New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Night in the Deep

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From the blog at

The following story of a nearly fatal adventure was written by Henry Town, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 6, Saint John, N.B., 1899. It is a story of deception and of being lost on the sea, while rafting deals on the Northumberland Strait. It was likely enhanced by the person who first told the story, but, as with all such tales, will contain elements of truth.

Ice Boat Service

Ice Boat Service, Northumberland Strait, about 1885

The New Brunswick Museum via the McCord Museum


A Night in the Deep

“Oh yes, the water looks well enough to you, I dare say; but for my part, I can’t bear the look of it!”

I had been driving along the New Brunswick shore of Northumberland Strait one glorious summer morning; and the noon tide hour having arrived, was now in quest of a place of refreshment for man and beast. I had not seen the usual sign denoting such an establishment, since early morning; and being a total stranger in the province, had not yet learned that my friendless position gave me a claim upon the hospitality of the people, gladly and bountifully recognized by all who had anything in the way of hospitality to offer.

Neither did I notice that I had nearly run over an elderly gentleman in a straw hat with a very wide brim and a very high pointed crown, till his exclamation of alarm drew my attention to him. I had reached a sharp turn just as the elderly gentleman was about to cross, carrying a pail of water from a roadside spring.

One glance, however, a moment after, must have assured the old man of his personal safety, and have shown him that, in my anxiety to clear him, I had reined the horse in and was now backing across the road towards the ditch, which I should soon have reached had he not seized the horse’s bridle in time to save us from toppling over.

“Ah! man, who has been the fool to trust you with a horse?” was the somewhat contemptuous though justifiable query when we were all safe again in the middle of the road.

When the excitement consequent upon this little incident had subsided, I began to enquire the where abouts of the nearest public house, with a view to dinner.

He informed me that the nearest house of the kind was still three miles ahead, but that I might have dined at any farm house along the road. Now, however, the noon hour being nearly spent, he supposed I would have to be satisfied with the meal his poor place could supply, unless I cared to run the risk of faring worse by going farther.

I gladly accepted his hospitality, and after dinner we sat upon a pile of logs beside the house, the old man smoking his pipe and I to windward of him, inhaling the sweet scent of fir balsam from the wood, and gazing at the fair prospect of grain fields and meadow land extending right down to the sea, which here lay before us, as still and blue as the tideless Mediterranean.

It was then, in answer to my expression of admiration of the beauty of the scene, that the old man used the words with which this story opens.

Observing the expectant look with which I greeted this peculiar announcement he proceeded to recount the following adventure:

I had been in this province less than a year, working in the lumber woods most of the time, when, the following summer I obtained employment rafting deals for shipment in the vessels which always take in their cargoes outside the bar; the water within being too shallow to admit of anything larger than a fishing schooner riding at anchor in low water.

We built our rafts then as they do now, at the mills at the mouth of the river, by placing the deals in rows, one on top of the other, close together, each row being laid at right angles to that below it, the whole being securely bound by ropes or by stakes running through auger-holes in extra planks, extending across the ends of the raft, above and below. In calm weather two men can easily float one of these rafts out to the vessel that is to receive it, and this work usually fell to me and a man named Foster. But Foster and I were not on good terms. I had, unfortunately, upon one occasion, knocked him off the edge of a raft into the water with one of the planks with which we were making the raft, and although the accident was due as much to his clumsiness as to any fault of mine, he laid the blame upon me, and vowed to “take it out” of me some day. I did not regard this altogether as an idle threat, for the man was known to be of a vindictive temperament, and I supposed he would choose some unguarded moment to give me a ducking in return for the one he had received. And the sequel proved the correctness of my surmise. But I fell short in my estimation of the malignaity with which he intended to carry out his revenge.

It was towards the close of the summer when, with a gang of men, we were loading a bark at the mouth of the Chimogoui River, from a place about five miles up the Shore, that Foster and I were to be ready one night to take a raft that had been completed during the day, to a point of land about half a mile from the vessel, so that no time might be lost in loading next day. The raft was not ready until late that evening, and then we had to wait for the tide to float us off.

At ten o’clock that night, when I returned to the raft, I found Foster already there and grumbling about our being late in getting off. He said he was afraid we should hardly get over the bar now, as the tide was already running out, and the raft was an unusually heavy one. But there was a good breeze blowing off the shore, and I knew there would be plenty of water. We hurried up, removed the poles which were driven into the mud outside the raft to hold it in its place, tied our boat to the raft and pushed off.

