PLAQUE MARKED FORGOTTEN TRAGEDY (July 9/99)

The discovery of a long lost granite plaque on the Fundy shore has awakened interest in the tragic story of the schooner Caroline.

In mid-December, 1831, the Caroline left Digby bound for St. John with four crew members and 10 passengers. Three days later the battered hulk of the Caroline drifted ashore about a mile east of Baxter’s Harbour with five frozen bodies on board.

What happened to the Caroline on that fateful voyage is still a mystery; but given the condition of the ship and the condition of the corpses found on board, it’s likely the schooner was a victim of the savage storms that plague the Fundy in winter.

As is usual with tragic mishaps, a number of myths and misconceptions arise. The story of the Caroline has been passed on from generation to generation; in the process some of the facts have been embellished or distorted. In 1981, on the 150th anniversary of the mishap, this newspaper carried an interview with county residents and it was said that the Caroline had been missing for a month. “The bodies were never identified,” the report said, “and (were) buried above the high-water mark.”

But for the recent discovery of the plaque that was placed as a memorial for the Caroline, the newspaper account of the mishap may have been treated as gospel. This June people walking along the beach discovered a large, rectangular-shaped stone engraved with printing; the stone lay at the base of a 10 meter cliff and apparently had been recently uncovered by tidal action.

Hearing about the discovery, Lochlan (Bud) Rafuse and his wife Elizabeth, Sheffield Mills were among the first people to investigate. “We found the stone on the beach where some friends told us it was,” Mr. Rafuse said, adding that he was surprised by “how good a condition it was in since it must have been buried for quite some time.” Rafuse described the stone as measuring approximately 42 inches wide and about 42 inches deep. “It’s granite and must weigh around a thousand pounds,” he said.

Unable to read the complete message – the stone was engraved on both sides and was too heavy to lift by hand – Mr. Rafuse made another trip to the beach with jacks. When the stone was hoisted into an upright position, his wife copied what was engraved on it and the story of the Caroline was revealed. Following is the stone’s message:

Caroline Beach

On December 17, 1831, the new Digby Packet Schooner Caroline left Digby for Saint John with a cargo of 40 sheep, 7 head of cattle, 17 barrels of beef, 3 barrels of apples and the following people on board:

Crew: James Bryant, Master John Hayes, Henry Carty, John Calligan.

Passengers: David Cossaboom, Solomon Marshall, James Harris, Henry Kennedy, Mr. Eldridge, Mr. Carter, Patrick Connolly, his wife and two children (names unknown).

Three days later, on December 20th, the dismasted vessel drifted ashore on this beach with five frozen bodies on board. The remaining passengers and crew were never found. The Caroline, a Schooner of 63 tons, was built in Clare N.S. by Charles R. Crawley. Named for his daughter, registered at Halifax on June 2, 1831, and owned by Charles R. Crawley and James Crawley. The vessel survived the tragedy, was repaired by the owners and sold in Saint John N.B. in Aug. 1832 She was lost at sea in 1836.

A final mystery remains. In what year was the memorial plaque placed on the beach (or on the cliff) and by whom? There’s the possibility that the Kings Historical Society will be involved in placing the Caroline plaque on a permanent site nearby. I’ll have more about this later.

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