The Waterwitch shipwreck of 1875 still resonates heavily on the hearts of the residents of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
When visiting Cupids, Newfoundland, the graves of the victims of the Waterwitch can be found in the church grounds at the Cupids Methodist Church.
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).
In the museum adjacent to the Cupids Methodist Church, there is an exhibit depicting the Waterwitch shipwreck.
See below this clip prepared by the Pouch Cove Heritage Society about the wreck of the Waterwitch.
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