The 1881 Rescue of the Passengers of the Northern Light

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Submitted by Carrie Layne Mashon -

The "S. S. Northern Light" was a coastal icebreaker, which served the run between Georgetown and Pictou on the Northumberland Strait. It was built by E. W. Sewell, Levis, Quebec and began its service on Dec. 7, 1876. A wooden ship of 700 horsepower, it was put into service that day and continued service on the run for 12 troubled years. 1st season, her steering gear gave way, and the 2nd, her propeller broke. She was known for being better at breaking the ice with her stern, rather than her bow, a trick learned several years after she began service.

In 1881, the vessel left Pictou on January 21st. Soon, she became stuck in the drift ice and slush off Guernsey Cove. Carrie's story which follows, is that of the rescues made by her husband's great-grandfather, Charles Copp Machon and by Thomas Davey, who both received watches for their lifesaving efforts:

"My husband's great-grandfather, Charles Copp Machon along with Thomas Davey were awarded silver pocket watches after heroic feats that saved the lives of passengers who were aboard the icebreaker, the S.S. Northern Light.

The vessel was lodged in the "lolly" off Guernsey Cove. On previous occasions when she got stuck, the passengers would make the perilous journey to shore on foot, but in this case it was extremely dangerous because of the extreme ice and slush conditions that year. Their food and fuel were dangerously low, necessitating the perilous rescues that followed.

There were three rescues, the first occuring on Thursday, January 27th, when 16 passengers arrived at Cape Bear in boats from the vessel; the second beginning Saturday, the 29th of January, and ending on Sunday, the 30th, when thirteen passengers and a crew of eight left, getting within a mile of land by night. They finally up-ended their boat on thick ice and were able to walk to shore in daylight the following morning. It is believed to have been this rescue which earned Charles Copp Machon his watch, as evidenced by the date on the watch. A third, final rescue took place after February 6th, when a group of passengers walked to shore by laying thick wide planks on top of the lolly, side by side and butted up against one another. One can imagine how difficult and frightening that would be, carrying one plank ahead and then walking on the one that was just placed. It was a success and the rescuers helped the passengers ashore.

I'm not sure when the watch was sent out to Alberta, definitely before 1943, but we are assuming that Pansy (Machon) Hawkins, daughter of Charles Copp, sent it to her half-brother, Henry Alexander Mashon, and that it should be handed down to his son, Charles Henry Mashon. The watch is in the possession of Charles' sister.

The inscription on the back of the watch reads:

by the
Government of Canada
Charles Machon
in recognition of his humane
and gallant exertions
in the rescue of the passengers
30th January, 1881

Label on the inside of the case says:

John Leslie
Watch maker and
By appointment to
his excellency, the Marquis of Lorne & H.R.H. Princess

Carrie Layne Mashon

Watch Inscription

Dave Hunter and The Island Register: HTML and Graphics© 2001

Last Updated: 11/25/2001 4:34:18 AM
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