The Wreck of the John Harvey

The version below comes from a collection of poetry by Lillian Crewe Walsh. However, variations exist in Amby Thomas’s Songs and Stories of Deep Cove, Cape Breton and Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Outports. It is interesting to consider how a poem became a song, how it went from a written tradition to an oral one, and how it was modified in the process. The names get changed so that, for example, Captain Kearley becomes Captain Curry in the oral tradition, and Gloucester becomes  Gloucenger. However, the majority of the details of the event, including the day and year, remain accurate across all versions.

The story narrated in this song is similar to the story told in “Captain William Jackman: A Newfoundland Hero.”



This song has been recorded by The Dorymen.


You people who work on the shore, how can you understand
The perils of the ocean, when you are safe on land?
But many a brave young sailor lad for adventure’s sake has roamed
To follow the fortunes of the sea far away from their native home.

And many a man from Newfoundland when the winter winds do roar,
Has been in coasting vessels, near the rough Cape Breton shore.
In January 1912, Captain Kearly did command
The schooner by name John Harvey from Belleoram, Newfoundland.

The wind a gale from the southeast blew, the worst storm of the year;
The John Harvey sailed from Gloucester, bound for the Isle of St. Pierre.
She was loaded with general cargo, and loud the winds did roar,
When on the tenth of January the John Harvey went ashore.

The Captain gave orders to his crew, the vessel to dismast.
The boats were frozen on the deck, the sea swept fore and aft,
Said Captain Kearly to his men, “My boys, it is no use,
I’m afraid that we are doomed to die near the shore of Gabarus.”

Then young John Foote, a rope he took and tied it around his waist
Said he would swim for the nearest land, and the icy foam he faced.
Oh! Bitterly cold was the winter’s night, the seas rolled mountains high
And tossed and battered by the waves was the Belleoram boy.

The wind it blew a hurricane, and the night was bitterly cold
It chilled the heart of the sailor lad, a hero young and bold
And bruised and battered by the sea, he at least the shore did reach
And with his badly frozen hands made the rope fast on the beach.

The crew of the Harvey got ashore, there were six of them all told
They owe their lives to God above and the sailor boy so bold
But Keeping and the brave young lad, by exhaustion overcome,
Died near the shore of Gabarus far from their native home.

John Keeping and this brave young Foote, they laid them down to rest
And each thought of his native home and the ones they loved the best
They knew that death was drawing nigh and in the prime of youth
They gave up the struggle for their lives, near the shores of Gabarus.

The survivors walked to some fishing shacks that stood upon the shore
Much hampered by their heavy boots and “oilskins” that they wore
They had no match to light a fire, how awful was their plight
And their struggle for existence on that stormy winter’s night.

But help soon came from Gabarus and to them the tale was told
Of the loss of the John Harvey and the Belleoram boy so bold
God’s blessing rest upon them, they did all that they could do
To comfort and aid the survivors of the Harvey’s shipwrecked crew

Captain Kearly and his hardy crew, a sad disheartened band
With the bodies of their comrades went back to Newfoundland
As they followed the caskets to the train, the tears fell from their eyes
As they thought of the friends in Newfoundland of the brave Belleoram boys

Good people of Belleoram, with you we sympathize
Don’t fret or mourn for those brave boys for Heaven was their prize
And all you ye bold young sailor lads, think of this noble youth
Who died far away from his native land near the shores of Gabarus.

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