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Capt. Martin L. Welch

 

May 8, 1935

The Tribute of a Friend Given before Gloucester Lodge of Elks Last Evening

While in the death of Capt. "Marty" Welch we must realize, whether we wish to or not, the same transition which has come to millions and must eventually be the lot of each and every one of us, we wish at this time to speak of his passing as in individual occurrence and consider for a while the event as a personal and community loss.

The name of our friend will never be heralded down the corridors of time as one of the world's greatest, but his place nevertheless, is secure on history's pages.  We, of the present day will vividly remember him and his colorful deeds and succeeding generations, whenever vessels are sailed and fish caught and landed, will learn through the sagas of their fishing forbears the striking life story of this preeminent fisherman and master helmsman.  After that, as I said before, pages of marine history and story book will tell of his many exploits on the sea.

It really seemed as though everybody knew Capt. Marty -- that's why expressions of sorrow at his death were so general.  About every person one met seemed to feel that he was "their" Captain Marty and that his going away had personally bereaved them.  On the immediate family, naturally the blow fell with greatest force.  To them went sympathy deep and wide.  His brother master mariners, his old crews, fishermen generally along the coast from New York to Newfoundland, visibly affected, shook their heads sadly, remarked to each other, "well, I see good old Marty's gone" and stolidly returned to their tasks, though with heavy hearts.  This whole community was saddened and took no pains to hide its grief.  Seldom has a citizen been so sincerely mourned as was Capt. Marty when he fared on.

I was thinking about him the other evening in the quiet of my home.  The folks had gone to bed and I was in my easy chair -- alone with my cigar and my thoughts, and as the blue smoke curled upward form the white ashed end, a panorama of the striking events in the life of my close friend of over 40 years flashed to my vision and passed before me.  Each picture brought memories and thought of bygone years, of happy associations and of thrilling events, some of which it was my good fortune to witness and participate in , others of which he had told me himself in the halcyon days ago and still others of which I learned from near and dear friends of the noble fellow.  It is of some of these scenes, these highlights on the career of our friend, with some personal comments upon them that I now bring to you while his memory is yet green.

No college of learning opened its doors to graduate Marty Welch, diploma in hand, to burst confidently upon a waiting world with theoristic cures for all its ills.  Marty's college was a dory -- the bow of it -- and his diploma an oar with which to earn his living.  And this at the age of 14.

In those days, back in the early 80's the smart ones, those with fishing ambitions, headed for Gloucester and so Marty left beautiful Digby town and 1882 or '83 found him on the deck of a high-line mackerel catcher, sch. Nellie N. Rowe, commanded by the famous "killer", Eben Lewis and surrounded by a crew of smart ones. Marty made good from the start.  His "sights" were plenty.   He always went with the best of them.

But Marty was no "summer bird" alone.  He had ideas and ambitions.  He was bound to make the top and become a year round skipper.  A few years more and we find him sticking out trawls down in South Channel, in the dead of winter with other laddie-bucks under command of the hustling, driving Capt. Maurice Whalen, later to become even more famous as the skipper who tricked the wheel of the sturdy schooner, Harry L. Belden, in her victory, the greatest of all fisherman's races; that one sailed in a raging gale off here during the 250th anniversary celebration in August 1892.  Surely Marty had the best of tutors and his career shows how thoroughly he learned his lessons.

Yes, Marty was smart and so it was not strange that he attained skippership soon after reaching his majority.   And as he was smart, so was he popular.  He carried good crews from the start; active, nervy fellows like himself; good fishermen and eager for the dollars, which we know to be half the recipe for successful skippership.

In sch. Mary A. Clark he made a good beginning and then followed a long parade of successful years in sch. Lucille, Titania, Navahoe, Lucania.  He had other commands' but these were the highlights, the big money makers.  As he began, so he continued --chasing mackerel in summer and haddock in winter -- and catching them in paying quantities.   He was on the success road.

With rare fishing ability he combined uncanny sailing skill.  These, coupled with inherent courage and judgement in sail-carrying and just what his crafts could do in stress of weather, justly earned for him a reputation as an ideal fishing captain -- a reputation widely circulated and which remained undimmed to the day of his death.

Be it remembered that Marty's skippership accounted for over 40 years of sea service, coming and going, night and day, fair weather and gales, fair winds and head winds and but short shore shifts between trips.  His fame for big stocks, large fares, skillful sailing, driving passages and daring sail carrying became a by-word throughout the fleet and during all these years he lived up to his reputation.  When at the wheel and bound home to market he was indeed of the "Bob" Porper, "Gus" Hall, "Tom" Bohlin type and like the later he believed that "a vessel's got two sides."

In all those over 40 years of dragging, and driving, of chancing and daring, and earning, just think of the array of great ones now gone on, with whom Marty consorted.  A few names here if you will, just to refresh your memories:Sol Jacobs. Eben Lewis, Charles Harty, Jo Swim, Flar McKown, John Seavey, Bennie Spurling, George Heckman, Hanse Joyce, John Mills, John McFarland, Sam Hatch, Tom Paris, Al Mallock, Frank Hall, Wallace Parsons, Charles Marguire, Frank Payson, Joe Graham; these among the seiners, and of the haddocking lights: George Nelson, Sewall Smith, Jack Greenlaw, Joe Mesquita, Maurice Powers, Jim Goodwin, Sylvie Whalen, Jot Stanley, Martin Gutherie, "Big Bat" Whalen, Dexter Maline, Tony Courant, Miley Somers, Enos Nickerson, Billy Jacobs, Horace Wylde, "Jeff" Thomas; all fishing names to conjure bygones, through them all Marty's light continued to shine brightly through all the long years.  Yes indeed, Marty was one of the group that truly made fishing fame.

Capt. Marty reached his pinnacle of greatness in the fall of 1920, when being selected to command the schooner Esperanto of this port in the international series of fishermen's races off Halifax, N. S., he met and defeated the Lunenburg, N. S. schooner Delawanna and brought home the magnificent silver trophy emblematic of the sailing supremacy of the seas.   The story of that victory is too recent to need recounting here.  It spread the name of fame of Marty Welch over two continents and clinched forever his reputation as a master mariner par excellence.

Capt. Marty was a good Elk and a valued member of this lodge over a long term of years, being initiated November 17, 1904 and becoming a life member January 18, 1917.

At our meetings and social sessions he was often in attendance and thoroughly enjoyed the comradeship of the members.  Here the happy social side of his nature shone brightest.  He was always ready to aid the unfortunate and with characteristic modesty kept his benefactions to himself.   Brotherly love he exemplified in his daily walk through life and the lodge is the poorer for his passing.

And now let us leave this truly fine man; his bark quietly moored in the Harbor of Eternal Heavenly Rest, safe for all time from storms and tempests, from reefs and rocks, from all earthly perils and as we leave this hall to on the morrow take up the daily routine of life, let us think of our absent brother, Capt. Marty, as a typical master mariner, an ideal skipper, a man who through his long career, brought honor and credit to himself and to our community.  A good Elk has fared on.

A. L. M.

 

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