The Sea Wins: Shipwrecks of the Bay of Fundy writer dives deep into history

Eric Allaby's painting of the schooner Perseverance, which was wrecked on New Year’s Eve in 1819. A black-and-white rendering of this painting is included in his new book.                                (Painted by Eric Allaby - image credit)
Eric Allaby's painting of the schooner Perseverance, which was wrecked on New Year’s Eve in 1819. A black-and-white rendering of this painting is included in his new book. (Painted by Eric Allaby - image credit)

Eric Allaby has spent a lot of time below the surface of the the Bay of Fundy.

And he's seen things not many others have had the chance to survey in those icy waters.

Allaby was a Liberal MLA for close to 20 years, but before that he was a commercial diver and it was his curiosity in that line of work that led him to research Bay of Fundy shipwrecks and prompted his latest book The Sea Wins: Shipwrecks of the Bay of Fundy, which he also illustrated.

"I stumbled into marine history research through the back door with a case of dynamite under one arm and the diving tank under the other," Allaby told Information Morning Saint John about the introduction to the book.

Heather Allaby/Submitted by Eric Allaby
Heather Allaby/Submitted by Eric Allaby

"Have you seen a book that starts off that way?" he said.

Memorable wrecks

Allaby's book looks at more than three dozen wrecks in the bay, and some of those stories really stood out for him, such as the Wallace off Grand Manan.

According to a Government of New Brunswick website on shipwrecks, the Wallace was built in Saint John in 1840. In April of 1841, it sailed from Liverpool, U.K., bound for Saint John with everything from "anchors to coffee mills, from spikes and nails to common pins; spoons, cutlery, and even paints."

But on May 23 it struck the Murr Ledges, since renamed the Wallace Rocks, near Grand Manan, and sank 3,000 feet.

"There was all kinds of misinformation about what it was carrying," said Allaby, who spent a lot of time hunting for a large volume of copper that wasn't actually there.

"There [were] all kinds of us competing for this so-called copper," said Allaby. "It was quite an adventure, neat experience."

Another shipwreck he's fascinated with is the Mavourneen, which sank in Bradford's Cove at the south end of Grand Manan in 1866 in dense fog with no loss of life.

Nimbus Publishing/Submitted by Eric Allaby
Nimbus Publishing/Submitted by Eric Allaby

Allaby said there wasn't any cargo on board the Mavourneen and when it sank, it just deteriorated in place.

"It's remarkably intact for a shipwreck," he said. "It was a good one to survey in detail … but it was a lot of work and perfected some new techniques in terms of rendering prospective [plots of shipwrecks]."

Perseverance

On New Year's Eve in 1819 a fierce gale in the Bay of Fundy capsized a schooner. All of the crew were lost, according to Allaby, except for the captain who made a makeshift sail on the stump of the mast near the bow of the ship and made it to the Nova Scotia shore. The schooner was called Perseverance, aptly named.

The thing about this and other shipwrecks, is that the vessels were all carrying the same kind of cargo, and there's nothing very interesting about that — until a hundred or more years later, said Allaby.

"They were carrying the trade of the day," he said. "But we didn't know what the trade of the day was until you have a shipwreck and then everything becomes important information."

Part of the Maritime heritage

Allaby's book is proving quite popular and demand is high enough to garner a second printing.

He said he knew the book would interest people, but he didn't realize it would to this extent.

He thinks it's because shipwrecks are part of the Maritime heritage.

"People are proud of being called Maritimers," said Allaby. "I think people relish the thought that their heritage involves the sea as much as it did."