In summer of 1909 the schooner Little Jap left from Deer Island to fish on the Labrador Coast. She returned home with “six hundred quintals of salt bulk cod” at the end of October, a little later than was usual.
“She got her fish that summer at the
Clusters, alongside Ford’s Harbour, near Queens Lake on the
Labrador,” recalled Llewellyn Feltham who was 18 years old at the time. Upon return, the schooner “put out” the fish on Gooseberry Island where it was washed and dried. Once it was ready, they loaded the schooner and headed to St. John’s to sell their catch.
The crew of thirteen men, including Skipper John Feltham are said to have left November 9, 1909¹ and headed straight into a snow storm. “I went with Uncle Sam out on the hill to watch her go out,” says Llewellyn Feltham, “They sheeted her out [raised the sails] and went out across the bay. Uncle Sam later said to Father that Jack [Skipper John Feltham] was foolish to out with a gale of from northeast and coming on dark at this time of year.”
“Uncle Sam and Uncle Leigh went to St. John’s the next week and found out the Little Jap didn’t get in,” remembers Cecilia Feltham, then 21 years old. While some may have blamed the weather, many others believed the ship was intentionally cut down. While in St. John’s, Sam and Leigh learned of a schooner from Wesleyville that had arrived in Bay Bulls with broken headgear and bowsprit, the morning following the departure of the Little Jap.
“People said the captain of the Wesleyville schooner threatened his crew to say nothing, but two men in his crew said they struck a schooner in Trinity Bay around 12:00 that night and that she would never reach land,” reports Llewellyn Feltham. “The whole island was in mourning for a year, and the next year when the schooners left for St. John’s it came back fresh to everybody’s mind. It was a terrible time,” said Cecilia Feltham.
It’s been rumoured that a man from Wesleyville, confessed on his deathbed to being on the schooner that ran down the Little Jap. “He said there was a man on the quarter [near the stern] with a lantern and he had a white beard. That was Uncle Charlie Feltham. He said it was announced the next day in St. John’s that the Little Jap had been cut down. How did they know if [the captain] didn’t do it?” said Llewelyn Feltham.
Whether the Little Jap was cut down by another schooner or lost in the the bad weather still remains a mystery. With no court inquiry ever held, those left behind on Deer Island would never know for certain what happened to their loved ones on that November night.
The Crew of Little Jap:
Skipper John Feltham, Deer Island
Benjamin Feltham, Deer Island
Arthur King, Deer Island
Charles Feltham, Deer Island
Abraham Feltham, Deer Island
Caleb Feltham, Deer Island
Robert Payne, Gooseberry Island
Thomas Taylor, Gooseberry Island
Cator House, Gooseberry Island
Absalom J. House, Gooseberry Island
Samuel Boland, Bragg’s Island
George Boland, Bragg’s Island
Jacob Sturge, Bragg’s island
¹ While official records date the tragedy to November 9, 1909, archival reports indicate the schooner actually left on November 5, 1909, Bonfire Night.
Feltham, Donald V. 1981. The Legend of the Tragedy of the Schooner “Little Jap.” Unpublished research paper. MUNFLA ms 81-514, pp 04.