Navigate Up
Sign In
Home | Contact A | A

 A Rejoinder

The following rejoinder is a reply to Peter Pope’s review of my book Outrageous Seas: Shipwreck and Survival in the Waters off Newfoundland, 1583-1893 in International Journal of Maritime History (June 2000).   It is written only with some reluctance, partly because I feel that whenever an author submits a rejoinder following a critical review (which he/she does not like), such a reply often comes across as "sour grapes".  However, despite that risk, I have decided to respond because I strongly believe that this review, certainly on the basis of the evidence which the writer used to support his critique, has consistently misrepresented the book’s contents and to such a degree that I feel I have little choice in the matter but to submit a rebuttal to the journal's book review editor.  More importantly, my comments will help to explain some of my intentions in writing and compiling this collection.

In what follows, the reviewer's comments are taken directly from the June 2000 review.   In responding, I direct the reader to individual page numbers of my book (in brackets), where further comparisons can be made.

______________________

Reviewer’s Comments: Pope's first claim is that I propose "that wreck narratives might clarify the influence of the sea on European emigrants. This seems, on the face of it, unlikely: only some emigrants were wrecked and only some of those wrecked survived to become immigrants."

My Response: Quite frankly, I am puzzled at this comment. Pope has literally misread the printed text. I refer explicitly to "migrants, " not "emigrants" (2).

My general reference is to "migrants" affected by shipwreck whom I then go on to describe. This association is clearly presented in the text and refers to all persons who were affected directly and indirectly by shipwreck or other marine experiences in Newfoundland waters and whose role is encompassed and discussed both in the introduction and in the subsequent narratives. 

Reviewer’s Comments: Pope writes, "Baehre goes on to propose that such narratives contributed to the self-image of colonial Newfoundland. This too is problematic, if only because half the narratives concern voyages that linked (or failed to link) continental North America with Great Britain, so that the connection with Newfoundland is, at best, accidental [sic]."

My Response: Whether the voyages directly linked or failed to link Newfoundland to a transatlantic voyage is neither crucial nor problematic, in the way that Pope suggests, to my overall discussion of the cultural dimensions of shipwreck narratives.

I write, ". . .these Newfoundland waters existed in the mind. For our purposes, the concept of region adopted here is primarily a cultural one, whose defining characteristics are of course its ‘natural’ or physical settings but, more tellingly and in a dynamic way, a ‘region’ is ‘the scene and effect of interaction in social relations,’ and structured by place and time. It constitutes a somewhat ‘impure’ cultural construction and a limited identity (13). Nota bene, I am quoting here from a study about how a regional consciousness may emerge in history.

In addition, "The region of this collection is circumscribed by encounters on and of the waters. In other words, it is an indistinct place where inhabitants and visitors have lived and have passed through, and it is a place to which these residents and travellers, and those who have perceived their world only from the outside, have given a specific meaning" (14).

I presume that Pope’s reference to the connection of these voyages with Newfoundland, as "at best, accidental," is a play on words.

Reviewer’s Comments: Pope then goes on, "These narratives are, for Baehre, somehow ‘unique expressions of this specific region‘ despite the fact that most are, as he admits, ‘short summaries’ with ‘little historical context’" (46-47).

My Response: No, I don’t. Again, this is a literal misreading. The reference I make is to those "short summaries" with "little historical context" which are prevalent in popular published histories of Newfoundland shipwreck.  The reference is not to the original shipwreck narratives which then follow the introduction. But, an important point which Pope ignores is the following: these popular books and collections (as well as other cultural artifacts such as song) are indeed contemporary expressions of this specific region. And with a few notable exceptions, they have been presented as short summaries with little historical context (47). 

Reviewer’s Comments: "Generally, the editor attempts to see shipwreck as a determinant of national culture. . ."

My Response: Certainly, "the land" is widely accepted to be a principal factor in shaping Canada’s identity. I then remind the reader of the sea and this country’s significant maritime heritage, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador. And I write, "It is my contention that further insight into this past and present can be gleaned from shipwreck and related marine narratives or stories"(1). I think Pope’s claim that I view "shipwreck as a determinant of national culture" both exaggerates and distorts my meaning.

