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Co. Armagh Melancholy Narrative

County Armagh – A Most Melancholy Narrative 8 Nov. 1819

We extract the following Letter from the Newry Telegraph, addressed to the Editor of that paper;

With feelings of sincere sorrow, I beg leave, through the medium of your paper, to communicate to the public, the very melancholy intelligence of the loss of the entire of Mr. SODEN’S family, late of this town, on their passage to Quebec, which consisted of 8 persons – the mother, 5 daughters, and 2 sons; the eldest of whom, Miss SODEN, a most interesting girl of 22 years of age, had received a finished education, in one of the first boarding schools in Dublin. The eldest son, James, had been brought to the study of physic, in which he had made a great proficiency. They all embarked on board the ‘Mary Ann’, in Belfast, October 1817, (bound for Quebec), in company with Mr. SODEN’S brother, James, from whom the lamentable intelligence has been received.

Mr. SODEN not having finally arranged his affairs, was under the necessity of stopping some time after his family, for that purpose and the period having elapsed in which the vessel was to sail, the Captain would not make further delay, but promised Mr. SODEN that nothing should be wanting, on his part, to make his family as comfortable as possible. This in a degree tended to alleviate his distress of mind, but how this promise was fulfilled, the sequel will more fully prove.

Being about to take his leave (alas! his last farewell) of his dearly beloved family, a scene ensued, which language fails me to describe.

Shortly after the ship sailed and being buffeted about by contrary winds, their passage was so much impeded, and at length, their provisions were nearly exhausted, so much so, that their allowance was one biscuit per day!

At this period a typhus fever raged – with great violence on board; none escaped its baneful influence. After a lapse of 15 weeks, they arrived in the Gut of Cancer being delayed there for a month and having taken in fresh provisions; they sailed from thence for Quebec; the ship was again tossed about by contrary winds and before she reached the River St. Lawrence, the provisions were once more nearly exhausted – their allowance was now limited to one pound of bread per week, though it is stated, there was a sufficiency of provisions on board!

We were now informed they were within 120 miles of Quebec, but the Captain (through what motive, it has not yet been ascertained) veered his course, and cast anchor at a place called Kitchenbucto. Here, he used his rhetoric with the passengers to prevail on them to go on shore and when it proved ineffectual, he swore he would close down the hatchways and smoke them with fire and brimstone. This threat had the desired effect – they landed and when leaving the vessel (going, as appeared to them, on a desolate island) the cries of the mother and the seven children, were most dreadful. They had to travel 120 miles through this island, where they reached Cockain, where they engaged with Capt. M‘CRAY, of the brig ‘Mary’, to bring them to Quady.

Now, Sir, the most melancholy part commenced; they all embarked on the 8th Dec. and on the morning of the 10th (3 o’clock) were alarmed with the cries of distress; they rushed on deck undressed, where they perceived their awful situation; the brig being heavy laden with plaster of paris, after she struck filled in a few minutes with water; their situation became now truly awful. The boat lashings were cut, and a good many of the passengers rushed into it, amongst whom were Mrs. SODEN’S children

Mrs SODEN, failing in her attempt to join them, appeared almost distracted which, being perceived, parental affection conquered over every other consideration, they rushed into the arms of their dear mother, being determined to save her, or die in the attempt. The waves with redoubled fury beat against the shattered bark and tolling mountains high, swept off the boat and buried in the watery deep, this amiable and interesting family.

After Mr. SODEN had his affairs properly arranged, he took his passage in a vessel bound for Quebec, in high spirits in expectation of embracing his dear children and beloved wife; but on his arrival you may judge how he must have felt, when all inquiries proved ineffectual. He was told that the ‘Mary Ann’ had arrived and sailed for a foreign port, but there were no passengers of the description he gave, on board. He remained in this state of mind, torn with suspense, hoping against hope, when one day after his usual inquires, he met with a Mr. WATERS from Belfast, whom said he recollected seeing them on board when he parted with his family. Mr. SODEN stood motionless, gazed upon the countenance of Mr. WATERS and both burst into tears. He now, had no doubt, of the melancholy fate of his family and with streaming eyes, prayed he would relieve him of his anxiety of mind, as he was fully prepared for the worst. Mr. WATERS then gave him a brief recital of their sufferings and finally of their unhappy and melancholy end. I need not say his grief was excruciating and after his mind had become somewhat calm, he said. ‘The Lord has given them to me, he had a right, therefore, to take them when and how he pleased’.

Melancholy Narrative

On the 12th of July 1817, the brig Mary Ann, of Maryport, England, W. MITCHELL, Master, sailed from Belfast (Ireland), for Quebec, with 102 passengers. They were but a few days at sea, when the typhus fever appeared among the unfortunate people and, though none died, every person but 5 was afflicted with it.

