A Brush with Death

(Robert Tuik)

It was a cold winter's night in the year of 1894 when Jim Davis of Pinchard's Island, Bonavista Bay, took his gun (a muzzle loader) in hope of getting a shot at a bird that was offshore. Jim was 14 years old at that time and in these far off times, a 14 year old was considered a man. Hunting back then was a way of putting meat on the table.

He was besides a fishing stage waiting for the bird to 'come in under' (outport slang for a bird coming close to shore). In the fishing stage a trap skiff was under construction. A fisherman from the island was planking a boat. He saw Jim waiting by the stage and asked him to come inside to hold the chalk line which he was using to mark a plank. Jim went inside and leaned his gun besides the boat while he held the line.

In those times the floor of a fishing stage was often constructed out of 'lungers' which is lengths of a round wood laid cross-ways on the beams. Sometimes they would be a couple inches apart.

While holding the chalk line Jim's gun slipped and went down between the lungers. The gun discharged and hit him in the lower part of his arm.

There were no doctors on Pinchard's Island at that time. The nearest doctor was at Greenspond about five miles away. But the people of Pinchard's Island were used to emergencies. Jim was given first aid as best as they could provide. Then he was bundled up and placed on a four oar boat. The boat left on it's journey of mercy. It was a race between life and death.

When they arrived at Greenspond he was taken to the doctor's clinic. Jim was not put under anesthetic while he was undergoing treatment. He was awake the whole time his hand was being amputated.

Jim Davis survived. In his lifetime he was a fisherman and a sealer. He even built a model of a two-masted schooner. It was remarkable, since he had lost his right hand and had to learn how to use his left.

There is an interesting bit of history concerning Pinchard's Island. There were four one-handed men living there. They all lost their hands due to accidents with muzzle loading guns.


  1. What do you think would happen today if a fourteen year old took a gun to go duck hunting?
  2. Do you know any "outport slang"? Write two and give their meaning.

Table of Contents