The History of Long and Brier Islands

Barque General Wolsley Wreck Gull Rock

by | Oct 24, 2021 | Brier Island, shipwrecks, Westport | 0 comments

Barque General Wolsley

This is a account of a ship that ran aground and became a total loss on the shores of Brier Island in the year of 1875. This wreck took place on Thursday the nineteenth day of August, 1875 on the ledge at Gull Rock. Gull Rock is the outer most formation of a rock ledge that continues in to the mainland of Brier Island. And about halfway in from Gull Rocks is another group of rocks called Green Island.

There is rock ledge that connects Gull Rock and Green Island to the mainland of Brier Island. It lies just under the surface at high water called “Gull Rock Ledge”., and it is here that many ship are lost to the sea.

Gull Rock (high water) Home to Sea Gulls & Seals

This is “Gull Rock Ledge” that goes between Gull Rock and Brier Island (only visible on the low tide)

Barque Ashore Brier Island

Digby Weekly Courier; Aug. 27th 1875

A barque (bark) is a sailing ship with at least three masts, all of them fully square rigged except for the stern most one, which is fore-and-aft rigged.  

General Wolsley was on her second voyage from Liverpool, Merseyside, England to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. On the 19th Aug. 1875, General Wolseley ran aground, off Gull Rock Ledge.

GENERAL WOLSLEY, Saint John, barque, 720 tons, 153.5 X 32.8 x 19.5. Built 1874, St. Martins, N.B. Wrecked Brier Island, N.S., Aug. 1875.

Barque GENERAL WOLSLEY, built in 1874, 750 tons, of and for St. John, N. B., from Liverpool, G. B., with a general cargo, ran ashore, during a dense fog, at Gull Rock, Brier Island, on the 19th August 1875, and became a total wreck. Crew saved. Vessel valued at $32,000 and insured for five-eighths of this amount. The cargo, which was large and valuable, included a new organ for the St. John Cathedral, which alone was worth $6000.

The best way to tell this story is by letting the Captain of the Barque “General Wolsley” tell the story himself. In a poem he wrote to the “Vancouver News Advertiser” in about 1915:


(From the Vancouver News Advertiser)

Capt. Harvey Copp, one of the best known mariners and old timers of Vancouver, sends the following verses, inspired by a recent wreck near a spot where he had himself been wrecked. He writes:

Sir, – The stranding of the S. S. Cobequid on the dangerous hidden shoal called Trinity Ledge, near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, which lies some ten miles off shore from Yarmouth, N. S., and directly in the pathway of ships bound to St. John, has brought to mind the loss of the bark General Wolsley under my command some forty years ago on Gull Rock Ledge, lying three miles off the western most point of Brier Island and a few miles north of Trinity Shoal, where the Cobequid was wrecked.

I took a great interest in the report that the S. S. Cobequid had sent out a distress call by wireless, knowing, as I did, the dangers that existed in that vicinity, and I feared for the safety of the lives onboard during the interval of time, between the “S. O. S.” call for help until the people on board were rescued through the instrumentality of wireless telegraphy, another proof of the great value of wireless in saving life at sea.

In my case it was thick fog instead of snow and, although our ship broke up and the only place of safety was the mizzen rigging, the mizzen mast fell a few minutes after we were rescued. The following verses constitute a brief account of the loss of the ship, and may be a warning to navigators who are unacquainted with the dangerous shoals and current that exist near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy:

Ye mariners that navigate the Nova Scotia coast

And say you heed no danger – I think an idle boast.

For the soundings are not all correct, the tides run very queer

And extra caution should be used in the course you set to steer.

The reason that I say this, experience has taught

A lesson to the writer, a lesson dearly bought.

And I learn from the experience, by trusting to a log

Dead reckoning ain’t always safe in a Bay of Fundy fog.

If you listen I will tell you how I lost a fine new ship.

I was on my way from Liverpool – it was my second trip.

I was bound to St. John city with about two thousand ton

Of autumn goods for merchants, I’d had a splendid run.

Off Cape Sable it was foggy, and I had to feel my way

By soundings and dead reckoning, whilst running up the Bay.

I steered a course to clear Gull Rock, and watched my patent log

But I lost the ship and cargo in a Bay of Fundy fog.

When I passed up by the Lurcher Shoal, I stopped and took a sound

I got ten fathoms by the mark, with sand and pebbly ground.

Then I ran a little longer; then I took another cast,

For I expected deeper water, when the Lurcher Shoal was passed.

I did get deeper water and I thought I was all right

I then hove to, with head off shore to wait for daylight.

