Captain William Jackman, A Newfoundland Hero



The fierce wind moaned among the cliffs of rugged Labrador,
The wild waves dashed with thund’rous sound against the rock-bound shore;
The snow that dimm’d the noon-day sun fell on the muffled form
Of one who, blest with manhood’s strength, defied the raging storm.

With step that spoke a fearless heart, a strong and steadfast will,
He strode along the rocky beach and crossed the barren hill;
Nor wind nor sea nor blinding snow he heeded as he passed,
But by some secret force impell’d he hurried thro’ the blast.

Ah, hark! was that a cry for help borne on the angry breeze?
It rose above the tempest’s din, above the raging seas;
It came from o’er the waste of foam, that chill, despairing cry,
The sad appeal to Heav’n addressed of men about to die.

It reached the throne of Him who’d need but will to be obeyed,
Who loves to hear weak human tongues invoke His puissant aid.
‘Twas by His great omniscience the hero of this tale
Was led to seek that fatal spot in such a fearful gale.

As down the craggy path he came, the cry fell on his ear,
And well he knew it had its source in dreadful shipwreck near.
He gazed far o’er the breaking surf, into the snowy air;
No wonder that his eye grew dim at what he saw out there.

Some hundred fathoms from the shore, upon a reef of rock,
A bark had struck, while spars and keel were shivered by the shock.
The jagged point on which she lay had pierced from keel to deck,
And pale with fear the trembling crew were clinging to the wreck.

E’er and anon the crested waves upon her rushed amain,
As if they in their mad career would wrench her planks in twain.
A moment JACKMAN gazed upon this scene of fearful woe,
Then flung his boots and coat apace upon the drifting snow.

His lips were set in firm resolve, as down the slope he dashed,
Ne’er wav’ring tho’ the surging waves around him roared and crashed,
And plunging in the yeasty mass, he sank and rose again,
Then boldly struck out for the reef to save the drowning men.

On, on he swam, while in his face the cold, fierce sea-breeze blew,
And o’er his head in show’rs of spray the briny waters flew.
Tho’ many a time a billow huge above him raised its crest,
Despite its force he pierced it through and swiftly onward pressed.

And when his hand the bulwark grasped, not long he rested there,
But space to raise his voice to God in short, tho’ fervent prayer;
Then seized he him who nearest stood, and ‘mid the noise and strife,
“Come on,” he cried, “hold fast to me, and I will save your life.”

Then shoreward, bravely on he swam, the heaving waves among,
While to his waist, with voice-like grasp, the shipwrecked sailor clung.
Despite the furious element, they safely reached the land,
And with their garments dripping brine, stood on the sea-beat strand.

Then JACKMAN cried, “Haste! haste, my friend, across yon sandy fell,
And to the men you’ll find o’er there, these woeful tidings tell.
Stay! bid them bring with all their speed life-buoys and ropes to me,
And by God’s help we yet will cheat this all-devouring sea.”

So spake he—and as from his side the rescued man rushed off,
He turned and darted once again into the seething trough.
From shore to wreck, from wreck to shore, ten times the seas he braved,
And ere the men with ropes arrived, ten more lives had been saved.

“Now, quick, my man,” our hero cried, “bring here that buoy and rope,
And let your knots be such as wild and raging seas won’t ope.”
Then hurriedly the trusty buoy he ‘neath his shoulders drew,
And nerved his tired and aching limbs for what he’d still to do.

Two ropes were fastened to the buoy, one round him coiled he bore,
The other lay in friendly hands upon the snow-clad shore.
Into the surf he leaped once more, while many an earnest prayer
From those on land and on the wreck rose thro’ the quivering air.

And oft they saw his form submerged, and thought he needs must fail;
But still he reached and tied the rope around the vessel’s rail.
Sixteen times more he came and went across that foamy tide;
Each time a grateful human heart throbbed wildly at his side.

At last upon the beach he stood, with shiv’ring limbs and weak;
The rescued men, in silence, looked the thanks they could not speak.
“All have been saved, thank God,” he cried; “come, let us o’er the hill,
For fire and clothing both need we to counteract this chill.”

“Who spoke? What would you now, my man?” he queried in surprise.
“Oh, sir! a weakly woman still in yonder cabin lies.”
“What! swim out to the wreck again?—’tis madness, sir, I say;
She’s dead—if not, she is so weak, she’d perish on the way.”

“Alive or dead, she’ll not stay there upon the lonely sea,
And if she dies the death to-day, the fault won’t rest with me.”
Tho’ hard they pressed him not to go, their efforts were in vain,
In haste he donn’d that well-tried buoy, and dared the waves again.

The deck was reached, the cabin door he shivered with a blow—
Then bore the pale and fainting form from out the berth below.
The fierce and angry ocean strove its utmost to entomb
Our hero, and his helpless charge, within its boundless womb;
But, drawn by strong and willing hands, at last he reached the shore,
Where cheers arose from grateful hearts, that drowned the tempest’s roar.

Source: Ryan, Shannon, and Larry Small. Haulin’ Rope and Gaff: Songs and Poetry in the History of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery. St. John’s, Nfld: Breakwater Books, 1978, p.29.

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