We got over the bar safely, and were fairly on our way down shore, when Foster said he was going to the tavern at the Point, for a bottle of rum he had promised old Comeau he would take to one of the crew of the bark. I objected a little to his leaving the raft at all, but he said he could row back in fifteen minutes, which was true enough, and that the raft would go straight along now, for an hour or more, without any trouble. So he took the boat, and in about five minutes he had landed at the Point. But at the expiration of the quarter of an hour, he had not returned; and the raft, favoured by wind and tide, had got well into deep water. Still, I was not particularly anxious about it. When, however, at the end of nearly an hour, he had not come back, and the wind, beginning to stiffen, was driving the raft out to sea, I began to fear that old Comeau’s bottle of rum had been too strong a temptation for Foster’s power of resistance. The evening had been moonlight, but towards ten o’clock, the sky became cloudy, and it was now so dark that I could not see the shore.

By this time I was going down the strait at a pretty swift rate towards Cape Traverse, for the wind and tide were in that direction. But the nearest point of Prince Edward Island, just there, was twenty-five miles away, and the raft was now too far out for me to hope that it might touch one of the points on the New Brunswick side. I tried hard to keep towards the western shore, hoping to pass near the bark and attract the attention of the people on board by the light of the lantern which was attached to a piece of upright deal. I soon discovered, however, to my great annoyance, that the light was going out. I could not leave my steering gear for the purpose of attending to the lantern, as the wind was freshening every instant, and blowing the raft out to sea in spite of my efforts to keep it inshore; and the waves were dashing against the sides and over the surface of the raft, making it heave and tremble and rock so that at times I could hardly keep my feet.

Presently the light went out altogether, and now, as in total darkness and despair of being able to reach the shore, I drifted helplessly down the channel, the thought flashed upon me that all this was a trick of Foster’s. I had, myself, filled the lantern and trimmed it in the afternoon. It was alight and fixed upon the piece of upright deal when I returned to take out the raft at ten o’clock. He must have emptied out the greater part of the oil before lighting the lantern.

Evidently he had not forgotten his threat to get even with me, nor neglected his opportunity.

Up to this time, however, I had no fear for my personal safety. The raft had been swept on down the straits past the place where it was to have been anchored for the night and past the bark for which it was intended, but at too great a distance to be seen, or my shouting to be heard; and on it would go, of course, till the morning when it would be sure to be seen by one of the vessels constantly passing through the channel, or by people on shore. There would be a heavy bill for towage.—But what was that? A cracking, bumping sound at the tail of the raft. I stooped down and discovered that the stakes which fastened the binding planks had been sawn nearly through, and that, unable to bear the strain, they had at length given way, allowing the lower tiers of deals to escape.

The awful certainty that I was lost now burst upon me. I could do nothing to save the raft, but I quickly got four deals from the upper layer, intending to lash them together to form a sort of float—but only to find that my treacherous mate must have taken the rope away with him in the boat. Quickly, and with a grating, gurgling sound, the deals, one by one, kept floating away, till there was but a small portion of the raft left. This, at length, gave way, and I fell into the black and chilly water. I managed, however, to grasp a plank, and, after a while, to get astride of it. At first, I experienced great difficulty in sustaining myself at all, for whenever I grasped the plank at a point away from its centre, it sank so deep that I had to let go of it. After a while, however, I found the middle of the plank, and drifted along miserably upon it till morning. I have heard that those who are in danger of death by drowning surfer untold mental anguish; that the recollection of their misdeeds crowds upon their memory, and seems to add to the force that is dragging them down. But no thought of home, no regrets for the past, no fears for the future oppressed me while 1 was struggling to maintain my seat on that plank. Only a fierce determination to defeat the purpose of the villain who had planned so miserable a fate for me. But when, towards dawn, the wind had gone down, and I had been drifted into smoother water, and could hold on to the plank with less effort, and my limbs and more than half submerged body were benumbed and weary, in spite of my perilous position I felt an inclination to sleep. Then at intervals, came brief remembrances of home, and of events which happened in my boyhood, hardly yet passed away. And by and bye I found myself repeating a verse of a hymn “for those at sea.” And yet it seemed to be not I, but the choir of a church in Glasgow, singing it as they did one Sunday evening just before I had left home, and over and over again came the words:

“O hear us, when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea.”

But at sunrise I managed to throw off the lethargy that seemed to be overpowering me, and to look about me in the hope of being seen by one of the fishing boats that usually come out at dawn during the mackerel season; and there, to my unutterable joy, was one approaching. I was saved, and strange to say, in a couple of days was none the worse for the perilous voyage I had made across Northumberland Strait, unless it be this rheumatism. Oh, but that was a long while ago. And the old man got up slowly from his seat on the log, as though the very remembrance of that awful night in the deep had chilled every muscle and joint in his body.


Written by johnwood1946

November 26, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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