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TREPASSEY

You may recall, dear reader, that on the previous page I was standing on an embankment in a howling gale reciting poetry of a kind. But here, I've moved on. And after all of my vicissitudes I've finally reached the first of the two places in the extreme south-east of Newfoundland that were the reason for my coming here.

What is actually quite ironic is that there were three places in Newfoundland that I really wanted to see. Two are around here, of course, but the third was, as you might expect, the Norse ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in the far north-west of Newfoundland. I've been there of course, and now I'm here, and I find it really so ironic that two sets of crucially-important places are so far apart. In fact, it would be difficult for any two places, here and L'Anse aux Meadows, to be farther apart in Newfoundland.

And Newfoundland is a huge place - it's much bigger than ever I imagined it to be and it's causing me not a few logistical problems as I work my way around.

trepassey bay avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Ahh right - so where was I? Ahh yes, that's right. I've been driving over the back of Cape Freels, the southernmost point in Newfoundland (although I didn't actually drive out to it due to time constraints) and I drop down round the back and into Trepassey Bay.

And we have a storm out to sea in the Atlantic too, if you look at the cloud in the centre of the photograph and how there are parts of it that descend right to sea level.

Trepassey Bay would be one of the first shelters that ancient mariners would find after having crossed the Atlantic from Europe. While it's a shorter route from Europe to go northabout and enter the St Lawrence via the Strait of Belle Isle, the fact that there's an island (Belle Isle) across the mouth of the Strait, that the Strait is much narrower, and that there's very little room to manoeuvre when you encounter the inevitable icebergs, as HMS Raleigh discovered on 8th August 1922 and she was a vessel under steam as well, made the masters of sailing vessels come to the south and pass before Trepassey into the St Lawrence.


trepassey avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Right there inside the bay on the eastern side is the small town of Trepassey.

Trepassey, although you might not think it, is probably after Kittyhawk in North Carolina the most influential place in the history of aviation and yet if you spoke to most aviation buffs, they would not be able to tell you anything at all about it.

In fact very little is known about the town's contribution to the history of flight - the town makes no effort to promote itself and it is shamefully missing from the list of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador's "Places to Go and Things to See"

But never mind. I am here. I'll soon sort this out.


trepassey avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

But let's spend a minute or so examining a cropped section of the photograph above. Having a decent camera with a decent lens doesn't half make things easy.

The land itself is heathland, with little possibility of agriculture. The lack of deciduous trees, or trees of any nature, indicates that the headlands must be subjected to strong winds as we are well south of the tree line here. It's a typical "whitewash" Canadian Maritime sea-coast settlement in a sheltered position at the side of a sheltered bay. Everything points here to a typical maritime economy, fishing and all of that kind of thing.

But how all of this could be changed by tourism. The town is sitting on an aviation goldmine and with a little imaginative marketing and some considerable help from Provincial Government, and not necessarily of the financial kind either, the tourists would flock here by the thousand.

But as I have said elsewhere the concentration of the major part of the Province's tourism budget into just one site is having repercussions right through the country and I can't see how that can be right.

The Red Bay Whaling Centre may be the most exciting historical discovery to have been made in the Province, if not in the whole of Canada, since L'Anse aux Meadows and it is right that a major effort should be made to unravel all of its secrets, but what are they allowing to be destroyed while they concentrate on that?

Yes - I'm off again, aren't I?


Anyway, now that the rant is over we can concentrate on more practical matters.

trepassey avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

I offered the opinion that maritime activities may well have played an important role in the early history of the town, and I was not wrong. Trepassey has a history of not only fishing but as an important trading and commercial port.

So much so that during the struggle between the French and the British for supremacy in North America in the 18th Century, Trepassey became an obvious focal point for military misadventure, particularly with a rocky promontory such as this, right in the mouth of the bay overlooking the sheltered harbour and the town.

The War of the Spanish Succession in Europe between 1702 and 1713 saw the French and the British ranged on opposite sides and not surprisingly, given the tense nature of relations in North America the fighting spilled over here. Trepassey was "visited" by the French, both "officially" and by privateers bent on plunder (and many of these privateers were as bent as they come) and the locals pleaded for support. The "capture" of the town, the harbour and 22 ships therein by the pirate Benjamin Roberts in June 1720 must have been a brutal shock to the inhabitants

17th century artillery cannon trepassey fort avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

It's not easy for a country so deeply engaged in a military adventure so close to home to concentrate its extremely limited resources on protecting an enormous coastline so sparsely populated a couple of thousand miles away, but nevertheless some fortifications were built and a small battery of guns was installed to protect the harbour and the coastline.

