Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster Of 1914

Paperback | February 29, 1988

byCassie Brown

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Each year, for generations, poor, ill-clad Newfoundland fisherman sailed out 'to the ice' to hunt seals in the hope of a few penniew in wages from the prosperous merchants of St. John's.  The year 1914 witnessed the worst in the long line of tragedies that were part of their harsh way of life.

For two long, freezing days and nights a party of seal hunters--one hundred thirty-two men--were left stranded on an icefield floating in the North Atlantic in winter.  They were thinly dressed, with almost no food, and with no hope of shelter on the ice against the snow or the constant, bitter winds.  To survive they had to keep moving, always moving.  Those who lay down to rest died.

Heroes emerged--one man froze his lips badly, biting off the icicles that were blinding his comrades.  Other men froze in their tracks, or went mad with pain and walked off the edge of the icefield.  All the while, ships steamed about nearby, unnoticing.  And by the time help arrived, two thirds of the men were dead.

This is an incredible story of bungling and greed, of suffering and heroism.  The disaster is carefully traced, step by step.  With the aid of compelling, contemporary photographs the book paints an unforgettable portrait of the bloody trade of seal hunting among the icefields when ships--and men--were expendable.

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From Our Editors

Discover an incredible story of greed, suffering and heroism in Death on the Ice. In the winter of 1914, 132 ill-clad seal hunters from Newfoundland were stranded on an ice field in the North Atlantic for two freezing days and nights. With almost no food or shelter to guard against the constant, bitter winds, they had to keep moving to...

From the Publisher

Each year, for generations, poor, ill-clad Newfoundland fisherman sailed out 'to the ice' to hunt seals in the hope of a few penniew in wages from the prosperous merchants of St. John's.  The year 1914 witnessed the worst in the long line of tragedies that were part of their harsh way of life.For two long, freezing days and nights a pa...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8.2 × 5.4 × 0.6 inPublished:February 29, 1988Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385251793

ISBN - 13:9780385251792

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Harrowing Tale of Death & Survival Reason for Reading: I read the book a long time ago and knew it was a good read. This book is a chilling tale of how 132 men were stranded for two days and nights during a freezing storm on the ice-fields of the North Atlantic with only one-third of them surviving to be rescued. First, though, it is the story of the harsh life of the early 20th century Newfoundland fisherman who scraped a living from the sea. Fishing when it was warm and sealing at the end of a long winter when the money was direly in need. The fur seals came up onto the ice for a brief period of time and it was a race against the clock to get out to the seals until the sealers were done and home, safe, again. It wasn't a job anyone liked, there was no sport in clubbing baby seals and the conditions on the frozen ocean were dangerous, but it was one of only a few ways to make a living. The year of 1914 would prove to be one of the worst tragedies the Newfoundlanders had seen in their entire harsh way of life. The men from one ship, the SS Newfoundland were stranded on the ice, and none of the captains of any of the other ships including the Newfoundland knew they were out there. Everyone assumed they were aboard another ship. The Newfoundland had been stripped of its wireless the previous year as the company found it unprofitable, thus communication with this one ship which was stuck in the ice was impossible. A harrowing tale of what men will do to survive under the most extreme conditions. How the will to survive kicks in, the mental state one goes into to come out of such an ordeal alive. A gut-wrenching tale of how men slowly succumb to the elements, how it affects first the body then the mind causing some to end their own lives by walking off the ice into the ocean, others to lay down and die and many more died frozen in mid-step; these are the worst as they had the will but their bodies just couldn't hold out. "Death on the Ice" also shows the complete and utter folly of those in charge to do anything to save these men. The disaster could have been prevented if one of any number of things had been done either prior to or during the expedition. "The men" were concerned for them and spoke to their superiors who then spoke to their superiors but word never got beyond that point because "Old Man" Kean was out there and he was the one who had sent the men out into the upcoming storm. No one questioned Kean or told Kean what to do; he was a seasoned Captain, as well as a respected and feared man. The complete mess that goes on back on the ships while these men are freezing to death is unbearable. A riveting and compelling read of human survival, suffering and death versus company greed and disregard for human comfort at a time when employers counted human lives as expendable.
Date published: 2010-10-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not for the faint hearted The way this book is written is fantastic, it does evoc great emotion and sometimes makes you hold your breath hoping the fisherman will survive, however, the imagery, the thought of dead baby seals, the description of their cries is horrible for the weak stomached people. Anyone who feels a great deal for animals shouldnt be reading this book.
Date published: 2009-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I remember I'm in my early 30 and the only book I remember reading in high school in grade 10 was this book. I'm going today to get this book.
Date published: 2008-12-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wow! This true story about a couple of Newfoundland fishermen is truly exceptional. Its heart warming and very touching. I enjoyed reading. Of course this is not my type of normal reading material, but for a book that I didn't really want to read I found this book to be pretty good. I would love to have others read it.
Date published: 2008-02-15

Extra Content

From Our Editors

Discover an incredible story of greed, suffering and heroism in Death on the Ice. In the winter of 1914, 132 ill-clad seal hunters from Newfoundland were stranded on an ice field in the North Atlantic for two freezing days and nights. With almost no food or shelter to guard against the constant, bitter winds, they had to keep moving to survive. Cassie Brown describes these horrifying hours in a rich narrative evoking the essence of terror.

Editorial Reviews

"Cassie Brown has done a magnificent job. It's been a long time since the appearance of a Canadian book that so graphically describes the horrible abuse and disdain with which the working man was treated in the early part of this century."-Calgary Herald"Death on the Ice succeeds not only in capturing the essence of the event, but maintains an atmosphere of taut suspense up to the climactic rescue. A thriller."-Financial Post"A compelling reconstruction of the 1914 'Newfoundland' disaster...invites comparison with The Naked and the Dead..."-Newfoundland Herald