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The Waterwitch shipwreck of 1875 still resonates heavily on the hearts of the residents of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland.

The loss of the Waterwitch information sign is posted in a forest clearing at the entrance to the Biscan Cove Path hiking trail.
The loss of the Waterwitch information sign is posted at the entrance to the Biscan Cove Path hiking trail, Pouch Cove.

It was on a stormy night of November 29, 1875, at approximately 9 pm, that the Waterwitch, a schooner navigating from St. John’s to its home base of Cupids, ran aground at Horrid Gulch in Pouch Cove, NL.

From atop the cliffs overlooking the ocean and Pouch Cove coastline, Horrid Gulch is identified.
Horrid Gulch visitor viewpoint is identified along the course of the Biscan Cove Path hiking trail.

Allegedly, blizzard conditions were a strong contributing factor in the tragedy. In 1875, travel time and physical landmarks were two tools used by skilled seamen to guide their course along Newfoundland’s coast. However, on that night, with strong winds slowing the course and blinding snow obscuring landmarks, the captain mistakenly steered the ship into the gulch in the belief that he was turning into the bay. Recognizing his error and with growing certainty that the ship would be lost, Captain Spracklin gave orders for all to jump ashore at first opportunity.

Tree growth along the gulch wall illustrates the primitive terrain the crew had to negotiate to seek help for the passengers.
Tree growth on thisgulch wall illustrates the primitive terrain the crew had to climb to seek help for the passengers.

He and another crew member were amongst those who had successfully escaped the doomed ship and, although injured, climbed the vertical 650 foot incline in search of help. Meanwhile, those who had jumped free from the ship had to experience the strictest test of endurance, suffering hours of emotional and physical anguish. Ocean waves continued to shower them with icy sea water as the snowstorm persisted. With no way to shelter from the cold, the risk of hypothermia was a real possibility.

Take in the natural beauty of thick forest overlooking the ocean from the clifftops on the Biscan Cove path.
From atop the cliffs along Biscan Cove path, one can appreciate the density of the dense boreal forest.

It should be remembered that, in 1875, there were no paths through the forest to help guide to the community. One can only imagine the frantic efforts of the two men traversing through the woods in the dead of night, blinding snow and winds impeding their travel, in urgent to secure help to rescue those left behind (many of whom were family members).

On the Biscan Cove path's coastal cliffs, you can enjoy views of the ocean and the horizon through a thinning treeline.
Enjoy ocean and horizon views through thinning trees at the edge of a forest clearing.

Against all odds, the captain and crewman were able to reach the top of the cliff, then continue through treacherous terrain and dense forest before arriving at the home of a community resident several hours later. The weary pair relayed the events of the shipwreck and appealed for help in rescuing the survivors that they had left at the base of Horrid Gulch. Without hesitation, a crew of community men formed a rescue team. Ropes, lanterns, blankets, and other rescue provisions were hastily assembled and the team set out with a determined effort to help the survivors. They arrived at Horrid Gulch at about 3 am. Once there, the team could hear men yelling from below, pleading to be saved. The situation at hand appeared dismal and the only possible solution was to lower someone to the base of the cliff, provide harness ropes to survivors, then guide them to safety at the top of the cliff.

Alfred Moores and his heroic efforts in the Waterwitch disaster are commemorated by an information board in Pouch Cove.
Information sign commemorating Alfred Moores and his role in the Waterwitch disaster.

Alfred Moores heroically volunteered to take leadership and, with a rope strapped around his waist, was lowered to a position from where he could transfer the ropes to the survivors. Each, in turn, secured the ropes around their waist and were pulled to safety through the valiant efforts of men positioned along the cliff and at the precipice. In total, thirteen individuals survived the shipwreck but twelve did not. One body was never recovered.

Info board about the loss of the Water Witch can be found in Kirby's Garden, Pouch Cove, NL.
Info board about the loss of the Water Witch can be found in Kirby's Garden, Pouch Cove, NL.

Pouch Cove families rapidly opened their homes to help warm and feed the survivors in an act of hospitality and concern. In the aftermath, The Royal Humane Society presented Alfred Moores with a silver medal for his part in the rescue and four others (David Baldwin, Eli Langmead, Christopher Mundy, and William Noseworthy), with bronze medals. The rescue also received historic commemoration in a ceremony at “The Rooms” (museum in St. John’s) under the category of rescue at sea and heroism associated with such events.

Cupids Methodist Church, Cupids, Newfoundland, Canada.
Cupids Methodist Church, Cupids, Newfoundland, Canada.

When visiting Cupids, Newfoundland, the graves of the victims of the Waterwitch can be found in the church grounds at the Cupids Methodist Church.

Grave site and memorial markers for victims of the Waterwitch shipwreck can be found in Cupids Methodist Church, Cupids, NL.
Gravesite & memorial markers for victims of the Waterwitch can be found in Cupids Methodist Church yard.

The Cupids Historical Society Inc. have erected a memorial grave markers for those who lost their lives on the Waterwitch: Elias Ford, George Ivimey, Elizaeth Ann Spracklin, Malvania Spracklin, Moses B. Spracklin, Priscella Spracklin, Solomon Taylor, and Richard Webber. Resting elsewhere, but recognized on the memorial, are Joanna Croke, William Spracklin, and Samuel Wells. To the left of the memorial are the graves of Elizabeth Ann Spracklin (aged 23), Malvania Cave Spracklin (aged 22).

Model exhibit and info board of the Waterwitch schooner, whipwrecked in Pouch Cove, NL, in 1875.
Model exhibit and info board of the Waterwitch schooner, whipwrecked in Pouch Cove, NL, in 1875.

In the museum adjacent to the Cupids Methodist Church, there is an exhibit depicting the Waterwitch shipwreck.

Drift wood from the ill fated Waterwitch is displayed in a museum in Cupids, NL.
Drift wood from the ill fated Waterwitch is displayed in a museum in Cupids, NL.

See below this clip prepared by the Pouch Cove Heritage Society about the wreck of the Waterwitch.

Please continue to follow my blog as I showcase more itinerary ideas for you during your trip to eastern Newfoundland.

Sandra Murray, writer of Newfoundland Travel blog and owner of Murray House Vacation Home in Pouch Cove, NL.
Sandra Murray, writer of Newfoundland Travel blog and owner of Murray House Vacation Home in Pouch Cove, NL.

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