Captain Abraham Kean, (1855-1945).
Mariner; politician. Born Flowers Island, son of Joseph and Jane Kean. Educated Pool's Island; Greenspond. Married Caroline Yetman. Father of Westbury Kean qv. Kean was Newfoundland's most successful seal hunter, bringing in more than one million pelts in 48 springs at the ice as master.
The youngest of nine children, Kean had four years' schooling while living with an uncle, William Kean qv, before persuading his father to let him begin fishing with his uncle at the age of 13. He became captain of a fishing schooner in 1878. The next year he moved his family to Norton's Cove (which he renamed Brookfield) near Wesleyville qv. He made his first trip to the seal hunt under his eldest brother. He was later master watch, second hand, and master of the family schooner Peerless at the seal hunt. With the ambition of becoming captain of a sealing steamer, he joined Captain Joe Barbour as bridgemaster on the Ranger in 1884.
In 1887 Kean moved to St. John's, after having been elected MHA for Bonavista, and enrolled in courses for his Master's Certificate, qualifying in 1888. Shortly thereafter he took command of the Labrador mail steamer Curlew. The next year he was given command of the S.S. Wolf at the seal hunt. On his first trip to the ice as commander of a steamer he made a record-setting round trip which lasted only 11 days and brought in 26,912 pelts. With the proceeds from that voyage he established a mercantile business at Brookfield. In 1917 he and his sons formed the Little Stephano Co. (later reorganized as A. Kean & Sons). In succeeding years Kean commanded eight other steamers at the seal hunt. His years as a sealer were not, however, an unbroken string of successes. The Wolf sank off Fogo while under his command in the spring of 1896; he made a very poor voyage in the Hope in 1897 and in 1898 his crew was accused of stealing pelts panned by the S.S. Greenland qv and contributing to the deaths of 48 sealers. But his fortunes turned in 1898 when he began his long association with Bowring Brothers, bringing in over 25,000 pelts in the Aurora. He made seven more voyages in that ship, each averaging more than 25,000 pelts, before commanding the Terra Nova qv in the spring of 1906.
Kean later wrote that in entering political life in 1885 he had been ``pitchforked into a position which I had neither sought nor desired.'' A dedicated Methodist, Orangeman and temperance advocate, he easily won election in Bonavista district, but did not stand for elective office again until 1897, when he was elected in Bay de Verde as a Conservative. When the administration of James S. Winter introduced legislation to establish a Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1898, Kean was appointed acting Minister and helped steer the legislation through. He did not stand for public office again until 1919, when he was defeated in St. Barbe. In 1927 he was appointed to the Legislative Council and sat as a member of the upper house until its abolition in 1934. Kean left his mercantile business in 1903 to take charge of Bowring's coastal steamer service, bringing the Portia qv to Newfoundland the next year. For the next 15 years he was in charge of Bowring's coastal service and master of the Portia and later the Prospero qv. In 1910 he took Bowring's Florizel to the ice and brought in 49,069 pelts -- a record which stood until 1933. While master of Bowring's Stephano qv in the spring of 1914, Kean was a central figure in the controversy over the S.S. Newfoundland qv sealing disaster and was held by some people to be responsible for the deaths of 78 of the ship's crew. Although exonerated by an inquiry, there was widespread criticism of his conduct in dropping the Newfoundland's crew off on the ice with a storm approaching.
In 1934 Kean, at the age of 78, brought in on the Beothic his millionth seal. With over 48,000 pelts, this was his second largest catch. St. John's was seized by a ``million craze:'' Kean was feted at ``the world's largest flipper dinner'' by the Board of Trade and presented with the Blue Ensign by Governor Anderson and a medal by Bowring Brothers. In June he was awarded an O.B.E. That summer he was appointed fishery officer on the Labrador coast. He published an autobiography, Old and Young Ahead, in 1935 and made two more trips to the ice in command of the Beothic before retiring in 1936. He died in St. John's on May 18, 1945.
J.P. Andrieux (1984), Cassie Brown (1972), James E. Candow (1989), L.G. Chafe (1923), George A. England (1969), Abram Kean (1935), Patrick O'Flaherty (1979), Shannon Ryan (1987), DNLB (1990), NQ (July, 1913), Who's Who in and from Newfoundland 1930 (1930), Newfoundland Historical Society (Kean family).