Heroes of Isle aux Morts – a 17-year-old girl and her Newfoundland dog

Heroes of Isle aux Morts – a 17-year-old girl and her Newfoundland dog

Have you heard of Ann Harvey?

Have you heard of her Newfoundland Dog, Hairy Man?

Have you heard of George Harvey or the Harvey family?

If you live in Newfoundland, you will have this story in your back pocket.

The remarkable story of a 17-year-old girl, whose selfless acts of heroism and bravery earned her the title

“The Grace Darling of Newfoundland.”


The scene:

1828 – The Despatch, a Scottish brig, flounders at Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland. 

A storm is raging – The Despatch is shipwrecked – survivors and crew are desperately clinging to the floundering ship, to rocks, and to broken rigging.

Over the next 3 days, 17-year-old Ann Harvey and her Newfoundland dog, Hairy Man, along with her father and younger brother, demonstrate remarkable courage, intestinal fortitude and acts of heroism as they fight tirelessly to save lives.

The background:

May 29, 1828, a Scottish brig called The Despatch, carrying 200 immigrants and 11 crew members, set sail from Ireland for Quebec.

42 days later, July 10, the Despatch encountered a building storm, heavy fog and ice patches.

Despatch July 1828

The story: 

July 10 – Relentlessly thrashed about by the mighty storm on open seas, the Despatch crashed into the rocks by a small island called Wreck Rock – on the Southeast tip of Newfoundland. (A cluster of Islands 15 miles from Cape Ray )

Efforts by ship’s master William Lancaster to make it to shore in a jolly boat, (dinghy) resulted in tragedy. The towering waves tossed the jolly boat about mercilessly – master Lancaster and several other passengers lost their lives. A hopeful few made it to the almost submerged, Wreck Rock. 1st Officer Coughlan was able to help several passengers to shore using the ship’s longboat.

July 12 – Locals, Ann Harvey and her father George, ventured out to search the beaches. Locals are used to seafaring ships that meet their demise during storms such as these – they are used to the loss and the tragedy that comes with a shipwreck. That day, they found what they hoped not to find – wreckage. A ship was in trouble.

The storm continued to rage.

July 13 – Despite the pouring rain, rough seas and fierce wind, Ann, her father, younger brother and Newfie dog, Hairy Man, got into their fishing boat and rowed to Wreck Rock; the most likely spot where ships flounder if passing the tip during an eastern storm. For 2 hours they rowed, struggling, fighting the wind and the waves.

When they located the surviving passengers, the Harvey’s proceeded to situate themselves as close as possible to the rocks where the survivors clung.

Working together, the Harvey’s tied a piece of rope to a block of wood. Upon instructions, Hairy Man took the block into his jaws and jumped into the water. Fighting the wind and huge, heaving waves, the powerful dog bravely swam the icy waters to bring the lifeline to those still able to grab it.

Newfie and Shipwreck

With a little bit of photoshopping – here’s what this scene might have looked like. 

The survivors secured the rope and used it to pull themselves to the Harvey’s fishing boat. When the fishing boat was filled with passengers, the Harvey’s rowed them to shore.

George Harvey directed surviving crew to take ropes from the washed ashore longboat and jolly boat, and with Hairy Man’s help, created several more shore-to-survivors, lifelines.

For the next three days and nights, The Harvey’s, as well as neighbors, surviving crew and passengers (those able to do so), build lean-to shelters, and nursed, clothed and fed the rescued. Some passengers died at the rocks, some died on the beaches, some died in the following days.

After two days of holding on, two mothers watched their infants mercilessly swept away by the ocean. One mother, Mrs. Arnott, wrapped her baby tightly in a shawl. She clenched the knot of the shawl with her teeth to free her hands so she could grab the ropes and pull herself and her baby to safety. She and her daughter made it to safety and survived the ordeal. Record states that this shawl is still in the family’s possession.

Fishing boat
One record states 158 survived. Another record states 163 were rescued – yet another states 180 were rescued.

Considering the length and severity of the storm, it is a wonder that even one survived. Thanks to the outstanding courageous efforts of the Harvey family and their Newfoundland dog, most of the immigrants lived to tell their story. 

By the end of the rescue, the Harvey family’s winter food-source was completely depleted. British warship – HMS Tyne’s – arrived at  week later. The ship’s master generously re-stocked the Harvey’s food supply.

The “Grace Darling of Newfoundland”

 For their heroic efforts, the Harvey family received a reward of 100 pounds. A commemorative medal from The Royal Humane Society was given to Ann, at her father’s request.

10 years later:

Another shipwreck – the Scottish merchant ship Rankin. Once again, George Harvey and his daughter Ann, who was now a mother, rescued ALL crew members.

Despatch Wreck 3

From that time on, Ann became known as the “Grace Darling of Newfoundland.”

Ann Harvey died in 1860 at the age of 49. Her father, George passed away the year prior.


Isle Aux Morts has a rich maritime heritage of fishing and sailing with many tales of shipwrecks and loss of lives in the treacherous waters offshore. For this reason the French named it Deadman’s Island, or as it is known locally, ‘Island of the Dead.’”

“It is a town noted for its heroism and discovery. One of the first families who settled in the area in the early 1800s was the George Harvey family, well known for their heroic rescues. “

Ann Harvey’s Weblog – https://thedespatch.wordpress.com

You can find me on Facebook here:  – Carrie Wachsmann – Storyteller 

& here: Roadblocks to Hell – book

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