With a headline sounding like a poem or song, this memorable Gloucester Christmas eve tale by Tom Herbert was published in the Boston Globe in 1893. Local mentions: Main Street, Duncan Street, Western Banks, sch. Star of the East, Eastern Point lighthouse, Thacher’s Island, Ten Pound Island, and codfish.
A fun read aloud for Christmas eve.
“Such a dread as I have of your going away so late in the fall,” said pretty Mollie MacDonald to her lover. “And remember we are to be married Christmas eve.”
“Why it’s only a three weeks’ trip, Mollie, to the Western banks,” said mcAchen, “and you would not like to have me loafing around Gloucester and have my ‘chummies’ laughing at me. Then you know, too, I am shipped in the famous Star of the East and we will sail at daybreak.”
“But what about the engagement ring, Angus? All our friends know we are to marry and when you are 300 miles from Gloucester a little token, which I would war on my finger, would often remind me of you and remind me to pray for your safe return, for you know December is a treacherous month for fishermen.”
“I forgot that, Mollie, and now every store on Main Street is closed, but here is a silver band my mother wore,” said he, as he placed the ring on her finger.
“And here’s my mother’s engagement ring,” said Mollie: “a hoop of gold with two hearts. Don’t lose it, for I hold it as sacred as I do your love.”
“I’ll bring it back to you if I live to make the trip. But I must hurry, as most of the crew are on board and a dory will be sent ashore at 1 o’clock for the lads that stop to kiss the girls they love goodby, and I will do the same.”
So they parted, he going down Duncan Street, and on arriving
At the Steamboat Wharf
met a half dozen of his shipmates. Then all went on board and turned in.
That night it breezed up from the northwest. It grew colder, and as the barometer gave evidences of a coming storm, Capt. “Bill.” who skipped the craft, roused the “boys” out before daybreak to sight the anchor. Half an hour later the schooner passed Eastern point lighthouse.
Away scudded the schooner before the fast freshening gale under a single reefed foresail, the swash of the seas as they spurted in through the lee scuppers fast forming ice on the deck.
Once clear of Thacher’s island, all hands turned to fit new fishing gear, and the conversation started, turned to the prospects of the trip.
“Some of the ‘killers’ found fish plenty on the eastern edge,” said one, but Capt. Billy had planned his trip to fish in 90 fathoms of water, near the spot where he had “rafted” in a big trip the year before.
Angus was one of the “afterguards,” as the fishermen term those who bunk in the cabin, and while “fitting” his trawls he was very quiet and especially thoughtful when he revolved the gold band on his finger.
His usual buoyant manner had departed. He was ill at ease and very slow at tying on the hooks.
Once he dropped the lines to the floor and lifting his mattress took out a book as if to read, but he was gazing
On the Photograph
of pretty Mollie Macdonald.
The run to the banks was a quick one, and when the proper surroundings were found the anchor was let go and plenty of “scope” payed out.
That night all hands baited up their trawls which were set at daybreak, and the first haul resulted in a catch of 8000 pounds of cod, every dory coming alongside the schooner loaded to the gunwale.
Angus brightened up at the prospect of a quick trip and a big check.
During the second night on the fishing grounds something happened which later came near costing Angus his life.
All hands were in the gurry kids dressing the fish, and as it was a breezy time all hands worked with a will to get the fish below and batten down the hatches.
After supper extra strads were wound around the cable, the anchor light set on the forepeak halyards, the decks cleared and extra lashings placed on the dories.
When everything was made snug the watch took the deck to keep a bright lookout for vessels that might strike adrift and foul the schooner.
In the cabin sat Angus, who remarked that “it was going to be a nasty night,” and stepping to the after part of the cabin raised his hand to adjust the guide hand of the barometer when he noticed that the ring was gone.
Lantern in hand he rushed to the deck and searched, but no sign of the ring, and when he came down below great tears of sorrow coursed down his bronzed cheeks.
His shipmates looked but did not ask the cause of his sorrow, for Angus was a strong man and might take offense.
Kneeling beside the transom near his berth he
Reached for the Book,
and after gazing on the picture of Mollie for a moment turned and said:
“Boys, I’ve lost her ring, it was gold with two hearts; it was our engagement ring; she gave it to me the night we sailed from Gloucester and I promised her that if I lived I would bring back the ring, but now it is gone.”
That night the wind blew a gale; Angus turned in, but not to sleep.
Towards midnight he was seen going about the deck with the lantern looking for the ring, but he did not find it and had to be coaxed to go below by his shipmates. When he was called to his watch on deck he only raved about the lost ring.
At daybreak all hands were on deck awaiting the word of the skipper to go and haul their trawls, which were set a short distance from the vessel.
Two dories had been launched, and then the captain said, “Hoist those dories in, it is not a fit day to put a dog in a dory, let alone a man.”
While the starboard gang were busy getting their dory aboard, Angus asked his dorymate if he would go and haul trawls, and receiving a positive no, cast off the painter, jumped into his dory, and rowed for his flag buoy half a mile distant.
The seas ran high, and like a cockleshell the dory drifted to leeward on the crest of every wave.
