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D. W. Prowse

History of Newfoundland


[This text was written in 1898 by D. W. Prowse. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

THE history of Newfoundland is a deeply interesting study, being far more than the mere chronicle of the growth and development of a Colony. It contains the story of the dawn of English colonisation, the gradual development of England 's naval supremacy, the foundation of her Colonial Empire. For upwards of a century Newfoundland was Britain's one and only Colony, the sole possession in the New World ruled and possessed by the English. Her fishery and trade was the one and only link between Europe and North America. The annals of the Island throw a bright light on contemporary history. Intimately connected with the Empire, they form an important chapter in the history of England. In the policy pursued towards the Island by the various English rulers we have an epitome of passing events in the Mother Country, a reflection of the characteristic features of changing Governments, the greatness of Cromwell as shown in his Colonial policy and the corresponding weakness of the Stuarts. Our history should also be of special interest to Colonists and Americans. For one hundred years we were the only British dependency, and from 1620 to 1763 there were virtually only two Brit­ish Colonies in North America - Newfoundland and the continental settlements which afterwards became the United States. The early intercourse and connection between these scattered possessions has been either entirely ignored or was possibly unknown to American historians. It shows an earlier and more primitive state of affairs than the history of Canada, or the annals of the Maritime Provinces which became English possessions at a much later date.

Like her sister colonies on the continent, Newfoundland suffered terribly from the inroads of the French. From 1698 to 1763 there was almost continuous war. Through the treachery of Charles II. the enemy was firmly established at Placentia , and with their barbarous Indian allies, we had in the small outlying Newfoundland settlements a repetition of the horrid butcheries of Haverhill and Schenectady. Lord Salisbury has characterised our Island as "the land of historic misfortune," but it should rather be described as the home of historic misrule-the victim of an odious colonial policy of restriction, and at one time of actual extirpation of the settlers. To show that I am not exaggerating I give one short extract from an official document. It is the evidence of William Knox, one of the Under-Secretaries of State in the American Department, given before the House of Commons, 26th March, 1793 :

  "As there appeared evident danger of the trade and fishery being lost to England , and that, instead of being a British fishery, as it had hitherto been, it would becorne a Colonial fishery. To prevent the increase of inhabitants in the Island the most positive instructions were given to the Governors not to make any grants of lands and to reduce the number of those who were already settled there. Their vessels, as well as those belonging to the Colonies, were to be denied any priority of right in occupying stations in the bays or harbours for curing the fish over the vessels from England, and the Governor was instructed to withhold from them whatever might serve to encourage them to remain in the Island; and, as Lord North expressed it, `whenever they wished to have roasted he was to give them raw, and whenever they wished to have the raw he was to give them roasted,' with a view to secure the return of all the fishermen carried out."

Whilst Canada and Nova Scotia had money lavished on them by the Home authorities, the policy so cynically expressed by this English official was carried out towards Newfoundland by the British Government down to the very beginning of this century. It is no marvel that Newfoundland did not thrive under such a régime the real wonder is that the settlers lived at all under these oppressive restrictions. The treatment of Newfoundland has been so stupid, cruel and barbarous that it requires the actual perusal of the State papers to convince us that such a policy was ever carried out. The Home Government sacrificed our interests in every arrangement with France . The expositio contemporanea, however, of the old Admiral-Governors on the French Treaties was very different from the complaisant manner in which the illegal and arrogant doings of French naval officers are treated to-day. Palliser held that the French should neither trade nor catch anything but codfish. Duff issued an order prohibiting French men-of-war from visiting our coast, and these stout English sailors upheld the rights of England as the sovereign power in Newfoundland in a way that excites our admiration. For several years prior to the advent of free institutions in 1832 Newfoundland was a Crown Colony governed by officials. A more tyrannical and selfish Government never existed. Many sensible persons in the Island recommend a return to this form of rule, but it is a wholly impracticable idea, and the system could never again be applied to any community of white men.
