As with other long-ago disasters, details about this event are hard to come by. The story of the Sea Clipper and Loon in particular has begun to drift into legend and folklore.
On October 9, 1867, in the violence of a terrible storm at Spotted Island Harbour in Labrador, the fishing schooner Sea Clipper struck a smaller vessel, the Loon. The Loon quickly sank, but the Sea Clipper was able to save the Loon’s crew and bring them aboard. Unfortunately, the Sea Clipper was then itself driven onto a reef.
Meanwhile, Captain William Jackman, an accomplished Newfoundland sealer, had taken his ship into port to wait out the storm. Walking the shore with another man, they crested a hill to see the Sea Clipper caught and in peril only a couple hundred metres away. With the schooner trapped on the reef, all twenty-seven people on board were in danger. Jackman’s walking companion, Howell, ran to get help.
Jackman stayed. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to get a lifeboat out in the weather, he stripped off his clothes and jumped into the freezing water. Incredibly (or so the story goes), he managed to carry eleven people back to shore through the fierce waves. By then, Howell had returned with help. It was too rough for a dory, but they tied coils of rope together and Jackman attached one end to the ship’s railing, allowing him to save another fifteen men and women.
Exhausted and freezing, Jackman returned to shore, believing he’d saved everyone. He’d started to settle and warm when someone told him a woman, the Loon’s cook, was still on the ship. Against all odds, he swam across one last time and saved the woman. Stories conflict on the cook’s fate: some say she died days later while some say she managed a single kiss for her saviour before succumbing to her injuries. We prefer to believe that she lived a long, happy life, filled with the tellings of an amazing story.
Although this story is not much known today, it can still sometimes be heard in Newfoundland and Labrador to this day and, in 1992, Canada Post commemorated Captain Jackman on a stamp. In Labrador City, a hospital carried the name Captain William Jackman Memorial Hospital from 1965 until its closing in 2014.
Andrews, Cater Wilson. G.M. Story. N.d. “Biography – Jackman, William,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Accessed November 25, 2020.
Bonikowsky, Laura Neilson. 2013. “The Heroism of William Jackman,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed November 25, 2020.
Tags: 1867 Sea Clipper/Loon