Maritime History of the Great Lakes
BERMUDA’S Bell Ringing Further Changes on Port Granby: Schooner Days CCLVII (257)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 12 Sep 1936
Full Text
Ringing Further Changes on
Port Granby
Schooner Days CCLVII (257)


LAST TIME this bell called a crew to supper a gale swept Lake Ontario, completely wrecking five vessels, damaging fourteen more, and whirling thirty sailors to watery graves.

This was fifty-six years ago. It was the great gale of Nov. 7th, 1880 in which the propeller Zealand was lost with all on board, and the schooner Norway capsized and drowned all hands, and the Belle Sheridan went ashore at Weller’s Bay, drowning Capt. James McSherry, of Toronto, and his crew, including three sons. Jimmy McSherry, sixteen years old, was the only one of the Belle Sheridan crew saved. The barquentine Thomas C. Street, which had twice crossed the ocean, was totally wrecked a few miles from, where the Belle Sheridan drove in. Her crew was saved. The schooner Wood Duck and the schooner Snow Bird were driven ashore at Oswego. The schooners Blanche, Hannah Butler, Dundee, A. G. Ryan, Maumee Valley and Lily Hamilton also got ashore in this gale, and the Baltic, Azov, Great Western, Speedwell, Twilight and Wave Crest lost spars, sails or anchors and staggered into ports of refuge at the foot of the lake.

For weeks afterwards reports of loss and damage in the gale were being received, for this was long before the radio, and the telegraph was often hard to reach. So far as is known the story of the wreck in which this bell last tinkled never reached the newspapers, although it happened within fifty miles of Toronto.

WE FOLLOWED a swallow down the road, Edward Guy and I, a lovely swallow, with the bluest of wings. She disappeared into a neatly daubed nest of twigs and blue clay plastered right above the door of a little country post office.

Although within a few hundred yards of Lake Ontario the clean grey ribbon of gravel, bordered in billowy green, was so much the typical country side road that it seemed that it should be miles and miles inland. So small was the cluster of houses through which the road wended and the swallow swooped, that it was surprising to find one of them was a post office and general store. But it had to be remembered that a whole countryside would be served by these facilities, and not only Mrs. Swallow and the four other house holders apparent.

A greater surprise was in the name over the door, PORT GRANBY, for there was no sign of wharf, lighthouse or harbor. There was not even a shed, nor a net-reel, nor the remains of piling, nor, from this main street of a vanished port, even a glimpse of water.

The post-office door opened with the customary tinkle of the corner-store bell in the country. It did not flutter the mother swallow nest, although it was within inches of her. With the tinkle of the bell appeared Edward Thomas Brown, hale old postmaster; eighty-five, with a silver medal for service, and as clear in his faculties as that other postmaster, Chief Justice Sir William Mulock, who has just retired from the bench he had so long adorned.

From the veteran of His Majesty’s mails came this story, of the vanished port and the tinkling bell:

Sunday morning the 7th of November, 1880, fifty-six years ago, Edward Thomas Brown woke up to find at southwest gale blowing. He was a sailor then, graduate of the Kate of Oakville and of the Two Brothers of Port Hope, but recently a family man and settled down ashore. As a sailor he could sleep through the roar of the wildest wind and most thunderous waves. What woke him was cries of a crew at some heavy task. Peering out, he saw a group of fellow mariners—the place was a real port then, and had two hundred and fifty inhabitants—staggering up the beach under the burden of a schooner’s yawlboat, which they were carrying bottom up on their shoulders. A schooner’s yawlboat, sixteen feet long, built of oak and pine, would weigh half a ton. Two hundred yards east of the wooden wharf which then projected into the lake, a pair of schooner-masts raked against the angry sky, above the roofs of the warehouses and elevators. The vessel would be about seventy yards off shore, in no place to anchor, as he well knew. Running out he saw that she was a wreck in the breakers, the seas bursting over her forward, her crew huddled aft on the cabin top. Even that was awash.

He joined the men and helped them drag or carry the yawlboat as far as the pier. It was a carvel-built boat painted green. Most of the bottom had been knocked out of it where it had been hove in on the boulders of the beach, but it was the best craft for rough-water work the place possessed. They drove a mattress into the gaping hole and launched her in the partial lee afforded by the deep water on the east side of the pier. That was why they had dragged the boat up the beach with such pain.

Dick Luffrage, of Port Hope, steered with a sculling oar over the stern. Sid Knight, Edward Brown, and man named Lee, pulled and bailed. They got the leaking basket out through the breakers past the pier-end, and held her head to wind and sea with their oars, so that she could drift down on the wreck while still facing the danger of the waves bow-on.

By this time the schooner’s crew had cut away the foremast, which still had the foresail set, as they feared its leverage would split the wreck wide open. The mast fell to leeward, of course, with its gaff and boom and topmast. This made it impossible to approach the wreck, after drifting past, from the lee side, where there would have been some shelter. So they had to drop under the green- hulled schooner’s stern, where they read her name in black letters on a white band—BERMUDA of WHITBY.

