The Haddock Story

 

While history records many tragic events, the saddest story in the history of Fortune is most likely that of the Haddock family. 

 

Joseph Griffin Haddock, of Welsh descent, was born c1836, somewhere in Placentia Bay, Nfld. Nothing is known of his parents or his childhood years, except the fact that he was obviously educated. A physician and Methodist teacher, he eventually settled at Burin, where he met his wife. Amelia Omstre Mulholland Birkett, born c1840 in Jamaica, was the daughter of Thomas and Emily Bishop Birkett. The pair was married at Burin on 20 October 1857 by the Church of England minister, Reverend John A.C. Gathercole. No one could have foreseen at that time, what the future held for the young doctor and his 17-year-old bride. 

The Haddocks apparently remained at Burin for the next six years. An entry in the diary of William Harding of Burin, dated 14 July 1863, states that Dr. Haddock and Rev. Phinney accompanied him (Harding) on a 'fish collecting grip' that day. In those days clergymen were sometimes paid with fish. It is also recorded that G. Haddock and Wm. Harding witnessed two marriages at Flat Islands on 13 November 1863, performed by L.T. Teed . Records do show that the first of their large family were born at Burin. It is also where the first of their many troubles occurred, with the death of twins. One infant lived just two hours, the other four hours.

When H.J. Haddon resigned his teaching post at Fortune in August 1863, Mr. Haddock was appointed as his replacement. Records show that he taught school here from 1864-1866, indicating that he moved his young family to Fortune in late 1863 or early 1864. This same source also states that Haddock 'was later to practice medicine.' This gives the impression that he did not practice medicine prior to moving to Fortune, but he was recognized as a medical doctor.

Records show that Haddock's employment history also included such occupations as: postmaster, farmer, merchant (Fortune, 1871); Preventative Officer (Fortune & Grand Bank, 1871); Surveyor of Shipping (1871); Commissioner of Wrecked Property (Point May to Garnish, 1871, 1875); and Way Officer (Fortune, 1871).

Exactly when Haddock's teaching position began is not certain, for school sessions were often adjusted to accommodate fishing schedules when most children were helping their parents. In any event, the Annual Report of the Auxiliary Missionary Society of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Eastern British America, for June 1864 to June 1865, lists Dr. and Mrs. Haddock of Fortune among the contributors, as well as son Thomas and daughter Mary. These two children were born at Burin.

McAlpine's 'Nfld. Directory' for 1864-65 tells us that J.G. Haddock, M.D. had a 'way office' in Fortune. Meanwhile, other sources say that the first doctor's office in the community was located in the home of H.J. Haddon. It appears, therefore, that Dr. Haddock was probably the town's first resident physician and quite likely the only one as the town was served by doctors stationed at Grand bank in later years. In August 1873, Captain D. Miller, fisheries inspector, reported a doctor in residence. Other written accounts show that Haddock was here in 1876. All of this supports the theory that Dr. Haddock and his family lived in Fortune for a number of years.

Since Dr. Haddock taught school here from 1864-66, it seems that his medical practice was not a full-time occupation at first. It may be that he was asked to take the teaching position because no teacher was available at the time. Then again, it could have been a means of a supplementary income to help support his large family.

Haddock was granted land at Fortune on three separate occasions: two acres on 27 October 1866; a second plot on 09 November 1866; and ten acres on 07 July 1881. According to stories handed down by word of mouth, the Haddock home was a large, two-storey structure, located approximately in the vicinity of what is now #46 Haddock Road. Four (?) children were born at Burin and eight more at Fortune. Church records show that five of the children died of diphtheria in 1876 and another daughter in 1889 (no cause given). Also, a son was reportedly lost at sea, which means, including the twins, that nine out of the eleven known children born to Joseph and Amelia Haddock were taken from them early in life. (List of children follows the story.)

The one surviving daughter, Hilda, was born several years after the diphtheria epidemic. She taught school at Fortune in the years 1898 and 1900-1904, during the tenure of James N. Haddon. Some sources say she also gave private music lessons. Hilda married John Hedley Forsey, son of Philip and Hannah. How many children they had -if any- is not known. However, when John Penny's wife, Nancy (Hickman), died Hilda took in their young son Sidney, at the father's request. Some time following the death of her mother, Hilda and her family left Newfoundland, reportedly going to Calgary. Nothing is known of Hilda's children, but in 1931 William Snook of Fortune met up with Sidney Penny who was then practicing law in Vancouver.

