In the early 1900's, much like today, a lot of young Newfoundlanders left the fishery to go elsewhere in search of work, sometimes just to go fishing in a different area. Each undoubtedly had their reasons. William Herridge of Harbour Le Cou (on the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland) was one such Newfoundlander.
At an early age, William started his life in the fishery, as did his father before him. After a few years fishing from the outport of Harbour Le Cou, he decided to travel to British Columbia to 'try' the fishing industry out West. After a couple of years working in British Columbia, William decided he had enough and it was time to return back home. Upon returning home (in 1907) he settled back into the lifestyle he had known so well.
For a few years he fished under the 'command' of other local fishermen but eventually had the desire to command his own boat, but boats were not always easy to come by at that time. For William this would not be a problem for long. In the summer of 1912 he began cutting the planks and framing needed to build a vessel of his own. It would take him all fall and winter to complete the construction. Everything went as planned and in the spring of 1913; the 46-foot "GENEVA HERRIDGE" (named after his daughter) was launched. William was now in command of his own boat.
In the coming years he would spend much of his time 'fishing' the GENEVA HERRIDGE along the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland. The fishing season generally started in early fall and lasted until late spring. This was due to the fact that from June to September fish were normally not as plentiful as other months. This 'down' time was used to complete repairs and maintenance that needed to be done on the boats and gear. Often times the fishermen would also take this opportunity to travel to Cape Breton to obtain supplies needed for families and friends for the upcoming winter. William was no exception to this common practice.
On June 17th, 1918, William Herridge, Caleb Taylor and Jimmy Rideout, prepared the GENEVA HERRIDGE for the 100-mile journey from Harbour Le Cou to Cape Breton. Shortly before noon, the vessel departed port. Close behind the GENEVA HERRIDGE were two other skiffs from Harbour Le Cou: the ADA B.M. (under the command of Absalom Thomas) and another vessel (name unknown) under the command of Matthew Pink. All three skiffs were enroute to North Sydney and sailing in convoy, which was a common practice for smaller skiffs as it often proved to be advantageous in times of trouble.
All was going well in the early afternoon as the vessels continued on their journey. However in late afternoon the vessels encountered heavy fog, resulting in their inability to view one another. All continued to proceed, or so they thought. Sometime after the vessels encountered fog, Captain Thomas who was initially traveling close behind the GENEVA HERRIDGE, spotted a foreign object in the water. Upon further inspection, he discovered that the object was a ship's hatch, most likely from a skiff or small schooner. The hatch had brought forth many questions: Which ship did the hatch belong to? How long had it been there? What happen to the crew? Why was there no other wreckage? With no one or nothing in sight, Captain Thomas had to continue on his journey without the answers.
Captain Thomas arrived in Glace Bay early the next morning, followed by Captain Pink. However to their surprise, the GENEVA HERRIDGE was nowhere in sight. Everyone feared the worst. First they thought that maybe the GENVEA HERRIDGE might be secured at the nearby port of North Sydney, but when family and friends discovered that the GENEVA HERRIDGE and her crew had not reported at North Sydney, they knew something had gone wrong. With the GENEVA HERRIDGE nowhere in sight, a further investigation was placed on the hatch that was retrieved the previous day by Captain Thomas. It was later realized that the hatch did indeed belong to the GENEVA HERRIDGE.
The family and friends of the crew (William Herridge's sister was a passenger on the vessel commanded by Matthew Pink) were devastated as minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days with no sign of the GENEVA HERRIDGE or her crew. Eventually all hope was lost and the GENEVA HERRIDGE had become another tragic mystery of the sea. Due to the fact that the hatch was the only wreckage ever found belonging to the GENEVA HERRIDGE, it can be assumed that the finally moments of the vessel and her crew were sudden.
At the time of the voyage, the wind and sea conditions were favourable, which in many ways eliminates the possibility that the vessel may have either capsized, swamped or experienced down flooding. In many ways the facts surrounding the tragedy made some people think that the skiff and her crew may have been involved in a collision.
At the time of the tragedy, the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St.Lawerence was 'booming' with activity from World War I. A large part of this activity involved ships carrying troops & cargo. If the GENEVA HERRIDGE and her crew crossed paths with one of these ships in heavy fog, her fate would have likely been sealed instantly (there were no radars in 1918). There was also the possibility that the GENEVA HERRIDGE may have been the victim of a submarine warfare. Unfortunately aside from the hatch cover, there were no further signs of wreckage or bodies-therefore no further clues. Ultimately, what occurred in her final moments will never be known.
William Herridge (37) left behind a wife and five children. Caleb Taylor (66) was also married with children. Jimmy Rideout was only 15 years of age.