One sensational crime centered around Bonne Bay in the 1870s was picked up by newspapers as far away as Australia (The Age, Melbourne, for October 13, 1877) and New Zealand (West Coast Times, January 28, 1878). The story went that in December, 1874, a schooner skippered by a Captain Ridout was wrecked at Bonne Bay. He and his crew of six made it to shore – so it was believed – but then disappeared. Foul play was suspected, but not for another four years was this confirmed. An old trapper, Jacko, thinking he was on his deathbed, confessed that he knew they had all been murdered.

An old trapper, Jacko, thinking he was on his deathbed, confessed that he knew they had all been murdered.

Captain Erskine of the HMS Eclipse, was sent to Bonne Bay to investigate. There he found the daughter of one of the suspected killers, four French-Canadian brothers named Benoit. According to the newspaper account, she had been “driven from her home by her father, was living amongst the rocks, subsisting on dead fish and birds, and was almost naked.” She told Erskine that Captain Ridout had had with him about £300 in gold and notes, and had camped with his men near Jacko’s place. The Benoits agreed to take Ridout and his crew overland to St. George’s Bay. On the way, Captain Ridout and three of the sailors were trying to start a fire when the Benoits fired on them. Those who were survived were dispatched with axes. The others tried to escape across a thinly-frozen pond but broke through the ice and were finished off by the Benoits, who divided the “plunder”.

Jacko knew that Ridout and his crew had been killed, but he was paid to keep quiet.

Jacko knew that Ridout and his crew had been killed, but he was paid to keep quiet. Captain Erskine searched the coast for the Benoits who had scattered along the coast, and eventually tracked them down. Three years later on September 8, 1877, the Harbour Grace Standard and Conception Bay Advertiser reported that “the supposed chief actors in the terrible drama, now partially brought to light, are in the hands of the authorities. . . Gil Benoit, the reputed leader in the alleged murderous transactions” is in custody in Channel. Shortly afterwards, the Globe and Mail (October 6, 1877) stated that that the three Benoits charged with the murder of Capt Ridout and his crew in 1874 were now in St. John’s for examination. “Agnes Benoit, the daughter of one of them, is the chief witness and has been here for some time. . . The case will be a complicated and difficult one”. To make matters more difficult there was the rumour that these men had placed beacons on parts of the coast to lure passing vessels onto the rocks at Bonne Bay.

Something seemed a little fishy in these reports, for they seemed to suggest that things were not quite as they appeared. Indeed, they were not. The Benoit brothers were discharged, “the evidence proving quite insufficient to send the case before a jury. In fact there was no evidence whatever to show that any murder had been committed, and it is now generally believed that the missing men perished with their vessel. A careful investigation by the Inspector of Police when on the western coast failed to bring anything to light. The whole case rested on suspicion which now proves to be unfounded.”(Globe and Mail, February 6, 1878). One cannot help wondering if the whole episode might not have been invented by a girl as an act of revenge for having apparently been kicked out of home by her father. Moreover, there is no other record of a “Jacko” (Jacquot?) or a Benoit family having lived in Bonne Bay around this time, so the whole story remains a mystery.

Antony Berger

Antony Berger is the author of The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay (to Confederation and a Little Beyond).