Over the Waves: SS Ethie

Ship Stats

The wreck of the Ethie on the shores of Western Newfoundland.

  • Nationality: Newfoundlander
  • Length: 47 metres
  • Weight: 439 tonnes
  • Year: 1900
  • Built: Glasgow, Scotland
  • Sailed by: Reid Newfoundland Company

After covering an Eastern Newfoundland wreck last week, I decided to go right across to the West Coast for this week. The SS Ethie was a ship of the Alphabet Fleet, a series of vessels that were commissioned by the Reid Newfoundland Company. The vessels were named after Scottish places that ended in 'E', and each was christened with the next consecutive name in the alphabet.

The Ethie arrived in St. John's in 1900, named for Ethie Castle, and for 19 years she served many different routes. These included the Bonne Bay run, up along the Great Northern Peninsula with the occasional trip to Battle Harbour, Labrador, and the Trinity Bay run, with stops in Old Perlican, Ireland's Eye, Trinity, and many other communities.

The wreck of the Ethie on the shores of Western Newfoundland.

On December 11, 1919, the Ethie was caught in a brutal winter storm while heading up along the Northern Peninsula. She had passed Cow Head when the waves became too much for her, and she became difficult to control. Battling waves that were constantly threatening to overwhelm her, the crew managed to keep her afloat against all odds. When it became obvious that she was not going to make it into a safe harbour, her crew led her into Martin's Point, where she became firmly stuck between the rocks. She wouldn't move from that spot again, but for her passengers and crew, they were safe... Sort of. The task then became how to safely evacuate the passengers and crew, 96 souls in total, from the wreck and to the shore.

That task fell to the two families who lived in Martin's Point. Using a line that they sent out to the vessel and tied off on a tree, and a boatswains chair, they were able to evacuate everyone, one at a time, from the Ethie. This included a young baby, who was placed into a mailbag to help get her ashore, her mother following her soon after.

The survivors stayed with the two families until the weather broke, and then made their way to Woody Point, where they were able to find their way home. For some, depending on their destination, this took longer than others.

The wreck of the Ethie on the shores of Western Newfoundland.

One myth that has followed the story of the Ethie is that of a Newfoundland dog, heralded for swimming out to the vessel to deliver the line to the crew itself. According to most sources, this was true, and the dog even received a medal for it! However, according to a more recent publication that had first hand accounts from a member of one of the families, the dog never actually existed! It was the hard work and perseverance of the families on shore and the crew on board that brought everyone to safety.

Today, the SS Ethie is little more than scraps of metal along the shoreline, and Martin's Point is now a park where you can go down onto the beach to see what is left of her. But I have to say that when you know the full story, and you're standing there on the shore, it is really easy to imagine what a shock it must have been for those two families 95 years ago. To look out their window and suddenly see a ship, completely covered in ice, wrecked on the rocks mere metres from where they were sitting, and then helping those 96 people keep warm and fed for two days until the weather broke.

That's all for now. There's lots if interesting boats in St. John's this week, so keep an eye out for my update on Friday to hear all about them!

Have a great week, everyone.

Images used this week were my own.

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