The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson


I find scraps of paper lying around at times all over the house and my office. When I came back from Bermuda I found such a scrap of paper based on a story which Richard Austin Johnson  once told me.

According to Austin he and my father (Daniel Thomas Johnson) went to Bermuda together in 1929. My father had been there before. They worked at the Bermuda Dockyard which took care of the British West PhotoScan 743 Lady Hawkins. fleet. Great Britain was still ‘Great’ at the time until World War II broke the back of the ‘British’ Empire.

Austin only stayed for one year because he contracted typhoid fever but my father stayed on for a few more years and one of the things I remember was that my father brought back the first oleander slips to Saba and planted them at the gate of our house at ‘Behind-The-Ridge’. Austin also told me that my father was the boxing champion of Bermuda. He was a stocky man and could hold his own in a fight. Austin and the many Saban young men who worked in Bermuda at the time heard about a fight fore the championship. The fellow who had the title was a skinny Britisher and the Sabans were sure that my father could knock him down. S o they went down to wherever the fight was taking place and my father managed to hit him a knockout punch and for a day was the champion boxer of Bermuda. There are none of the old guard left who would remember that far back so I cannot verify that other than what Austin told me.

He said the two of them left Saba in 1929 and to St. Kitts where they took the Canadian Maple Line on the S.S.Hawkins and in three days time they were in Bermuda.

The dry dock they worked at employed around five thousand people back then. There were many Sabans living in Bermuda in those days and many of them remained there and their descendants are still there.

On my most recent trip to Bermuda the ship docked up at the Dry Dock and I recalled many stories told to me by Austin and others about those days. One of them was that he and my father were painting one of the large buildings. The side of the roof they were painting was facing the sea and it had a large slope. One afternoon they decided to take a siesta and fell into a sound sleep. Austin woke up first and looked over the cap of the roof, woke my father and told him  ‘Johnson’ we are in trouble ;”The last ferry to Hamilton has left, and we will have to walk.’ Although Bermuda is only twenty one square miles it seems a lot longer as it is stretched out. It is supposed to consist of 181 islands many of which are not big enough for a fowl to make a decent nest on.It would have been a long walk,  but A ustin told me that he was only teasing my father and they were able to get the ferry.

Richard Austin Johnson

Richard Austin Honson returned to Saba and later became a policeman.

What is remarkable though that only yesterday I found this note again. I thought to myself let me look on the Internet and see if I can find anything on the ‘S.S.Hawkins’.

And behold I was able to find the information I wanted and even a photograph of her. The ‘Lady Hawkins’ was 7,988 tons and was pretty new when Austin and my father travelled on her. She was completed in  1928 and was owned by Canadian National Steamships Ltd. Montreal and her homeport was Halifax. On January 19th, 1942 she was attacked by a German U-boat the U-66 with Captain Richard Zapp. Her position was 35 00,N and 30 W-.

Her compliment was 322 (251 dead and 71 survivors). NOtes on the event: At 07.43 hours on 19 January 1942 the unescorted Lady Hawkins (Master Huntly Osborne Giffen) was hit by two stern torpedoes from U-66 and sank after 30 minutes about 150 miles from Cape Hatteras. The Master, 85 crew members, one gunner and 164 passengers (including two DBS) were lost. The chief officer, 21 crew members and 49 passengers were picked up after five days by the Coamo and landed on Puerto Rico on 28 January. The chief Officer Percy A. Kelly was awarded the MBE and the Lloyds War Medal for bravery at sea.


The Lady Hawkins would normally carry 2908 tons of general cargo and 213 passengers. The  Lady boats gave good service to the West Indies back in the day.


Here I am sitting in the Drydock where my father and Austin took their siesta on one of the roofs in the background in 1929.




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