Remembering victims of The Fanny

Melissa Jenkins
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A commemorative plaque to be unveiled in Hant's Harbour for seven dead crewmen

Taking a walk along the main road of Hant's Harbour, Trinity Bay, can be a reminder to some of old Newfoundland, when fisherman were plenty and the smell of salt water was always in the air.

Here lies the seven victims of The Fanny, underneath a willow tree donated to Hant's Harbour by the widow of the vessel's owner, William Kelson Jr.

The road twists and turns along the coastline, where the Willow Tree Museum has become a popular tourism destination to those who visit.

Continuing down the road, the United Church is on the left hand side. A small lane runs beside it, and it is a steep climb.

Half way up the hill is a clearing, slightly overgrown, with rocks placed strategically throughout. They are grave markers.

Those who have climbed through the tall grass and weeds and maneuvered around the rocks have noticed an old, large willow tree, still flourishing.

Behind the tree are several tombstones, the only ones in the cemetery. And among the stones are more grave markers. It is here the bodies of seven men who died at sea were buried.

Many in the town know the story of how those men, who were from a town called Trinity across the bay, were shipwrecked, and their bodies recovered from an unforgiving sea.

It's a story that has been told for generations, and one the townsfolk of Hant's Harbour, Trinity Bay hold close.

Keeping memories alive

A schooner called The Fanny was was caught in a winter storm in 1835, and remnants of the wreck washed up along the shores of Hant's Harbour.

The skipper was Ben Breddy, the owner William Kelson Junior, and crewmembers were John Heyter, Jonathon Miller, John Sheppard, John Stevenson and James Swyers. All lost their lives in the disaster.

In 1994, the Willow Tree Historical Society was formed. It has since created and maintained the museum and ensured the cemetery remained presentable.

The name comes from a gift received by the town from Elizabeth Kelson, wife of the late William Kelson Junior, in 1937. Records show it is the same tree that is found today in the cemetery.

The group has kept the memory of those on board alive and ensured the story of the shipwreck was preserved through the museum. It hopes to continue with the addition of a plaque in memory of the dead seamen in the cemetery in front of the willow tree.

Call for relatives

The plaque unveiling ceremony, which will take place Saturday, Aug. 16, was something the society felt necessary.

"The plaque is to remember the seven lives lost in the wreck of The Fanny," society member Doris Short told The Compass.

The society would like to see family members of the deceased attend the event, but so far they have not found any.

"We know (Kelson) had two daughters, Francis, who The Fanny was named after, and Mary," Short explained.

There are, however, descendants of another man connected to the wreck, Richard Pelley, who are still in Hant's Harbour.

Pelley volunteered to be lowered in a homemade leather wrap down the embankment where the bodies were found in 1835. He wrapped each body, and other volunteers lifted them up.

Len Pelley, husband to member of the society, Gertie Pelley, is his descendant.

The society is still reaching out to those in the Trinity area, and beyond, who have connections to the wreck and want to be a part of the ceremony next month.

Those who would like to be a part of this historic event, or believe they are descendants of the crewmen, can contact the society at 586-2335, or email willowtreesociety@gmail.com.

For more on the tragedy, visit newfoundlandshipwrecks.com/Fanny/fanny.htm.

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

Organizations: Willow Tree Museum, United Church, Willow Tree Historical Society The Compass

Geographic location: Hant, Trinity Bay

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