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Mysterious disappearance of SV Resolven crew in 1884 brings Welsh author to Clarenville

From left, Eldon Bailey, Will Wain and Andrea Sutcliffe.
From left, Eldon Bailey, Will Wain and Andrea Sutcliffe. - Contributed

Searching for closure

RANDOM ISLAND, N.L. — It sounds like the plotline of an episode of The X-Files.

In 1884, the SV Resolven was found abandoned off the coast of Catalina.

The galley stove was lit, food was prepared, and the sails were spread.

One side of the ship appeared to have sustained some minimal damage.

But the captain and crew where nowhere to be found. Evidently, they had taken off in the ships lifeboat – and in a hurry.

The men had vanished.

That’s the story according to Welsh author Will Wain, who was recently in Clarenville hoping for some greater insight into the disappearance of the men.

More specifically, the disappearance of Capt. John James, the Resolven’s master and Wain’s great-grandfather.

Following the disappearance of James, his wife – Wain’s great grandmother – died in poverty, leaving his grandfather an orphan at the age of 10, Wain says.

Wain, who has been studying the mystery for the last decade, was recently contacted by Daisy Bailey, formerly of Deer Harbour, Random Island.

“Daisy told me that her grandfather and his brother were from Deer Harbour, Random Island, and they had found a body in a merchant navy officer's uniform on a remote island in the same month and year as my ancestor disappeared. For three generations, the family had wondered who this man could be. Then they saw my research on the internet and got in touch,” said Wain.

In 2015, Wain was contacted by another woman who had seen his work online.

Andrea Sutcliffe is the great-great-granddaughter of James Mathias, a first mate on the Resolven.

Sutcliffe, who like Wain, grew up with the strange story of her ancestor’s disappearance.

The mysterious disappearance of Mathis had put a great strain on his wife, who was left to support six children.

Wain, Sutcliffe and Eldon Bailey of Corner Brook – Daisy’s brother – met up the last week of June.

Sutcliffe and her husband Ed travelled from Virginia, and Wain made the trip from Wales.

The group had hoped to boat out to the island where the captain is thought to have been buried. Upon departing Lance Cove, however, the waters became rough and choppy, and landing at the island in Trinity Bay was deemed unsafe.

“To be honest, it’s very unlikely we’re going to find anything after that long a time,” Wain confessed.

“But then, what I also say to people is that so many miracles have happened with this story.”

There’s one more elusive clue out there that may help identify the man buried on that remote island.

“He had a very unusual, and valuable, white gold watch,” Wain told The Packet.

White gold, he says, would have been common in Wales, and seems to be an indicator that the body was in fact the body of his great-grandfather.

Wain says that according to his research, the watch had been removed from the body before burial and has since disappeared.

“It’s probably tucked away in someone’s drawer somewhere,” Wain concluded.

He thinks the watch may have been, at one point, in the possession of a Cooper family.

Despite the disappointment of not getting to set foot on the island, Wain says he will continue to investigate what really happened that day and who the man buried on that Trinity Bay island really is.

“It’s about closure,” Wain summarized.

“The captain’s widow died in poverty. She died young … but she kept writing to the Admiralty, to the Royal Navy, because it was a Royal Navy ship that found the Resolven, asking if they could tell her what happened or where the captain’s possessions were.

“And she never got an answer apparently.

“To me, after all this time, if we can get some kind of idea, some kind of closure, that’s what keeps me going, apart from the story itself.”

If you have any clues that may help solve the 130-plus-year-old mystery, you can contact Wain at wwain@yahoo.com.

mark.squibb@thepacket.ca

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