The struggle for autonomy in Newfoundland is a very interesting study in contemporary Colonial politics, but it is not a very pleasant subject of contemplation for those who believed, like the old English Liberals, in the all-saving grace and wonder-working powers of the British constitution in the Colonies. The agitators for free institutions in most cases got office as a reward for their labours. The Home Government committed an egregious blunder in making the Chief Justice President of the Legislative Council, and this error was accentuated in the appointment of Henry John Boulton, a well-known personage of Upper Canada . He had great ability and undaunted courage, but his arrogance and narrow-minded intolerance made co-operation between the two branches of the Legislature simply unworkable. The worst feature of politics in. those days was the election riots, and the most violent fights and bloodshed were not so much between Catholic and Protestant as between the rival Roman Catholic factions (all Irish). Amongst them were a considerable number of very intelligent, well-to-do merchants and traders. These men, the very flower of the Celtic population in the Colony, were Liberals and Whigs attached to civil and religious freedom. Their opponents bestowed on them the odious nickname of the "mad dogs." How these men and their families were insulted, attacked and driven from the Colony is an object-lesson in Irish Home Rule, and one of the most deplorable chapters in our political history. Time and the spirit of the age has softened down this sectarian animosity, which was mostly created by scheming politicians for their own promotion to office. Instead of fierce religious discord, we have now a bitter party strife, constantly inflamed by a scurrilous press, and latterly rendered more intense by the "spoils system" and that most odious and un-English weapon in politics, the "political axe."
It is a white man's burden, and far heavier than the task of civilising the red man, the black man or the Filipino. We groan under the load, but we cannot lighten it. All sensible men, however, recognise how mischievously these causes retard the moral and material progress of the Colony. It seems almost incredible to relate that there are very old people yet alive who can remember when the first grants of land were made, and that the Governor's widow (Lady Cochrane) is still in existence whose husband was allowed to construct the first public road in the Island. It is only during the last half-century that Newfoundland has been permitted to progress. Her advancement, considering all her misfortunes by flood and fire and almost universal financial ruin, has been marvellous. Though the oldest Colony, she is still young, a virgin country almost wholly undeveloped, and the world is at last beginning to appreciate her vast resources, in which the immense fisheries have so long obscured the wealth of the soil. Her forests, her vast stores of pulp wood, her great deposits of iron, copper and coal will some day outrival the fisheries. Want of communication has hitherto retarded her progress. Now that the Gulf has been bridged by the fast steamer Bruce and the Island girdled by a railway, our country will, we fervently hope, soon occupy her rightful position amongst the progressive Colonies near her shores.
Physical Geography .
Newfoundland, the largest Island in the New World, occupies a position in North America very similar to the British Isles in Europe. A curving line drawn from Montreal or New York extends almost due east to the Island. Her Atlantic shore is the nearest part to Europe. Only a little over 1,600 miles separates her from Ireland-three days' passage for a fast stearner. In the old days she was the stepping-stone between the two continents, and by her coasts and headlands passed all the great discoverers and the flowing tide of European emigration which settled North America. Today from the rocky promontory of Cape Race there is hardly an hour in which a passing steamer is not visible. As Sir John A. Macdonald well observed, Newfoundland is the sentinel of the St. Lawrence, the key to the Dominion of Canada. Countless ages ago the Island, like England, was separated from the mainland by a great physical convulsion. Both coast lines facing the continent are similarly marked with very slight indentations, whilst the east coast of the Island, corresponding to the west coast of Ireland, is cut up, serrated, and indented, in a most extraordinary way, showing where the fierce flood of waters rushed out into the ocean. Labrador, the Colony's great dependency, is the counterpart of Norway. The insular zone on both coasts are in much the same position, and at the extreme north towards Cape Chidley the same wonderful and deep fiords and lofty precipices are to be found which enchant the tourists in the land of the midnight sun.
All but the extreme north part of Newfoundland lies south of 5o° north latitude, whilst all England is north of it. Our climate should, therefore, have resembled France. Unfortunately isothermal lines run very differently in America from Europe. The great Labrador current, laden with icebergs from the Arctic, chills the air in the spring. Whilst it retards agriculture and shortens the growing season it brings along with it, however, the food which sustains the countless millions of cod and seals, and makes the banks and shores of Newfoundland the most extensive fishing-grounds in the world. In dimensions Newfoundland contains 42,000 square miles and is about one-third larger than Ireland . It is separated from Cape Breton on the south by Cabot Strait, a distance of 52 miles, and from Labrador by the Straits of Belle Isle. In the narrowest part only ten miles divide the island from the continent. The summer climate is beautiful, the winter much less severe than in Canada. The most remarkable feature of the country is the interior, a vast deer park wholly uninhabited. The settlements are only around the coast and only one small place - the railway centre at Whitbourne - can be designated as an inland town. The west coast is entirely different from the Atlantic shore, the climate is better, the scenery amongst the finest in the world and the soil, especially in the river valleys, well adapted for agriculture. The Bay of Islands, Codroy and St. George's Bay are most picturesque and attractive.
