KELLOWAY (Calloway, Colloway), SIMEON, fisherman and sealer; b. in Pool’s Island, Nfld, and baptized 21 Nov. 1858, son of Charles Kelloway and Jane —; m. 1 June 1882 Clara Jane Jeans (Janes) in Pool’s Island or Greenspond, Nfld, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 20 Nov. 1903 in Badger’s Quay, Nfld.
Simeon Kelloway was the son of a planter of Pool’s Island. He does not appear to have had any formal schooling and fished with his father and elder brother on the Labrador from an early age, making his first spring trip to the ice as a sealer in 1868 at the age of ten. After his marriage in 1882, Kelloway built a house and fishing room at Badger’s Quay, as did his brother Nathaniel; they were among the first settlers of that place. In succeeding years Simeon and Nathaniel fished on the Labrador in the summer and in inshore waters, using a hand-line from their “bully,” in the spring and fall of the year.
Simeon Kelloway is traditionally identified as the leader of the “great sealers’ strike” of 1902, which began on Saturday, 8 March. On that day more than 3,000 men deserted the 14 steamers that were in St John’s being readied to sail for the ice on the 10th. The events of the strike, as recorded in the St John’s newspapers, do not seem to bear out assigning the leading role solely to Kelloway. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. that day a young man named Albert Mercer marched down Water Street, carrying two flags and calling on sealers to come out with him and his fellow sealers on the Ranger, since it was rumoured that the price for fat (seal pelts with the blubber attached) would be reduced to $2.40 per pound. The first to join Mercer and the Ranger crew was Simeon Kelloway, who brought out the men of the Vanguard. Kelloway and Mercer led the procession around to the various wharves and persuaded the crew of every steamer to walk out. They demanded that the price for fat be set before the fleet sailed, that the shipowners’ charge of $3 per sealer for coaling and cleaning of the steamers (“berth money”) be dropped, and that the crew get half the proceeds of the voyage rather than a third.
At 11:00 a.m. the parade proceeded to Government House to present their demands to the governor. When the sealers, led by Kelloway, Mercer, and a man named Robert Hall, arrived there, they were met by a troop of police. The papers suggest, in fact, that the strike had been planned the day before and that the inspector general of the constabulary, John Roche McCowen, knew of the sealers’ plans. When Governor Sir Charles Cavendish Boyle* came out, there was some hesitation, until Kelloway stepped forward to present the sealers’ demands. Boyle suggested that they should not have signed on if they were unhappy, and Kelloway replied, “We didn’t sign for any price, Governor. They [the owners] won’t put down a price, but gives us what they like when we comes in.” Hall then stated that the men would not allow anyone to sail if the price was less than $5 for fat, at which point “His Excellency at once sharply brought him to book” and suggested that the men appoint a committee to meet with the shipowners. Five men, including Kelloway, Hall, and Mercer, were selected. They accompanied McCowen to his office, where the chief placed a call to merchant Walter Baine Grieve* (according to family tradition, the first time that Kelloway ever saw a telephone in use). Grieve set up a meeting between the strike committee and one representing the owners for later that day. The men then left the police station in order to hire a lawyer to help present their demands.
The strike committee and Alfred Bishop Morine*, the lawyer it had “taken on,” met at 3:00 p.m. in the police station. Grieve announced that he had been unable to contact the other shipowners, and he postponed the meeting until the evening. The Mechanics’ Society and the Orange order opened up their halls to give the sealers a place to bed down, while the unions in the city organized donations to feed them. That night a scheduled ecumenical service for sealers went ahead at the British Hall. Kelloway and Hall spoke to the men after the service, when there was a discussion of the strike. The sealers were also addressed by Morine.
The meeting at 5:00 p.m. had not gone well. The owners’ committee announced that it would need time to consider the sealers’ demands. When merchant James Baird* said that they could not give the sealers a reply before Monday, since the owners would not meet on the sabbath, sealer Jacob Bishop replied, “I’se sailed on your ships, Mr. Baird, and taken swiles [seals] on Sunday. I don’t suppose I ever knew a Sunday on the ice when we men weren’t at work hoisting pelts or other such work.” (Captains were required by law to give their crews Sundays off.) The owners then agreed to meet through the night if necessary. However, by 10:30 they had announced that they had decided to “make no concessions whatsoever.”
Through Sunday and the early hours of Monday there were several meetings between Morine and the strike committee, and between Morine and Grieve. The men stated their final demand to be $4 for fat and no berth money. The merchants countered on Monday evening with an offer of $3.25 for fat and berth money of $1. The strike was settled on Tuesday at 5 o’clock, when the sealers agreed to $3.50 and free berths. By 6:30 p.m. most of the men were on board, and the steamers headed for the ice that evening. It was a bumper trip for most sealers including Kelloway. The Vanguard took more than 26,000 pelts, and his share made 1902 the best spring at the ice of his life.
Simeon Kelloway had only one more season at the seal fishery. He died of heart failure while hauling his boat up for the winter in November 1903. Shortly after his death the first of several popular ballads appeared, extolling his role in the great sealers’ strike.
The record does not appear to bear out the tradition that Kelloway planned, organized, and led the strike. Rather, he was one of three ringleaders, who quickly abdicated all responsibilities for negotiations to Morine. Kelloway’s subsequent early death and the fact that he was from the north side of Bonavista Bay at a time when the seal fishery was becoming increasingly centred on that area of the island likely account for 1902 being remembered as the spring when
Each steamer’s crew did fall in line,
While cheers out wildly rang,
Led on by one brave Colloway
The leader of the gang.
[Virtually all the information concerning Simeon Kelloway’s life prior to 1902, as well as details of his death, was supplied to the author in a series of interviews with Aubrey Kelloway of Gambo, Nfld, a grandson of the subject, who drew on recollections passed down by his father. The account of the 1902 sealers’ strike is a composite of reports appearing in the Daily News, Evening Herald, and Evening Telegram, all of St John’s, 8–12 March 1902. r.h.c.]
Badger’s Quay, Nfld, Anglican Church rectory, Badger’s Quay–Poole Island, reg. of burials, 1903. PANL, Greenspond, Nfld, Anglican Church, RBMB, nos.75–78a (mfm.). L. G. Chafe, Chafe’s sealing book; a history of the Newfoundland sealfishery from the earliest available records down to and including the voyage of 1923, ed. H. M. Mosdell (3rd ed., St John’s, 1923). John White’s collection of the songs of Johnny Burke, ed. W. J. Kirwin (St John’s, 1982), nos.22–23.