The diphtheria outbreak hurt many families in 1876m\, although none seem to have been more devastated than the Haddocks. When a potentially fatal, highly contagious disease is combined with fairly primitive sanitation methods and the absence of effective drugs, this is not surprising. (Diphtheria antitoxin was not available in Newfoundland until 1893.)

In any event, stories handed down by older citizens voiced harsh criticism of Dr. Haddock's treatment of diphtheria. Some claimed that he used the same throat swab on successive patients. Whether this was actually done, or whether it was done due to a shortage of supplies caused by a sudden dramatic increase in patient numbers, is not known. It may have been a misunderstanding, or perhaps even a rumor.

Written accounts state that when Rev. William Kendall contracted the disease, he refused Dr. Haddock's treatment. The reason for his refusal was not given but it leads to the conclusion that the treatment offered was of a somewhat questionable nature, regardless of the reasons behind it.

Dr. Haddock continued his medical practice at Fortune until 1882. The story passed down from generation to generation of former residents of Brunette Island, tells of the doctor's death while on the way to visit patients at Brunette (renamed Mercer's Cove in 1935). It leads us to believe that, in order to be where he was in those circumstances, he was dedicated to his profession.

As the legend goes, it was a stormy winter night with strong southerly winds and blowing snow. Visibility, therefore, would have been greatly reduced. The doctor was in a small sailing boat, accompanied by a young man in his twenties named Bidgood (or Bedgood). Two sons and four daughters were born to Joseph and Elizabeth Bedgood of Fortune between 1860 and 1870. George, born in 1860, would have been 22 in 1882 and could very well have been with Dr. Haddock. The second son, James Edward was born in 1870 and would only have been 12 years old at the time of the tragedy. Therefore, it is most likely that George was the one with Dr. Haddock.

They apparently missed the point at Fish Head on the eastern side of the harbour. It seems that the storm forced the boat onto the rocks in a small cove on the western side of the harbour entrance. This cove, surrounded by high cliffs, is where the wrecked boat and Bidgood's body were found.

Dr. Haddock's body was found on the shore about a mile farther in. There were no houses on that side of the harbour so his body was not found until the following morning. His head was cut pretty badly, indicating that he may have taken a beating from the stormy sea. Stories say that Haddock could 'swim like a fish', but whether he swam to the point where he was found, or was driven in by the waves, is unknown.

Did Dr. Haddock swim through the rough, frigid waters until he could go no farther? Or did the violent waves sweep him from the boat and hurl him, unconscious, onto the shore? Did he die from his injuries, or from hypothermia? If he was battered by the sea, he could have sustained internal injuries as well.

The stories indicate that from the position of the doctor's body, he may have swum into the harbour and dragged himself ashore. Could this have been a desperate attempt to seek help? The truth of this mystery, unfortunately, died with Dr. Haddock and his young companion.

There are conflicting stories as to the exact date of Dr. Haddock's demise. Stories handed down cite 1890 or 1892. However, the burial records of the Fortune United Church (formerly Methodist) show that: 'December 7, 1882; George M. Haddock; drowned; age 46.' It is most likely that Joseph G. Haddock and George M. Haddock are the same person, particularly as there is no record of any other Haddock living in Fortune at any time. The age fits, for he would have been 21 at the time of his marriage. Names have been known to be recorded wrong. According to oral history, Dr. Haddock's body was found on the shore at Brunette, making it very likely that this is the same man.

Emotionally, Amelia Haddock must have been an exceptionally strong woman. She married at 17 and suffered more mental anguish than any one person should have to bear: twins who died just hours after birth; five children taken by diphtheria; her husband and a son claimed by the sea; another daughter for undisclosed reasons. At the age of 42, when her husband drowned, she was left with two daughters, ages 13 and two years. The 13-year-old Jessie died seven years later, leaving just Amelia and Hilda. One can only imagine how terrified she must have been that this last child would also be taken from her.

Sources indicate that Amelia Haddock went blind before her death at the age of 61. She died of heart failure on 14 January 1901. It is a documented fact that diphtheria often affected the heart. It is entirely possible, then, that some lingering effects of this dread disease eventually claimed the second last Haddock child and, finally, their mother.

