Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The exploding Lion, and other mysteries of a lost ship


The SS Lion was one of the first wooden-wall steamers to be used in the Newfoundland seal fishery, making her first voyage to the ice in 1867. The ship went to the annual seal fishery for fifteen years,
sailing under such masters as Francis Ash and Alexander Graham, and brought in a total of 170,125 pelts. (See Shannon Ryan's history of the vessel here.)

Sometime around Old Christmas Day, January 6, 1882, the ship disappeared. All hands vanished into the sea, never to been again, with the exception of one lone body.

A small amount of debris was found near Baccalieu Island, and popular explanation of the day was that that her boilers had not contained enough water and, as a result, had exploded

The will of one Amelia Power from September 1883 directed that “the sum of eighty dollars be reserved from my estate for the purpose of supplying a headstone to the memory of late husband Charles Power, lost on the steamer ship “Lion” January 1882 with suitable text or inscription for myself and him.”

Even visitors from away, years later, were struck by the sadness of the disaster. The Hon. John Macdonald, a Canadian senator, wrote the following for the Globe newspaper after a visit to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1888.

“Approaching Trinity we came to the celebrated island Baccalieu, where on a lovely, clear night in January, 1880 [sic], the steamer Lion, with a large number of passengers on board was lost, a clergyman and his young bride of a week being among the number. The circumstance gives a melancholy interest to the island, which has become identified with the disaster from the fact that a body, that of a Mrs. Cross, whose husband I saw at Trinity, was found there, but whether the vessel blew up or struck the bold coast and instantly went down is to the present moment enveloped in mystery.”


While many shipwrecks are associated with ghostly tales, the wreck of the Lion seems, for some reason, to have attracted strange tales in abundance.

One of the stories was written up by Michael Francis Harrington in the Atlantic Advocate, in February 1960. In his article, Harrington references a letter which was written by a resident of Catalina just after the loss of the vessel. The letter concerned a dream that a relative of the captain had experienced before the wreck:

“On Old Christmas morning, about half-hour before daylight my wife woke me in a fit of crying, telling me she was dreaming that she saw the Lion steaming along very slowly in Baccalieu Tickle. She was as she thought looking at her for some time going along very slowly. All of a sudden she saw her blow up and sink immediately. She fancied she heard a noise like a cannon in her head. She also saw at the moment of the explosion, her cousin, [Capt.] Patrick Fowlow, knocked off the bridge with his head gone from his body.”

Other strange tales include that of a man who was warned by a fortune-teller on St. John’s harbourfront not to book passage on the Lion. The man heeded the warning, and gave up his ticket, saving his own life.

Newfoundland writer P.J. Wakeham, writing in 1974, included references to two separate sightings of a ghost ship believed to be the Lion. In one sighting, fishermen “met the steamer Lion crossing the Bay and saw her cabin lights aglow as they changed their schooner’s course to avoid collision. The phantom ship bore down on them and then as silently and as suddenly, she altered course and disappeared into the darkness.”

1 comment:

Carolyn Stearns said...

Great Ghost ship tale. Thanks!