THE LOSS OF THE "ELIZA"
Patrick Rossiter - Fermeuse
October, 1961 - PEA 207 No. 1183
- The brave Eliza spread her sails that morning in the bay,
And soon before a freshening breeze was speeding on her way.
Fort Amherst heard their youthful crew sing cheerily as they passed,
But at Fort Amherst little knew that sailing was their last.
- Only the seabirds overhead encircling in the blue
Screamed down the wind in fear as if they some strange terror knew.
Far in the offing fog drifts sweep, like spectres flee to them
Is to ensnare some other ship, another prize to gain.
- Yet cheerily the Eliza's crew intoned their sailing song,
And merrily their good ship bounds the sunlight waves along.
The dark spray sparkling round her bow gives promise fair that day.
How false that promise now we know in sad St. Mary's Bay!
- And storms have come to Newfoundland by stealth and treachery,
The foul nordeaster's chilly hand is black with tragedy.
So the brave schooner Eliza on this October day
Must match her all unequal strength with furrows that cross her way.
- Quick sped the gallant schooner Eliza up the shore,
Close to the wind she's hauling like many a time before,
With Captain James Ahearn to keep her tiller true,
His brother and young Bunyan all sturdy sailors too.
- Who have bettered many a tempest wave through nights of stress and dread
To reach their destination home, St. Mary's Riverhead,
But many a hardy sailor has sailed far, far seas to roam
To grief when near some beacon clear that lights the way to home.
- Torrential rain strikes on the main like to a hand of hate.
The waters near grow white with fear at what may be in wait.
Then burst the gale on spar and sail, the shocked Eliza reeled,
And shuddered like something of life that sees its doom revealed.
- With riven sail before the gale the staunch Eliza flew
With sturdy heart 'twas done the part of her courageous crew,
As fiercely raged the storm-swept waves and darker groaned the skies;
But none can tell what was befell that crew of gallant b'ys.
- Right violently they fought we know for they were heroes bred
Where sea-bred fisher sires reside, St. Mary's Riverhead.
Dark night and storm enwraps her form, the warring billows roar;
A hurricane her timbers strain, she'll sail in pride no more.
- And sad to say it's told today throughout our little town
That not a word was ever heard where this good ship went down.
Their light seen on the darkening main by Captain Welsh and crew
From off the trasher's storm-swept deck is all we ever knew.
This is one of the best shipwreck ballads to come out of Newfoundland, both because of its magnificent tune and its unusually poetic text. Although we have no factual report of the loss of the Eliza, the story is remarkably similar to that of the Southern Cross which was lost in April, 1914, with one hundred and seventy men aboard. After a successful sealing expedition in the Gulf, she was returning home and had been reported by the telegraph operator at Channel when a sudden storm struck. She was sighted by the coastal steamer Portia at the beginning of the storm, and then she disappeared, leaving no trace. Ranson gives a ballad titled The Wreck of the Eliza, but it is about a different ship lost off the coast of Wexford in 1895.
St. Mary's Bay is on the south coast of the Avalon Peninsula, and Riverhead is a small settlement on its shore. Mr. Rossiter lives in Fermeuse, some twenty-five miles away. The only other singer from whom Mr. Peacock recorded this song also lived in Fermeuse. Mr. Rossiter told Mr. Peacock that he had heard that the ballad was composed by a school-teacher whose fiancé was the captain of the Eliza.
The entire ballad as Mr. Rossiter sang it took twelve and a quarter minutes for fourteen stanzas. Here the last four stanzas, describing the reactions of the people in Riverhead, have been cut.
References - Peacock, 944. Cf. Ranson, 56.