Wednesday, December 5, 2012

200 years ago today brig Plumper lost

The Fundy coast of New Brunswick did not take the War of 1812 terribly seriously as a national conflict.  W. Stewart McNutt provided some interesting insight into this era in his book “New Brunswick: a history, 1784 to 1867” which was published almost fifty years ago. 

The primary effort in this region of the Province was to capitalize on the hostilities for economic gain for the provincial ports.  This attitude played before the backdrop of the American Embargo Act of 1807, which forbade the sailing of any American or foreign vessel from the United States to foreign ports for commercial purposes.  This ill-conceived attempt to build domestic industry and markets by cutting the United States commercially from the influence of foreign trade, was quickly countered by the Free Ports Act, passed by the British government, to open specified ports of the Maritime Provinces to American shipping.  Halifax, Shelburne and Saint John were the first, with St. Andrews added in 1811.  Indeed, the many coastal indentations of Passamaquoddy Bay, next to the American border, made St. Andrews a preferred port because of better opportunities for smuggling.  The border ports of New Brunswick and Maine, therefore, became beehives of illicit trade.

With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Great Britain thought it to be of strategic advantage to encourage New Englanders to continue a profitable exchange of goods across the border, in spite of the wishes of Washington, the motive being to deepen political divisions within the country.  The result was an air of neutrality in the Bay of Fundy, where greed for trade took precedence over bellicose politics.  Indeed, the citizens of Eastport, Maine, unanimously voted to maintain good relations with the people of New Brunswick.

Breaking the American embargo was a most lucrative business opportunity, so the war effort of New Brunswickers was primarily directed at trade with the enemy.  American vessels that had broken the embargo and sailed into the Bay of Fundy were hospitably received.  Below the border there were indignant allegations that some Yankee skippers deliberately surrendered the vessels as "prizes" to the British Navy, were safely escorted to Saint John where their valuable American cargoes were unloaded at a good price that enabled them to "ransom" their vessels and sail home with the proceeds of profitable trade.

To carry out this trade, American vessels had to elude their own country's warships, but were then hospitably received and escorted by the British Navy.  Privateers, on the other hand, had been given letters of marque to prey upon enemy vessels, and their motives were directed toward personal gain rather than national economic strategy.  As a result, there was a delicate tension in effect, where privateers hunted for American vessels with lucrative cargoes, but these same vessels obtained escort by His Majesty's navy, intent on assisting the trade that enriched New Brunswick ports.  The busy shipping activity took that place during the war of 1812 would appear entirely confusing to any outside observer.  Besides keeping privateers in check and escorting illicit American trade, naval vessels were also used to move about soldiers, militia and other citizens among the ports, as land transport was almost non-existent.

Because of the activity of privateers around the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, from either side of the border, passengers wishing safe passage and those shipping valuables, travelled aboard naval vessels, being afforded the protection of powerful guns and the authority carried by these.  Considering the slight threat from engagement with U.S. naval ships and the clear dominance over privateer armament, His Majesty's naval vessels represented the most secure marine conveyance. One such naval vessel was the Brig Plumper, belonging to the Royal Navy.  A Saint John newspaper recorded the movement of vessels such as these, for their arrivals always sparked interest in the port, for this was the way that the most influential persons of the day might arrive in the city.

After arriving in Halifax on November 30, 1812, with a convoy of six vessels, His Majesty's Brig Plumper then set out from Halifax for Saint John with a full complement of seamen and several passengers.  But even the dominance of the Royal Navy could not prevail against the unforgiving elements.  At four o'clock on Saturday morning, December 5, 1812, the Plumper ran ashore at Red Point, a little over a mile down shore from Dipper Harbour, which is in turn a little over 20 miles down the shore from Saint John.  The spot she struck is exposed to strong winds blowing in from the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, a shallow cove below a steep and rugged cliff.  In the darkness, confusion and heavy seas, with the brig fast breaking up and going to pieces, those on board attempted to reach the shore, so near, and yet beyond grasp for so many.

When daylight arrived and the survivors huddled on the bleak shore took stock of their situation, they found that their cold, wet, bedraggled group numbered only thirty.  The only officer to make it ashore was midshipman Stephen Hall, who landed safely along with the pilot, Samuel Simpson; the rest were sailors and marines.  Their commander, Lieut. Bray, had been lost, along with the brig's master, Captain Marley.  In total, forty-five persons were lost - officers, crew, marines and passengers.

Shortly after daylight, messengers were despatched through the thick woods to Dipper Harbour, and thence the message was taken on to Saint John, conveying the news of the catastrophe and a summary of the lost and survivors.  The report also noted that the Plumper had been carrying nearly $30,000 in specie, but added that it was expected to be saved.  The authorities in Saint John wasted no time in responding.  On Sunday, December 6, H. M. Schooner Bream and the government sloop Brunswicker set sail for Dipper Harbour to pick up the survivors at the wreck and assist in saving what could be recovered.