Newfoundland is the "Playground of America," a sportsman's paradise, and, now that the railway and the steamer have joined her to the continent, is an ideal resort for the tourist, the camper-out and the lover of rod and gun.
The history of Newfoundland may be roughly divided into four periods of nearly equal duration:
I. The early or chaotic period from 1497 to 1610 when the Island was a kind of no man's land without law, religion or government; frequented by English, French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen; ruled in a rough way by the reckless courage of West of England men who were half pirates and half traders. This division corre­sponds also roughly with the duration of the Tudor dynasty.
II. The Fishing Admiral period from 1610 to 1711 - a dismal time of struggle between the settlers and the ship fishermen from England . It may also be designated as the period of coloni­sation and it nearly corresponds with the reign of the Stuarts.
III. The Colony under naval Governors from 1711 to 1825 when Sir Thomas Cochrane, the first resident Governor, arrived.
IV. The modern period and the struggle for self-government.
Our history is quite modern, embracing only four centuries from John Cabot's discovery of the Island in 1497 to the present time. I am bound, however, to tell my readers that five centuries previously there was an earlier European exploration of Newfoundland and some portion of North America and a colonisation of Greenland (geographically part of America ) by the Northmen or Icelanders. Intermingled with myth and fable, as the Sagas which have come down to us are, they contain undoubted historical facts. About 1348 colonies and colonisers both disap­peared and "like the baseless fabric of a vision left not a wrack behind." This very remarkable portion of the earlier history of the continent has been the favourite hunting-ground of historical cranks and enthusiasts. The whole history of America is full of blunders and perversions of facts, but this portion is a veritable "comedy of errors;" and nothing can be imagined more humorous than the fancies and vagaries and learned histories that have been written about these Icelandic voyages.
The most important and the earliest certain event in our history is the discovery of the Island by John Cabot in 1497. The time was propitious: there were no rude alarms of war and England was fairly prosperous. Just previous to this date Bartholomew Columbus had asked Henry VII. to aid his brother's expedition. The parsimonious king had lost the opportunity for immortal fame. When the news of the successful voyage reached England it stirred men's minds wonderfully and Cabot's request for a charter was grudgingly allowed. The Bristol merchants warmly supported his proposal and the King was friendly to the Queen City of the West. He made it a condition, however, that the Genoese should have all the expense and the Sovereign should have a large share of the profits. Spain and Portugal claimed all the New World and the Pope had solemnly divided it between them. So by Cabot's charter he was to sail north and west for unknown lands not yet discovered by any Christians. It is only quite recently that the true history of this mo­mentous voyage can be told with any relative degree of certainty. We are now aware that Cabot sailed twice to the New Land in 1497 and the following year; and that he returned from America in 1498 is proved conclusively by the receipt for his pension in that year which has been discovered quite recently.
The first result of the discovery was the inauguration of the great Newfoundland fishery, pursued by the English, French, Portuguese and latterly by the Spanish Basques. In all ages of the world the fishery has been the mother of commerce and the parent of navigation. The great DeWitt writes: "The Navy of England became formidable by the discovery of the inexpressible rich fishing bank of Newfoundland." It was this industfy that first started the early settlement of New England . Winslow tells us that when the Puritans sent their agents from Leyden to obtain James's consent to their going to America the King at once inquired what profit might arise. They answered "Fishing."
