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Clan Donald Magazine No 8 (1979) Online

A French Shipwreck and a MacDonald Rescue by Duff MacDonald.

"Duff" MacDonald, Nova Scotia Clan Donald Commissioner is a descendant of Captain William MacDonald of the "Grizalda"-Editor.


Bureau of Archives of France,
60 Rue de Francs Bourgeois,
75141 Paris Cedey 03.
Tel: 277.11.30

Reference: 4055 12974250  

February 24, 1978

Mr. President:

In your letter of February 1st you have requested a search be made of documents relative to the award by the Ministry of Navy and Colonies of a medal of Honour to the English Captain William MacDonald, for having saved the crew of a French shipwreck between Newfoundland and Halifax in 1876.

It gives me great pleasure to send you the enclosed copy of the record; the proposal of award for Captain William MacDonald and his crew, document which is kept under #342 in the Navy Marine CC4 113 file.

Yours very truly,
President, Archives of France
Jean Favier

Docteur Robert Morgan
President Beaton Institute
College of Cape Breton


Names, Surnames, Grades and Qualifications of Rescuers

I.          William MacDonald, Captain of the Schooner "Grizalda", of Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

II.         H. W. MacDonald, First Mate of the said schooner.

III.       MacDonald, sailor.

IV.       MacDonald, apprentice.

V.        H. Smith, apprentice.

Site and dates of occurrence-Green Bank, October 10, 1876.

Concise Resume of Facts. On the 10th inst., by 45o41 latitude North and 53 o longitude West, the English schooner "Grizalda", manned by the four MacDonald brothers and the apprentice Smith, sailing from Saint John's, Newfound-land to Big Bras d'Or, was hove to since the previous evening, when, on the 10th, about three o'clock in the afternoon, she perceived distress signals from ill-fated shipwreck hanging on to a piece of the wreckage which was none other than the schooner "Bassussary", capsized at sea at 30 to 35 leagues from Saint Pierre, on Green Bank, on the evening of October 9th.

To reef up the sails of the "Grizalda" and go to the aid of the shipwreck was an instant decision, even with the condition of the sea, and after three trips the fifteen survivors of the "Bassussary" were aboard, as two must have been asphyxiated (drowned) at their post when the said schooner capsized. On October 14th, ten of the men were put aboard the American schooner "Sultania", which put them ashore at Halifax on the 23rd. As for the five others, they were brought back to Saint Pierre by the "Grizalda" and returned to the "Seaboard Conscription" on the 20 inst.

Rewards obtained previously: To this date, by a declaration of the rescuers, none have received recognition for the rescue.

Proposition by the Naval Commissioner of the "Seaboard Conscription".

The Commissioner of the "Seaboard Conscription" of Saint Pierre et Miquelon,

Because of:

the ministerial circular of April 4th, 1864;

the report of the Captain of the English schooner "Grizalda";

the statements made by the five shipwrecked sailors brought back to Saint Pierre;

besides the various enquiries gathered concerning the facts above mentioned, and

Whereas there is no doubt that the fifteen survivors of the "Bassussary" inevitably owe their lives to the chance passing in the sinister area of the English schooner "Grizalda".

Whereas Captain William MacDonald did not hesitate, even in the stormy sea, to do all which was materially possible to help and take aboard the unfortunate men hanging on since the night before to a piece of the shipwreck "Bassussary".

Whereas he was (nobly) bravely seconded in this rescue by his crew made up of five men, complete, and principally by his mate.

Whereas if this rescue does not constitute an act of courage and exceptional self-sacrifice, it is nonetheless deserving and worthy of the greatest commendation, taking into account the difficult circumstances, if not perilous, under which it was carried out.

Whereas moreover it is only right to take into account the fortitude of the rescuers.

By these reasons, we propose:

#1        William MacDonald, Captain, a silver medal 1st class and a reward of 150f;

#2        H.W. MacDonald, Mate, a silver medal 2nd class and a reward of 150f;

#3        A reward of 100 f. for the three other rescuers, MacDonald, sailor; MacDonald, apprentice; H. Smith, apprentice.

Proposal of the Director (Paymaster):

Less the gratifications of 150 f. recommended for the Captain and Mate of the schooner "Grizalda" who, to me, appear to be sufficiently recompensed by the medals requested in their favour, I agree to the propositions as stated above by the Commissioner of the "Seaboard Conscription".

Interim Director,
Angier de Maintenon

Proposition-Colony Commander:

Agree to the propositions of the Director.

Interim Commander,

Ministry Decision:

Decreed on January 12, 1877, to award medals to the first two rescuers. A reward of 100 f. to Messrs. MacDonald, sailor, MacDonald, apprentice, H. Smith, apprentice.

Paris, December 31st, 1876,
Vice Admiral, Senator, Minister of Navy and Colonies,
L. Fourichon

Extract from a note (memo) of the Director of General Accounts, of April 5, 1878:

"From a letter of the French Consul at Quebec, dated March 11, 1878, it follows that the three English sailors to whom rewards were granted by decision December 31st; 1878, #342 are:

Messrs. Francis MacDonald, Duncan MacDonald John MacKinnon

These sailors were paid at the beginning of 1878. National Archives, Navy cc4 113 File 342.

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