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The brave Eliza spread her sails that morning in the bay,
And soon before a freshening breeze was speeding on her way;
Fort Amherst heard their youthful crew sing cheerily as they passed,
But at Fort Amherst little knew that sailing was their last.
Only the seabirds overhead encircling in the blue,
Screamed down the wind in fear as if there's some strange terror new;
Far far ahead on the ocean bed where spectres lie in wait,
For to ensnare some passing ship, another prize to take.
Yet cheerily the Eliza's crew intoned their sailing song,
And merrily their good ship bounds o'er sunlit waves along;
The dark spray sparkling 'round her bow gives promise fair that day,
How false that promise now we know in sad St. Mary's Bay!
Now storms have come to Newfoundland by stealth and treachery,
The foul nor'easter's chilly hand is black with tragedy;
So the brave schooner Eliza on this October day,
Must match her all unequal strength with furrows that cross her way.
Quick sped the gallant schooner Eliza up the shore,
Close to the wind she's hauling like many a time before;
With Captain James Ahearn to keep her tiller true,
His brother and young Bunyan are sturdy sailors, too.
They have bettered many a tempest wave through nights of stress and dread.
To reach their destination home, St. Mary's Riverhead;
But many a hardy sailor has sailed far far seas to come
To grief when near some beacon clear that lights the way to home.
Torrential rain strikes on the main like to a hand of hate,
The waters near grow white with fear at what may be in wait;
Then burst the gale on spar and sail, the shocked Eliza reeled,
And shuddered like something of life that sees its doom revealed.
With riven sail before the gale the staunch Eliza flew,
With sturdy hearts who done their part of her courageous crew;
As fiercely raged the storm-swept waves and darker growed the skies,
But none can tell just what befell that crew of gallant b'ys.
Right valiantly they fought the sea for they were heroes bred,
Where sea-bred fisher sires reside, St. Mary's Riverhead;
Dark night and storm enwrap her form, the warning billows roar,
The hurricane her timbers strain, she'll sail in pride no more.
Death's angel creeps along the deep, the strength of man is vain,
God's will be done, my son, my son, I will never see again!
Then it was learned in Riverhead the schooner had set sail
All deeply laden fore and aft and ran into the gale.
Long hours of deep anxiety were by a maiden spent,
Whose fingers trembled on the keys of every message sent,
Asking for tidings of her beloved who with her two brothers share
The terrors of that night of woe, that night that breathes despair.
Deep shadows now o'ershade her brow, Cape Race's message tells:
"A ship, dismasted, drifts to sea before tempestuous swells."
And all around her office howl, e'en at this very door,
The shrieking wind cries through the night: "You will see them nevermore!"
And sad to say 'tis told today throughout our little town,
That not one word was ever heard where this good ship went down;
Their light seen on the darkening main by Captain Welsh and crew,
From off the trasher's storm-swept deck is all we ever knew.
Gay Captain Jim we'll think of him oft when the neighbours meet,
When tales of bravery are told of many a fishing fleet,
But one will grieve with an aching heart, his promised bride to be.
"Oh cruel deep, why will you keep my love, my love from me?
Our Peter sang of things that breathed along the sunny strand,
When seaward winds sweep soothing here to bless our Newfoundland,
But we will hear his voice no more nor know his welcome tread
At homes that loved his presence in St. Mary's Riverhead.
The glad-eyed b'y young Jack Ahearn, 'twas his first summer's cruise,
We did entreat to keep him home, words proved of little use;
Our son by ocean's mighty song is lulled to infant sleep,
And mysteries fly as the years go by into our spirits deep.
Still like the sea-wind's wizard voice is to our childhood mind,
That something strange lay hid within that we must wait to find;
God help those waiting ones at home who mourn their sailors dead,
God's hand come down upon our town, St. Mary's Riverhead!
Collected in 1961 from Patrick Rossiter of Fermeuse, NL, by Kenneth Peacock and published in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.944-947, by The National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved. An abbreviated version was recorded on the album Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland, Folkways FG 3505, LP (1956) cut#A.06
A very similar variant was collected in 1951 from Mrs. T. Ghaney also of Fermeuse, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).
According to Shipwrecks Of Newfoundland And Labrador, Volume IV (Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy, Creative Book Publishing, St. John's, 1997) the Eliza was lost at sea on December 18, 1925. Likewise, according to Frank Martin (When Was That In Newfoundland History) the schooner Eliza was reported lost at Riverhead, St. Mary's Bay, on December 18, 1925.
See more songs about Newfoundland and Labrador shipwrecks.