"So, God have my soul, "said the Royal Solon," 'tis an honest trade, 'twas the Apostles' own calling; "and they obtained the required leave; and the fishery saved the Colony from destruction. To appreciate the importance of the discovery to England and the immense importance of the fishery we must first try to realise the condition of the Mother Country in the Tudor Age. That little island was essentially agricultural, not commercial. Her great staple was wool, and it was largely in the hands of foreigners. Her population has been estimated as under five million and her yearly revenue was not over £500,000. The burthen of her entire Royal Navy in the days of Elizabeth was not equal to the tonnage of the Teutonic. Can we realise an age that had neither tea nor coffee and when potatoes and tobacco were unknown? Except for very rich people who had game there was no fresh meat to be obtained all through the winter. Fish, fresh and salted, formed the chief winter diet. Fish, especially salt cod, was greatly in request and was much dearer than meat. To the Englishmen of the Tudor Age Newfoundland and its fishery was a gold mine - a piscatorial Klondike . All current history, English and American, states that although England discovered Newfoundland, she utterly neglected her new possession, abandoned its fishery to foreigners, and that the history of our connection with the Island really commences with Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyage in 1583. I hold and maintain quite a different view. My statement is emphatic that the English fished and traded in the Island and controlled and kept possession of their new discovery from 1497 onwards. The most eminent living authority on English history, especially in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is Mrs. John Richard Green, and to this able and learned writer (whose opinion on English history is received in the Old Country as absolute) I submitted my argument before publication, and she replied: "Your proof of the early trade to Newfoundland is absolute."
Let me give some direct proofs. In 1527 we have an account of John Rut's voyage to Newfoundland - an exploring expedition organised by Wolsey. He mentions the sailing of Master Grubbe's two ships from Plymouth on 10th June and arriving in Newfoundland on 21st July:
All the fishing vessels came out with the easterly winds in the early spring and caught more fish than they were able to carry home. It was the practice to have freighters, known then as "sack ships," probably on account of their bringing sherry (sack) from Spain. These vessels came at a time when the cod was dried and ready for market at the end of July. Master Grubbe's two vessels, therefore, were freighters. In the Act Henry VIII., Cap. XI.- "The Bill concerning buying fisshe upon the see" - we have this provision: "Provided, furthermore, that this Act, or anything therein conteyned, shall not extende to any person which shall bye any fisshe in any parties of Iseland, Scotlands, Okkney, Shotland, Irelande or Newlande (Newfoundlande)." This shows that the Newfoundland fishery was in existence and classed with the other great English industries pursued in Iceland, Ireland, &c. Writing in 1578, Parkhurst says that "The English are commonly lords of the harbour, where they fish and use all stranger's help in fishing if need require, according to an old custom of the country."
Hayes, the survivor of Gilbert's expedition, relates how "the English merchants that were and always would be Admirals by turns, interchangeably, over the fleets of fishermen within the same harbour. For our English merchants command all there. "Now, how could the Englishmen have obtained the absolute command over the great fleet of foreigners, and how could it be said to be according to an old custom of the country if the English, according to all the current histories, had stayed at home and taken no part in the great trans-Atlantic fishery ? Or how did this wonderful historic blunder arise ? It is easily explained. For the English authorities the fishery was essentially vulgar and plebeian and quite beneath the dignity of history. The annals of the Kingdom were the acts of Princes. The destinies of nations were truly in those days the sport of Kings, and consequently we have minutely recorded every vagary, religious and matrimonial, of Henry VIII. or of Mary Stuart's beauty, her caps and frills, and even the colour of Elizabeth's petticoats ; but there is not a word about the daring fishermen who year by year left obscure western ports to found a Colonial empire. The great public, the common people, who formed the English nation, are entirely ignored. Take some of the very latest histories of the Tudor period and you will' find one hundred pages devoted to Anne Boleyn and three lines to the discovery of North America ! The American ignored this phase of history simply because he wanted to go ahead and weave romances about the poor, humble people who landed at Plymouth Rock. But is there no romance, no interest in these simple annals of the sea ? Raleigh tells us that the Newfoundland Fishery was "the mainstay and support of the Western Counties. "In a letter to Cecil, which I found at Hatfield, and in writing of a threatened attack on the fishing fleet by the Spaniards, he says that "the destruction of the Newfoundland fleet would be the greatest calamity that could befall England ."
Every voyage to the new Island was an adventure full of excitement and danger, constant perils from robbers, pirates, sea-rovers, storm and tempest, the fogs and thick-ribbed ice. Every one of consequence joined these expeditions to the new Island of the West. It was not mere love of trade or lust for gain that drew them on. For the young, the daring Elizabethan heroes of that great age, the golden age of English history, there were stormy incidents, the strange land with its wonderful beasts and birds, the mysterious red man and, above all, the chance of a brush with the foreigner. The West countryman dearly loved a fight and like the war-horse scented the battle from afar. The germ of our great Empire was in this Elizabethan England as the acorn contains the oak. One of the American Commissioners to the Philippines was astonished to find at Borneo and in the Malay Peninsula great savage tribes absolutely ruled and controlled by a single English Commissioner. These World rulers of to-day are the direct descendants of the Tudor gallants. Erasmus and the Spaniards describe the self-confidence of these lordly islanders, their patriotism, their industry, their faith in themselves as born rulers of men.