Two men jumped as the sea swept the boat past. One was the cook. The other was the mate—young ‘‘Sailor” Allen of Whitby—Alfred was his first name—and he jumped at the insistence of his father, Capt. John Allen, the master of the ship.

Poor Capt. Allen! Young Alfred had sailed with him from boyhood, and that was how he got his “Sailor” nickname. Alf was his father’s chief care; and a few years later, when the mainboom of the Ida Walker swept Capt. Allen from her cabin-top, off Oswego, it was “Sailor” Allen, oilskinned and all, who leapt overboard to save him, and who perished with him.

Fifty feet from the beach the waterlogged yawlboat with its additional burden capsized in the breakers. All the manhood of Port Granby now thronged the shore, and brave men rushed into the lake up to their waists—and over their heads when the seas broke—and dragged boat and crew up on the stones. Lifesavers and rescued had clung to her. They were all terribly chilled by the November wind and the freezing water, and young Allen, who had been exposed to the waves for hours, was almost dead. They carried him to David March’s Port Granby Hotel, which then flourished in full glory, stripped him, and put him to bed. He had twenty-five dollars in bills in his pockets, and they spread the sodden money under the kitchen range to dry out, as they plied him with hot drinks, piled on the blankets, and put bricks to his feet.

Edward Brown ran home to change. His sharpest memory of his, gallant deed is that his boy Jimmy was just a two months’ old baby, and they wouldn’t let him come near him, with his wet clothes, lest he give him a chill. Jimmy, moustached and khaki clad, with sergeant’s stripes on his sturdy arm, looked down smilingly from a heavy portrait frame as the tale unfolded. He went with the Canadian contingent to the South African War; and was killed in action “somewhere in France” in March, 1915; gallant scion of old United Empire Loyalist stock.

The patched green yawlboat made a second trip, while little Jimmy cried because he couldn’t play with his daddy. She had to be carried up to windward along the stony beach again on aching shoulders, and again launched beside the pier, for only so could the lifesavers make head against the boisterous seas which were pounding the Bermuda to pieces. This time they were able to pick off all three survivors—two sailors, one of whom was Jackson Smith of Oshawa, the other unknown, and, last to leave, Capt. John Allen.

IT so chanced that Mr. E. J. Guy, of 161 Havelock street, Toronto, an old Oshawa boy, son of the late James O. Guy, harbor master and vessel owner in that place sixty years ago, was my companion in this pursuit of the Swallow. From his own boyhood recollections, and what his father told him, he was able to complete the story of the Bermuda’s disaster. His father owned her in 1873, and for years afterward she carried barley for him from Oshawa.

All that Saturday afternoon, on the 6th of November, 1880, with the windless lake smooth under the grey sky as a pewter plate, Capt. Allen had been walking up and down the one wharf which Oshawa then boasted, giving the short “Ah-heh” throat-clearing cough for which he was famous. It was a sign he was worried, the only sign he ever gave. He was a mild-mannered Cornishman, of great dignity and unexceptionable conduct, with a fondness for “thee” and “thou” in his speech which suggested the Quaker.

Harbormaster Guy, supervising the loading of the Bermuda with barley for Oswego, remarked: “Don’t worry, captain, we’ll get you out all right before night.”

“I do worry, ah-heh!” said Capt. Allen from a dry throat. “I’ve never seen my glass stay low for so long. Thee knows we can’t lie here if aught comes along.”

Horses and men, carts and shovels, toiled with might and main hurrying the 25-bushel tip-carts down the pier, between elevator and hold. They were held up by showers but persisted. Before the early November darkness fell they had 9,000 bushels of barley on board and the Bermuda’s crew were swaying up foresail and mainsail, throat and peak.

Shelter there was none at Oshawa at this time. Only a stubby pier stuck out into the lake, offering no protection unless the wind was offshore, and presenting a positive menace if it came in strong from any other direction. A vessel could be pounded to pieces hanging on to the pier, and if she let go she would be dashed on the beach. As at Port Granby, similarly harborless, anchorage was only possible in fair weather. There were heaving-off anchors, buoyed in deep water, but in stormy weather the shore was so open vessels could not ride to them, and their own anchors would not hold.

Before the Bermuda cast off her lines there came a squall which almost parted them. “Let go—ah-heh!” coughed Capt. Allen. “Give her the staysail and flying jib!”

Out she went with these headsails on her, the bights of the released mooring lines raising smoke as they sizzled round the spiles. Scarcely was she out of hail from the wharf then the squall passed. All that evening her red port light was in sight of the pier watchers, as she dipped and dodged and rolled and lunged on the uneasy waters, trying to claw offshore without any wind. The last thing they heard from her was the cook’s bell calling the crew to their belated supper.

At midnight the wind struck in screaming from the southwest. This was the onslaught of the Great Gale of 1880, of which all old sailors tell. The Bermuda’s timbers were staunch and her gear was good. She had been launched at Roblin’s Cove in the Bay of Quinte only twelve years before. But in the first outburst of the tempest her headsails tore to ribbons, and so the mainsail which balanced them could not be carried. The squatted foresail was all she could show. The seas boarded her and filled her from rail to rail. The forecastle had so much water in it the straw mattresses were floating up the scuttle. Her hatches had been battened down, and these and the barred cabin doors kept the water from the barley in the hold.

