BLANDFORD, SAMUEL, sealing captain and politician; b. 10 Aug. 1840 in Greenspond, Nfld, son of Darius Blandford; m. S. A. Edgar of Greenspond, and they had two daughters and at least one son; d. 8 March 1909 in St John’s.
Samuel Blandford’s long career in the seal fishery began at the age of 13, when he went “to the ice” with his father. During the 1850s Newfoundland sealing was at its peak, and the harvested pelts were in demand for both leather and oil. Experienced seamen from the outports found ready employment. Blandford served at first on sailing vessels, but with the introduction of steamers to the seal fishery in 1863, he quickly became employed by the new steamer owners. On 30 April 1873, while serving on the sealer Tigress as second hand (first mate) under Captain Isaac Bartlett from Conception Bay, he participated in the rescue of members of the crew of the ill-fated Polaris expedition [see Charles Francis Hall*]. The party had become stranded on the Arctic ice and had been adrift since the previous October.
In 1874 Blandford was appointed captain of the steamer Osprey. However, the ship sank in a gale in early April while prosecuting the seal fishery; Blandford and all the crew were saved by a neighbouring ship. Beginning in 1876 he spent 31 consecutive seasons as captain of steam sealing ships, bringing in a total of 604,775 seal pelts, the fourth highest number recorded by any steamer captain. His best years were 1884 and 1888, when his ship, the Neptune, brought in 41,983 and 42,242 pelts respectively, his men earning $110.55 each in the former year and $77.17 in the latter. Besides the Neptune, which he captained for 20 seasons, at different times he commanded the Iceland, Eagle, Esquimaux, Newfoundland, and Virginia Lake. (The Newfoundland was later involved in a major sealing disaster [see Abram Kean*].) In 1894 Captain Blandford was described by Henry Youmans Mott as “in his particular line, perhaps, the most noteworthy of Newfoundland men today.” By 1906, when he made his last voyage to the ice, the seal fishery had shrunk to a fraction of its original importance because of over-harvesting and competition from cheaper oils.
In addition to his sealing career Blandford was employed for many years by Job Brothers and Company of St John’s as manager of its cod-fishing operation at Blanc-Sablon (Que.) on the Labrador coast. Also, from 1875 to 1883 he was captain of the Plover in Newfoundland’s northern coastal mail service. In 1893 he was one of the first, if not the first, to use a steamer to prosecute the cod fishery as far north as Cape Chidley on the northern tip of Labrador. That year he also served on the local committee set up to facilitate the establishment of a London-based mission to deep-sea fishermen in Labrador under the superintendence of Dr Wilfred Thomason Grenfell*.
In the 1889 election Blandford supported the Liberal party, led by Sir William Vallance Whiteway, which advocated railway building and industrialization as the only alternatives to the problem-ridden cod and seal fisheries. He was elected to the House of Assembly for Bonavista in the landslide victory that year. He declined to run in the election of 1893 and was appointed to the Legislative Council, where he served until his death.
Captain and Mrs Blandford raised two daughters; one of them married William C. (Billy) Winsor, also a noted sealing captain and politician. A son, Sidney Dara Blandford*, became a businessman, lawyer, and politician. In 1916 the sealing steamer Newfoundland was renamed the Samuel Blandford in his father’s honour.
[The author is grateful to Paul F. Kenney and Frances Warren, both of St John’s, for assistance in the preparation of this biography. s.r.]
Several photographs relating to Samuel Blandford, including a portrait, are found in the Cater Andrews coll. at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld (St John’s); these are reproduced in Shannon Ryan with Martha Drake, Seals and sealers; a pictorial history of the Newfoundland seal fishery, based on the Cater Andrews collection (St John’s, 1987).
L. G. Chafe, Chafes 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). Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.). Alexander Hyde et al., The frozen zone and its explorers . . . with a full and reliable history of the late expedition under Charles Francis Hall in the ill-fated “Polaris” . . . (Hartford, Conn., 1874), 696–786. Nfld men (Mott).