On Monday evening, December 7, the Bream arrived back in Saint John with the survivors picked up from the wreck of the lost Plumper.  The newspaper of the following week published a list of those who were lost in the tragedy and those who survived.  But no mention was made of the specie, whether recovered or lost.

The notion of treasure persisted down through the following century and a half; I recall hearing of it from an old hard-hat diver in the 1960's.  In the early 1970's, a Saint John diver, Gary Austin, scoured the bottom thoroughly in the area of the lost Plumper, looking for clues to the existence of the shipwreck and possible treasure.  With all the speculation on the possibility of gold and silver coins, green-eyed divers took a keen interest in what he was doing.  Gary had cooperated with the New Brunswick Museum in what he was doing, and his responsible approach was rewarded by a letter in September, 1972, from a provincial Minister of the New Brunswick Government, declaring "the site of an historic wreck considered that of HMS Plumper to be an historic site and also a protected site".  Enough was found to suggest that this could indeed be the site of the Plumper wreck:  heavily encrusted cannon, pieces of old iron encased in thick concretion.

I visited Gary Austin and, with his cooperation and directions, dived on the wreck site in August, 1973.  The remains of the Plumper lie in fairly shallow water in, very exposed to rough sea, under a cliff of red rock at Red Point.  The sea floor there is made up of rocks, boulders and rubble, with rocks moved about in every storm.  Whatever might be left of the wrecked brig would be badly beaten up, strewn about and buried.

When I first went down on bottom, I could see no sign of wreckage anywhere.  To be satisfied that this was actually a wreck site, I wanted to find at least some traces of shipwreck.  Finally I found some badly decomposed fragments of very old iron, scattered, partly buried in rubble.  Certainly the divers working on this site faced a daunting task.  Were it not for the dreams of the existence of buried treasure, I doubt that anyone would have bothered with this shipwreck site.  Considering the unstable bottom, subject to heavy sea breaking to bottom, the New Brunswick Museum should count itself fortunate to have acquired as many items from this site as it did. 

The story and scant remnants of the Plumper are a direct link to the interesting naval activities of the War of 1812.  While we cannot diminish the importance of this catastrophe in loss of life, with forty-five lives being snuffed out that bleak December morning, it was the intrigue of sunken treasure, whether or not there was any actually there, that piqued such intense interest in this shipwreck.  Were it not for the dreams of treasure, perhaps these traces of this shipwreck would never have been found, and the Plumper would have been a forgotten tragic event.  But dreams of gold and silver kept the Plumper alive in the lore of the Bay, and with her story we are reminded of the interesting role of the Southwest Fundy coast in the 1812 hostilities between Great Britain and the United States.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Sloop "Majestic"

I recently completed a painting of the sloop "Majestic" built at North Head, on Grand Manan Island, in 1902, by William Alexander Flewelling.  Originally owned by William and Frank Flewelling, she was subsequently owned by John A. Ingersoll, of Seal Cove.  I had a couple of old photos of the “Majestic” grounded out in Seal Cove harbour, which is what I used to create the painting.

It was in the Seal Cove context I wanted to depict the sloop, so I painted her sailing up the Seal Cove Sound, in a typical afternoon sou’wester.

One of the challenges in this painting was to depict seas breaking away from the viewer.  Most sea paintings show waves breaking toward you, but to be consistent with the wind in the sails, I needed to paint waves breaking away from me, where little trails of foam are left behind the breaking wave.

This was a fun painting to do; challenging, but with rewarding results.  I will soon have prints of this painting available.  So, for any of Seal Cove’s John A. Ingersoll descendents or relatives, a print of this painting might be a great gift to keep your family in touch with your heritage!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dark Harbour Dory print

I just completed a painting of a dory in Dark Harbour at sunset

The dory depicted in this painting is dated before outboard motors, when the stern board was notched for single-oar sculling, moving the oar back and forth across the stern, while changing the angle of the blade to give foreward thrust.

I will have prints of this available at Market tomorrow and hope to have some in stores soon too.

Monday, August 20, 2012

River Steamer "Majestic"

Excursions along the Saint John River were popular at this time of year a hundred years ago. And one of the steamers providing the river cruise was the popular "Majestic".

The "Majestic" was built in Toronto in 1899, and ran up an down the Saint John River from 1902 until she was retired in 1942, making this one of the last steamboats in regular service on the river. She was the first steel hull steamer to ply the Saint John.

A coal fired steam engine ppowered her screw propeller to give this steamer great dependability on her service about the Saint John River system

Mention the "Majestic" and many of our more elderly Saint Johners will still remember her with the fondness of a pleasant nostalgia

Thursday, August 16, 2012


This is the time of year when a lumpfish turns his mind to thoughts of family.  He not only turns his mind, but turns his skin colour too.

