poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘shipwreck

Briar Island Rock #4

with 4 comments



jointed ruler

                (Wreck of the Trafalgar, 1817)


the ship is broken on rocks

and we leave in fog

I hold my brother’s hand

we stumble up the shore

in a yellow room of fog

it stumbles with us

they set the baggage down

together, folded

we wait


my step-father

pats my mother’s hand

leaves to talk with the Captain

                the ship is lost

I look up at my mother

she watches him go, her lips move

she says we will lie in green pastures


I look for grass but only see

black rock and grinning fog

lanterns and men calling

my brother sniffs a little

in my pocket I clutch my father’s jointed ruler

he was a carpenter, would have fixed the hole

                the mate says

                there’s no going back to her now

we stay where we are

folded in a yellow room

luggage at our feet


the walls move

the ruler opens

I see the ship

black hull held high

on dark and pointed rock

against the early morning sky

white waves beyond

the ruler closes


pink and yellow mix, and the room

is the color of pumpkin

the ruler opens and I know

the black shore has bristles

I heard the mate call it

Briar Island


the rock I stand on tips a bit

I step down

the rock is wet and grey

five sides

a funny-looking stone

fits with other stones

strange puzzle


I take my ruler

help it to unfold

I measure the rock

I make it jiggle and my brother smiles

a little smile

the ruler folds, unfolds, the room expands

I see my step-father’s uneven walk

across uneven stones



Copyright  2011, Jane Tims


Written by jane tims

December 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Briar Island Rock #3

with 6 comments

In my garden there is a black pentagonal rock set into the ground.  The rock is black basalt, and future people may wonder how such a rock ended up in a setting of glacial moraines, far from other volcanic surface formations. 

The rock comes from the rocky shore of Briar Island in Nova Scotia.  On this shore, in July, 1817, my great-great grandfather came to Canada by way of the wreck of the ship Trafalgar.

In August 1993, my Dad led our family on a pilgrimage to Briar Island, to see Gull Rock where the ship went aground.  Our troupe included my Mom and Dad, my two brothers, my sister and me, with our respective families.  There we could see the rugged rocks where William first set foot in Canada.  Among those on the shore were four Williams of other generations, my Dad, my older brother, my younger brother (whose name, my Dad pointed out is the French version of William) and my nephew.

The pilgrimage had an amusing side.  We all gazed out to sea and retold the story of the shipwreck.  We all turned and had our photograph taken in the dazzling sun.  And when we later talked about our trip, no one could agree on what we had seen.  Some saw a black rock in the distance.  Some saw a small island.  Some saw a low rocky shoal of rocks extending into the sea.  In any case, I know we saw more than seven year old William did in 1817 as he stumbled onto the shore in thick fog and in the small hours of the morning.

The shore there is a pavement of columnar basaltic rock, emerging from the earth in slim five-sided columns.  This pattern develops when thick lava cools, resulting in a fracture network and the creation of perpendicular columns. 

example of columnar basalt (from Wikipedia)

One of those rocks I pried loose and it now sits, embedded in my garden, a memorial to young William.

My next post will be a poem and drawing about the shipwreck.

this rock has endured the decades since the shipwreck of the Trafalgar... it was there when the ship was stranded on the rocks...there when William and his brother came ashore... a witness to my family history

©  Jane Tims 2011


Written by jane tims

December 4, 2011 at 6:12 am

Briar Island Rock #2 ‘the shipwreck’

with 13 comments

How did your family first come to the country where you now live?

In my last post, I introduced the story of my great-great grandfather, William, who arrived in Canada, when he was about seven years old, by shipwreck.

William and his mother, brother and step-father took the schooner Trafalger.  It was a 3-masted square-sterned ship with two decks, 96 feet long and 25 feet wide.  The family embarked from Hull, England for Canada on May 31, 1817.

The ship was headed for Saint John in New Brunswick, but became lost in thick fog and was shipwrecked off Brier Island, on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy.  In a letter reported in the Hull Advertiser, the Captain of the Trafalgar gave a detailed account of what happened:

 I am sorry to inform you of the loss of the Trafalgar, on the 25 July, about half-past eight o’clock in the evening, upon Brier’ s Island, in the Bay of Fundy, about 60 miles below St. John’ s [Saint John, New Brunswick].  I had been running up all the day, it being very thick could not see anything; at seven p.m. I hove the ship to, with her head to the Westward, thinking we were well over to the Westward, sounding in 40 fathoms; the tide running very strong, and before we could see the land, we heard the surf against the rocks; got sail upon the ship, but being too close the strong tide set us upon the rocks; it being high water when we got on, run out a kedge to heave her off, but all to no use.  At low water, the ship was dry all round, amongst the rugged rocks, which went through her in different parts; the ship having as much water in the inside as there was on the outside at high water.  The passengers were all safe landed that were brought out, and got all their baggage on shore.  We are saving all the stores that we can, but they must be taken up to St John’ s to be sold, as there are no people on Briers Island to purchase anything.

–          ‘Letter from Captain J. Welburn to H. Cochrane, July 30, 1817. Saint John, New Brunswick’, Hull Advertiser, September 27, 1817.

The shipwreck was also reported in the New Brunswick Courier:

Shipwreck! – On Friday evening last, about half-past eight o’clock, the ship Trafalgar, Capt. Welburn, went ashore on Briar Island in a very thick fog – the ship will be a total wreck; chief part of the materials saved – The Trafalgar was from Hull bound to this port, and from hence to Quebec, and had 159 passengers, which together with the crew were all saved.

–          ‘Shipwreck’, Marine Journal, New Brunswick Courier, Volume 7, No. 325, Saint John, New Brunswick, August 2,1817.

The ship’s passenger list is available at The Ships List (   It lists the heads of the various families on board.

One of the saved passengers was my great-great grandfather, William, a child of about seven years.  William’s father, also named William, had been a carpenter and was killed by lightning while working on a building.  His mother married for a second time, and sold her first husband’s tools to get her second husband out of the army. 

It would have been hard for them after the shipwreck, but there was a small community of people living on Briar Island – it had been inhabited by fishermen since 1769, and by Loyalists after 1783.  After the shipwreck, William’s family eventually settled in Digby County, Nova Scotia.    

Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my own family’s pilgrimage to Briar Island in 1993.

'luggage, landed on the shore' (detail of a larger drawing by Jane Tims, 2011)

© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

December 3, 2011 at 8:26 am

Briar Island Rock #1

with 10 comments

One of the rock features already along the path in our front yard is a pentagonal chunk of black basalt.  Over the next three posts, I will tell you the story of what it represents and how it came to be in our yard.

The story begins with my study of our family history and genealogy.  Of course, being interested in genealogy means you will always have something to do.

As you go back in time, more and more people become part of your life story.  By the time you go back only three generations (your great-grandparents), you have 8 grandparents to research.  If you include your great-great grandparents, you have 16, and so on.  By the time you get to eight generations, you’ll have 256 people to call your own.  At 14 generations you have 16,384 grandparents!  Think of how many people had to meet and procreate just to make you!

The sad thing is, you will never know most of these people by name, let alone by their many stories.

One of my great-great grandparents would have quite a story to tell.  My great-great grandfather, William, came to Canada from England when he was about seven years old, with his mother, step-father, and brother.  The ship they travelled on, the Trafalgar, was shipwrecked off Briar Island, Nova Scotia on July 25, 1817.

In my next post, I will tell the story of the shipwreck.

©  Jane Tims  2011

Written by jane tims

December 2, 2011 at 7:11 am

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