#00066
The Petty Harbour Bait Skiff (John Grace) with score & MIDI
St. John's Bait Skiff (Collected by James Murphy)

sheet music



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Good people all, both great and small, I hope you will attend,
And listen to these verses few that I have lately penned.
I'll relate the hardships great that fishermen must stand
While fighting for a livelihood on the coast of Newfoundland.

It happened to be in the summertime, in the lovely month of June,
When fields were green, fair to be seen, and valleys were in bloom.
When silent fountains do run clear, caressed by Heaven's rain,
And the dewy showers that fall at night to fertilize the plane.

We bid adieu unto our friends, and those we hold most dear,
Being bound from Petty Harbour, in the springtime of the year.
The little birds, as we sailed on, sung o'er the hills and dales,
Whilst Flora from her sportive groves, sent forth her pleasant gales.

On Saturday we sailed away, being in the evening late,
Bound into Conception Bay all for a load of bait.
The seagulls flying in the air, and pitching on the shore;
But little we thought 'twould be our lot to see our friends no more.

The weather being fine we lost no time, until we were homeward bound;
The whales were sporting in the deep, and the swordfish swimming 'round;
And Luna bright, shone forth that night to illuminate the "say",
And the stars shone bright, to guide us right upon our rude pathway.

We shook our reefs and trimmed our sails, across the bay did stand;
The sun did rise, all circleized, like streamers o'er the land.
The clouds lay in the atmosphere, for our destruction met.
Boreas blew a heavy squall, our boat was overset.

When we came to the "Nor'ad" head, a rainbow did appear,
There was every indication that a storm was drawing near,
Old Neptune riding on the ways, to windward of us lay,
You'd think the ocean was on fire in Petty Harbour Bay.

John French was our commander, Mick Sullivan second-hand,
And all the rest were brave young men reared up in Newfoundland.
Six brave youths, to tell the truth, were buried in the sea,
But the Lord preserved young Menshon's life for to live a longer day.

Your heart would ache, all for their sake, if you were standing by,
To see them drowning, one by one, and no relief being nigh;
Struggling with the boisterous waves, all in their youth and bloom,
But at last they sank, to rise no more, all on the eighth of June.

Jacob Chafe, that hero brave, and champion on that day,
They boldly launched their boat with speed, and quickly put to sea.
They saved young Menshon from the wreck by their united skill;
Their efforts would be all in vain but for kind Heaven's will.

Out of that fine young crew, you know, there was one escaped being drowned.
He was brought to Petty Harbour where good comforts there he found.
He is now on shore, and safe once more, with no cause to complain.
He fought old Neptune up and down whilst on the stormy main.

When the sad news arrived next day in dear old St. John's town,
There was crying and lamenting on the streets both up and down.
Their mothers were lamenting, crying for those they bore.
On the boisterous waves they found their graves where they ne'er shall see more.

Now to conclude and finish these few lines I write in pain:
Never depend out of your strength whilst sailing on the main.
But put your trust in Providence, observe the Lord's command,
And He'll guard you right, both day and night, upon the sea and land.

####..... John Grace, a seaman from Riverhead, St. John's, NL, 1852 .....####
Published in Gerald S. Doyle's Old-Time Songs And Poetry Of Newfoundland: Songs Of The People From The Days Of Our Forefathers (First edition, pp.55-56, 1927; Second edition, pp.48-49, 1940; Third edition, pp.46-47, 1955).

Also published on pp.20-21 of Songs Of Newfoundland, a complimentary booklet of lyrics to twenty-one songs distributed by the Bennett Brewing Co. Ltd., of St. John's, NL, with the cooperation of the Gerald S. Doyle Song Book from which these words were obtained.

A variant was sung by Patrick Sullivan [1880-1959] of Calvert, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

A variant was also collected in 1977 from Moses Harris of Lethbridge, NL, by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best and published as #87 in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.153-154, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press © 1985/2003).

Genevieve Lehr noted that the Petty Harbour bait skiff was wrecked in 1852 near Petty Harbour. Out of her crew of seven, only Menchington (pronounced Menchener by Uncle Mose) was saved. The song is attributed to the writing of John Grace, a St. John's sailor who later died in Brazil.

An earlier variant was printed as St. John's Bait Skiff in 1905 on pp.26-28 of Murphy's Sealers' Song Book, again as Petty Harbor Bait Skiff in 1912 on pp.4-5 of Old Songs Of Newfoundland, and also as Petty Harbor Bait Skiff in 1923 on pp.8-9 of Songs Their Fathers Sung, For Fishermen: Old Time Ditties, all three published in St. John's by James Murphy [1867-1931].

James Murphy's Publisher's Notes:
The Petty Harbour bait skiff was lost on June 8th, 1852. The men were natives of St. John's, as was also the sailor poet of that day, John Grace of Riverhead, St. John's, who has long since departed this world.

Notes from Chafe Lineage In Canada From 1705:
On June 8, 1852, a bait skiff (or trap skiff - 26 to 32 feet long) was caught in a squall near Petty Harbour while returning from Conception Bay. Everyone in the community witnessed the event but were powerless to help the men. They drowned one by one, except a boy clinging to the mast. Jacob Chafe successfully rescued the boy. The famous Newfoundland folk song, The Petty Harbour Bait Skiff recalls the event. It was composed soon after the tragedy by John Grace of St. John's, where there was "crying and lamenting in the streets" on learning of the fate of Skipper John French and his crew "all on the eighth of June". Only one of the crew, "young Menshon", (or Menchington) was saved by "Jacob Chafe that hero brave." Edward Chafe said that when he was little his grandfather had a copper sundial in the parlour which was presented to Jacob Chafe, the Hero Brave, in recognition of his courage and selflessness.


See more songs about Newfoundland and Labrador shipwrecks.





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