Reviewer’s Comments: Pope states, "The relevance of the two or three early accounts included is not made clear, for Baehre’s grasp of early regional history is uncertain: for him Humphrey Gilbert was a failed colonist, David Kirke a pirate, and the Basques engaged in a wet fishery."

My Response: Humphrey Gilbert, a failed colonist? I say nothing of the sort. Besides giving some relevant personal background, including his claiming of Newfoundland in 1583, I comment "His goal was to establish a series of settlements and to find a northwest passage to Asia." Citing David Quinn, "His hope was to establish ‘a great new state’ in America, with himself as Lord Paramount" (63). I never claimed that he was a colonist!

The narrative in this collection describes the wreck of the Delight, one of the ships belonging to Gilbert’s expeditions, and though it happens on Sable Island, the survivors row north along the coast of Western Newfoundland, looking to be rescued by Basque whalers at Grand Bay, the present-day Straits of Belle Isle, belonging in Newfoundland waters.

David Kirke, a "pirate"? Perhaps I should have used "adventurer" instead, although Kirke has also been characterized as a "pirate" for attacking French ships during his expeditions that led to the capture of Quebec. Or perhaps "buccaneeer", "privateer," or "adventurer" would be more appropriate for Kirke’s activities in the late 1620s. This latter label has been applied to Sir Humphrey Gilbert in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and Kirke’s activities shared several qualities.

Kirke’s name comes up in relation to the ill-fated voyage of Father Charles Lalemant in1629 whose vessel was unable to proceed to Quebec because of Kirke’s capture. Kirke’s role in this shipwreck is largely incidental ,though he does provide an obvious Newfoundland link.

More relevant to Newfoundland waters of this narrative is the rescue of the survivors, including the narrator, who left the coast of Cape Breton to seek a Basque vessel to rescue them. Such vessels, of course, were to be found in waters off Newfoundland. This Basque vessel might have come from the Basque whaling industry off the Labrador coast, but by then this industry had largely ended. A Basque fishery had however established itself along the western coast of Newfoundland, especially around Cape Ray and Codroy island, and also toward the Magdalen Islands and the Gaspé peninsula. In these years, the French were exporting Newfoundland cod to Basque ports. Judging by the reference in the shipwreck narrative, the presence of Basques was known by the shipwreck survivors; their strategy of finding a Basque ship proved correct though the details are at best sketchy. Further, in my general introduction, I also note that this was not the only significant shipwreck with a link to Newfoundland that affected the Jesuits.

Basques, wet fishery? A "wet fishery" is one in which large amounts of salt were carried by the vessel to the fishing grounds with the intention of salting the catch and then drying the fish at the home port. Apparently, this was the practice of the French, Spanish, and Basque fishery who had ample supplies of salt to bring, unlike the English fishery to Newfoundland who relied on drying the cod on shore. This, according to Harold Innis. Between 1620 and 1628 a concerted attempt was made by the Basques to revive their role in the Newfoundland fishery in the face of stiff French opposition and prior to a salt shortage. With reference to Lalemant’s 1629 shipwreck, all I write is the following: "the survivors fled to safety and were fortuitously rescued by an unidentified Basque ship, one in all likelihood engaged in the ‘wet fishery and based for the fishing season off Newfoundland" (69).

Reviewer’s Comments: "His nineteenth-century material gets more sophisticated treatment but the synthesis is not quite satisfying, at least as maritime history. A smattering of statistics suggests the increasingly scientific approach governments took to shipwreck, but Baehre makes little of this, preferring to deal with broad cultural issues, like the ‘emerging cult of domesticity’."

My Response: One, I do make more of "the increasingly scientific approach" than Pope suggests. I state that the time-frame for these narratives end in the late-nineteenth century "before the wholescale professionalization of the marine workplace, before the statutory insistence on government enquiries, in other words, before the risk management of the sea." I do cite and otherwise make reference to the series of nineteenth-century House of Commons reports and British statutes relating to shipwrecks and merchant shipping. I do note the spread of reform efforts relating to reducing shipwrecks, including the construction of lighthouses, proper charts, and life-saving techniques. I do argue that these narratives reflect the increasingly secularization of the shipwreck experience. Admittedly, I do emphasize the cultural (and social) elements of this experience. But this is what my book is primarily about.

On the second point, I mention the "emerging cult of domesticity" only once. This is in regard to Lady Aylmer’s account of the Pique. Throughout this narrative, she emphasizes the respective roles of men and women aboard ship, or in modern terms, their gender roles. This narrative is written at a time in which the cult of domesticity (See Bonnie Smith, Changing Lives) begins to frame the Victorian role of women. This narrative was dedicated to Queen Victoria, who gave permission for Aylmer to use her name, and Aylmer’s subsequent commentary reflects this cultural transformation.

Reviewer’s Comments: He is deaf to the special pleading common in wreck accounts, taking most accounts at face value."

My Response: Again, no. I hear these "special pleadings" loud and clear. That is in part why I have selected this cross-section of narratives to illustrate that diverse nature of special pleading.

Borrowing from Keith Huntress, I observe that "the primary reason for turning shipwreck narratives into print was the element of adventure and suspense, their titillating content. Secondarily, he [Huntress] contends, their published served a didactic purpose in offering the reading public some religious, moral, pragmatic, or civic lessons." (16-17) I then go on to suggest how these narratives present other forms of special pleading.

Furthermore, I offer a lengthy discussion of whether to treat these narratives as stories-in-history or as history-in-stories (15-23). I write, "Despite the richness of their content, one needs to be cautioned that these narratives are by no means comprehensive nor all-encompassing in their representation of Newfoundland shipwrecks, nor can they be. The shipwreck accounts of this collection portend a multiplicity of meaning and subtexts." Further on, "Yet, as narratives or stories or reports, they necessarily rest somewhere between the realm of "objective" historical documentation and that of the purely "subjective."  What more do I need to say to support my contention I do not take these accounts at face value.

Pope also chooses to ignore my specific points and appears remains oblivious to my overall discussion of how to treat these narratives as historical evidence. The fact is that the narratives chosen for this collection are not fictional accounts; they reflect historical experience.

Reviewer’s Comments: He makes much of the fact that wreck narratives are often spiritual journals but does not notice that such spirituality is a common aspect of mariners’ journals generally.

My Response: While undoubtedly, this is a common aspect of mariners’ journals, I write, "Not surprisingly, many shipwreck narratives . . . raised spiritual issues and concerns, and highlighted contemporary religious values" (24). I don’t understand the point of Pope’s criticism.

Reviewer’s Comments: Readers with a taste for post-modern neologisms like "focalizer" will enjoy Baehre’s prose. Others might find it forced.

My Response: "Focalizer" is not my word. It appears in parentheses within a quotation taken form a recent study, which I cite, of how English-Canadian landscape is historically perceived: "the way in which the text’s subject of perception (its focalizer) mentally views the world, according to his/her psychological, cognitive, and ideological frame of mind" (14).

I have refrained from employing "post-modern neologisms," including conceptual terms taken from other disciplines except when I felt they prove relevant or insightful, such as when a scholar’s concepts or argument can illuminate the content and context of shipwreck narratives. The bulk of my general introduction followed by introductions to individual chapters consists of descriptive prose. Perhaps other readers will share Pope’s discomfort toward my "forced" prose. It may be forced, as he suggests, but to date other reviewers have not taken similar notice.

Reviewer’s Comments: Although most historians use "landed" to mean "owning land:," Baehre uses "landed when he means "terrestrial" or "land-based" or even "lubberly."

My Response: The only instance where I use "landed" in this sense is when I refer to two fine existing works on the cultural past of Newfoundland which have emphasized the "land-based experience" looking outward from the shore. I write "In examining similar textual accounts, I plan to turn these standard ‘landed’ vantage points slightly askew" (14). As the reader will note, the word "landed" is in quotation marks, indicating its intended meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers a number of definitions for the word "landed" including having gone ashore. This, of course, is how it is used above.

Reviewer’s Comments: "Despite the appended glossary, the editor has not, unfortunately, mastered the peculiar vocabulary of the sea. He is, for example, oblivious to the fact that a "ceiling" on board a ship is not necessarily overhead and prone to malapropisms like the "Lord Admiralty Office."

