Marooned but not alone on Governor’s Island

Governor’s Island is a lonely spot but like all islands it has an intrigue about it. Scarcely four miles from shore in Hillsborough Bay the low spot has little to recommend it as a vacation destination either now or 112 years ago.  Today a cormorant colony has crowded almost all other bird life and much of the vegetation off the island but at the turn of the last century Governor’s Island was an attractive site for wildfowl hunters as ducks and geese used it as a stop in their seasonal migrations.

Governors Island – Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay 1842 – updated to 1916.

In early November 1906 Lee Seaman and his two brothers, all of Charlottetown,  set off in a small sloop for the Island for a day of hunting. One of the brothers, Athol, had worked at the Judson lobster factory during the summer while attending university. The three men planned to stay the night on the Island in a small house used by lobstermen in the summer. It was usually empty this late in the season as there were no permanent residents of the Island, unlike St. Peters Island across the bay which still had a number of farms and a school. However when the Seamans arrived they found to their surprise that seven others were in temporary occupation. Two of the lot, Nathaniel Gay and John Smith of Pownal, were also there for the shooting. The others, James Judson and his son Austin, Alf Robertson, and Thomas and Theo Berhaut had come across the bay from Alexandra to erect a building for the lobster canning factory. The group spent most of Saturday at their several pursuits and in the evening set out to return to the mainland. The Judson party had a 20 horsepower gasoline boat, Mr. Gay had a large sloop and the Seamans a smaller one. With the power boat towing the other two they set out but the wind had increased through the day and was so strong that instead of moving forward the little fleet was being pushed backward.

The group resolved to wait out the weather and returned the limited shelter provided by the Island. They may have remembered that only a few years earlier two men working at the lobster factory had drowned trying to return to the shore in poor weather.  Because no one had expected to stay on the Island more than one night, foodstuffs were in short supply.  The group had consumed all but a small supply of salt, pepper and beans which they found in the house. The wild fowling appears to have been poor and when a hunting party set out it was the herd of cattle pastured on the Island for the season that attracted them.  A fine young ox fell victim to the hunters and a repast of beef and beans with liberal applications of salt and pepper was all that was on the menu. For a change the following day the chef offered beans with beef and then on Monday it was either beans or beef or beans and beef.

The wind continued unabated well into Monday and as the group struggled to secure their boats they were amazed to see that the newly constructed lobster factory building was moved 20 feet by the strength of the November wind.   Finally on Tuesday the wind died sufficiently and the three groups were able to return to their points of departure – apparently none the worse for their marooning.  The Island was left to the cattle – at least to those that had survived, and to the visiting geese who had the sense to stay away from Governor’s Island when there were hungry humans about.

Further reading – An article about the Judson family and Governor’s Island by Marian Bruce entitled “The Man Who Loved Governors Island” appears in The Island Magazine for Fall/Winter 2012. The story of drilling for oil at Governor’s Island is found here.

 

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3 thoughts on “Marooned but not alone on Governor’s Island

  1. Daphne Dumont

    I love “Astyanax Rock” to the NW of the Island. That’s a big symbolic name from the Iliad and I wonder who chose it for a small rock in Hillsborough Bay? And why? Is the rock still above water?

    Reply
    1. sailstrait Post author

      The name Astyanax Rock first appears on Wright & Peacock’s 1839 chart of Hillsborough Bay. It has been suggested that it was named for a British naval ship but no vessel has been named HMS Astyanax. Alan Rayburn in his Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island states it was probably named for a ship. The rock is certainly a hazard to navigation and at extreme low water it is uncovered by the tide.

      Reply

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