The subsequent history of the battery is ... err ... unclear but by the time of the French Revolutionary Wars the battery had fallen into disrepair. In 1793 the locals petitioned the Government for its repair but it is not known whether any action was taken in this respect.


Now, let me ask you a question.
"Who was first to cross the Atlantic by air?"

The answer that most people from the USA will give would be "Charles Lindbergh". But of course that is not the case. Lindbergh is acknowledged as the first to fly from mainland to mainland. But then again even that isn't correct. He took off from Roosevelt Field which is on Long Island, New York, and not from the North American mainland at all.

Most other people would reply "Alcock and Brown"

A few others would reply "Mike Tyson"
"No it isn't - it was Alcock and Brown"
"Well, that was what I said, wasn't it?"

trepassey bay avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

But of course they qould be all wrong, because the first to cross the Atlantic by air was an American, Lieutenant-Commander Read, and the crew of the Curtiss Flying Boat NC-4. And where they took off from was just down there in Trepassey Bay

Now the reason why Read's flight never made any headlines was because it was something of a stage-managed event done for propaganda purposes more than anything else. It involved four Flying Boats and an airship, and a line of destroyers strung out between here and the Azores to give back-up in case mishaps were to occur.

And mishaps certainly did occur. Only three of the Flying Boats (and not the airship either) were able to leave Trepassey Bay and they set off on 16th May 1919. By the time the Azores were reached there was just one Flying Boat - that of Read - still in the air and even he had landed short of his target after just over 15 hours in the air. When he finally struggled into Lisbon in Portugal he had been on his journey for 11 days, of which just 26 hours and 41 minutes had been spent in the air.

His flight was also wracked by all kinds of internal controversy. Read was not actually the leader of the expedition - in charge was Commander Towers aboard NC-3. And when the NC-3 was wrecked, Towers fully expected to transfer his flag to the surviving NC-4, as is the naval custom. The Secretary of the Navy refused this transfer, and this refusal left a mark on Towers that wrankled for a very long time.

In fact Peter Allen repeats a delightful little anecdote from World War II. A Texan bushpilot was describing to Read a little stunt that he had tried in the air in order to unsettle his passenger and oblige him to bale out. Read's comment was
"Ahhhhh. I must try it on Towers"

But back to our story. There was little time for celebrations after the arrival in the Azores as everyone's attention immediately turned to the presumed loss of Harry Hawker somewhere in the Atlantic (he and his navigator were rescued but by a ship with no radio) and then the success of that of Alcock and Brown just a couple of weeks later. The flight of Commander Read was filed quietly away into one of those very dark and dusty drawers of history


But stage-managed as the flight might well have been, that is no reason at all to forget about it or to even underestimate its importance. No-one can rightly deny that it WAS the first successful Transatlantic crossing by air and its success spurred on many others to improve upon it. Without Read and his crew showing that Transatlantic flight was possible, then it might have taken much longer for anyone else to summon up the effort and courage to try to do it non-stop.


The fact that the American effort started from here is something about which Trepassey ought to be proud, and the town ought to make much more of an effort to promote itself and its major connection with an important landmark event in aviation history. I find it really difficult to understand why it hasn't done so.

It's not as if the town doesn't need the money either. I speculated that the sea must have played an important role in the life and economy of the town. And so it did until 1991, when the fish processing plant closed down, throwing 600 people out of work. What community of this size can support that much loss of employment?

arthur read curtiss nc4 flying boat atlantic crossing trepassey avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

This is all that there is in the town to commemorate this historic event - a decaying and weather-worn tablet set in a small cairn at a road junction. I had a wander around the town and I couldn't find anything else at all. In the local shop I couldn't even find a leaflet.

There was no point at all in asking at the local Tourist Information Office or what appears to be the little town museum . As you might expect, they were closed. That is the usual story of my travels and my visits to anywhere historic. Having the chance to meet Government delegations and UNESCO officials doesn't happen every day and I am often reduced to climbing over roofs of buildings after an otherwise-abortive 300 kilometre drive to visit an important tourist attraction.


