The Haddock Family of Fortune

The saddest tale in the history of Fortune, Newfoundland is, without a doubt, the story of Joseph and Amelia Haddock. It is a tale of tragedy, hardship and perseverance.

Joseph Griffin Haddock, a physician of Welsh descent, was born about1836, somewhere in Placentia Bay area. Amelia Omstre Mulholland Birkett, born c1840 in Jamaica, was the daughter of Thomas and Emily Bishop Birkett. When Joseph Haddock was about 19 or 20 years old he apparently moved to Burin on the south coast, where the Birkett family was then living. Joseph and Amelia fell in love and were married at Burin on 20 October 1857 by the Church of England minister, Reverend John A.C. Gathercole. No one could have foreseen at that time, what the future held for the young doctor and his 17-year-old bride.

The Haddocks remained at Burin for the next six years or so, where the first of their large family were born: Mary Elizabeth Hayter in 1859; Thomas Birkett around 1861; and twins Herbert George and Harriet Amelia in 1863. Burin is also where the first of their many troubles occurred, with the death of the twins. One infant died just two hours after birth while the other survived for four hours. During their time at Burin, Dr. Haddock was known to have accompanied the clergy on “fish collecting” trips (clergymen were sometimes paid with fish in those days) and was witness to several weddings in the vicinity.

It was probably sometime early in 1864 that the Haddock family moved to Fortune. Haddock was appointed as teacher at the Methodist school, a position he held from 1864-1866. His office was located in the large home of Henry J. Haddon, which also provided space for other activities in the town. Joseph Haddock was the town’s first, and only, resident physician. It is not surprising, therefore, that the town later named a street after him – Haddock Road.

Since Dr. Haddock taught school here from 1864-66, it seems that his medical practice was not a full-time occupation at first. It may be that he was asked to take the teaching position because no teacher was available at the time. Then again, it could have been a means of a supplementary income to help support his growing family.

Records show that Haddock's employment history also included such occupations as: postmaster, farmer, merchant (Fortune, 1871); Preventative Officer (Fortune & Grand Bank, 1871); Surveyor of Shipping (1871); Commissioner of Wrecked Property (Point May to Garnish, 1871, 1875); and Way Officer (Fortune, 1871).

The Annual Report of the Auxiliary Missionary Society of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Eastern British America, for June 1864 to June 1865, lists Dr. and Mrs. Haddock of Fortune among the contributors, as well as son Thomas and daughter Mary.

Haddock was granted land at Fortune on three separate occasions: two acres on 27 October 1866; a second plot on 09 November 1866; and ten acres on 07 July 1881. According to stories handed down by word of mouth, the Haddock home was a large, two-storey structure, located in the vicinity of what is now Haddock Road. After settling at Fortune, the Haddocks added six more children to their family: Sarah Sophia in 1864; Emma Amelia in 1866; William Benjamin in 1867; Jessie Ella in 1869; Edith Gertrude in 1870; and Hilda Violet Jane in 1880. Unconfirmed reports say there may also have been another child, Thomas William Diamond.

In 1876 a diphtheria epidemic swept many communities along the south coast of Newfoundland, including Fortune. The Haddocks lost five children: Sarah Sophia, Emma Amelia, William Benjamin and Edith Gertrude died in April of that year, while Mary Elizabeth died in May. Thomas Birkett was lost at sea, and Jessie Ella died of unknown causes in 1889. Including the twins, nine out of the eleven known children born to Joseph and Amelia Haddock were taken from them early in life.

The one surviving daughter, Hilda, was born several years after the diphtheria epidemic. She taught school at Fortune in the years 1898 and 1900-1904, during the tenure of James N. Haddon. Some sources say she also gave private music lessons. Hilda married John Hedley Forsey, son of Philip and Hannah.

Dr. Haddock continued his medical practice at Fortune until 1882. The story passed down from generation to generation of former residents of Brunette Island, tells of the doctor's death while on the way to visit patients in the community of Brunette (renamed Mercer's Cove in 1935). It leads us to believe that, in order to be where he was in those circumstances, he was dedicated to his profession.