For most of the year, a lumpfish is blue grey in colour, but during the breeding season, the male turns orange.  Not only that, but the male guards the eggs too.

When I was diving, I always enjoyed running into these cute little fellows, so when the Huntsman Aquarium asked me to do a painting of sea life, I chose a lumpfish to paint.

They are not particularly streamlined, nor do they have big fins and powerful swimming muscles.  In fact, quite often when the tide is running hard, they simply cannot swim against it.  Quite often around the herring weirs, we would see lumpfish pressed against the twine by the tide, unable to swim against the current.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Seal Cove Crick, 1968"

Last week my cousin Marg showed me a painting I had done for her in 1968.  I had forgotten about it, but apparently I had visited with her and her family in Halifax, and in appreciation, I painted them this painting of "Seal Cove Crick".  And no, that's not a spelling mistake; in Seal Cove, it's not "The Creek", it's "The Crick".

Seal Cove, near the southern end of Grand Manan, was a busy little harbour in the 1960's; a lot going on there.  Depicted in the painting, we have a purse seiner tied up at the General Marine boat repair shop, getting some repair work done.

Seal Cove also had its own little sardine cannery.  Tied up to it is a sardine carrier, heavily laden with sardines, ready to unload to provide another day's packing for the workers there.

Marg loaned me the painting to make prints from it so that others could enjoy the memories of the busy little harbour that was "Seal Cove Crick"

And I will have framed prints of "Seal Cove Crick, 1968" at the market too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Grand Manan V"

With the ferry "Grand Manan V" resuming summer duties starting tomorrow, this seems like a good time to introduce my painting of this ferry just completed recently

Every ship has some special characteristics that you associate only with that ship.  For me, the most striking feature of the "Grand Manan V" is how little fuss she makes powering through the water.  If you ever watch her sail by, she slides throught the water making hardly any wake at all.  The designers at Knud E. Hansen sure did a great jobs with the hull lines under water to get the hull to part the water so effortlessly.  Accordingly, I painted the ship in very calm water, trying to convey that very smooth and minimal wake.

When she was designed in Denmark and built in the Netherlands and delivered to commence service to Grand Manan in August, 1990, the designers provided an attractive rendering on the funnel of the provincial galleon logo on blue waves, that was copied on the new "Grand Manan Adventure".

And, of course, to give it a universally understood Grand Manan context, I have depicted the ferry sliding smoothly past Swallowtail Light.

I will have prints of this painting at markets this summer, if anyone is interested in seeing them, or perhaps purchasing one as a gift for someone who might have fond memories of the 20+ years this ship has given us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Merganser and Ducklings

This is the time of year we find mother ducks showing their little ducklings how to forage for food in the tidal shallows of our Fundy coves. 

Here is a print of my painting of a Merganser with her little ducklings.

The female Common Merganser looks like she is having a "bad hair day", with the tuft on the back of her head.

What a steep learning curve for the tiny ducklings to try to learn to feed and fend for themselves in so short a time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Some yellowlegs arrived in Our Cove a few days ago, as they do every spring.  This year they seem to be running a few days late.  We make a note when they arrive each year, and it usually ranges from the last few days in April to the first few days in May.  We enjoy their distinctive call as they scurry about, foraging along the intertidal shore.

So it seems like a good time to feature my "Yellowlegs" print in the shop:

This fellow is depicted standing on a rock in the early mornig sun, with the tide up, waiting for it to ebb and expose the seaweed which hosts all sorts of interesting things a shorebird loves to eat.

The rocks present interesting lighting in sun and shade:

Of course, that makes for interesting reflections to paint in the water:

The early morning sun on the water teases the colour palate choices, which makes for fun in painting:

Our yellowlegs will soon be heading further north for the summer, but we look forward to seeing them in late August on their southerly migration.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The old "Grand Manan III"

Old pictures of the ferry "Grand Manan III" have been posted on Facebook recently, with lots of comments of people's memories of the old vessel.  So it seems like a good time to bring up a picture of a painting I did of the old ship several years ago.

The "Grand Manan III" was never built to be a ferry.  Originally a yacht, she was pressed into service in World War II in North Atlantic patrol.  Right after the War, she was purchased in Sydney, Cape Breton, from War Assets, refitted as a ferry in Saint John, able to carry six cars.

The cars were hoisted aboard the stern deck with metal slings on each wheel, with a pole slid through eyes in slings on each side to keep the slings lined up.  In the mid 1950's, her deck accommodations were modified to increase the capacity from 6 cars to 9 cars.

The ferry carried the Island's freight in the fore hold, which required time both on mainland and on Grand Manan for loading and unloading freight in slings lifted by the winch and forward boom.

