At approximately seven o’clock in the evening of November 6, 1896, the Maggie, a schooner owned and commanded by Captain Wm. Blundon of Goose Bay, Bonavista Bay, was entering the Narrows leading to St. John’s harbour. She was carrying eight crew and fourteen passengers (including five women), a full load of fish (estimated to be worth upwards of 1000 quintals by The Daily News), oil, lumber, and other materials.
Just before seven o’clock that same evening, the steamship Tiber, commanded by Captain J. DeLisle left Shea & Co.’s wharf in St. John’s for Montreal. It was a clear night and the steamship was immediately set to full speed. The pilot claims to have seen schooner lights before the ship, but this appears to have had either no impact on the Tiber, which took an irregular course despite the presence of other vessels in the vicinity, or as theorized by The Evening Herald, contributed to the formation of the steamer’s unusual path:
From the steamer’s position at the time it was judged she was 150 yards out of her course, but this could be attributed to Capt. DeLisle keeping away from the schooner in hopes of her crossing his bows unscathed, and with a heavy steamer like the Tiber it takes a long time to bring her out of the regular course.
However, this seems particularly strange given that the Maggie appears to have been “considerably out of the usual steamers’ course, either entering or leaving port.” Nonetheless, the Maggie found herself with nowhere to go as the Tiber bore down upon her and was consequently struck on her starboard side, just abaft the mainmast, causing the schooner to sink almost instantly. Everything aboard the Maggie was lost and only ten of the twenty-three people aboard survived. As The Daily News dramatically stated: “the engine of death hurled thirteen into eternity, and only ten reached the shore.”
It seems as though those onboard the Tiber were unaware at first that a serious accident had occurred and it took some time before a boat was lowered to assist the survivors. Two men, Stephen Blundon and David Diamond, were actually able to board Tiber by running up Maggie’s rigging as she sank. They assisted with the rescue efforts, which resulted in only eight survivors being pulled out of the water, including Captain Blundon. They were immediately taken to shore and cared for.
The citizens of St. John’s were greatly angered by the incident, and felt that the Tiber was entirely to blame, especially after reports came in the following day that the Tiber almost ran down another vessel around midnight near Cape Spear. A full investigation was demanded, included the stipulation, according to The Evening Herald, that “Captain DeLisle be forced to suffer the fullest penalty of the law if it can be proved that it was a result of the carelessness or negligence on the part of the Tiber.” Accordingly, A message was wired to Sydney from St. John’s on the night of Saturday November 7, 1896, ordering the detention of the Captain of the S. S. Tiber and her crew in relation to the investigation of the sinking of the Maggie.
Also in support of Maggie’s survivors, a relief fund was set-up and collected on behalf of them, the five widows, and twenty-four fatherless children that were left behind. Most survivors found themselves in dire circumstances following the wreck, having lost everything from their summer’s work. The families of those lost were likewise in need; having in many cases lost their breadwinner. By December 7, 1896, a month and one day after the collision, a total of $1873.28 had been collected by the fund.
The newspapers never reported what, if anything, came of an inquiry into the collision. The Enterprise hoped that if anything were to be done as a result of the wreck, it would be to make the St. John’s Narrows and harbour safer: “The awful tragedy enacted within sight of St. John’s on Friday evening… emphasizes the necessity of properly lighting the Narrows so that greater protection may be afforded to shipping.” In addition to this suggestion, which the paper argues might be afforded for $1000 per year (for cost and maintenance), they suggest that the removal of several large rocks from the Narrows would “give almost twice as much seaway and rob the Narrows of half its terrors.” It is also unknown if these projects were undertaken as a result of the wreck.
The discussion about current safety measures in the Narrows and harbour that resulted from the collision is somewhat unsurprising given the strange and shocking nature of the incident: “The annals of marine disasters contain no record of an analogous case, where a steamer, on a clear night, in the entrance of a harbour and within fifteen minutes of leaving her pier, cuts down and sinks a sailing craft, sending 13 souls to eternity.”
Botwood, E., J. T. Newman, George Payne, Levi Curtis, and A. H. Brown. 1896. “The Loss of the “Maggie” (To the Editor of the Evening Herald).” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), November 10.
Morison, Donald and Alfred B. Morine. 1896. “An Appeal for Help.” [letter to the editor] The Daily News (St. John’s). November 9.
Robinson, J. Alex. 1896. “The Editor’s Chair.” The Daily News (St. John’s). November 7.
Unknown. 1896. “Marine Tragedy. An Awful Disaster. Of Twenty-three Lives only Ten Saved; The Names of the Victims, Goose Bay Decimated.” The Daily News (St. John’s), November 7.
Unknown. 1896. “The Tiber Again: Narrow Escape of a Schooner.” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), November 7.
Unknown. 1896. “After the Tragedy.” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), November 9.
Unknown. 1896. “The “Maggie” Relief Fund.” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), December 7.
Unknown. 1896. “That Ocean Horror.” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), November 7.
Unknown. 1896. “Notes on the Collision.” The Evening Herald (St. John’s), November 10.
Unknown. 1896. “Light St. John’s Harbour.” The Enterprise (St. John’s), November 10.
Unknown. 1896. “An Ocean Horror Within Sight on the City. The “Tiber” Cuts Down a Craft and Thirteen Living Souls are Sent Into Eternity.” The Enterprise (St. John’s), November 10.
Unknown. 1896. “Notes on the Tragedy.” The Enterprise (St. John’s), November 10.