Capt. George Barbour

A tribute by Capt Abram Kean in the Daily News 3 August 1928 and in the Fishermen’s Advocate 10 August 1928

The comparatively sudden passing of Captain George Barbour will be received with surprise and sorrow by his many friends throughout Newfoundland, both at home and abroad. The history of Captain George Barbour, if written, would make very interesting reading, in fact we delight in reading the lives of great men, and as their names fall deeper into the shadows of the past the more sacred do they become in the gratitude of the new generations. In my opinion it would act as an inspiration to the young men of our country; every youth should red it until he learns it by heart.  Captain Barbour was born 70 years ago at Coblers Island, on the north side of Bonavista Bay. His father’s name was Benjamin and his mother’s name was Rebecca Green. Captain George was one of a family of nine sons and two daughters, every one of which grew up to manhood and womanhood without a death in the family. Both his parents reached the age of well over 80 years. He was of humble origin. Neither the father nor mother was very widely known apart from their own immediate neighborhood, but where they were known they were honored and respected and without doubt their family was a credit to them and the place to which they belonged. In giving this brief sketch of Captain George Barbour it is not my intention to draw on the imagination or paint a flowery picture. Such an act on my part would lessen the full value of his life to the community. The best that can be said is the unvarnished truth.

Not all good blood tells for great character, in families of the best blood only a few become conspicuous. Though good blood is a good thing there are better things, and it should never be forgotten that some other things will tell also. Work will tell; virtue will tell; persistent effort will tell; manhood worth; courage will tell; strong mind; noble will; virtuest heart. All of these telling forces Captain Barbour possessed to a remarkable degree.  I met him for the first time in 1884, just 44 years ago, when he and I, in the bloom of manhood, formed part of the crew of the S.S. Ranger, under the command of his elder brother, Joseph, of sealing fame. He was spy master and I was bridge master, and I have no doubt but the lessons the both of us learned under his tuition served us in good stead in after years. His early life was first spent with his brother at the codfishery until he became master himself and for a number of years took a foremost place among the big fish killers of this country. In 1893 he was appointed master of one of our sealing steamers, and, although a weak powered ship, the success that attended his efforts were such that he did not have to wait long for a better and more powerful one, and very soon all eyes were turned on him and he soon took a foremost place and was offered the best ship in the employ he served, and always commanded the respect of his employers. For 35 years he commanded a sealing steamer during which time he brought in 752,673 seals, no man ever died and left such a record behind him.

He next distinguished himself as a coastal master, having had charge of our Northern Labrador Service, where he made himself deservedly popular for care, attention and trustworthiness and his reports could always be relied upon. Although no one doubted who was master when Captain Barbour was on the bridge, when the ship was at anchor the captain would be seen chumming up to the most humble one of his passengers or crew, in fact I never knew a man who could make himself equal to all and yet command their admiration and respect as Captain George Barbour did; there was not one bit of pride or haughtiness in his make-up, kind, agreeable, affable and generous even to a fault, and besides all these good qualities he was  man  of clean lips, in fact he possessed all the virtues and one of the vices to which the most of us are heirs to.

For 44 years we were friends – for 35 years we were rivals at the sealfishery, but it was a whole some rivalry. Every spring after the voyage was over when we met we would congratulate each other on our success and laugh at our reverses. Captain Barbour was not a man of ifs and buts – you could always rely on his word – there was nothing tricky about him, his wireless messages at the sealfishery were always reliable. But the end has come, he has sent his last wireless message. The coming sealfishery without Captain Barbour would be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. He finished the voyage of 1928 with the same robust health for which he was remarkable and then that dread disease, cancer, claimed him as its victim. We look back over the splendid life of Captain Barbour and ask why was this useful like taken, and the only answer that comes to us is “What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter.”

His was not a flowery path of ease, but rather was it the hard path of duty and the dangerous path of storm; and it was the faithful performance of duty and the fearless facing of danger that made Captain Barbour the foremost man he was. Just as he faced the storms of life with courage and confidence so he faced death. Just before he left for his home in Trinity he had learned his case was incurable. After he was on board the S.S. Home I visited him and he told me he thought when he reached his home in Trinity and got the benefit of the fresh air, he may last for another week or two, but he said it with a courage and hope that was inspiring, and as I wished him good-bye for the last time, I said, “Good-bye, Captain. I shall never forget you and I will always have a good word for you.” He said “Thank You.” Such was the farewell parting of two men who had battled with life together for 44 years, and as I turned away from him the 37th verse of the 37th Psalm was brought home to me as never before, namely, “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright for the end of that man is peace.” Such an end was not the result of two or three months preparing for death; the preparation was going on all through life. When the end came death had no sting; the grave had no victory; he accepted it as but the portal through which we are destined to pass. And as his friends will read of the courageous manner he met death no doubt they will be reminded of that great man, who said “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his.”

Mr. Editor, I think a fitting close to this brief sketch of Captain George Barbour is in the following words of Longfellow:

The heights by which great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upwards in the night.

To the sorrowing wife and family and his many friends my family join with me in offering them our sincere sympathy and trust they will find consolation from Him who does not suffer a sparrow to fall to the ground without His notice and tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.


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