- Jerome -


On August 23, 1863, one of the sea mysteries of Digby County came to public attention. Now, after more than a century, many questions remain in the mystery of the man delivered rrom the sea near the tourist village of Sandy Cove. On August 22, 1863, Robert Bishop and William Eldridge were working in a field overlooking the Bay of Fundy. A small vessel was noticed to heave to and lower a boat, which was rowed towards the land. As the little craft approached the shore it was hiden from view by the high bank that rose abruptly from the beach.

The incident caused little concern to the two men for likely, they reasoned, the vessel had sent the rowboat ashore in search of fresh water from a spring.

The next day the two men returned to their work in the field. All thoughts of the vessel seen on the previous day had been forgotten. So they were unprepared when distracted in their work by a young man running towards them from the beach area, screaming and highly agitated. For a time the farmers found it difficult to understand the cause of the young man's excitement. But from his broken phrases they gathered he had seen a man on the beach who was without legs. This Bishop and Eldridge could not believe, but to satisfy the young man and possibly dispel his illusions, they accompanied him to the beach, chiding him the while for taking them away from their work.

A short distance above the tide the mcn discovered a man, who was, as the youth had said, without legs. He was alive and apparently in good health, aside from the absence of his lower limbs. Beside him were a jug of water and a supply of biscuits. His clothes were neither tattered nor of high quality. The stubs of his legs had healed and showed no sign of infection.

All attempts to communicate with Jerome were futile. The man was unable or unwilling to talk. He was carried from the beach and to the central section of the village. There arrangements were made for his temporary keep.

The local overseers of the poor were contacted who in turn appealed to the Provincial authorities. A grant of $2.00 per week was set aside for4 the support of Jerome from the fund for relief to the transient poor within the Province.

It was decided that Jerome was either French or Italian and would be more content in a home in Clare. There he was boarded in the home of John Nicholas, a Corsican who lived in the village of Metcghan. Nicholas was fluent in both French and Italian but he was unable to converse with Jerome. Was the man incapable or unwilling to talk? The questions have never been answered.

After a few years in the home of John Nicholas, Jerome was moved to Cheticamp, now St. Alphonse, and lived thcre until he died over forty years later.

Innumerable stories have been told and written about this unfortunate man. Many of the older generation of Digby County have heard the stories told but each recital with a variation in detai1. Authors have exceeded the rural verbal historians in their attempts to embellish the blank spots in the tale.

One author has used Jerome in a story but found the man on the shores of Shelburne County. Another writer has the village priest of Sandy Cove making frequent visits with Jerome in Clare. Two questions arise in the minds of the readers -- What Catholic Priest lived in Sandy Cove in the 1860's and who were his parishioners? How frequent were the visits? By land the trip from Sandy Cove to Meteghan took three days by coach. So each of the frequent visits would entail an expenditure of approximately one week. By sail boat the trip could be made in one day providing the weather was favorable. But there was little traffic by water between Sandy Cove and Meteghan in the 1860's.

One story informs us that a pirate ship sailed up the Bay of Fundy to place Jerome on the shore at Sandy Cove. This in 1863! At the time regular steamship routes were in operation on the Bay of Fundy. The Digby-Saint John Ferry had been providing service to the public for approximately thirty-five years. A regular steamship route was in operation between Saint John and Halifax. Countless sailing packets were carrying commodities to and from the Atlantic States and the West Indies and larger vessels were plying between Saint John and Liverpool, England. But we have no record of any ship sighting or being molested by pirate ships.

A version of the Jerome story informs us that one of ship's crew cut off the poor man's legs, bandaged them up Napolean and then proceeded up the Bay of Fundy to dispose of the amputee. The only problem with this story was that by 1863 Napolean and his brave men had departed from the scene.

In one story told in a book of tales we quote: "Two days after he (Jerome) was put ashore, he was questioned by Angus M. Gidney, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province who lived four miles south of Sandy Cove. To Mr. Gidney, Jerome appeared of feeble intelligence but evidently made an effort to answer the questions put to him. When the assemblyman asked Jerome how he lost his legs, the Italian answered, "Tutto Futto", meaning his legs had been frozen."

In 1863 Mr. Gidney was fourteen years of age. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1895.