As the legend goes, it was a stormy winter night with strong southerly winds and blowing snow. Visibility, therefore, would have been greatly reduced. The doctor was in a small sailing boat, accompanied by a young man by the name Bidgood.

They apparently missed the point at Fish Head on the eastern side of the harbour. It seems that the storm may have forced the boat onto the rocks in a small cove on the western side of the harbour entrance. This cove, surrounded by high cliffs, is where the wrecked boat and Bidgood's body were found.

Dr. Haddock's body was found on the shore about a mile farther in. There were no houses on that side of the harbour so his body was not found until the following morning. His head was cut pretty badly, indicating that he may have taken a beating from the stormy sea. Stories say that Haddock could 'swim like a fish', but whether he swam to the point where he was found, or was driven in by the waves, is unknown.

Did Dr. Haddock swim through the rough, frigid waters until he could go no farther? Or did the violent waves sweep him from the boat and hurl him, unconscious, onto the shore? Did he die from his injuries, or from hypothermia? If he was battered by the sea, he could have sustained internal injuries as well.

The stories indicate that from the position of the doctor's body, he may have swum into the harbour and dragged himself ashore. Could this have been a desperate attempt to seek help? The truth of this mystery, unfortunately, died with Dr. Haddock and his young companion. Dr. Haddock was buried at Fortune on 07 December 1882.

Emotionally, Amelia Haddock must have been an exceptionally strong woman. She married at 17 and suffered more mental anguish than any one person should have to bear: twins who died just hours after birth; five children taken by diphtheria; her husband and a son claimed by the sea; another daughter for undisclosed reasons. At the age of 42, when her husband drowned, she was left with two daughters, ages 13 and two years. The 13-year-old Jessie died seven years later, leaving just Amelia and Hilda. One can only imagine how terrified she must have been that this last child would also be taken from her.

Sources indicate that Amelia Haddock went blind before her death at the age of 61. She died of heart failure on 14 January 1901. It is a documented fact that diphtheria often affected the heart. It is entirely possible, then, that some lingering effects of this dread disease eventually claimed the second-to-last Haddock child and, finally, their mother.

Hilda, now the sole survivor of the family, then put the homestead up for sale and apparently moved to Western Canada. Considering the heartache suffered in her family, she was no doubt ready for a fresh start.

The Haddock house was likely torn down land was used as pasture and a hay meadow for years. This farmland was sold around 1973 or 1974 to be developed as building lots. One house on ‘Farm Road’ has four earth mounds in the backyard. This area would probably have been somewhere behind the Haddock house. Human bones were uncovered when excavating the land for building. Because of indications that diphtheria victims had been buried there, the Department of Health sent officials to test samples. No trace of the disease could be found.

The owners of the house with the mounds of earth in the backyard thought they were probably just old potato beds. After all, it had been farm land! The woman of the house was out in the backyard one day when someone asked, “Do you know you’re sitting on graves?”

Natural curiosity led this woman to ask questions. She spoke with a member of the family that had bought the land from the Haddocks and was told that a family had lived on the land more than a hundred years earlier. She also learned that some members of the family had died of some terrible disease, and were buried there on the land. Bunches of yellow flowers used to grow on the graves at one time, she was told, possibly put there by some surviving family member in memory of departed loved ones. It is easy to imagine Amelia Haddock adorning the final resting place of her children, and possibly her husband, with flowers.

No one is certain as to which members of the Haddock family were buried there, nor how many. The fact that bones were uncovered during excavation confirms that it was a burial site at one time. Originally there may have been more than the four remaining graves. It is possible that the evidence of some graves was erased during excavation, or simply by the passage of time. It is possible, therefore, that all of the deceased Haddock family members may have been buried in their own private, backyard burial site.

While much information about the Haddock family is gathered from stories handed down through several generations, it is largely supported by official documents. There are still some uncertainties and unanswered questions, but this simply adds to the intrigue.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Dec 2009/Jan 2010

Non-fiction 1

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