The crew saw that he did not reach the windward end of the trawls, but later could discern him hauling from the lee ends.
Was he mad was the question with the crew, and would he live to haul the trawls and return to the schooner?
Being anchored, there was no possibility of the vessel rendering assistance unless to
Cut the Cable
and try and pick the frantic man up, but that would not do, especially when he took his life in his own hands without the consent of the skipper.
For an hour they watched him from the deck. Then came a snow squall which shut out their view and when it cleared the dory was not in sight.
Ten days later the Star of the East sailed into Gloucester with her flag at half-mast, and on the end of the Fort wharf stood Mollie. She looked paler and thinner than when Angus and she parted not quite three weeks before, and with lips parted she gazed at the incoming craft.
The ever anxious crowd had congregated, and as the schooner tacked in towards Ten Pound Island, an old wharf hand said: “Why, that’s the Star of the East! I wonder who she’s lost.”
That was sufficient for the poor girl to hear. She knew by the slow beating of her heart that Angus was not on board, so she sorrowfully wended her way homeward to find consolation in prayer.
When the sad news reached her she quietly said: “Angus must have lost my ring or he would be here and well.”
‘Twas the old story that the skipper told, “lost while attending the trawls.”
When the snow shut out the vessel from Angus’ view he began to realize his danger and hauled away like mad; then came a fastening on the bottom which would not give way to his strong arms and the trawl parted.
Oars were of no use except to keep the head of the dory up to the sea, and when the snow cleared off he was miles from the vessel.
He was hungry and thirsty, but he thought not of death; his one thought was of Mollie and the lost ring.
All that day he drifted before the gale that moderated at sundown, but no vessel could he see, look where he would.
That night he rowed to keep his blood in circulation, and at sunrise saw a sail five miles away.
Towards evening he was almost insane from thirst, but thinking a moment, he remembered having heard of men who found fresh water in the belly of a cod.
To rip open a codfish was but the work of a minute, then holding it so that not a drop of the precious fluid would escape, he drank.
It tasted brackish, but was better than none. Then he cut out the “poke” that he thought would be more palatable than the flesh.
What possessed him to cut it he never could tell, but when it was laid open with the knife there was
The Hoop of Gold
with two hearts, the ring he lost while dressing fish in the gurry kid on the vessel.
Clutching the ring he forgot his hunger and thirst, his only thoughts were of her who was his promised bride.
After kissing the cherished treasure again and again, he unbuttoned his oil jacket and in the top vest pocket over his heart he placed the ring.
“Now I will live, and, with the help of God, keep my promise,” he said.
The sea had gone down, and as no vessel was in sight, he lashed the flag of his buoy to an oar, and having lashed it in an upright position, he coiled himself up in the bow and was soon fast asleep.
How long he slept he knows not, but it must have been six hours, for he was suddenly awakened by the dory tossing about in a peculiar way.
Raising himself he saw a large steamer close by. The crew seemed to be making ready to lower boats, then he waved his sou’wester and got an answer in return.
Directly he was alongside of the ship and soon on board, where he was well cared for by the captain of the English freighter that had experienced heavy gales, was short of coal and was bound to Halifax to get a new supply.
In two days from that time, Angus was bound to Boston by rail, and after arriving took the evening train for Gloucester and sent a messenger to Mollie to say that he would fulfill his promise, marry her that same night, Christmas eve.(The end.)
“Loss of a Ring Nearly Cost McAchen His Life. Adrift Off the Banks, He Found It In the Belly of a Codfish. Arrived in Gloucester in Season to Marry His Mollie Christmas Eve” by Tom Herbert, Boston Globe; Dec 25, 1893. On page 6, with obits and other news. Herbert published a similar read in 1890 which I’ll post Christmas day.
Sacred cod indeed!
The schooner Star of the East that fished out of Gloucester for years was built in 1867 in Boothbay Maine by Joseph Bearse. In 1882 the average number of vessels and tonnage enrolled: 483 vessels (423 to Gloucester- 353 schooners, 4 sloops, 1 yacht, 6 teamers and 59 boats) 17, 809.75 tonnage.
A few years later, a true Christmas eve event in Gloucester was reported in the Boston Globe 1898 Dec. 24
Fishermen’s Christmas: Good Cheer Provided in Gloucester for men Away From Home
Christmas was celebrated this evening at the Fishermen’s Institute on Duncan Street in a unique manner. Chaplain E. C. Charlton of the Institute invited the fishermen of the city away from home to become his guests, and to the number of several hundred they responded.
Men of all the northern nationalities were comprised in the audience, some wearing boiled shirts, others with their sea clothes on, but all were welcomed alike. There were two Christmas trees. A Short entertainment was given while Mrs. Charlton, wife of the chaplain, was busy at a table cutting cake which had been donated. This with hot coffee was passed around.
Comfort bags were donated by the King’s Daughters from all over the union were given every fishermen present and went into hands where they will be appreciated. They contain articles which will prove very useful to a sailor. Bags of confectionery, apples, etc were passed around, and altogether the fishermen’s Christmas was highly appreciated.