On December 8, 1911, the schooner Hibernia sailed out of Hantsport bound for Barbados with a cargo of lumber. A few days after it sailed the Hibernia ran into rough weather. A series of storms left the Hibernia helpless and foundering; drifting for 29 days in severe winter weather, the crew of the Hibernia was near death when rescue finally came. That rescue was called “miraculous” by the newspapers of the time.
The story of the Hibernia has been told before in various annals and it is one of many marine disasters that have involved Nova Scotia’s sailing ships. There is a Kings County connection to the Hibernia shipwreck, however, a connection that will be of interest to local marine history buffs.
The master of the Hibernia when it left on its fateful voyage to Barbados was Capt. Charles McDade. McDade was born in Hall’s Harbour in 1864. The mate on the vessel, and also a Sea Captain, Charles Barkhouse, was born in Medford; the cook on the Hibernia was Medford native George Edmund Parsons.
This past October, Capt. McDade’s grandson, Garnet McDade of Hantsport, was guest speaker at the Wolfville Historical Society. His topic was the last voyage of the Hibernia. Using Mr. McDade’s research material and the files of marine buff Leon Barron, Kentville, here’s a brief look at what happened to the Hibernia.
The Hibernia was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sailing ships built in this region when Nova Scotia mariners were acknowledged masters of the sea. The three-masted schooner was built in Maitland by Osmond O’Brien & Company and launched in 1902. For almost a decade the Hibernia plied the oceans for the O’Brien family. Then came the final voyage out of Hantsport late in 1911. An account of the voyage by Capt. Charles Barkhouse was printed in the Anglican Church “Parish magazine.” (Apparently the Parish of Hantsport where it is noted that Mr. Barkhouse was “a faithful parishioner… and superintendent of our Sunday School.” Excerpts from the Barkhouse account follow.
“While the (Hibernia) was in the Bay of Fundy she encountered strong head winds with blinding snow and, after a week’s strenuous time, they were able to make Beaver Harbour (New Brunswick) where they were held wind bound for eight days.”
Setting sail the day after Christmas when the winds seemed favourable, the Hibernia again ran into stormy weather. A heavy gale “accompanied by a high, dangerous sea” battered the Hibernia and on December 27th a huge wave swept away part of the stern.
“To save the vessel from foundering,” the Parish magazine account continues, “the crew manned the two hand pumps…. There seemed every hope that the damage to the vessel could be repaired… but the same afternoon another big wave broke on board tearing away (more) of the stern, together with the wheel and the afterdeck. At the same time the three mast went by the board and the deck was level with the water.”
Only the Hibernia’s cargo of lumber kept her afloat. On January 8th another huge wave struck the ship; the wave “split the deck in two parts, carried away the afterhouse and swept overboard all the ship’s stores.”
After being battered by one storm after another, the Hibernia drifted helplessly. On January 16th a rescue attempt by a steamer failed due to the high seas and the Hibernia was left to its fate. Food and water gone, the crew gave up. Capt. McDade wrote a final letter to his wife, put it in a bottle and threw it overboard. Rescue came on January 17th, however, when the British steamer Denis sighted the Hibernia and was able to remove the crew. One month after McDade returned home his “final letter” was delivered to his wife. The bottle with his note had washed ashore in England.