But of one thing we arc certain a man, called by the people of Digby County, Jerome, was found on the Fundy Coast near Sandy Cove. His legs had been amputated and he had survived the ordeal. He was later taken to Meteghan and then to St. Alphonse. Although he lived in Digby County for over forty years and received a subsistence allowance during that time, no authentic document concerning the amputee's early life has been passed down to us.

However, to confuse the reader still further, I leave him with the copy of a letter which was written to the Editor of the "Yarmouth Herald" and appeared in that newspaper in the issue of September 18, 1905. It was copied and appeared in the "Digby Courier" in the issue of September 22, 1005:

Chipman, N. B September 8.
Editor Yarmouth Herald:

Dear Sir:

While reading the St. John "Sun" to-day I came across a 3 column article copied from your paper headed "The Mystery of Meteghan" and going on to describe a peculiar man who was left on the shore of Digby Neck some 44 years ago by a vessel reporied by the simple fisher folk to have been a gunboat.

A gentleman sitting alongside me, and to whom I showed the article (and I may say this gentleman is past 70, and a man of most trustworthy authority) told me that he knows the history of this peculiar person for some two or three years prior to the discovery on the shore of Digby Neck 44 years ago. He has no knowledge of the origin or nationality of this person, but the facts as related by him are briefly as follows:

Some 46 or 47 years ago two brothers by the name of Conroy, lumbermen living near here, and one of whom is still living, found a strange man lying on one of his timber brows, a place where lumbermen roll logs into the stream, on the bank of the Gaspereau River, 20 miles from here. This person was very near perishing, both of his legs being badly frozen. They brought him here and he was taken in charge by the parish authorities. It was found that to finally save his life it would be necessary to amputate both his legs. So he was taken to Gagetown, the shire town of Queens Co., where a Dr. Peters of local fame in those days as a surgeon, performed the operation. The man recovered, and as soon as he was brought back here where he was supported for a period of nearly two years as a parish charge, he lived in the home of a family named Galligher. Some member, I think he said Mrs. Galligher, is still living about two miles from here.

It seems quite certain that the people hereabouts were not as kindly hospitable as the simple Acadian fisherfolk of Digby County, for even the parish authorities were determined to be rid of the helpless unfortunate, and to this end he was taken to St. John and there an arrangement was made with some schooner captain to take him across and leave him in Nova Scotia. It is well known who took him from here, but the exact arrangement about his transportation across the Bay is not known, only the fact that he was taken and left there.

There was a strong effort made here to learn who he was and from whence he came, but he either could not or would not understand any language these people, including the parish priest, could address him in. The supposition was that he came from a foreign ship at Chatham, and was trying to make his way to St. John or an open winter harbour.

This gentleman said that it was the impression here that the man was rather gone in the head, probably as the result of the terrible experience of being lost and frozen in a strange land.

I have briefly set down the facts as related by the 'gentleman above mentioned and they arc easily susceptible of proof by the evidence of many living witnesses. I forgot to say that the name he was known by was "Gamby" and that was given from the fact that in trying to make himself understood he seemed often to use some worrd which sounded like this.

Very Sincerely Yours,
Mr. R. O. Foss,
Assist. Dist. Engineer.
Transcontinental Ry.,
Fredericton, N. B.

Of the many stories written and told, none seem to have included this letter to the Editor of the Yarmouth Herald. At least the author of the Scrap Books has never seen nor heard such accounts.

The Reader of the Scrap Books is now at liberty to tell his own story of Jerome. He can embellish his recital by relating about strange people who visited Jerome in his Acadian home. But whatever version we tell, the facts remain that Jerome underwent extreme physical suffering and mental anguish in a strange land. If he were a deaf mate, which seems possible, he must have had harsh thoughts of a people who would amputate both his legs. It was possible that he did not understand this was necessary to save his life. To him it cou1d have indicated that he was captive of a cruel degenerate people. At this 1ate date the full facts of Jerome's life will never be revealed.

Jerome died in his foster home three miles from Meteghan in April, 1912 and was buried in the Meteghan Cemetery. So we can go on asking the following questions but will never receive definite answers: Where was Jerome born? How did he come to Canada? What was his age when he died? Why did he not talk? Who amputated his legs and why????

Source: R. Baden Powell, "Jerome, Sandy's Cove Mystery Man" in Second Scrap Book: Digby Town and Municipality, (Digby: Wallis Print, 1973), 87-91.

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