Hilda, now the sole survivor of the family, then put the homestead up for sale. Considering the heartache suffered in her family, she was no doubt ready for a fresh start. Sam Lake had recently returned from western Canada with the body of his brother, Tom, who had died from typhoid fever. He (Sam) bought the Haddock place sometime between 1903 and 1917. The land was used as pasture and a hay meadow for years. Uncle Sam built a house farther in on the land, in the proximity of what is now #60 Confederation Street. What happened to Dr. Haddock's house is unknown, but it was most likely torn down.

Lake's farmland was sold around 1973 or 1974 to be developed as building lots. The house at #5 Farm Road has four graves in the backyard. This area would probably have been somewhere behind the Haddock house. Human bones were uncovered when excavating the land for building. Because of indications that diphtheria victims had been buried there, the Department of Health sent officials to test samples. No trace of the disease could be found.

Merrill and Sandra Durnford bought the house at #5 Farm Road from Kurt Crews in 1978. After moving in, they experienced several unexplained happenings such as doors slamming for no apparent reason, and extremely cold drafts. One day Sandra left her laundry basket on the bridge, locked the door, and went shopping. When she returned, she unlocked the door and found the basket in the porch with a bag on flour beside it. A welcoming neighbour might leave the flour, but would not have had a key to get in. The incident was never explained, nor repeated. After several months, these strange things ceased happening.

Sandra's co-workers in the fish plant sometimes teased her about living in a graveyard. Her husband tried to explain away the mounds of earth in the backyard by reminding her that, since the land was once a farm, they were probably just old potato beds. She was out in the backyard one day when someone asked, 'Do you know you're sitting on graves?'

Natural curiosity led Sandra to ask questions. She talked to Jane Lake, wife of Uncle Sam's son Hedley. Jane told her that a family had lived on the land more than a hundred years earlier. She also learned that some members of the family had died of some terrible disease, and were buried there on the land. Bunches of yellow flowers used to grow on the graves at one time, Jane told her, possibly put there by some surviving family member in memory of departed loved ones. It is easy to imagine Amelia Haddock adorning the final resting place of her children, and possibly her husband, with flowers.

To have the remains exhumed and relocated to a proper burial site, permission would have to be obtained from Hilda's descendants. However, Sandra decided that whoever occupied the graves had been there a long time and they weren't going to hurt her, so why bother. The Durnfords elected to leave the graves undisturbed, in their backyard, where they grow less visible with each passing year.

No one is certain as to which members of the Haddock family were buried there, nor how many. The fact that bones were uncovered during excavation confirms that it was a burial site at one time. Originally there may have been more than the four remaining graves. It is possible that the evidence of some graves was erased during excavation, or simply by the passage of time. It is possible, therefore, that all of the deceased Haddock family members may have been buried in their own private, backyard burial site.

While much information about the Haddock family is gathered from stories handed down through several generations, it is largely supported by official documents. There are still some uncertainties and unanswered questions, but this simply adds to the intrigue. Attempts to locate descendants of this family have so far been unsuccessful.

The children of Joseph and Amelia Haddock:
1. Mary Elizabeth Hayter; born 1859, Burin; died May 1876, age 17, of diphtheria. 
2. Thomas Birkett; born before 1864, possibly 1861(?), Burin; lost at sea. 
3 & 4. Herbert George and Harriet Amelia; born 1863, Burin; died in infancy. 
5. Sarah Sophia; born 1864, Fortune; died April 1876, age 12, of diphtheria. 
6. Emma Amelia; born 1866, Fortune; died April 1876, age 10, of diphtheria. 
7. William Benjamin; born 1867, Fortune; died April 1876, age 9, of diphtheria. 
8. Jessie Ella; born 1869, Fortune; died December 1889, age 20, no cause given. 
9. Edith Gertrude; born 1870, Fortune; died April 1876, age 6, of diphtheria. 
10. Hilda Violet Jane; born 1880, Fortune. 
11. Thomas William Diamond (?) 

(NOTE: one source lists this child, Thomas William Diamond, but no further details are given. If this is indeed another Haddock child, we can safely assume that both Thomas Birkett and William Benjamin were both deceased before he was born; therefore, Thomas William Diamond was born sometime after 1876; it is also known that daughter Hilda was the only surviving Haddock child, so Thomas William Diamond would have died young.)

© 2015 - Town of Fortune, Newfoundland and Labrador

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