You might think that one exciting and ground-breaking event in the history of aviation might be enough for any small town. But not a bit of it. Trepassey can lay claim to TWO, and maybe even THREE!

The first woman to cross the Atlantic by air was Amelia Earhart, and that particular flight also took off, as you might expect, from Trepassey on the 17th of June 1928.

There is a great deal of misinformation about this fight. The entry for Trepassey at Wikipedia states unequivocally (22 April 2011) that she piloted the aeroplane. However, all the evidence that I have seen suggests that she did nothing of the sort.

Earache travelled as part of a team of three people, the others being Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon and her own explanation of her role is that she went along merely to keep the log of the journey but simply sat in the back and did nothing.

"Schultz did all the flying ... I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes" she said, and it was some kind of guilt about what she perceived to be her undeserved fame that spurred her on be the first woman to make a solo crossing by air, which she undertook on the 20th May 1932 from Harbour Grace just up the road from here. She doubtlessly had in mind the fate of the Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim, who flew likewise as a passenger with Minchin and Hamilton on their east-west attempt on 31st August 1927 and disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic.

But nevertheless, she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air on the flight of the Fokker trimotor from Trepassey


The third potential claim to aeronautical fame by Trepassey concerns a record that may or may not be accepted, depending upon your point of view. It concerns the Marquis of Pinedo.

He was an Italian nobleman and pioneer aviator who had already flown from Italy to Australia to China to India and then back to Italy. His next trick was to be a double-crossing of the Atlantic.

The outbound leg was an island-hopping passage of the South Atlantic in late February 1927, and he followed this with a series of flag-showing aeronautical flights all over the Americas. With a delay of 4 weeks in Arizona while he waited for a replacement plane to arrive from Italy (some kids had set fire to his aeroplane at the Roosevelt Dam) he turned up at Trepassey on 20th May 1927, the day that Lindbergh took off on his Transatlantic flight.

He finally left Trepassey on the inbound leg on 23rd May, just 3 days after Lindbergh, but was forced down in the sea about two-thirds of the waty across. Luckily however he was in a flying boat and so managed to attract the attention of a couple of ships which took turns to tow him 280 kilometres to the Azores.

After repairs, he took off and flew back to where he had landed in the sea, and then picked up the journey again for Europe.

The Italians, and certainly the British, considered Pinedo's flight to be the first successful double-crossing of the Atlantic but others doubt that it qualifies, hence my reluctance to include it here. Nevertheless Trepassey was where the return flight began.

So, Come On Trepassey! Get In On The Act!


In case you are wondering, which am sure that you are, then having dealt with the first men to cross the Atlantic by air and the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, how about the first children to cross the Atlantic by air? According to Donald Bennett, who we encountered at Gander in his book Pathfinder, they were Bennett's own children who rejoined him in London via a BOAC flight after his service with the Atlantic Ferry came fo an end. As an aside, even the extremely partisan Bennett makes no claim that they piloted the aircraft.

And someone is bound to ask me about the first animal to cross the Atlantic by air. Leaving aside the members of the winged fraternity crossing under their own steam, fleas and other kinds of parasites and suchlike, the honour has to go in the absence of any other claimant to the ship's cat, a stowaway kitten in fact, aboard the airship R34 in early July 1919.


That was really all of Trepassey and now it's time to be moving on. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here, and I really hope that you did too. You may be none the wiser, but you are certainly better-informed.

strawberry moose trepassey avalon peninsula newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

I have to take the obligatory photograph of a piece of evidence to show that not only was I really at Trepassy, but that Strawberry Moose was too. A world-famous traveller such as he needs to be able to satisfy his millions of fand world-wide that he did actually make it to here.

And will I be coming back here again? I should say so. A town that describes its male inhabitants as "mariners" and its female inhabitants as "mermaids" has to be high on anyone's list of places to visit, even if the town is useless at marketing and self-promotion. I can teach them a thing or two about that.

Not only that, the woman in the grocery shop, where I went to buy something to drink, called me "honey" and that practically guarantees it. I'm not used to people being nice to me.


And that final incident set me off reciting poetry again. Who can ever forget the immortal George Wither, whose memorable lines include
"She would me 'Honey' call"
"She'd - Oh she'd kiss me too"
"But now alas she's left me"
"Falero lero loo"


I think that it's time I was moving on.



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