Sliding down the ways and slipping in the water
Leaving the quay and out into the harbour
The people left behind at the empty quay
The Ship Hector arriving at Pier C
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THE PIED PIPER OF THE SHIP HECTOR
On July 1, 1773, nearly two hundred trusting Scots boarded the ship Hector at Loch Broom in Rosshire, Scotland. Two and a half months later on September 15, 1773, the Hector dropped anchor in Pictou Harbour. The exhausted immigrants crowded the rails to gaze with wonder at their new home. A shoreline of giant trees, tightly packed together and displaying blazing autumn colours greeted them. What a sight this must have been after the monotony of the ocean on which they had travelled for so long. Confident that their allotted fields of cleared land were just behind the trees, they dressed in their tartan kilts, took along their daggers and broad bladed swords and eagerly waded ashore about a mile west of the now Pictou town. (Brown's Point)
As they lugged their few belongings, they were led by a single piper who blew up his pipes and played the Highland music. It was this lone piper who had helped transport the people across the dangerous Atlantic to a new and desolate shore. He had been there with his music throughout their ordeal, and his music would help re-establish in a new land the traditions and customs that the Scottish people had thought they left behind. This account is to show how the piper served as guardian angel to the passengers of the Hector.
The piper named Fraser had boarded just minutes before the Hector cast off her lines, without a farthing to his name. He carried his sole possession...his bagpipes. When the destitute piper was ordered ashore, the immigrants offered to share their food with him in exchange for his nostalgic music. The piper agreed to play and the captain agreed to let him stay. As the old brig plodded out to sea, the immigrants broke down and wept as their homeland disappeared from view. The piper played the Scottish music weaving in and out amongst them sending swirls of wild, joyous Highland sounds into the air. The immigrants were so uplifted by the sounds of the music that they began to look forward with some positive thoughts toward their new homeland, the New Scotland, where hopefully they would find peace after leaving behind the grief and suffering that had followed the defeat of the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
The Hector was an old ship and built only to carry cargo. She was not built for speed or comfort and she suffered from rot and decay. The passengers of the Hector lived in a hold approximately eight-five feet long and twenty-two feet wide for the duration of their long voyage. There were too many passengers for the size of the vessel and crowding created unsanitary conditions below deck. However, the courageous passengers, unaware of the conditions their new life held, felt that almost anything would be a vast improvement over the conditions they had left behind. Whenever they were doubtful, these hardy Scots on this tedious journey had only to listen to the thrilling music of their native bagpipes that the piper Fraser continued to play as he kept his part of the bargain that had been struck at the beginning of the journey.
The government was very frugal in the quality and amount of food that they provided on the Hector to the passengers. These tenant Scottish farmers who had known only trying times and persecution in old Scotland were lured to the new country by promises of free passage, and cajoled into believing they would receive free farms and a year's free provisions. They were assured there were plenty of provisions and water aboard the Hector, but because of delays caused by storms at sea, the provisions were exhausted. The passengers ended up eating poor food that had been previously thrown away and had been hoarded up by a passenger named Hugh MacLeod. And because of the overcrowded conditions, smallpox and dysentery broke out below deck and many passengers, mostly children died. Throughout all of this, the piper Fraser played his soothing Highland music helping to lift the spirits of the down trodden group. Unusual storms at sea kept driving the Hector backward. Captain John Spears, along with first and second mates, James Orr and John Anderson, discussed the matter with John Ross, agent for the Philadelphia Company who had chartered the Hector for delivering the immigrants to Nova Scotia. They were deciding if they should turn back to Scotland or continue on. During this hectic time, it was the sounds of bagpipes that calmed their fears and gave them the courage to go onward. When their spirits were down, only the wailing sound of the pipes raised them up and gave them newfound courage. It rose above the roar of the wind and the creak and snap of the sails and edged them forward. That is how the sounds of the Scottish pipes brought renewed hope to the passengers.
As the immigrants finally came ashore walking to the beat of the wild music of the hills and glens of old Scotland, they were greeted by the white settlers of the Betsey, who had arrived six years earlier. The Betsey settlers thought they were a strange group dressed in costumes and speaking a foreign tongue, the Gaelic, for the Betsey settlers from Philadelphia spoke English. However, the Betsey settlers found the Hector passengers, especially one, to be beneficial to their plight. In the past, these settlers had been helped much by the Mi'kmaq of the district. However, some of the Indians actually hindered and harassed the Betsey people. As they saw the Hector approach, these trouble- making Indians threatened to kill those that were coming ashore. The Betsey settlers warned them that those who were coming were the "Men in Petticoats" that the Indians had seen fighting on the Plains of Abraham when Wolfe defeated Montcalm. When the skirl of the pipes echoed across the water and into the trees, the frightened Indians took to the woods. Once again the lone piper had saved the day.
The years that followed were not easy for the new immigrants. Without tools or knowledge to cope with the task of clearing land, they suffered greatly. The government in Halifax brushed the new arrivals out of their minds, and the people were left to fend for themselves, just as the Betsey people had been doing for six years. The newcomers built makeshift shelters and worked together to achieve a gradual spreading over the county. They learned to live on the land and developed survival skills. They raised their families in traditional Old Scotland style. They began Ceilidhs, held Highland dances, formed pipe bands, and all the time they kept alive the high standards of religion and education that characterized the Scots over the years.
In 1923 a monument was erected in the central park in Pictou. It is the statue of a kilted Highland with a musket in hand and an axe over his shoulder. He faces the harbour where the Hector dropped anchor. One wonders if the Highlander should not have been hoisting the pipes and blowing, rather than carrying a musket and axe. Each year, there is a celebration marking the anniversary of the "Landing of the Hector". And this year on September 16 a replica of the Ship Hector will be launched into the Harbour. During the Ship Hector Launch 2000 which take place September 15-17, there will be a special celebration of Scottish culture and heritage. One's ear will never be far from the Scottish skirl of the bagpipes, brought to Pictou's shore by the lone piper, Fraser.
Sherwood, Roland H./ Pictou's Past. (Lancelot Press Limited,Hantsport, N.S. 1988)
Pictou's Website: History