Shipwrecks off the East Coast: Harrowing Tales of Rescue and Disaster


142 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55439-012-5
DDC 910'.9163'44




Reviewed by Clint MacNeil

Clint MacNeil teaches history, geography, and world religion at St.
Charles College in Sudbury.


Carmel Vivier presents nine captivating stories of marine mishaps from
the 19th and 20th centuries. Her vivid accounts depict the perilous and
seemingly hopeless predicaments in which both passengers and crew found
themselves. Apart from the expected commonalities between each story,
including poor visibility, treacherous waves, frigid winter waters,
blistering winds, and inevitable death, there are tales of heroism,
premonitions, survival, and even cowardice that make this a very
entertaining read.

Captain Thomas Reed and his steward William Brown risked their lives to
rescue passengers from the Royal Tar in 1836. Captain Jones aboard the
SS Hungarian was credited with rescuing all on board the Jean Martin in
1859. Sadly, Jones and the crew of the SS Hungarian perished a year
later off the coast of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

Another hero, Captain Samuel Davis, who in a dream envisioned a vessel
similar to his own in distress, navigated the Countess of Dufferin due
north of his course and by happy coincidence narrowly rescued the
near-frozen crew of the Arlington in 1891. Similarly, Jack Dyer, a cook
aboard the Union, heard a distinct voice that on three occasions warned
him to “leave this vessel.” Thus it was William Bradsaw, the
replacement cook, whose body was discovered nearby the capsized schooner
in 1891.

Most notable survivors were young children. When the SS Atlantic ran
aground off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1873, Irish immigrant John
Hindley was the only child to survive the disaster. Miraculously,
15-month-old Leonard Shiers survived October waters in the Cabot Strait
between Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland when the ferry the SS
Caribou was torpedoed by U69 in 1942.

In 1836, 16 persons aboard the Royal Tar secretly abandoned the burning
vessel, leaving the remaining survivors the single remaining lifeboat.
Perhaps more heartless was Captain William Belyer, who, in 1853 along
with his crew, abandoned the Fairy Queen while the DeWolf sisters and
many others awaited their inevitable fate.

If anything, Vivier’s work demonstrates that women and children were
not always first and the captain did not always go down with his ship.


Vivier, Carmel., “Shipwrecks off the East Coast: Harrowing Tales of Rescue and Disaster,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,