News Local

A life at sea can be smooth or choppy

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Submitted Photo
The ships and Newfoundland were clues enough for some to connect seafarer George Frederick Rollings (1851-1924) to Peter Stirling.

Submitted Photo The ships and Newfoundland were clues enough for some to connect seafarer George Frederick Rollings (1851-1924) to Peter Stirling.


A life at sea was the life for two of the ancestors discussed at the recent Mystery Ancestor Night, held annually by the Lakeshore Genealogical Society.

The danger of the sea, which still threatens those upon her depths today, was the centrepiece in Nancy Gibson's story of her first cousin three times removed, one of nine members of the US Coast Guard of Charlotte, NY, to receive a gold life-saving medal.

Ira Seth Palmer was part of the team who saved a crew of five from the Dec. 15, 1902, wreck of the schooner John R. Noyes.

Towed by the steamer barge the John E. Hall, the John R. Noyes was freighting coal from Oswego, NY, to Deseronto, ON It left port Dec. 11. By Dec. 12, they were about 15 miles west of Kingston near the Main Duck Islands, when a northeast gale came up and separated the two ships. The John E. Hall and its crew of eight went down, while the John R. Noyes drifted back towards the American shore.

George Donovan captained the John R. Noyes. His father Timothy was the captain on the ill-fated John E. Hall, and two other members of the Donovan family also went down with the boat.

Their distress call went out Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m. Ice conditions prevented rescuers from getting a barge to take the surfboat out. Instead, they took their supplies and surfboat by train to Lakeside, then transported them by horse-and-sleigh to the water.

Extreme weather conditions and heavy vapour, causing poor visibility, forced them back to shore to wait for daylight. Next day, by 11:30 a.m., they managed to battle through heavy waves and freezing spray to reach the helpless wreck.

By then, crew members were suffering from 50 hours of exposure and 36 hours without food. They could not have lasted much longer.

The life-saving crew, meanwhile, had been on the water for nearly 15 hours and had rowed almost 60 miles under extremely hazardous conditions. This was recognized March 3, 1903, when the nine men were cited for "extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea."

Along with Palmer, the Coast Guard crew included George N. Gray, Frank B. Chapman, W. Vernon Downing, Charles Eastwood, Miel Eggltston, George E. Henderson, Delbert Rose and Lester D. Seymour.

Palmer was born at Colborne Harbour in 1855, the son of Noble Palmer and Lydia Gleason. He emigrated to the US in 1890 and worked for the Coast Guard while living in Rochester.

Gleason is a sister of Gibson's great-great grandfather Anson Gleason, making Palmer her first cousin three times removed.

The career of Peter Stirling's ancestor George Frederick Rollings (1851-1924) is a story of a quieter sort.

Born in Portsmouth, he joined the Royal Navy as an assistant sick-berth attendant on the HMS Swallow just 11 days before his 22nd birthday, New Year's Day 1873.

That office had been created in 1833, while this arm of the navy was becoming a more professional organization. The daily pay was equivalent to 11 cents in today's currency, increasing to 13 cents once one was promoted to sick-berth attendant.

On July 6, 1874, he transferred to the HMS Eclipse, where he served four years as sick-berth attendant during the wooden-screw corvette's service off the North American coast.

During his time on the Eclipse, he met and married Delilah from Bradley's Cove, located on the western side of Conception Bay in Newfoundland.

In January 1878, he returned to Portsmouth to be assigned to the HMS Duke of Wellington, but his wife would not show up in England until the 1881 census.

George's subsequent ships were the HMS St. Vincent, HMS Tyne, HMS Egeria and HMS Victor Emanuel. After spending two years in Hong Kong on the Victor Emanuel, he was assigned to the HMS Thalia, HMS Jumna, HMS Edinburgh and HMS Orontes.

After his discharge from the Orontes, he served three months at the naval hospital at Haslar before going to sea one last time on the new HMS Galatea, an Orland-class armoured cruiser. Following his service with the Galatea, he was transferred to the famous HMS Victory in Portsmouth Harbour one week before returning to the naval hospital at Haslar. Meanwhile, the Victory was moored in Portsmouth Harbour off Gosport to be used as accommodation and a depot ship.

On Nov. 24, 1892, George was discharged from the navy, spending one month shy of 20 years in the service. He entered as a youth and left as a family man of 44 with four children.

George and Delilah lived out their days in Portsmouth. Delilah died in 1921 at the age of 67, and George followed three years later at the age of 73.


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions