Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Leaving Newfoundland


The following piece is an excerpt from Chapter Two of my forthcoming book:

Pack your Baggs: a family's journey from Newfoundland to Australia

Conception Bay, Newfoundland 1874

Carbonear jetty buzzed with activity this morning, as the crew prepared the weekly steamboat for departure. Edward Baggs was on board, leaning over the rails to observe the goings-on below. Two men were struggling to push a large wooden crate up the gangplank. With every step upward, they slipped back, straining under the load. Edward's meagre possessions were already on board. He had only one bag, suggesting scant material gains for his 26 years in Newfoundland.

At the sound of a small voice, Edward turned around to see his little brother Allan, standing back frowning.
'Why so glum? Come and join me,' Edward said.
He grabbed Allan by the hand and helped him to the rail.
'When will we get to Saint John's?' Allan said.
'Sometime this evening, I think,' Edward said.
'Are we going to come back to Newfoundland?' asked Allan.
Edward shook his head.
'But what about my friends?'
'You'll soon make new school friends in Toronto. Don't worry.'
Edward wrapped his long arms around his little brother.
'But when will we get to Toronto?'
'Father said it will be more than a week. We have a few boat trips ahead of us, before we board the steam train for Toronto. A ride on the new railroad, imagine that!'

The rest of the family ventured out on deck to join them. By now many locals had disembarked and a party of friends and relatives had gathered on the dock to see them off. It wasn't every day that such a large group left the shores of Newfoundland. Edward's mother struggled to remain calm and some of those in the group below had already dissolved into tears.

All at once they heard a snarl from the horn – then a final warning shout.
'All those not travelling must leave the boat now!'

The steamer's smoke stack belched out an acrid-smelling cloud, showering Edward with spots of black soot. After several attempts, the men below managed to remove the hemp ropes. Free from its harness, the boat began to pull away from the jetty. Within minutes the boat had gathered a head of steam and was making its way into the deeper waters of Conception Bay. Fishermen were already out this morning and Edward recognised some of the faces of those leaning over the side of the dory hauling in cod. This was the life he was leaving behind. He moved to the stern of the boat as they pointed east. The familiar homeland was diminishing before his eyes into a blur of small coves. All he could make out were the ochre-coloured specs of settlements dotted around the bay and the white church on the rise. A swell came up when they left the protection of the headland and the wind bared its teeth. Far to the north a giant iceberg floated, white as a ghost ship. Edward shivered. It was time to join his family inside, where they had kept a spot for him on the wooden benches, surrounded by their belongings.


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