If you were in St. John’s on the above date and picked up the Evening Telegram, you would have seen the above headline, or words to that effect. The news item was curt and said only the following: A boat with a crew of three men left Fogo for Joe Batt’s Arm on the 4th inst. when off Brown’s Point, the boat capsized, and sad to relate, one of the men named John Hamilton, was drowned. We are informed that the accident and loss of life was caused through drink.
That may very well be the first drinking accident to be reported from Fogo Island to the outside world, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t much drinking here. Liquor may not have even been controlled and could be bought from the merchants for hard cash. Meanwhile the above accident resulted in a magisterial inquiry called by Magistrate Fitzgerald and was held in the police office on Monday, May 8. That was just a few days later ‘to investigate the circumstance connected with the drowning of one John Hamilton of Joe Batt’s Arm, fisherman, on Wednesday evening, the 3 of May, 1882.’
It appeared from the evidence of Michael Burke and Charles Penton who were in the punt with John Hamilton, and now obliged to return to Fogo, that the three young men left Fogo for Joe Batt’s Arm on Wednesday evening, May 3, in a small rodney punt.
They stated that Hamilton and Penton were nearly intoxicated before they left Fogo. Further to this they stated that Hamilton had a bottle containing about three half-pint of brandy which they all drank crossing Shoal Bay en route to Joe Batt’s Arm.
The two further testified that the punt was under sail, and that Burke was steering the punt with a paddle. They also stated that everything went all right until they got into Joe Batt’s Arm Harbour and when just passing Brown’s Point, the punt capsized. All three, it was stated, were thrown into the water, but Burke was able to hold onto the keel of the punt and Penton was able to get hold of the paddles and thus both of them were able to save their lives. Hamilton, they stated, sank and drowned. Fishermen from Brown’s Point must have rushed to the scene and were able to save Burke and Penton. They were not able to recover the body of John Hamilton until two or three hours after the accident happened.