Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2004

Women of the Light

Roberta Boyd: Her Stout Heart Upheld Her

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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Roberta Boyd goes to the aid of the drowning men ...

Spruce Point Lighthouse was established in 1876 on the Canadian side of the St. Croix River near St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The lighthouse is just a memory now, replaced years ago by a more modern automated light.

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Spruce Point Lighthouse, New Brunswick, from an ...

The first keeper was John Boyd. Boyd’s wife and eldest daughter Roberta, also known as Bertha or Burta, often tended the light during his absences. On the dark, cold and blustery evening of October 8, 1882, Roberta was looking after the light when she heard shouts of terror coming from the river. Two men had been thrown into the swirling currents when their sailboat had capsized. “Mother of God, save us!” the men cried in frantic desperation.

Roberta, who was 19 or 21 years old at the time according to different accounts, told her mother that she was going to the aid of the men. Her mother begged her not to go, as she felt Roberta was not strong enough. Roberta would hear none of this. She pulled a shawl over her head and rushed to the river. A newspaper account reported that her younger sister Mary followed, but the “pitchy blackness of the night and the biting cold dismayed her.” Roberta launched the station’s little boat and rowed into the darkness alone.

Roberta rowed halfway across the broad St. Croix before she found the two men, weak but still clinging to the overturned sailboat. Roberta was able to grasp the shoulders of a struggling young man and help him climb into her skiff. The second man was older and heavier, and his feet had become tangled in ropes from the sailboat. Roberta was able to free the man and she pulled him by his arm into her boat.

Roberta had to row directly into the wind and current to return to the lighthouse. As a newspaper reported, “her stout heart upheld her,” and she made it home safely with the two rescued men. Her mother said that she had “never experienced so long an hour as it was from the time Bertha left us till she came back, and when she drew up to shore with her burden how we shouted for joy.” Roberta’s mother described the two men as “crazy with thankfulness.” Given hot drinks and warm, dry clothes the men gradually recovered after a few hours in the keeper’s house.

The Dominion Government presented Roberta Boyd with a gold watch inscribed “in recognition of her humane exertions in saving life in the St. Croix River.” And the Department of Marine and Fisheries sent her a new boat with the words, “Roberta Grace Boyd, Grace Darling of the Saint Croix” on the stern. (Grace Darling was, of course, the famed lifesaver of England’s lighthouse lore.)

A few years later Roberta Boyd became the official keeper after the death of her father. About the incident that brought her so much fame, Roberta once said modestly, “Please don’t speak of it. Indeed, I did nothing worth describing.”

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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