One Family's Loss

Anne Miles, daughter of James and Mary (Pardy) Miles of Terrenceville, Fortune Bay, NL, married James Reeves of St. Lawrence. Their family included a daughter, Edith, born circa 1842, who married David Pike, also of St. Lawrence, in 1865. Born in 1844 at St Lawrence, David was the son of George Pike and Sabina Tulk. David and Edith lived at St Lawrence where they raised a large family of eleven: Charlotte, 1865; Joshua George, 1867; Philip, 1870; Mary Ellen, 1872; Matilda, 1874; David, 1876; Hubert, about 1877; Frances, about 1879; James Reeves, 1880; Caroline, 1886; and Edwin James, 1888.

In 1898, thirty-three years after they had married and raised their family, David and Edith went through what may have been one of the toughest periods of their life together, with the loss of three sons in six weeks.

David Pike had a boat named Contest. In the fall of 1898 the Contest went to Sydney, Nova Scotia for a load of coal but it never returned home. The vessel is thought to have gone down in the Gulf of St Lawrence with no survivors. How many crew members were on board is uncertain but among them were two sons of David and Edith: 21-year-old David Jr and 15-year-old Hubert. No bodies were recovered but Vital Statistics Death Records have the date of death recorded as October 17, 1898. David Jr had been married just 22 months.

But it wasn’t over yet. While they were still reeling from this horrible loss, still grieving and trying to come to terms with it all, tragedy struck again.

Joshua George Pike, oldest son of David and Edith, had left Newfoundland, perhaps seeking a change of career or maybe to further his sea-going career. When he married in 1896 he was employed as a Conductor but he was listed as a Sea Captain when he died. Thirty-one-year-old Joshua died at Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA on November 28, 1898, leaving his wife with a 21-month-old daughter and a second child on the way. He was living in Brookline, Norfolk, MA at the time. His death, attributed to accidental drowning, occurred exactly six weeks after his two younger brothers. For some unknown reason, he was buried at North Sydney, NS.

Sadly, this was still not the end of tragic deaths for the Reeves family. James and Ann Reeves also had a son named Robert who married Catherine Pike in 1873. She was the daughter of Robert Pike and Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Northover.

Married in 1873, Robert and Catherine also settled at St. Lawrence and raised a family of five: Patience Kelligrew, 1874; Robert Pike, 1877; Selina Mary, 1880; James, 1883; and Ida May, 1884. On the baptism records of his children, Robert's occupation was given as "builder" but he also appears to have been a boat owner.

Reportedly built at St. Lawrence in 1900, the fishing schooner PK Jacobs was owned by Robert Reeves and captained by his son-in-law Joseph Jacobs. The vessel appears to have been named for Reeves’ first child, Patience Kelligrew (Reeves) Jacobs, who had married Joseph four years earlier.

The 58-foot, 30-ton schooner carried a nine-member crew, including the Captain. Throughout the 1900 fishing season, the PK Jacobs probably had a normal schedule, with frequent trips to the nearby French island of St. Pierre to load bait on its way to the fishing grounds. This routine continued until September of that year when things went drastically wrong, sending the lives of the entire family into a state of chaos.

On September 8, 1900, a hurricane which has often been called the deadliest in recorded history, all but destroyed Galveston Island, Texas. More than 8000 people lost their lives and 3600 homes were flattened. In the next few days the powerful storm swept up the eastern seaboard. It wiped out loggers and riverboats from Illinois to New York; took several lives while crossing Prince Edward Island; and is reported to have demolished 42 fishing schooners between Belle Isle and Englee on the eastern side of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula before reaching St. Pierre.

Unaware of the danger headed in their direction; on September 12, 1900 the PK Jacobs made its normal bait run from St. Lawrence to St. Pierre. After taking on a load of squid, the vessel set sail for the famous Grand Banks fishing grounds. It was never seen or heard from again. Not one single piece of wreckage was found to tell the story. The conclusion has always been that the vessel was caught in the remnants of the still-ferocious storm. Nine French fishing schooners were also lost with a total of 120 crew members.

All nine crew members on board the PK Jacobs were residents of St. Lawrence, a crushing blow for the small south coast community. Robert Reeves lost a new schooner but, more devastating than that, he lost a crew. He would have known these men, and their families, personally and probably felt some sense of responsibility towards them. The residents of small rural towns are closely-knit societies where everyone knows everyone else.

The Reeves family, however, suffered a great personal loss in this tragedy. Robert Pike Reeves, age 22, and James Reeves, age 18, the only two sons of Robert and Catherine had been among the crew members of the PK Jacobs. With the loss of their son-in-law, 32-year-old Captain Joseph Jacobs, their oldest daughter, Patience, was left a young widow – she never married again. Patience moved to St. John’s where she lived with her sister and brother-in-law until her death at the age of 69.

When loved ones are lost in this way, with no bodies for burial, with no sense of closure, it is a distressing experience. Death at sea is no strange occurrence to the people of sea-going nations and none have felt the loss more than the people of Newfoundland’s south coast region. This is merely the personal loss of one family.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Jun/Jul 2019

Non-fiction 1

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