But the soundings had deceived me, she’d overrun her log

And I lost the General Wolsley in a Bay of Fundy fog.

The tides had set her to the east, inside St. Mary’s Bay

And set her north full twenty miles in less than half a day.

She struck her bottom, then her keel, between the rocks did wedge

And then I knew that she was on the reef called Gull Rock Ledge.

And there she struck, the tide went down, and left her high and dry

And when she’d float we’d get her off at least I’d have a try.

But the jagged rocks that held her fast hung on like a bull-dog.

And that was how the ship was lost in a Bay of Fundy fog.

When the tide was low we laid out warps we got ready for to heave

But when it rose she swung around, we saw ’twas time to leave.

The rollers threw her broadside on those cruel jagged rocks

Then up and down she struck the ground, some very heavy knocks.

I made ready then to leave the ship, whilst she remained afloat

I was trying to get three ladies and a baby, in the boat.

Just then I was attracted by the barking of my dog

When I saw a skiff approaching in a Bay of Fundy fog.

Two fishermen were in the skiff, they turned her head to tide

They waited and the current brought the little boat ‘longside.

They said, we’ll save the ladies, if you can get them down

Your ship is on a dangerous reef, about four miles from town.

The ladies then were lowered down in the little fishing boat

The little skiff was then about as deep as she would float.

The rollers struck our other boat, she capsized like a log

But the skiff shot out and disappeared in the Bay of Fundy fog.

Then the life boat’s crew they got away and lay to close outside

But they could not come to save us in that mighty rushing tide.

The fore and mainmast lay ‘longside, the ship she broke in two

And I climbed up the mizzen, with the balance of my crew.

And then we saw that mast must fall, the ship was now a wreck

Then a boat, half full of water, came sweeping ‘long the deck.

We left the mizzen for the boat, we also saved the dog

And we found our way to Westport in a Bay of Fundy fog.

I then was very thankful that we’d all got safe on shore

Although I’d lost a fine new ship – yet there were plenty more.

And the lesson taught me not to trust a chart and patent log

In the tide of Bay of Fundy, in a Bay of Fundy fog.

The following is the report from the Receiver of Wrecks who lived at Westport in 1875. His Name was Benjamin H. Ruggles. This report was in B. H. Ruggles’s Ledger and his own hand writing and the way they spelled at that time. Only (sic) has been added to the misspelled words.

                                   “General Wolseley” (sic)

          We, George Laffoley.. Joseph D. Payson and Oliver Peters. All of and residing at Westport in the County of Digby and Province of Nova Scotia. Do hereby jointly and Severally declared (sic) and attest to all to whom it may concern.

That on Thursday the Nineteenth day of August in Year of Our Lord – One thousand Eight hundred and Seventy five – At the instance and request of William H. Copp Master or Commander of the Ship “General Wolsley”  of the burthen of 720 Tons or thereabouts belonging to the Port of Saint John in the Provience (sic) of New Brunswick.  Proceeded to and on board Said Ship to examin (sic) into and report upon the position – extent of injuries. And the practicability of again waiting Said Ship off.  Having repaired to and on board the wrecked Ship “General Wolsley” (sic) on the day and date first above written at 3. P.M. Do report finding her laying on the outer part of Gull Rock Bar (so called) South Westerly from Brier Island with Main and Fore Mast gon. (sic) with their appendages – one mass of ruin along side the Hull – her bottom mostly beaten out.  The Cargo a Confused ruin much having been forced by the sea at highwater out of the hatches – her perilous Situation being such – and injuries sustained we see no hope of Saving the Ship and but a small amount of her Cargo – we therefore recommend that every effect. Be made forth with to save property by the wreckers on a Salvage – as the Ship from the Present heavy sea, must soon break up . when all will be lost.

Given as Our united opinions this twentieth day of August . aforesaid.

