On September 16, 1898, the Express, Yarmouth bound, had called at Barrington Passage, and was feeling her way up the coast through a dense fog. There was no wind nor sea—no “rote” to guide or warn her—and the ebb was running strong; the captain thought he had cleared Bon Portage and pulled his ship in, too soon.
At 12:30 that day the Bon Portage keeper, Mr. Leslie Hopkins, and his family were at dinner in the lighthouse. Through the fog they heard a rending crash—the story has it they heard the smashing of dishes in the dining saloon— and rushed outdoors. The steel bow of a large steamer loomed through the fog above the ledges of the seaward point—practically in their front yard!
The ebb had still an hour and a half to run and as the steamer settled, two large rocks penetrated the engine room floor; then, as the flood tide made, the fires were extinguished and the ship filled to her upper deck. With land under the ship’s bow, there could have been no cause for fear among the fifty passengers, and there was no confusion on board.
Mrs. James Kenney of Barrington was on the Express bound for a visit in Saint John. She told how, since the steamer was practically high and dry at low water, the ladies were carried ashore singly in “chairs” formed by two crewmen clasping hands about wrists. One spinster primly rebelled against this mode of transportation (it must have been far from a dignified one, as the men slid and lurched through puddles, then up over weeded rocks and down).
She decided she would tuck up her skirts and make her own way ashore. Often it is the ridiculous aspects of a situation that the memory retains. In later years, Mrs. Kenney had many a laugh at the recalled pictures presented by the independent and scrambling lady, as she strove to reconcile her many flowing skirts and sense of propriety with the slippery boulders and seaweed hidden pools.
At the lighthouse the passengers were welcomed hospitably. The kitchen then was a small cramped room (how well I know its short comings!) but what happy excitement and bustle it must have held as supper-time drew near and the keeper’s wife, aided by housewifely passengers (Mrs. Kenney among them) donned aprons and made biscuits and cranberry sauce to “stay the stomachs” of the castaways.
In the meantime four men passengers had hired a fishing dory to take them to the mainland. No doubt they sent word to the owners of the Express for by 3:30 that afternoon the Yarmouth steamer La Tour was on the scene and she was soon joined by the Wanda. The work of transferring freight and baggage to the smaller steamers by row-boat began at once. Foster Nichols of Shag Harbour remembers ferrying to the Wanda a doryload of kitchen sinks—not the porcelain or enamel ones of today, but sinks of teakwood or Spanish cedar. He rowed through water thickly strewn with peanuts, oranges and bobbing bottles of limejuice.
The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson
May be purchased at the Cape Sable Historical Society