Four miles below Newcastle, there is a huge boulder under water known as the Peach Stone. Somewhere in this vicinity a great sea boarded the Bermuda, washing the two men from the wheel. She broached to in the trough, and it looked as though the end had come. She squirmed around before wind and sea again, but when the helmsmen regained the spokes the wheel had no grip on her.

The rudder was gone.

Either the big sea had wrenched it off, or she had struck her heel on the Peach Stone. The rudder was washed in miles above the place where the schooner herself finally hit the beach. Tossed about as they had been her crew were never certain whether she had struck and beaten off and driven on in farther down the shore or whether the mauling which made her unmanageable all occurred in deep water.

Trying to steer by the impulse of the squatted foresail only, with towlines dragged over the stern, the Bermuda drew abreast of Port Granby in the blackness of the late November dawn. Young Alf Allen, the mate, was the first to see the roofs of the elevators against the writhing tree-tops, and the waves smoking white over the short shelterless pier. Lighthouse there was never at Port Granby, and the barn lantern hung before the hurricane deck of the pier had been drowned long before.

“If we could round her to in the lee of the pier there’d be a little shelter for her as she lay on the beach,” he told his father. “Wouldn’t she go in with the foresheet run off to the rigging?”

“If that’s Port Granby—ah-heh— there be a bay of sorts east of it between the headlands, Sailor lad,” said the older man. “If we can drive her that far down we may save her. It’s a soft bottom and a little sheltered.”

But the lake and the wind would have none of their plans. They hurled the rudderless Bermuda past the pier and tossed her in, on a boulder bar, two hundred yards east of the mouth of Decker’s Creek, Her yawlboat was torn from the davits on the stern the moment she struck. Her crew were thus left on a perishing platform, seventy yards from the stony beach, with a lather of breakers and undertow intervening.

And there, soaked through, freezing, they clung in misery until the Port Granby heroes plucked them forth.

Capt. Allen, the last to leave, had been nine hours in the wreck. He was a pious man and a temperate, and made a point of dressing both his person and his vessel specially for the Sabbath day; for the ship, her colors, the jack, burgee, and ensign, for himself, his frock coat and top hat. But this Sabbath morning he spent saving the lives of all on board with copious libations from a jar of whisky, which he salvaged from the cabin at the risk of drowning.

That night the wind dropped to a whisper, and the Bermuda looked as though, after all, she might escape with no worse scathing than her lost rudder and chopped foremast. Her hull showed true and trim at dusk. Capt. Allen had hopes of getting her off by jettisoning his hard-stowed cargo. But by morning the wind had chopped around and was blowing a gale from the eastward. And by evening the Bermuda was in at thousand broken pieces of green-painted scattered for miles between the headlands.

All that was salvaged from her was a carpenter’s plane and the cabin call-bell. The plane floated from the wood in its box and the bell floated from the wood in its handle. Edward Thomas Brown picked it up, and Capt. Allen told him he could keep it. And so for half a century, after calling the last crew to their last meal aboard the Bermuda, it rang the entry and the exit of customers of Postmaster Brown’s store in Port Granby, and lulled generations of young swallows to sleep.

With courtesy deeply appreciated Mr. Brown presented the bell to the swallowed scribe of Schooner Days when the interview ended. It (not the interview nor the scribe nor the swallow, but the bell) has since been buffed to a golden brightness and engraved, and hangs over that desk of a dozen ship’s timbers from, which Schooner Days come.


They Sped the Bermuda on Her Last Voyage

Mr. E. J. Guy, of 161 Havelock street, possesses this photograph of his father, the late James O. Guy, a fine bearded patriarch, and his staff at the old Oshawa elevator. Mr. J. O. Guy was one of the owners of the Bermuda and other vessels and did an extensive business in grain. He was also harbor master at Oshawa for many years, being one of the early officers of the Sydenham Harbor Company, which built up the first port. In the picture, from right to left, are Mr. Guy, three trimmers, Tom Strickland, Jim Cameron and Rube Bennett; Burke, the horseboy; Jim Bishop, foreman of the elevator, and Wm, Wilson, the weigher. They all worked hard to get the Bermuda's load aboard and get her out before the storm would catch her at the perilous moorings Oshawa pier then afforded.

WHERE THE BERMUDA CAME IN - The vessel struck opposite the bush in the background, on the shore east of Port Granby. Facing the reader are Postmaster Brown, of Port Granby, surviving rescuer of the Bermuda crew; and Edward Guy of Toronto, who saw her sail from Oshawa 58 years ago.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
12 Sep 1936
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.90012 Longitude: -78.84957
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.90012 Longitude: -78.46624
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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BERMUDA’S Bell Ringing Further Changes on Port Granby: Schooner Days CCLVII (257)