Sworn to before me Benj H. Ruggles                                 Geo Laffoley

this twentieth day of August A.D. 1875            sig’d         Joseph D. Payson

Wherefore I have caused my Seal of                                 Oliver Peters

Office to be affixed

                    Province of Nova Scotia

          By this Public Instrument of Declaration and Protest be it known and made manifest unto all whom it doth or may concern, that on thursday (sic) the Nineteenth day of August in the Year of Our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and Seventy five at One OClock P.M. cevil (sic) time. Before me Benjamin H. Ruggles a Notary Public in and for the Province of Nova Scotia duly commissioned and Sworn. And dwelling at Westport in the County of Digby in the aforesaid Province personally came and appeared William H. Copp Commander of the Ship “General Wolsley” of the Port of Saint John in the Province of New Brunswick of the burthen of 720 Tons or thereabouts and made known his intention of noting this his Protest-  That on the twenty first day of August aforesaid again came and appeared before me the said Notary the said William H. Copp for the purpose of extending this his Protest and with him also came and appeared before me the Said Notary – Adolf Bergman, first Officer – George Parten Boatswain and Joseph C. Copp.  Carpenter all of and belonging to said Barque Ship “ General Wolsley” all of whom being by me dully (sic) Sworn did by these presents do freely unanimously and Solemnly declare protest and say. that. –

They the Said appearers on the 15th day of July last. Sailed from the Port of Liverpool G.B. on the Barque Ship Ship (sic) “General Wolsley” with a pilot on board in tow by a Steam Tug – bound for the Port of Saint John N.B. at 10:30 A.M. Civial (sic) Time. discharged. Pilot and Tow Boat – having on board the Said Ship a Cargo of general Merchandize that the Said Ship was then stout Staunch and Strong – had her Cargo well and Sufficiently Stowed and Secured was tackled appareled (sic) victuled (sic) and manned well masted and was in every respect fit for Sea and the voyage she was about to undertake – at   the time of the Pilot and Tug leaving the wind was eastward with rain – at 12 noon the NW Light Ship bore E by S ¾ S distant 3 miles – Ship Course at that time W by N ½ N at 6. P.M. abreast of Holly Head altered Ships course SW by W at 7 A.M. on the 16th July.  Tuscar Light Ship bearing NE by N distant 6 miles wind continuing easterly from which date nothing out of usual Course of events occurred on the voyage until the 9th day of August inst. when the appearers at 2 P.M. sighted the Land at Louisburg at Cape Briton (sic) – distant a half mile Ships course NW wind WSW immediately taked (sic) Ship heading of S on the 11th nist. (sic) Sighted White Head Light bearing at 11 P.M. NW by W ½ W distant 8 Miles Wind variable and light Ship making a Westerly Course weather clear on the following day the fog became dense. continuing so until (sic) 3 P.M. on the 14th inst. when these appearers again Sighted land distant 12 Miles. which proved to be Egg Island fog again Close down – at 4 P.M. 15th inst. the fog lifted when these appearers Sighted Sambro for which place stood in until  the Light bore NE by N ½ N distant 4 miles when these appearers tacked Ship and stood out Southerly at Midnight Sambro Light bore NNE distant 14 miles at which time the wind died out – and continued calm until 8.P.M. on the 17th inst when the wind again Set from the SE weather being fine these appearers were enabled to get their Position by observation which agreed with the Ship,s (sic) position by account   at 6.P.M. on Same day the fog again Set in very dense – wind Southerly Ships course W at 6.A.M. on the 18th inst. attered (sic) Ship,s (sic) Course to WNW. weather continuing thick at 9.A.M. Same day spoke a fisherman who gave us his bearings and distance from Seal Island. Such corasponded (sic) with that of these appearers – at which time Sounded and found 52 fathoms.  fog very dense attered (sic) Ships Course to N. which Course these appearers considered would have carried the Ship to the Westward of the Lurcher.  Eight or nine miles – continued course N. until 10 P.M. when these appearers judged the Lurcher Ledge to bear SE distant eight or ten miles. the Ships Course was then attered (sic) to NNE at 11 PM Sounded found 37 fathoms wind Southerly and Moderate fog continuing very dense. at 11.30. PM again hove Ship by and Sounded found 28 fathoms filled away – at 12 Midnight. Ship heading SW by S at 12.40 kept off to W at 1.A.M. on the 19th inst these appearers hearing what they supposed to be tide rips off Brier Island.  forthwith backed Main Yard to again Sounded – by Sounding found 37 fathoms – filled away – Ship’s head then paid off to WNW when she immediately Struck forward with her helm hard to Starboard.  Chain Cables and Anchors having previously been Cleared away and in readiness.  the Starboard Anchor was forthwith Cast.  which brought the Ship,s (sic) head to N.  the Ship swoung (sic) broad Side on the Ledge – these Appearers with others of the Crew Clered (sic) up all Sails.  finding the Ship not yet fast on bottom – made an attempt to unshackle the Chain and Ship –  the Ships heal taking the rocks.  the tide being ebbing – She soon became fast – finding the Ship fast these Appearers with others of the Ships Crew furled all Sails – fog continuing very dense did not know the exact position of the Ship – but supposed it to be SW Ledge of Brier Island – Soon finding the Ledge would dry – these Appearers then knew it not to be such Ledge – and made preparations to heave the Ship Afloat.  on the return of tide.  by running Kedge and Hawser forthwith – at the return of flood tide – the Swell from Seaward Commenced to make very heavy and increasing  with the coming tide – as the Ship commenced mooving (sic) by the force of the Sea.  when the Ship first struck Sounded the Pumps found no water making in her hold – At two hours flood tide again Sounded Pumps and found the Ship fast making water the Sea making rapidly found the hold would soon fill up – these Appearers with others of her Crew commenced to make preperations (sic) to abandon the Ship – at which time a Boat with two men from the Shore – they having seen the the (sic) tops of the Spars over the fog – from these men the Position of the Ship was learned – by the Appearers to be on the Western end of Gull Rock Bar so called being one (sic) the most exposed and dangerours (sic) Positions in the Bay of Funday (sic) finding the Ship would break up.  having a part of the Crew in the long Boat.  Considered it advisable to hawl (sic) her away from the Ship which was done.  at much risk of Life – These Appearers with one of the men from the Shore remained on board with three of the Crew –  The Ship having filled up – Sea breaking over fore and aft.  Main Mast going at deck carring (sic) with it the fore top Gallant Mast and Mizen topmast – these Appearers then considered an effort should be made to abandon the Ship – one Boat being broken up Along side one yet remained on board – A Succfull (sic) effort was made to get the last boat out – when these Appearers with all remaining on board succeeded in getting clear from the wreck – and forthwith proceeded to the harbour of Westport when these appearers the Commander Noted his Protest – at low water Same day returned to the wreck. and held a Survey – See Report there of Wherefore the said Appearers have severally protested and I the Said Notary at their special request do by these presents publicly and Solemnly protest (paragraph copied twice in original script)

