An almost century-old mystery has been solved in time for 2014 — the 100th anniversary of the Newfoundland sealing disaster.
78 men from the steamship, the SS Newfoundland, died in a blizzard in March 1914. They had been stranded for 53 hours.
All 78 names will be engraved on a wall of black granite at the planned Sealers' Memorial in Elliston. Up until a few days ago, one of those names remained a mystery, until an archivist solved the riddle.
Larry Dohey, manager of collections and projects at the Provincial Archives, became involved in the search when the Mary March Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor held an exhibit about the sealing disaster.
Dohey was asked to explain some of the photos. A short time later, the group from Elliston approached Dohey to confirm the names of the 78 who were part of the disaster.
The research became personal for Dohey since it turned out that an old family story was the key to properly identifying a sealer from Dohey's home town of St. Bride's.
Dohey said it was coincidence how he realized the 78th sealer's name.
"The problem was that on the official register, the sealers' agreement that all of these men were required to sign, was the name Phillip Dohey," he said.
"So, he [Phillip] would be my great-grandfather's brother. I remember summers in St. Bride's, making hay in the meadow. And I remember the older gentleman there ... I assumed he was a crewmember and had lived, but he never talked about it. Clearly what he had done – he had given his berth to another man from the town. It was Charles Foley who had taken his [Phillip Dohey's] place on the SS Newfoundland and had died."
Dohey said it wasn't long after the March 1914 disaster that names of those lost were printed in the newspaper, including Phillip Dohey's name.
Larry Dohey added if he hadn't heard the story while growing up in St. Bride's, the connection might never have been made.
"Because I had access to all the original material, and the sealer's agreement, I just walked through the list and then compared it to the list of another ship, the SS Bellaventure. Charles Foley's name was on that list, and that's when I realized exactly what had happened — Phillip Dohey and Charles Foley had switched berths."
Dohey said this finding is of great importance.
"They're now in the process of confirming all the names and the correct spelling. The memorial will be a testament to the sealing industry, the sealing fishery, the history ... all that's attached to it. So it's important that it's a complete history," he said.
"Charles Foley is now a part of that."