The Water Witch (Heroism of Pouch Cove Fisherman)

Hear a variant of this song performed by Corner Brook’s Allison Crowe (thanks for the reference to this site, Allison!):

or by Pouch Cove native Patrick Moran:

Anita Best has also recorded this song on her album, Crosshanded (1997).

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Lyrics

Come all ye true-born fishermen and listen to my song
I hope you pay attention and I won’t delay long
Concerning of those Pouch Cove men, those fishermen so brave
Who saved the crew of the Water Witch so near a watery grave.

On Christmas Eve this craft did leave and loud the wind did roar
Twas on a reef she came to grief not far from Pouch Cove shore;
In a place they called the Horrid Gulch this schooner headed on,
And in the twinkling of an eye three poor, dear souls were gone.

Three seamen from the Water Witch lept when they heard the shock,
The rest belong to that doomed craft were hurdled up on a rock;
To wait there hours in storms and showers and loud the sea did dash,
They see their schooner beaten up, all on the rocks did smash.

The Pouch Cove fishermen to a man came out that cruel night
For those who gazed on those poor souls, it was a doleful sight
And for to make the scene much worse, poor females numbed with cold
Stood waiting there to be relieved by those brave heroes bold.

Punts, ropes and lanterns soon were brought by kind and willing hands,
The shrieks of females in distress, those fishermen could not stand;
And for to face that Horrid Gulch, six hundred feet did go
To save those souls half dead with cold who waited down below.

Brave Alfred Moore, a Pouch Cove man, “I’ll take the lead,” he cried,
And around his waist strong hempen rope in double knots was tied;
And strong men waited on the top to lower him o’er the cliff,
To dash our hero down below in blinding snow and drift.

Three times they swung him in the dark in blinding drift and snow,
Before his foot could find a place to give him any hold;
At length he found a resting place close to a sheltered stone,
Where he could see those souls below and hear their dismal moan.

Oh! now to save this shipwrecked crew their hearts were filled with hope
Six more brave Pouch Cove fishermen like heroes man the rope;
And now some small hand-lines like Moore’s, they managed for to lower,
Till all the Water Witch’s crew were landed safe on shore.

Oh hark! another scream is heard, the people got a shock,
Another female left below to perish on the rock;
Brave Alfred made another dash, and loud the wind did roar,
He took this woman in his arms in safety to shore.

The news was soon in town next day about the Water Witch
The whole community was surprised, the poor as well as rich;
The Governor, he wrote home these words in letters bold and grand
To tell the pluck of those fishermen belong to Newfoundland.

And the Humane Society of Liverpool they very soon sent here
Gold medals to those fishermen who never knew no fear;
The Governor’s Lady pinned them on, those medals rare and rich,
On the Pouch Cove boys who saved the lives aboard the Water Witch.

So here’s success to those brave boys who risked in storm and breeze
Their precious lives to save those souls who ventured on the seas;
May peace and plenty be their lot, that gay and gallant man,
Brave Alfred Moore and all the rest belong to Newfoundland.

Transcribed by Heather Sparling from the singing of Anita Best on Crosshanded.


5 Responses to “The Water Witch (Heroism of Pouch Cove Fisherman)”

  1. Dan Rubin says:

    The song words are presented here are seriously flawed. Aside from the historical inaccuracy of the song itself, there are many mis-spellings and misinterpretations here. Check the version on our website, http://www.pouchcoveheritage.org and please correct what you present here.

  2. Heather Sparling says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thank you so much for your feedback! Your website is wonderful; thanks for providing a link in your post. You’ll see that there’s a link on the Waterwitch history page as well: http://disastersongs.ca/1870s-water-witch/. I’d love to know the source of your version of the song! As cited above, I took the version provided here from a handwritten manuscript in the MUNFLA archives at Memorial University. One of the challenges of working with songs like this one is deciding which variant to provide on this site. There are often many variants to be found. I’d be interested to learn more about the variant on your site. Apologies for the typos – I think I’ve corrected them now but feel free to let me know if I’ve missed any others.

  3. Dan Rubin says:

    As a musician and amateur folklorist, I am very well aware that variants of any traditional or popular tune will exist; that’s the folk process. There is no problem with that.

    The issue here is that the version you printed contained many mis-spellings, incorrect word choices and distortions (examples: Waterwitch rather then Water Witch, the actual name of the vessel, Fred Moores rather than Alfred Moores (his real name), human society rather than Humane Society, and horrid gulsh rather than Horrid Gulch, the actual name of the place where the wreck occurred.)

    There will still be factual inaccuracies imbedded in any version of the song (no women were rescued, the wreck happened on November 29, not Christmas, etc.) but at the very least we need to stay fairly true to the version written at the time and the events it described. MacEdward Leach recorded a version here in Pouch Cove, but not the entire song. The two recorded versions by Anita Best and Pat Moran are sort of the standards, but we continue to research and document the story.

    What is still needed in the version above are few small tweaks to avoid the most confusing alterations that remain:

    Verse 4: “At last well called: should be “A place well called”
    to make any sense

    Verse 7 is actually two verses smooshed together which need to be untangled, “pants” should be “punts” a kind of boat, and “rocks” should be “ropes” to make any sense

    Verse 9: “hempened” is actually hempen, that is made of hemp

    Verse 10: “heroes” should be “hero” as only Alfred is on the rope

    Verse 15: “but hard” should be “But hark!” to make sense

    Final verse: “Brave Fred Moores and all the race
    Belonging to Newfoundland: should be Brave Alfred Moores and all the rest belong to Newfoundland.

    We are hard at work, at the moment, on a new book, a collection of stories and memories from Pouch Cove, which will be published this Spring. It will include the story of the Water Witch and the song words, along with 160 pages of local lore and history. Anyone interested in a copy can contact us by email: info@pouchcoveheritage.org

    Cheers!

  4. Heather Sparling says:

    Congratulations on the forthcoming book! I will look forward to reading it when it is ready!

    Rather than edit the song text that I had, I replaced it with the version that Anita Best sings on her album, *Crosshanded.* That way, I don’t have to worry about editing someone else’s version while still addressing the very legitimate issues you raise in your posts. If anyone reading this would like a copy of the version that was originally posted here, it’s available at the Memorial Folklore and Language Archives, MUNFLA 69-28D. Or email me for details.

    Thank you, Dan, for taking the time to ensure that this site represents the Water Witch song and disaster appropriately. I hope I’ve addressed your concerns, but do let me know if I haven’t.

  5. Dan Rubin says:

    Perfect. Thanks for being receptive to my comments and for creating this excellent website.

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