Frank DaSilva was born in Oporto (also known as Porto), Portugal in 1900. Oporto, known as the city of bridges, is located along the Douro River and is famous for its port wine. Unfortunately, in the 20th century Portugal was one of Western Europe’s poorest countries. It was then that young Frank DaSilva, presumably searching for the dreams, adventures, and promises of North America, stowed away aboard a Lunenburg schooner which was in port freighting fish. The schooner was the Frances W. Smith. Frank was 15.
Once in Lunenburg he worked as a dory fisherman, and during Prohibition as a rum runner. In 1925, while on the rum running vessel Pauline Mosher, Frank decided to part ways at Havana, booking passage on a steamer for New York. This adventure did not go as planned. Intending to return to Lunenburg, he was instead detained at Ellis Island due to a misunderstanding about his nationality. Several telegrams and affidavits later, he was released. Upon reaching Lunenburg Frank resumed dory fishing and was at one time a crewman aboard the famous Bluenose.
All adventure ended for Frank DaSilva in March 1936. Now dory mates with Stanley Heckman on the schooner Irene Mary, tragedy struck when Frank and Stanley’s dory capsized.
Lifejackets were not part of standard fishing equipment. But all dory bottoms had a drain hole that was plugged with a wooden stopper called a dory plug. To the underside of the plug was attached a rope strap. If a dory capsized, this strap became a lifeline. Frank rescued Stanley, getting him to the plug strap on the overturned dory. A strong swimmer, Frank then attempted to swim to the schooner for help. He didn’t make it. His body was never recovered. But thanks to Frank’s actions, Stanley was saved.
As part payment for legal services rendered because of Frank’s death, his widow gave Lunenburg lawyer Pitt Potter a fishing schooner ship model named F.C. DaSilva, made by Frank. Donated to the museum in 1992, it is currently on display in the Stormy Seas Gallery in the Disasters at Sea Exhibit where it tells the story of Francisco (Frank) Carvalho DaSilva.
Hilda Russell, Curator of Interpretation
Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic