The Florizel Disaster
 

She had left St. Johnís at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 23, 1918 for Halifax and New York. Within an hour a southeast gale and snow came on and continued until midnight.  Captain William Martin was unworried.

One passenger, Captain Joe Kean was very uneasy and around 4 a.m. made a visit to Captain Martin but was reassured that all was fine. But Captain Martin was close to land and when he ordered the change in course, the bow of the Florizel was pointed straight at the land. Within ten minutes she was hard and fast on Horn Head point just off Cappahayden on the Southern Shore.

Great seas were sweeping the decks taking luggage and passengers with it and this was the way that many passengers lost their lives. Approximately ten minutes after she struck the lights went out and this added to the struggle to find the way to the deck.

There were many prominent business people on this trip including the managing director of the Red Cross Line, J. S. Munn and his little daughter Betty as well as Captain Kean. About forty people were in the smoke room when with one swoop the sea swept it and the wheelhouse away taking with it forty people.

Many passengers and crew tried to reach the front of the ship which was still above water but they were beaten and bruised by the seas and debris until they were dazed and knocked unconscious and swept overboard.

One young man, unknown at this time, refused to help a woman, Miss Annie Dalton to a place of safety and she was drowned.

Pantry waiter, John Johnston came across passenger, Minnie Denief fighting the sea and saved her by grabbing her hair and hauling her back to safety.

42 people survived while 94 lost their lives. Many of them needlessly, as in their rush to get up top many people left the shelter of the saloon for the unprotected deck and were lost overboard. Those that made it to the Marconi room, 32 in total, were also protected because of the smokestack.

Then began the long wait for rescue. Messages from Cappahayden flashed back to St. Johnís about the wreck and rescue operations began immediately. The messages then started to get confusing reporting that there were no survivors and all had been lost. Rescue operations were halted and did not continue until more messages were received that survivors had been spotted on the wreckage. It was two days before they were rescued and the storm was still at its height which caused it to be impossible to get near the wreck.

Captain Perry of the Gordon C. launched a dory with Seaman Budden and made four trips to the Florizel taking off the two women survivors first. On the fourth trip the seas overturned the dory and knocked the men into semi-consciousness.

The other rescue ships, SS Home, Hawke and Terra Nova had great difficulty in launching their dories.  Fearing any other loss of life the ships laid off and waited for the storm to abate.

Finally Captain Nicholas Kennedy and two seamen, W. H. Clouter and G. H. Penney took a whaling dory and headed for the Florizel. Five times she capsized but they righted her and went on to rescue 25 survivors.

In the inquiry that followed the cause for the wreck of the Florizel was laid to gale force winds, ice, poor visibility and the possibility of the Artic current reversing itself on that night, all of which impeded the navigation of the ship.

Captain William Martin was suspended for 21 months but because of his previous good record was allowed a Chief Mateís Interim Certificate for the time of suspension.

In Bowring Park in St. Johnís a statue of Peter Pan was erected by the Munn family and dedicated to Betty Munn and stands as a memorial to all those that were lost on the SS Florizel. The statue was unveiled on August 29, 1925 and the inscription reads, ďIn memory of a little girl who loved the park.Ē

 

Kitty Cantwellís Story of Survival

She was heading to New York to visit her sister and her traveling companion was her good friend Miss Annie Dalton of Western Bay who was going to New York to take up a position in a clothing factory.

Annie got seasick a short time after leaving St. Johnís and when the ship crashed into Horn Head Point off Cappahayden on the Southern Shore they began to head for the Marconi room. Kitty encouraged her friend along as she was still weak from being seasick. They clung to whatever Kitty could find and Annie hung on to Kitty. A young man passed beside them and Kitty appealed to him for help but he said that he couldnít.  She was unsure about what happened to him after that and if he survived or not. They were nearing safety when a huge wave caught Annie and swept her overboard. Kitty was alone and crawled on her hands and knees across the deck to the door of the Marconi room where she was let in.


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