The Loss of the Ada & Maud

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Nov 16, 2017 10:33 AM
This scene is from the painting "A Hope and a Prayer." It is the work of artist Kelly MacEntegart Sheppard, granddaughter of Ada Best (for whom the Ada & Maud was named). It adorns the cover of Bud Davidge's 2014 album, Gone From Here.

On Boxing Day in 1935, the schooner Ada & Maud left Best's Harbour on King's Island in Placentia Bay and sailed into the history books as a mystery that's haunted folks hailing from the area ever since. Crewed by four men - brothers Clarence, Kenneth and George Best, together with their brother-in-law, John Pevie - the vessel was bound for St. John’s with a load of dry cod and cod liver oil in casks. 

The schooner was sighted that night by another vessel rounding Cape St. Mary’s amid a brewing gale. The next evidence of the Ada & Maud was when she was reported to have been found, high and dry, at the high water mark in Lears Cove, not far from the Cape - though the crew were nowhere to be found. It is from this point that things become mysterious. 

There have been countless shipwrecks around this province’s shores over the years. In most cases, the circumstances have told tragic tales with cold, hard facts: the schooner ran into foul weather, was wrecked upon the rocks and all hands were lost, sometimes washed in upon a section of shore or, in many cases, never to be found.

However, the case of the Ada & Maud was different. First, it was evident that the schooner had been steered to its position; she could not have just drifted aimlessly to rest in such a fashion on the beach. If she had come to shore driven only by the whims of the sea, then the only remains would have likely been a scattering of flotsam as she broke up with the pounding waves. However, the schooner was found in near-perfect condition. Apart from a broken mast, sails having been rent and some splinters (“spals”) taken out of her false keel (a strip of hardwood used to protect the keel from damage when going over rocks in shallow waters), she was hardly damaged. Reports further indicated that the schooner suffered no punctures, so the forecastle was dry. 

All indications pointed to the crew safely bringing the schooner to its resting place high up on the beach. There were even remnants of the men having had their supper and playing cards prior to the schooner being beached. But where were the crew of the Ada & Maud? It was as if they disappeared into thin air.  

“In 1935, investigative aspects of the police force in what was then the country of Newfoundland did not deserve the term ‘forensic’ and so what could only be considered a cursory investigation took place,” says NL musician Bud Davidge, who included his moving song, “The Loss of the Ada & Maud,” about the disaster on his 2014 album, Gone From Here. “Yes, there was some charges laid against a few people for stealing some rope from the schooner, but as to the whereabouts of the crew, it was concluded quickly that they had drowned while attempting to reach shore.”

Who, then, could have steered the schooner to a safe beaching amid what were likely heavy seas?

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The four men lost aboard the Ada & Maud live on through a song written by NL musician Bud Davidge.

“They are questions to which no satisfactory answers have ever been given,” says Bud. “But being the inquisitive beings we humans are, and prone to speculation and rumour as we are, there are bound to be theories of what actually occurred. Someone knew the truth, and perhaps someone living today knows the truth as we speak. The rumours were that some persons unnamed from the local area engaged the crewmembers in a fight for some reason and the result was the crewmembers were shot and their bodies disposed of in some manner, somewhere. Was there an attempt to take the cargo of fish in a kind of salvage operation that went wrong when they were opposed by the crew? No one knows for sure.”

Whatever the details of the tragedy - a tragedy it was. The Best family never had the satisfaction of knowing where their loved ones rested. Heartbroken, Joshua Best - the schooner’s owner and father of the three lost brothers - never relaunched the Ada & Maud, which had only been built the previous year and bore the names of his two daughters. It is talked about with sorrow to this very day. The old adage says “Time heals all wounds,” but it seems that this tragedy has left a scar even eight decades have not been able to mend. 

Bud says writing the song about the mysterious tragedy was one of the most emotional experiences he has ever had as a writer. “I started out sharing an event with people who were complete strangers,” says Bud. “And I ended up being caught up in the emotions that the Best family still feel so deeply, after 80 years.” - By Janine Davidge (written with the deepest respect to the Best family and their memories of loved ones lost.)