The S.S. Greenland Disaster
From the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador
Built in 1872 in Ireland the Greenland was used in the Newfoundland seal hunt, landing 420,000 seals during its thirty-five years in existence. It was 151 ft long and 16 ft deep. The Greenland’s first run of bad luck came in September 1884 when it was being made ready for a trip to Labrador. It caught fire and sank but was eventually refloated. In 1898 the Greenland met with more misfortune which resulted in the loss of forty-eight lives. On March 10, the Greenland was sent to the seal hunt by Baine Johnston and Company, with George Barbour as its captain. On Monday, March 21 she began dropping off men on the ice floes; the first watch of fifty-four men was dropped off early in the morning and the Greenland then proceeded to drop off three other groups.
The ship then returned to pick up the first group of men, and as it did there were strong indications of an approaching storm. The first group boarded the ship and it attempted to return to pick up the other men; however, the ship became stuck in the ice and the storm rose so quickly that rescue attempts were prevented. The men were separated from the ship by about 3 miles of water and had no way of reaching it. They were forced to spend the night on the ice without food or shelter. Meanwhile, those on board the Greenland were struggling to keep the ship afloat as it was being tossed about in the storm. The weather remained the same until 4:00 pm on Tuesday, at which time the men set out to rescue the sealers. By sundown on Wednesday twenty-three men were still missing. The search continued but all that was found were pieces of clothing floating in the water.
When the Greenland left the ice floes twenty-three men were still missing and twenty- five corpses were on board. While on its way back to St. John’s another storm rose and the ship had to put in at Bay de Verde; there the captain wired the news of the disaster to St. John’s. While at Bay de Verde the storm raged and the chain broke and the ship drifted until it struck bottom. It was eventually refloated and left for St. John’s. On the way it narrowly avoided further disaster off Cape St. Francis. It finally arrived on March 27 to a city mourning the loss of so many men.
The ship made its final trip to the ice in 1907 when it was destroyed by ice. All those on board were rescued.