Earlier this year, I was at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd's Cove, telling stories. That night, once I had told my stories, Mrs. Ann Blake of Victoria Cove came up to me and told me one of her own, about two relatives who had been lost at sea, but whose ghosts returned to help sailors in distress. I phoned her back afterwards to get the details on the story.
Blake's mother and grandparents were from Change Islands, and the two missing men were Alex and Frank Scammell.
“My mother's name was Joyce Sheppard, her married name,” she explained. “Joyce Scammell was her maiden name.
This story that involves Alex and Frank Scammell, the ones who got lost, they're uncles of Art Scammell, so that gives you a connection to the family.
“My grandfather was Frank,” Blake said.
“They were the sons of Thomas and Bethia Scammell. Alex was the oldest in the family. I'm not quite sure where Grandfather fit into it. Grandfather was 43 years old when he was lost.”
The story started when both Frank and Alex went out in search of food for the family.
“They both went out,” Blake said. “This was in April of 1916. Of course, a bit of fresh meat would have come in handy so they rowed out toward Little Fogo Island from Change Islands with the idea of getting a seal, some fresh meat after all winter.
“They didn't return. Their boat was found but their bodies were never found. The boat was upright and Mother always said that her father's pipe was still in the risings of it, tucked in where he put it! It was found somewhere off Little Fogo Island, that area, that's all I know.”
The loss of the two men was only the start of the story, however.
“The story goes,” said Blake, “that when somebody is in trouble around that area, Little Fogo Island, or Fogo Island, that part of the bay, a boat has been seen rowing toward them and leading them towards shore, towards safety. And when whoever was in the boat which was in trouble tries to get close enough to thank them, Grandfather and Uncle Alex's boat disappears.”
I asked Blake where she heard the story.
“I grew up with it; I don't remember a time I hadn't heard it, you know,” she said.
“I heard it from my mother, and then Frank and I met, my husband. He had heard it from some people from Change Islands who had moved to Fogo Island. They told him the same story.
“About 30, 35 years ago, Frank and I went down and spent some time off Fogo Island. And I think it was at the beach in Tilting, near Tilting. We were just walking along the beach and this guy came along, and of course, it being Newfound-land, we started to chat. His father had been one of the people who had searched for my grandfather and great uncle, and he told me the same story about the boat still being seen. To him, it was just something that seemed matter of fact.”
“What do you make of the story?” I asked her.
She paused for a moment. “I don't know,” she said. Then she laughed.
“I probably believe it. I don't dismiss things that seem impossible, that's just my nature.”
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two men in a dory
Published on November 30, 2009
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