The Willow Tree

Summarized from the book From Cod to Crab: Stories & History of Hantís Harbour by Gary Cranford and Ed Janes

In 1835 near Hantís Harbour one of Newfoundlandís most prominent fishing merchants lost one of his ships and members of his family to the sea. William Kelson Jr. age 29, was employed under his uncle, William Kelson, in Trinity where he ran the mercantile premises of Slade & Co. William Jr. was already a smart man being a clerk with Slade & Co., school secretary and clerk of the court however he was to soon meet a tragic end to his life.

William Jr. was married in 1832 to Elizabeth Mary Ash, daughter of Captain Richard and Catherine Ash.

The diary that William Sr. kept and which a copy exists in the Trinity Historical Society Archives states the following about the event  ďMr. W. Kelson Jr. united in marriage to Miss Ash Ė Garlandís and this house hoisted colors to commemorate the happy event. Joy to the wedding.Ē It was shortly after their marriage that two children were born, Frances and Mary.

In 1835 William Jr. hired shipwright John Rowe to build him a vessel at Heartís Content. The vessel was registered in St. Johnís on June 12, 1835 with the name FANNY. The ship was 33 tons, 39 feet long and her skipper at the time of registration was John Hayter.

During the summer William Sr. records throughout his diary his nephewís activities in the new sloop. Seven trips were made to St. Johnís according to excerpts from the diary.

June 22: William Kelson in his new sloop with fish for St. Johnís. Mr. P. J. Fennell passenger.
July 5: William Kelson Jr. in his sloop from St. Johnís.
Sept 6: Wm Kelsonís sloop to St. Johnís.
Sept 11: Young Mr. Kelsonís sloop from St. Johnís.
Sept 25: Wm. Kelson Jr. sloop to St. Johnís.
Nov 19: William Kelson Jr. in his sloop.
Nov 24: William Kelson Jr. sloop to St. Johnís.

On December 2 on a return voyage to Trinity from St. Johnís the FANNY was lost. William Sr. wrote that day: ďSnowing, drifting and blowing hard from the south.Ē

The vessel en route from St. Johnís had to alter course due to the weather for Catalina. Here one of her passengers, Mr. Robert Bayley, the Customs Officer in Trinity, made a lucky choice by deciding to walk home from Catalina.

Though the weather was still doubtful, Captain Breddy was sure the FANNY could make it to Trinity. On December 3, she cleared Catalina with the following on board: William Kelson Jr, John Hayter, Jonathan Miller, John Sheppard, John Stevenson and James Swyers. However, the winds picked up once again and the vessel was blown across Trinity Bay where the waves hurled the vessel upon the rock at The Arch, between Hantís Harbour and Kingís Head Cove, shattering the vessel and all hands being lost.

After the storm across the bay could be seen in the night a series of lights. It was not known however by those resident in Trinity if they were from the crew of the FANNY or if it was a signal from the residents of Hantís Harbour that something was wrong. The men of Trinity set bonfires to acknowledge the signal from across the bay.

As soon as the weather had cleared enough a ship was sent to investigate the fires and she returned with bad news, the FANNY was wrecked and all hands were lost!

William Kelson Sr. did not write in his diary for nine days but on the tenth day he wrote the following: ďThis is a painful task to record the melancholy catastrophe that occurred on the tremendous gale of the 3rd inst of the total loss of Wm. Kelson Jr, sloop & all hands, six in number, having perished off Hantís Harbour, part of the wreck is said to have been driven into Capelin Cove. The crew of the sloop were William Kelson Jr., Jno Stevenson, Jas. Swyers, Ben Breddy Skipper, John Haiter, servít, John Sheppard & John Miller who lately lived at Wm. Spencerís Jigging Hole.  John Gardinerís boat also lost off Hantís Harbour all the crew met a watery grave. Part of the wreck was identified and picked up in Lance Cove, the crew of Gardiners boat were Gardiner himself, his son Richard, Wm. Snow, John Anderson, old Thomas Leonard and T. Humphries.Ē

Alexander (Uncle Sandy) Pelley was 91 years old when he was interviewed by Hilda (Pelley) Vivian correspondent for The Evening Telegram and he recounted the following to her:

ďOne morning many years ago in the late fall, after a big storm, the people of Capelin Cove, Hantís Harbour were surprised to see a lot of packages floating around the beach in the cove, and they said it seemed as if there had been a vessel lost around there in the storm. A search was made and wreckage of a vessel was found in the Arch, a place just above Caplin Cove.

Bodies of some men were up in the crevices of the rocks, but the sea was too rough to use a boat to get the bodies. They called for a volunteer to go over the cliff with a rope. Mr. Richard Pelley offered his services and they tied a rope around him and lowered him over the cliff, and he found seven bodies. He tied one of the bodies to a rope but this didnít work, so he told the men to go to Hantís Harbour and get a hide of leather and make holes in it. By doing that the bodies could be tied up, and thatís how the bodies were brought to the top of the cliff. When all seven bodies were brought up, Mr. Pelley was hauled to safety.

The bodies were taken down to Capelin Cove and seven caskets were made. They were then taken to the Fishermanís Lodge for burial next day. Mr. Pelley was sick for many days after.

Papers were found in Capt. Kelsonís pocket and they found out that the sloop was from St. Johnís with a load of provisions and was caught in the storm.

The men of the Cove and Hantís Harbour made seven fires on the top of the hill at Capelin Cove to let the people of Trinity know about the sloop, and the men of Trinity signaled back by fires that they had got the message.Ē

It should be noted that Uncle Sandyís account of the loss of the ship had a couple of errors in it such as Kelson was not the Captain, but the owner, and the Fishermanís Hall was not in existence at this time.

The story continues with the Captain and his six shipmates being buried about one hundred yards from where Mr. Alexander Pelley lives now, and there is a big willow tree covering the graves.  This willow tree was sent by William Kelson Jrís wife Elizabeth to Hantís Harbour to be planted in the location of her husband's and his crews grave.

In 1994 a Heritage Society was founded in Hantís Harbour called The Willow Tree Heritage Society in commemoration of those that were lost in the FANNY.

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