Dr. SODEN, of Ballieborough, whose lamentable fate is connected with this distressing narrative, rendered every assistance to the poor sufferers that could be afforded under such circumstances, much aggravated by the want of adequate supply of medicines. The vessel arrived the Gut of Canso* on the 15th September, when it appeared there were not any provisions left equal to the further prosecution of the voyage.

The wind being favourable, the passengers wished to put to sea, their stock was hardly equal to the time it would require to get to Quebec, which the Captain refused, under the pretext that he wanted a supply of water, though 15 puncheons were yet in the hold and further pretended to want fuel, though he had then a considerable quantity of coal.

As provisions were not to be had in Canso, the passengers urged the necessity of putting to sea, from a place where they were consuming the small quantity on hand and no chance of obtaining any, even for money. These remonstrances went for nothing; he remained 5 days in this way and again, he was requested to proceed. This he explained away, by asserting his men were not equal to the working of the vessel. This excuse was set aside as 4 experienced sailors, who were passengers, offered their gratuitous assistance, as did 2 other seamen, who were then at Canso, where they had been shipwrecked.

Further assistance was offered by a mate of a vessel, acquainted with the coast, who would undertake to pilot the brig into Quebec, without expecting any reward, only their passage.

After a delay of 20 days, the passengers, outrageous at the visible intentions of the Captain, who connived at the plunder of their chests and protracted the voyage. Alarmed at the spirit which his conduct produced, the Captain agreed to set sail for Quebec, apparently intending it, weighed anchor the 6th October. They arrived at the mouth of the river St. Lawrence, when 14 days more were spent in idle and vexatious pretences, without making an effort ascent the river. The passengers had not now more than a pound of bread each – they begged to make some shore where they might purchase food. At length, they were so distressed, that the Captain agreed to sell them a pound of biscuit for each head, pretending he could spare no more, though it was discovered a few days after, that he had more than 600 weigh and 2 tierces of beef; the sailors said the delays were continued for the purpose of tiring out the passengers, as he did not mean to go to Quebec; having no business anywhere but in Richibicto, where he was to take in a load of timber, agreeably to charter, there he arrived on the 24th October.

Twenty five engaged a shallop, for a place called Coucoin, a French settlement, where it was expected some proper vessel could be obtained for them to Quebec, but this idea was not realized, as on their arrival, not one could be had.

Fortunately as they thought, a vessel, the ‘Mary’ of Cumberland, N. B. Capt. MACRAY put into Caucoin in distress; in this brig, 19 engaged a passage to Passmaquoddy, (Bay of Fundy) this was on the 9th November. On the 11th December they sailed and about four in the morning of the 13th, the vessel struck on the Halfmoon Rocks, Cape Negro, Nova Scotia. Ten of the passengers perished here in less than 10 minutes, as she filled with water. Seventeen got into the boat, but it being dark and the sea running high, the boat was not manageable and struck a rock near an uninhabited place or rock, called Blanch Island, covered with snow.

They discovered, on an adjoining island, a person, who appeared to be an inhabitant of the continent, who they knew afterwards by the name of Lamb THOMAS.

Mrs. SODEN and her 7 children were drowned the eldest was a young man, a physician, aged 23 years.

Mr. BALLENTINE of Ballymena, county Antrim, Ireland, with his 2 children, were also washed from the vessel.

Mr. THOMAS and his friend stripped off part of their clothes to aid the people on the rock. The poor party were carried to Mr. THOMAS’ house, where they were kindly treated and where they remained until the 6th of May.

During this time (the inhabitants of Port le Tore?) were plundering the wreck of such clothes and baggage belonging to the sufferers, as escaped the seas.

The vessel was sold at public auction and was bought up by some inhabitants of Port Certore, on conditions that the properties of the passengers should be given up to them, including what had been stolen from the vessel, an agreement which was evaded. Search warrants were granted by Justice Cox and Colonel Sergeant, but constables were afraid to go on their duty until the accused were apprised of the intended visit, by some other officers of justice, who were sharers in the spoils.

After some weeks spent this way, they were obliged to leave all with the robbers, some of whom are in high standing in Port Le Tore and Barrington.

Mr. SODEN, the father of this family, never learned the fate of his wife and children for 8 months after the sad event. Early in August next, after the departure of his family, Mr. SODEN sailed for Quebec, where he arrived on the 11th October, expecting to see his poor family, but alas! no family existed for this anxious father and for near 8 months he was alternately, in hopes and despair, until a passenger from Belfast, Mr. WATERSON, acquainted him with a details of the tragedy.

Charles Kellett.

*Gut of Canso = Strait of Canso

Transcribed by Teena from the Saunders Newsletter and the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser