My great-grandfather, Frederick John Haberman (1881-1944) was born in Sagan, Germany and he became a merchant seaman. Records reflect that he arrived in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada on May 23, 1902. The family legend was that he had difficulties with an officer on his ship, and at some point the officer was coming towards him and my great grandfather pulled up one of those bowling-pin shaped things that stuck up from the deck of sailing ships of the time and brandished it towards the officer. When he left the ship in Newcastle, he decided it would be best not to return. I have heard that all families have a legend of an ancestor who jumped ship off a German freighter. Well it must have been a common occurrence, because it was true in my family.
The mystery for me is this- I want to find the name of his ship, and whatever else I can find out about it. I have spent hours pouring through Lord’s (of London) Registry of Ships looking for a needle in a haystack. What makes the mystery especially exciting to me is a little story that my Grandpa grew up hearing, and passed on to my mother. Apparently, my great-grandfather Haberman used to say that it was a good thing for him (in more ways than one) that he jumped ship that day in Canada, because his ship and all hands on board perished in a volcano in Martinique!
Indeed, in April and May of 1902, Martinique’s Mount Pelee erupted, completely destroying the city of Saint Pierre in the deadliest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. Destroyed along with the city which some called the Paris of the Caribbean, were 15 ships in the harbor. There were two reported survivors in the city, and one ship managed to stay afloat with half of the crew surviving, but everyone else in the vicinity perished.
The problem is this- Mount Pelee’s main, deadly blast occurred on May 7, several weeks before the supposed “arrival” date of my great-grandfather in Newcastle. Also, I have found lists of the ships known to be destroyed, and none of them were German. I can imagine several possibilities. Frederick Haberman’s “arrival” date could be an official date when he established residency, and he could have been hanging around town for weeks before that date. Just because he was a German man, that doesn’t mean that his ship was registered in Germany. He was a merchant seaman, not a military man, and ships, like corporations, are registered wherever convenience and favorable laws dictate. There is another possibility that I can imagine, however. Having been a merchant seaman at the time Mount Pelee erupted, he must have felt that he had dodged a bullet, even if his ship did not go on to be destroyed there. He would probably have expressed his relief at his good fortune, and that expression could have become misconstrued in the re-telling over time.
Ships in harbor at Saint Pierre with Mount Pelee smoking in the background:
A ship in harbor at Saint Pierre before the eruption:
The burning of Saint Pierre:
The steamship “Romania,” seen burning in the photo above:
Saint Pierre, Martinique after the blast: