pier at the Fort was one of the busiest along the waterfront, and Little Sol remained with them until they were taken over by Gorden-Pew Fisheries.
Made Newfoundland Trips
Capt. Parsons was in charge of the loading of their herring vessels at Bay of Islands, a position which entailed considerable responsibility and knowledge. As such, it was up to him to see that each vessel was loaded in due time, and that the boat was sped on its way home. The natives of Bay of Islands will sincerely regret his passing for he was one of the most popular Gloucester skippers that ever sailed a vessel there. He was as well informed on the herring fishery as any man could be. His judgment in this field was highly respected by Gorton-Pew Fisheries for whom he has sailed herring vessels for the past few years.
In his time he had the misfortune of losing two vessels, by marine accidents, but was able to reach shore safely with his men in both cases. He was in command of Schr. Aviator, a three-masted freighter, known as one of the “war babies,” in November of 1924 and had made a trip to Bay of Islands, returning home with herring when at Sandy Point, Bay St. George, the vessel sprang a leak, and he was forced to abandon her. He was in the boat Lincoln, a converted sub-chaser, macherel seining, from the Atlantic Supply Company, in November of 1930, when she caught fire off Shelburne, and the men had to take to the dories.
In Harvard House Fire
One of his most narrow escapes, however, and as close a call as any person ever had in this city, was experience during the time of Harvard house fire on the site of what is now the Hotel Savoy. This wooden three-storey structure, caught fire the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 1907, at 3 o’clock in the morning, and Capt. Parsons who had just arrived in port from a herring trip, was awakened by the smoke. He arose and opened his door only to be greeted by belching fire. He was on the top story, and struggled through the flames to get down the stairs. He made the second landing and dropped in his tracks, but Peter McDonald, who was also battling his way out of the fire, took hold of him and dragged him out of the building. Firemen and his legion of friends believed that the man had been lost in the conflagration, and when they finally learned he had been saved, they were most pleasantly surprise. His hair was burned off his head and suffered from other serious burns.
Capt. Parsons was also master of the Gorton when she sailed in the fall of 1929, vying against the Schr. Progress. Capt. Manuel P. Domingoes, the winner, and Schr. Elsie, Capt. Norman C. Ross, another herring craft, and Schr. Authur D. Story, Capt. Ben Pine, the latter being the well-known international racing skipper.
His Last Trip
The recent trip from Bay of Islands to Gloucester with 1300 barrels of salt bulk herring weighting her down, is a trip that will go down in history as evidence supreme of the mastery possessed by Capt. Parsons as a “sail carrier’ and helmsman. The craft lost both dories on the first night out when she ran into a gale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which came near doing for them. Part of the jumbo was carried away, but Capt. Parsons stuck to his post. He was lashed to the wheel to prevent being washed overboard by the mountainous seas that were wracking the 30 year old schooner from stem to stern. He wanted to take soundings to find out how near shore they were; for he was afraid the vessel might be carried too far inshore and be dashed to pieces. Tom Cove, one of his hands, threw the sounding lead overboard, but saw the seas were much too rough to allow the lead to sink. He was forced to collect a lot of iron and attach it to the lead, before it would go below the surface and give them the proper depth.
During last summer Capt. Parsons commanded schooner Nyoda, mackerel seining, while Capt. Howard Tobey the regular skipper, was ashore owing to injuries. He made a good summer in comparison with the rest of the fleet. Capt. Parsons had also been skipper in many other vessels during recent years.
The remains of Capt. Wallace Parsons, fishing captain of this port for the past 40-odd years, will be laid to rest tomorrow afternoon in the fishermen’s lot in Beechbrook cemetery, in compliance with a wish made by him to his family. His widow at Bay St. George, Nfld., informed John McLoud, vessels manager for Gorton-Pew Fisheries, of this desire in response to a wire dispatched to the widow Saturday morning when it was learned that the body of the late Capt. Parsons had been found floating near the old Cunningham & Thompson wharf at the Fort, the firm from which he had sailed for many years.
The body is at the residence of Capt. Charlie Steward at 98 Prospect Street, where it was to be taken this noon to remain until the funeral, Capt. Steward was a dory-mate of the late captain, who knew him as a friend and comrade.
The funeral will be held at 2:30 o’clock tomorrow afternoon from St. John’s Episcopal church where the late Capt. Parsons was a faithful attendant when in port. Burial will be at Fishermen’s Rest, Beechbrook cemetery, West Gloucester.
© Peggy Gale Bennet, Jason H. Doucette & NL GenWeb