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THE S.S. FLORIZEL

C. BROWN'S ACCOUNT

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Cassy Brown's Account

c brown books "The Caribou Disaster and Other Short Stories" by Cassie Brown, Flanker Press, St. John's, NF, 1996.

This is a summary of the events on the Florizel during the wreck, according to Cassie Brown's news article. This was published before her major work, A Winter's Tale. Of particular interest is the contrasting account of Kitty Cantwell between these two works.

According to this article, the Florizel struck Horn Head at 4:50 am.

She left St. John's harbour at 8 pm on February 23, 1918. Approximately one hour later a southeast gale and snowstorm began, which lasted until midnight. There was a change in the wind's direction to east - northeast at 12 am which continued throughout the wrecking of the ship.

Captain Martin was quite aware that the ship was moving rather slowly, he assumed around 6 knots, despite the fact that the Florizel usually made the run at 10 or 12 knots. After nine hours at sea, Martin ordered the change of direction, shortly after a visit from Captain Joe Kean at 4 am. The ship struck amidships, listed to the starboard and settled astern.

There was no panic at first, and first class passenger Alex Ledingham began handing out life belts to the confused passengers. Ten minutes after the wreck the lights went. Several men attempted to secure the life boats, including Joe Kean, whose leg was broken by a piece of wreckage. All such attempts ended in failure, and Kean was escorted to the smoking room by Martin, Ledingham and First Officer James.

Conditions quickly degraded as combers swept the ship, one large wave taking with it the smoke room and wheel house. Amongst the people lost were Kean and John S. Munn. Munn was later seen hanging onto a railing near the smoker before the seas swept him away.

Brown recounts a number of stories in her article, including the heroic rescue of Minnie Denief by John Johnston, who at one point pulled the young woman back to the ship by her hair. They made it to the Marconi Room, which according to this article, housed 32 people before the rescue.

Brown states that messages received from Cappahayden sparked rescue immediately, although the first ship, Propsero, did not leave the harbour till midday. These ships arrived at day break, and Captain Perry of the Gordon C launched rescue dories four times, eventually rescuing Kitty and Minnie the only female survivors. Captain Nicholas Kennedy of the Terra Nova, with H.M.S Briton reservists WH Clouter and GH Penny, manned a whaling dory that capsized five times before reaching the lost ship. They managed to rescue 25 survivors, including Major Sullivan, who was towed through the water when he missed the rescue boat. Alex Ledingham held him fast until Captain Simonsen of the Hawke rolled him aboard another dory. These survivors were delivered to the Prospero.

The storm continued to rage, making attempts to rescue the ship futile. The Terra Nova returned the next day, recovering seven more bodies.

After the disaster, Martin was suspended for 21 months, although was allowed a First Mate interim certificate. Kennedy recommended Clouter and Penney, as well as A. Morey, for medals of bravery.

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