Ann's Story

Story and song have played a huge part in the culture of our place. They have been both our way of making meaning in the present and preserving an account of the present for the future. We are principally in receipt of the history of our 500 year old home by this means of human narrative. Our practice in the oral traditon has created account of thousands of events that shaped individual lives, communities, and generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Many of these stories and songs share the common elements of tragedy, triumph and indomitable spirit - characteristics that define the people who have successfully wrung out a life in this marvelous terrible place. Such is the story of Ann Harvey.

An Extraordinary Rescue Mission (from an article by Dennis Knight, May 2006)

Just off-shore from Isle aux Morts is an archipelago of islands, including one also called Isle aux Morts. It is there that George Harvey and his wife Jane settled about 1810 to harvest the rich fishing grounds nearby.

Calling for help

Justin Hall Photo

As the name "Isle aux Morts" suggests, George Harvey's island and those nearby have witnessed many ship wrecks, particularly in the sailing era when ships met their doom on the rocks by being either blown ashore or lost in fog, while travelling to and from Cape Ray and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the summer of 1828, this fate befell the British Brig Despatch, captained by a William Lancaster. She had left Londonderry, Ireland in late May, en route to Québec City, crammed with 200 Irish immigrants (plus 11 crew). The passengers were part of the first wave of Irish migration to North America that occurred in the early 1800s. Many of the ships brought labourers to work in the woods of Québec, returning laden with lumber. On Saturday, July 10th, 1828, forty-two days after leaving port and about three quarters of the way to her destination, a raging storm blew the Despatch onto the rocks near Isle aux Morts.

The Harveys, who lived about four miles from the wreck site, spotted debris being washed ashore on the evening of July 10th but were unable to investigate due to the storm and approaching darkness. Upon discovering the wreck the next morning, with the survivors clinging to the rocks, the Harveys started their rescue mission with a vengeance.

Over an incredible three day period, with her father, 12 year old brother Tom, their Newfoundland Dog Hairyman, and working day and night, Ann was instrumental in saving 168 of the passengers and crew, getting them to land over stormy seas in the Harvey's twelve foot skiff.

Crossing the stormy sea

Justin Hall Photo

With all survivors safe on shore as of Tuesday night, July 14th, the Harveys continued their incredible rescue operation. For another exhausting five days (July 15th - 19th), they built makeshift shelters on the beach, shared their home, clothing, all the family's food secured for the winter and helped to row all survivors to Port aux Basques, where they were transferred to the British naval vessel HMS Tyne.

On July 26th, the survivors were discharged from the Tyne at Halifax. Among them were the two Smilie families (two brothers married to two sisters) from County Tyrone, the McLeans from Donegal and the McMullans from Londonderry. The sole Scottish family was Daniel and Catherine Arnot and their eleven children; the youngest being just three years old. From Halifax, some families migrated to various parts of North America and today there are thousands of their descendants that could bear witness to the heroism of Ann and her family.

Ann married Charles Gillam and they had eight children over an eighteen year period while living in Isle aux Morts, Port aux Basques and Brooks River, Bay St. George. She is also credited with helping her father rescue all 25 crew from the Scottish cargo ship Rankin in September, 1838, which blew ashore on the exact same rocks as the Despatch had ten years earlier. She died in Connoirs Bay (just east of La Poile Bay) in March, 1845, nearing her 34th birthday. Charles died twenty-one years later in the McKay's-Robinson's area.

In addition to the Harveys and Gillams, the Harvey diaspora includes surnames such as the Hulans, Legges, Messerveys and McKays, to name just some of the first generation families.

The Ann & Séamus wordmark and "rowboat image" are the Property of SHALLAWAY - Newfoundland and Labrador Youth in Chorus Inc.
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