My Response: The only instance where I refer to "ceiling" is with reference to a House of Commons investigation into ship architecture where the Pique’s construction is discussed in considerable and complex detail. This discussion, the source of which I cite, adds little to our understanding Lady Aylmer’s observations on her voyage. In the testimony before the committee, the chairman of the Select Committee On Shipwrecks (1836) asks and receives the following answers: "To give the full efficiency to your solid timber bottom and make it last twenty years, the inside ceiling should be caulked too? –Yes. Is that a model of La Pique [sic] brought from the Navy Office? – Yes. One peculiarity of her construction was that her timbers were solid from the keel, how far up? –To above the floor heads; she was filled solid to the light water mark." [bold emphasis is mine] I cite this reference in the footnotes.

In my text, I do use Lord Admiralty Office but only once. In that instance, the "Lord Admiralty Office" was how a particular document was signed, identified, and issued. This reference is also cited.

Reviewer’s Comments: "Here, and in other specifics, one might fault the publisher for sloppy copy-editing, since all authors make blunders."

My Response: The now-defunct Carleton University Press and its staff, including copy editors, who helped to produce this book which was ultimately published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, were diligent, meticulous, co-operative, and entirely professional in any dealings I had with them. I would be only too happy to incorporate any other corrections which Pope or anyone else sees fit to make, if justified. Incidentally, I do not claim that everything in this book is flawless, and I plan to somewhat recast certain sections should another edition ever become possible. Yet I stand by what I have written.

Incidentally, in terms of sloppy copy-editing, I would like to point out that at the beginning of the review in the information identifying the book, there are two errors. This book was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press for Carleton University, not "Carlton University Press." Secondly, Carleton is spelled with an "e", not as "Carlton."

In short, these blunders, if so Pope would like to categorize them, appear to be more his, than mine. Moreover, should other "blunders" exist, I would like the readers to consider them mine, and mine alone.

Reviewer’s Comments: A convincing history of Atlantic shipwreck remains an outstanding challenge.

My Response: I agree.  But my claims in compiling and editing this collection were modest. I do not claim to be a maritime historian; I am a social historian with an interest in maritime history. Likewise I am primarily a Canadian historian with an interest in Newfoundland history. In my acknowledgements section, I simply say that this study is the first of "what I hope will be several projects relating to the early transatlantic experience." Later I state, "in order to expand and advance our knowledge of the phenomenon of shipwreck in Newfoundland waters, a more systematic treatment of individual accounts of voyages and shipwrecks is necessary . . ." And "This collection attempts to begin such a tack . . ." (47). Consequently, I agree with Pope that "a convincing history of Atlantic shipwreck remains an outstanding challenge," but such was never my present nor future intention. For anyone so interested, I will happily hear and accept comments or criticisms regarding my own misinterpretation or misuse of evidence.

In concluding:  All in all, I am pleased that despite his many caveats Pope still manages to find this collection "useful."   I would have gladly heard from Dr. Pope, whom I also consider a recognized expert on pre-1800 maritime history, about any gaps and shortcomings that he could substantiate more adequately. 

With all due respect to Dr. Pope, I suggest to any reader of the International Journal of Maritime History still interested in reading a review of Outrageous Seas that they seek out other reviews,  including ones in the The Northern Mariner, The Newfoundland Quarterly, the Times and Literary Supplement, The Beaver, even WoodenBoat.

Rainer Baehre

page updated: February 12,  2004

street address:

Grenfell Campus
Memorial University

20 University Drive
Corner Brook, NL
A2H 5G4
Canada

mailing address:

Grenfell Campus
Memorial University

PO Box 2000
Corner Brook, NL
A2H 6P9
Canada

email addresses:

For questions about the university:
info@grenfell.mun.ca

For questions about the website:
webadmin@grenfell.mun.ca

For technical support questions:
helpdesk@grenfell.mun.ca

telephone:

Switchboard: 1-709-637-6200

Student Recruitment: 1-888-637-6269

Registrar: 1-866-381-7022