MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

The Loss of the “Eliza”

Mrs. T. Ghaney NFLD 2 Tape 14 Track 4
Fermeuse Audio:

LEACH: All right
MRS. GHANEY: Go ahead?
LEACH: No I’ll hold it.
Mrs. Ghaney: (sings)

The brave Eliza spread her sails that morning in the bay
And soon before a fresh’ning breeze was speeding on her way
Fort Amherst heard the youthful crew sing cheerily as they passed
But at Fort Amherst little knew their sailing was their last

Only the small birds overhead encircling in the blue
Screamed down the wind in fear and dread of some strange terror new
For in the hour of our grief so far like spectres in that fleet
Is to ensnare some passing ship another prize to get

Yet cheerily the Eliza's crew intoned their sailing song
And merrily our good ship bounds the sunlit waves along
The bright spray sparkling around her bow gave promise fair that day
How false that promise know we now in sad St. Mary’s Bay

Quick speeds the gallant schooner the Eliza up the shore
Close to the wind she’s hauling like many a time before
Her Captain ________ Ahearn to keep her tiller true
His brother and young Bunyan all sturdy sailors too

Have battled many a tempest of nights and stress and dread
To reach their destination fair St. Mary’s Riverhead
Now storms have come to Newfoundland by stealth and treachery
The cold Nor’easters chilly hand is black wit' tragedy

But our brave schooner Eliza on this October day
Must match her own unequal strength with hurdles that cross her way

Torrential rain strikes on the main like to a hand of hate
The waters near grows white wit’ fear of what may be in wait
Then burst a gale on spar and sail and shocked the Eliza reels
And shudders like a king with life who sees his doom revealed

With riven sails before the gale the stanch Eliza flew
Wit' hardy hearts they done their part of her courageous crew
Dark night and storm enwraps her form the warning billows roars
The hurricane her timbers strain she'll sail in pride no more

Deat's angel creeps along the deep the strength of man is vain
God’s will be done my son, my son I will never see again
When it was learned in Riverhead the schooner had set sail
All deeply laden fore and aft and ran into the gale

Long hours of deep anxiety were by the men spent
Whose fingers trembled on the keys at every message sent
Asking for tidings of her beloved with her two brothers share
The terrors of that night of woe that night that breeds despair

Dark shadows now o'ershade their brows Cape Race’s message tells
A ship dismasted drifts to sea before tempestuous swells
And all around their office home even outside this very door
The shrieking winds cries through the night you'll never see them more

And sad to say ‘twas told today throughout our little town
That not one word was ever heard if this good ship went down
Her light seen on the darling main by Captain Welsh and drew
From off the "Thrasher's" storm-swept deck she’s all we ever knew

The glad-eyed b'y young Jack Ahearn ‘twas his first summer's cruise
We did entreat to keep him back, which proved, but little use
Our son by mighty infant storm is lulled to infant sleep
The mysteries as the years go by into their spirit’s creep

Gay Captain Jim we'll think on him and when the neighbours meet
Where tales of bravery is told by many a fishing fleet
But one will weep wit’ an aching heart his promised bride to be
Oh cruel deep why will you keep my love, my love from me

Our Peter sang __________ his song along the sunny strand
While south winds __________ sweep soothing here to bless our Newfoundland
But we will hear his voice no more or know his welcome tread
The homes that loved his presence dear St. Mary’s, Riverhead.

God help those waiting ones at home who mourns their sailor’s dead
God's hand came down upon our town St. Mary’s Riverhead


Sources: Roud 4424; Fowke, 1954:48; Horwood, 1952:128; Peacock, 1963: 217 (The Herons); Peacock, 1965, 944 (The Herons). From the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA) Song Index and Song Annotation Collection: Goldstein, Kenneth et. al. MUNFLA 78-36.

History: According to the Traditional Ballad Index (, there is not specific record of this shipwreck but the most likely candidate was a ship, owned by Welsh & Co. from Riverhead, St. Mary’s Bay with a Captain named Welsh. The ship was lost due to ice on May 18, 1862 near Bay Bulls, just south of St. John’s on its way to St. Mary’s Bay. Edith Fowke claims that this ballad is very close to the Southern Cross lost in 1914. Peacock asserts that this is a rare native ballad containing “supernatural portents (the herons) in the manner of the older traditional ballads.”

Text: A poetically descriptive shipwreck song, it describes the mirth of the Eliza’s crew as they leave St. John’s headed for St. Mary’s Bay. The ship is lost in a storm en route.

Tune: The text is through composed and the melody repeats with each verse. The meter is 4/4. The key is A major with a major 10th range from A to C#.

All material on this webpage is copyright © 2004, Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland. No unauthorized copying or use is permitted. For more information, follow this link.