Some of the well publicized dramatic sea rescues by Newfoundland dogs have in the last few years been exposed as fantasy. This happened primarily at the beginning of the twentieth century when the feats of Newfoundland dogs had become legendary and journalistic integrity was somewhat lacking. The prime examples are The wreck of the Ethie in 1919 where a Newfoundland dog supposedly saved a ship load of people and the sinking of the Titanic in 1911 with a Newf named Rigel allegedly helping to save a life boat full of passengers who were too weak to call out in the dark.
While some events of sea rescues by Newfs were pure fiction, the reputation of the breed was well earned particularly in the 19th century. Unfortunately very few of their incredible feats were documented and were only spread by word of mouth. However one dramatic rescue involving a Newf was well recorded and the legacy will last for all time on the Island of Newfoundland; this was the rescue by the Harvey family of 163 people shipwrecked off Newfoundland’s coast in 1828. The brig, Despatch, was wrecked near the Isle aux Morts and a group of survivors were found on a tiny island later known as Wreck Rock. George Harvey along with his 17 year old daughter, Ann, and 10 year old son, Tom, went to their rescue. For this bravery they were honoured by a gold medal struck by the Royal Humane Society in London. George passed the medal to his daughter to credit her as the person most responsible for the life threatening rescue.
Ann has since been honoured by having her name given to a vessel of the Canadian Coast Guard (see photo below – CCGS Ann Harvey). There is also a book and folk opera entitled Ann and Seamus that commemorates this remarkable event. On the Isle aux Morts the Harvey Trail stands as on ongoing monument to this very brave family.
But here is the rest of the story. There would not have been a rescue had it not been for the Harvey’s family dog, a Newfoundland named Hairyman. The Harveys in their 12 foot skiff were unable to get close enough to the island because of the heavy seas so they threw a piece of wood to which the survivors attached a rope. Hairyman then went and retrieved the billet of wood and a life line was established.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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