In the 1960's, before being replaced in 1965, the ferry made five round trips to the mainland each week.  On Monday, she went to St. Andrews and back, stopping at Wilsons Beach.  On Tuesday, she went to Saint John (I think she stopped at Wilsons Beach).  Staying in Saint John on Tuesday night, she returned to Grand Manan on Wednesday, carrying much of the Island's freight.  On Thursday it was St. Andrews and back.  Friday was a long day, going directly to Saint John, and returning the same day.  And Saturday was St. Andrews and back.

(When the "Grand Manan" arrived in 1965, with her 25 car capacity, one old timer remarked "she'll never be full"!)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gulls on the Open Sea

The summer gulls have been back with us at Our Cove for a couple of weeks now.  In fact we have a pair of gulls who stay here, right in the cove, all summer long.  Oh, they come and go, and fly off at high tide to do whatever gulls do, but they spend most of their time right here.

All this reminded me to feature a print of seagulls over the open sea; so I put up an 8 x 10 framed print on the Etsy shop.

This print features herring gulls, the most common kind in the waters off Grand Manan. 

They are graceful in flight, social and yet very competitive.  And it is a delight to watch gulls soar in gale force winds, winds that ground lesser birds.

At home in the air and comfortable on the surface of the ocean, gulls are admirably adapted for life on the Bay of Fundy

And of course a painting of the sea in the Bay of Fundy would be lacking something if we didn't add a lobster buoy to give it a real Maritime flavour.

Seagulls at home on the open Bay of Fundy

Saturday, February 4, 2012


It's no secret that Grand Manan is a tad isolated; that's what happens when geography plops you out in the middle of the Bay of Fundy.  This led to a simple classification system for the entire population of the world: those who were born and brought up on Grand Manan, and those who weren't.

Sometimes the Grand Manan attitude toward others hasn't really been as warm as it should: while non-Islanders might be the finest kind of people, they just didn't have that Grand Manan pedigree.  Hopefully that sort of thinking is becoming a thing of the past, and if a recent thread of comments on Facebook is any indication, I think it is.

While conversation was positive, a term was still used that doesn't really help:  "CFA's" or "Come From Aways".  With comments going back and forth, a recent enthusiast for our Island community talked about choosing to live here, and a term was coined: "Chooser".  At that point a Grand Mananer said he "chooses" to live here too.  So there you have it.

The neat thing about the word "chooser" is that it is deliberately positive.  It doesn't matter where you were born and brought up, if you are here because you deliberately want to be; you are a "Chooser".

So, take that, Wikipedia, you heard it in a Grand Manan Facebook converstion first:  "Chooser - someone who deliberately chooses a particular community to call home."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remembering the "Lord Ashburton"

Fifty-five years ago today, the 1,009-ton barque Lord Ashburton, under command of Captain Evan Clarke Crerar, of Pictou, while bound from Toulon, France, for Saint John in ballast, ran ashore and was totally wrecked at the north end of Grand Manan in a northeast snowstorm at 2 a.m. on January 19. 

Eight men were saved, twenty-one men, including all the officers, perished.  Most of the bodies were so badly mutilated that they could not be identified. 

The headland where she struck is now known as "Ashburton Head".  She was built at Brandy Cove, St. Andrews in 1843 by Joshua Briggs for Nehemiah Marks.  One of the survivors, James Lawson, originally from Denmark, following his convalescence, returned to Grand Manan and settled there.  His oft retelling of the story of the wreck of the Lord Ashburton etched the story indelibly in Island lore.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Snow With Your Winter

For those of you who would like some snow with your winter, I have decided to feature a winter lighthouse print this evening: "West Quoddy Winter"

West Quoddy Light, near Lubec, Maine, is the easternmost point of the United States.  At the northeast corner of the US, this lighthouse sees its share of snow storms.  In fact, because the ground there is so often covered with snow, the lighthouse was painted with red stripes so that mariners out at sea could more easily see the lighthouse on winter days against the backdrop of snow.  During the day, a lighthouse used to be a more essential visible landmark to allow a mariner to reckon his position.

In keeping with the sense of nautical heritage that is harkened when we think of pre-radar, pre-GPS navigation, when mariners needed to see their landmarks, I have included a schooner in the painting.  And, of course, snowy ground.

So, although we don't have any snow on the ground around Our Cove, we can enjoy the white stuff in a painting or print on the wall.  Actually snow in a painting isn't really white (but don't get me going on that, since snow really reflects the colour and intensity of light with which you see it), but you know what I mean.  And of course, black in a painting isn't really black, but reflects a variety of colours and intensity, as can be seen in the lantern cap

So enjoy your snow vicariously, in a painting or print; snow you don't have to shovel, or trudge through, or get stuck in.  Actually, I am just fine with an open winter, but we Canadians think we have to have snow with our winters, so here is some that won't melt and won't freeze your toes.