Death on the Ice


Study Questions


Chapter 1

1. Name some emotions which different men aboard the Newfoundland might have felt as they set out. (What did the trip mean for the young men? For Wes Kean? For Howlett?)

2. Did all the ships leave for the Front on the same day? Did the ships for the Gulf leave at the same time? If not, why not?

3. Had Captain Abe Kean's career been one of unbroken success?

4. They relate what other sealing disaster in this chapter?


Chapter 2

1. Why were the seals so valuable to the economy of Newfoundland?

2. Why were the merchants so powerful?

3. Why did the fishermen welcome, instead of fear, the brutal and dangerous seal hunt?


Chapter 3

1. Who determined how much each sealer made on the season's catch? How was it calculated?

2. What was George Tuff's position on the Newfoundland?

3. Who was William Coaker? Why was he along on the hunt, and why did the merchants have to compromise with him?

4. Why was the wireless put on the Newfoundland? Why was it taken off again?

5. Describe the living conditions of the sealers on board the ships.

What were some signs (both natural and supernatural) that this trip might not be an easy one?

6. Describe a sealing disaster that a member of the Newfoundland crew experienced.


Chapter 4

1. What equipment would a sealer carry with him to the ice?

If the crew stole pelts from other ships, their captain would take what action?

2. What was the captain's decision concerning Harry Pridham's condition? Do you think the other sealing captain's shared his attitude?

3. Explain the meaning of the term "highliner".

4. What details are given of the Greenland disaster?

Chapter 5

1. Why was the Newfoundland unable to make it through the ice with the other ships?

2. What did the men do to free the ship? What were the dangers involved in this work?

3. They gave what kind of food to the men on the Newfoundland?

How was the weather forecast on board the ship?

4. What additional instrument did the navigator require to forecast the weather accurately?

5. How did the men feel about earlier sealing disasters and about the constant possibility of death?

6. What do we learn about the sealers' belief in omens and spirits?


Chapter 6

1. Why was there such close cooperation among the captains of the Newfoundland, the Florizel and the Stephano?

2. Why was Charles Green unable to predict the forthcoming storm? Captain Barbour observed what additional signs of a storm?

3. In what way did Wes Kean help Captains Abe and Joe Kean to increase their catch?

4. What was Wes Kean's plan to catch more seals for his ship?


Chapter 7

1. What error was made by Yetmen, the Stephano's second hand, concerning the ice flags?

2. Why did Wes Kean want George to volunteer to go with the men on the ice?

3. What order did Tuff not hear?

4. Why did Charles Green not tell Captain Wes Kean that he thought a storm might be approaching?

5. What mistakes did some sealers make when setting out for the ice?

6. What error did Captain Abe Kean make about the men of the Newfoundland regarding their position?

7. Why did most of the men keep heading toward the Stephano? Why did some decide to return to their own ship?

8. What were some signs that suggested approaching bad weather to the sealers?


Chapter 8

1. What particular danger was there in travelling over the ice pans?

2. Why was Captain Wes Kean so angry with the men who returned to his ship?

3. What did George Tuff fail to do when receiving orders from Captain Abe Kean? What do his reactions tell you about the sort of man he was?

4. Why did the men accept Tuff's authority even though some of them doubted his judgement? What was their advice to Howlett in his quarrel with Tuff?

5. Why was Tuff surprised to find the seals so soon? What was the significance of their location?


Chapter 9

1. How did Captain Joe Kean use the wireless set to his advantage?

2. What attitude did Captain Abram Kean's men have toward their captain?

3. In what ways do you think Joe Kean differed from his father?

4. When did the men on the ice realize that Abram Kean had made a mistake in his navigation?

5. Wes Kean made what assumption about the men he had sent to the Stephano?


Chapter 10

1. Several people raised doubts to Abram Kean about the safety of the Newfoundland crew. What does his response tell you about the kind of man he was? What evidence is there that he had doubts about whether all the men were aboard the Newfoundland?

2. What characteristic did Tizzard show that he lacked when he blew the whistle only twice? What effect did it have for the men on the ice?

At what point did the men realize they would be spending the night on the ice?

3. How important was strong leadership once the men had split into four different watches? Describe the difference among the four watches.


Chapter 11

1. Why does the author, Cassie Brown, alternate scenes of the lost men with scenes aboard the ships? What effect does this have on the reader?

2. Why was it so dangerous when the rain turned to snow?

3. What characteristics made leaders out of ordinary men like Jesse Collins? 4. Why did the men follow him now? How does he contrast with the appointed leaders like Tuff and Bungay?


Chapter 12

1. Give examples of men on the ice who demonstrated their sense of responsibility to one another.

2. Physical endurance was not the only quality needed to survive on the ice. What other qualities contributed to the survival of many men?

3. What was the feeling of the men on board the Newfoundland?


Chapter 13

1. How close did any of the men get to the Bellaventure? Why weren't they seen or heard? Why had they been so hopeful that they would be saved?

2. How did their course of action change after the departure of the Bellaventure?

3. How did the second night on the ice differ from the first?

4. Why are we told about the loss of the Southern Cross? What themes in the novel does this incident bring to mind?


Chapter 14

1. What evidence is given that Wes Kean was beginning to waver in his conviction that the men were on board the Stephano?

2. When they discovered that the men had been on the ice for so long, what was the reaction of Wes Kean? Of the Newfoundland 's crew? Of Captain Abe Kean? Of the Stephano's crew?

3. How were the survivors treated once they got on board of the Newfoundland?

4. Whom did John Hiscock blame for the Newfoundland disaster?


Chapter 15

1. What was the initial reaction aboard the Bellaventure to the reports of the number of men who were dead on the ice?

2. From whose point of view do we see the rescue? What details does the author use to make this scene gripping?

3. What do we learn of the Old Man Kean's character from his reaction to the news of the disaster and from his impatience the men hoisted Simon Task aboard?

4. Describe Dr. Wallace's experiences while crossing the ice. What purpose does this incident serve in the story?

5. As the bodies are piled on the ice, they are compared with dead seals staked on pans. Do you see other similarities?

Chapter 16

1. What precedent was set by the ship owners in their response to news of the tragedy?

2. Why did Abram Kean decide to continue with the hunt after the tragedy? What effect did this decision have on the men? What effect did it have on the people of St. John's?


Chapter 17

Describe how the tragedy changed the behaviour of the men on board ships. Why had the men not taken such action before the tragedy occurred?

How did Abram Kean's version of the events differ from that of the sealers?

Do you think the owners of the Newfoundland should be penalized? What could they have done to prevent this tragedy?

Chapter 18

What change was made as a result of the magisterial inquiry? Why did the inquiry have so little effect in changing the conditions of the hunt? What other reforms could have been made?

What additional areas did the public commission of inquiry investigate? What decision did the commission reach?

What was the public reaction to the decisions of the inquiry and the commission? What demands were made by the public?

Why was the government sympathetic to the merchants rather than the fishermen?