Story - Charlie Martin

The Late Charlie Martin's Story of Surviving

Story Submitted By

Myrtle Stagg

One of Elliston's survivors of the S.S.Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914 was (Charles) Charlie Martin. Below is a story that the late Samuel Ryan wrote in 1962 after the interview he had with Mr. Martin who was one of the four men and boys from Elliston who survived this terrible disaster. He was sixty-six years of age at the time of this interview.

Here is how Mr. Martin’s describes the tragedy as he saw it and some of the hardships he went through.

We left the Newfoundland which was in command of Captain Wes Kean (Captain Abe Kean was Captain Wes Kean’s father).. It was about half a day’s walk to his father’s ship. We arrived there about dinner time and went on board. Four watch companies under their leaders left early in the morning for the sealing ship Stephano but one went back after saying the trip was too long. The other three watch crews went on. I was only nineteen years old then and went with the crowd.

In the evening we started killing seals. The blinding snowstorm came on so suddenly we didn’t have time to set courses for our ship, the Newfoundland or the Stephano. As night came on the storm got worse and try as we like we could not reach either ship. It was hopeless. The storm was too bad so we had to make our minds up that we were caught and had to stay out in it. I was in company and among my friends and neighbors from Elliston, together with other men, but I remember to keep alive we kept together. We tried and did everything we could think of to keep alive and to keep our friends and neighbors alive with hopes that we would survive, after living through the first night. By Wednesday night which was the height of the storm I decided to leave my buddies and friends from Elliston after eight of them gave themselves up to die. I went to another company of men nearby and when I went back to my friends most all of them were dead. There were two men with me. I don’t know their names. We walked to Arthur Mouland of Bonavista who was in command or Master Watch of a company of men. I asked them where George Tuff and his men were and he said they were gone in search or heading for the ship the Newfoundland. I grabbed a dead man’s gaff and climbed a pinnacle of ice and started out to cross them off and join them, but when I jumped off the pinnacle of ice I jumped in the water and got wet. This made matters worse and started for me the beginning of my trials and hardships. I then had to come back to Arthur Mouland’s company of men again where I tried to get as much water out of my clothes as possible but it soon froze solid like boards. I did everything I could do and think off together with the help and company of my friends but the cold wet frozen clothing was too much for me and sometime Wednesday night I lost consciousness and gave myself up to die.

That’s all I remember until I gained consciousness on the sealing ship Bellaventure on the way to St. John’s. How I got aboard the Bellaventure I don’t know but I was told I was piled among the dead but someone saw my arm move or saw me breathing and took me on board the ship where I slowly survived. After arriving in St. John’s I was in the hospital for six months. I also understand my other friend Simon Trask from Elliston was also piled among the dead but managed to survive. I understand we were picked up Thursday by other sailing ships in the area. I was on the ice in the blinding storm from the time I lost my senses Wednesday night until I was picked up sometime Thursday morning.

In the hospital I was among twenty-two others who had to receive treatment for frostbite. I lost six fingers, and five toes, but in spite of my handicaps I went logging, fishing, berry picking, and carpentry and every way I could think of to earn a living. I learned how to use my handicapped hands and learned to walk with my crippled feet and still does it today. I sow and harvest my own vegetables, cuts hay, cuts wood and goes fishing and berry picking and is able to use a pick and shovel as well as anyone. I owe my life to the person or persons who picked me up and saw life in me and survived me. Otherwise I would have remained with the dead and would not be able to tell this brief tale of that dreadful disaster.