          Wherefore the Said appearers have Severally protested and I the Said notary at their Special request do by these presents Publicly and Solemnly protest . against winds, and weather,s (sic) gales.  Seas and leaks. against all persons whom it doth, shall, or may concern and against all and every accident.  to  the end that all the costs charges – and expences (sic) which have happened by reason of the premises may be borne by those to whom the same of right may Appertain by way of average or otherwise having occurred as before stated – and by reason of the dangers and Perils of Navigation and not through the negligence misconduct – or want of skill on the part of these appearers or of any of the Crew of the Said vessel –

Thus done and protested this day to wit the day of the Year herein first written – In Witness whereof the Said applicants have hereunto subscribed their name

Wherefore I have Caused my                                   William H. Copp  Master

Seal of Office to be affixed the                               Adolf Bergyman

day and date first herein before                               Geo Parton   Boatswin (sic)

Written                                                                    Joseph Chesley Copp

To Serve and avail as occasion

shall or may require

                                 Benj H. Ruggles

                                               Notary Public

          Whe (sic) the undersigned F. W. Ruggles James D. Sullivan and James A. Peters all of and residing at Westport in the County of Digby and Province of Nova Scotia being called upon B. H. Ruggles receiver of Wrecks. and residing at Westport Aforesaid to examin (sic) into and report upon the appearance and damage State of the Cargo or Such portions.  thereof as.  from time to time is being landed from the Wrecked Ship “General Wolsley” by the Salvors (sic) thereof –

          Do report finding the Iron in a damaged condition much of it bent in various Shapes.  Bundles of Oakum – much injured – Bbls (sic) of Oil.  with some chimes Broken and otherwise chafed – case of Liquor.  Many of Such partially open – and ullage (sic) quarter casks Liquor much chafed.  Several small lots of Crockeryware (sic) all of Such Cargo we believe to have received such injuries.  from the force of the Seas were (sic) the said Ship was wrecked –    Given under our hands at Westport this thirteenth day of August.  A.D. 1875 as our united opinions

                                                                                               F. W. Ruggles

                                                                                              Jas D. Sullivan

                                                                                               Jas A. Peters

Sworn to before me

B. H. Ruggles, Notary

Public this thirteenth day

 of Augt. (sic) A. D. 1875

Wherefore I have Caused

My Seal of Office to be

affixed to Serve and avail

as occasion shall or may

require –

                                                     B. H. Ruggles

                                                                Notary Public

Digby Weekly Courier; Aug. 27th 1875

The hull was purchased at auction by Capt. Benj. Davis for $110.

Captain William Harvey Copp dies at 86

Victoria Daily Times B. C.

Aug. 2nd 1928


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