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.
8 thoughts on “Loss of the Schooner Little Jap”
I love those stories of boats and builders. It reminds me of when I built some boats myself. It was something I loved doing. It never ever seemed like work. I was a little disappointed there weren’t any stories from Labrador. I know some wonderful boat builders. The first boat I built I only had one electric tool, a drill. Not many people building boats now, sad.
Great to hear from you Roddy! There will be a couple of posts in the coming months that focus on Labrador, but you’re right, we are currently lacking in the stories from that area of the province. We’re hoping to get to Labrador to do some documentation in the coming year. I would love to speak to you in person about your experiences!
My great grandfather charles feltham was on that boat
My great grandfather was on the Little Jap, Arther King who was married to Carrie Feltham. My grandfather told me many stories of life in Newfoundland and the sea; loved those times. One of the days I need to venture to Newfoundland and check out the memorial.
Reading this story about the Little Jap reminds me of a story from my family’s past when my grandfather, Able Felltham, and his sons out of Silver Fox Island were on their way to St. John’s with a load of dried fish to sell. They were under sail but the wind had completely dropped off when they were in Trinity Bay during the daylight hours. As the story goes, the captain of the steamer, by the surname of Hounsell, was quoted that he was going to give them a good fright by sailing straight at them. He struck my grandfathers schooner on her quarter deck. My grandfather had just enough time to save his log books. There were no lost of life. There was a court case but I do not know the outcome.
My greatgrandfather was Captain John Feltham skipper of the little Jap my grandfather was Heber Feltham son of the Captain I grew up with stories of Deer Island and loved to hear them they never got old. This was a story I had never heard before thanks for the telling
Very sad. My grandfather was from Braggs island. He told me of the story. I think it was his uncles ship.
There are some who believe the Great Western was the culprit, we will never know.
Arthur King was not a member of the crew. He was a school teacher returning home to St John’s. His wife, Captain Feltham’s daughter, and Art debated if if the family should accompany him. Common sense prevailed as Mrs. King delivered a child less than three months ago.. Art went home to inform his father of the new addition and pick up supplies. The family King owners of a large farm on the south side of the Waterfrod River. Unfortunately Art King did not make it but the two children survived.