In Newfoundland, besides the fisheries, there was carried on a veritable free trade; oils and wines and fruits of France, Spain and Portugal were exchanged for English cutlery and West of England cordage, cloth-hats, caps and hosiery. The business was most profitable all round ; it built up the West of England. Each year these old mariners came out with the easterly winds, in the spring. Of the French and Portuguese, some fished on the banks and brought their fish home green, but the majority met in St. John's every year, spring and autumn. From this harbour they spread themselves out, north and south, to carry on the shore fishery ; returning to St. John's as a rendezvous, from whence each nation's ships sailed together in convoy. Whilst each cod-fisher pursued his peaceful calling in some snug harbour with a few more vessels of his own nation-Spaniard's Bay , Portugal Cove, Biscayan Cove, Frenchman's Cove, English Harbour - the more daring spirits chased the seal and the walrus in the Gulf, and followed the dangerous trade of the whale fishery. The headquarters of the latter were the Ramea Islands, the present Magdalen Islands. They followed their quiet avocations armed to the teeth. Each vessel mounted cannon, and their rude arms always lay alongside the fisherman as he plied his oar and cast his net. But they were merry souls amidst all the dangers of the seas, wars, pirates and rovers. Each week the Admiral of the port retired, and at every change the new official gave a feast to all.
The important expedition of Sir Thomas Hampshire to Newfoundland, in 1582, shows the wise and enlightened policy of Queen Elizabeth. Before Sir Thomas's arrival it had been the custom for the first comer in each harbour to seize any piece of foreshore he might select as sufficient to cure and dry his codfish. This custom gave rise to endless disputes. The Queen authorised Hampshire to make a new rule. Whatever room or space of foreshore a master of a vessel selected, he could retain so long as he kept up his buildings on it, and employed it for the use of the fishery. This wise regulation largely increased the Newfoundland fishery, gave the Western men a more permanent interest in the country, and augmented the number of wintering crews. Permanent fishing establishments, wharves, flakes, stayes, were built and winter guardians appointed; small plots of land were cultivated and thus settlement and a planter's shore fishery began in the Colony. The first of these scattered settlements were between Cape .St. Francis and Cape Race and around Conception Bay .
Though in the age of Elizabeth old conceptions were passing away, much of credulity, superstition and the fantastic ideas of bygone days still lingered, and all competent authorities now agree that one man alone in England realised the benefits of colonisation. It was the transcendent mind of Raleigh, with the vivid imagination of a poet and the profound wisdom of a statesman, which first expounded to the Elizabethan age the plan of English colonisation and the foundation of greater Englands in the New World. Knowing the temper of the time he had to proceed warily and he held out gold as an inducement for his new projects. Fishermen were urged to capture Indians, to bring home strange birds and beasts, and products of America. All these things captivated the credulous mind of the public, and, says Raleigh, "helped forward the plantation mightily; "whilst he encouraged in every way the working of the gold mine of the Newfoundland fishery-in his own words "the main stay and support "of his own Devon and western countries. His mind was meantime set on gaining the whole vast continent, and on this grand idea he spent a fortune equal to 0200,000, or a million dollars. His half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a pale reflection of his great relative, assisted in these projects, and years before the latter's actual expedition sailed the brothers had worked together to expedite their plans. Raleigh 's influence at Court procured the charter from Elizabeth , and although the dread of Spain, then an ally of England, had to be overcome, the Virgin Queen finally agreed to everything; only refusing to allow her favourite courtier to leave England. The expedition of 1583 was the result.
In the whole eventful history of English adventure there are no events more remarkable than the doughty deeds of these Devon men, who for 150 years kept this Colony for England and ruled over the thousands of foreign fishermen who resorted to the Island. I have dwelt on this subject somewhat because other historians have ignored it altogether. The consequences of this early dominion were widespread. Having won the country, the Western adventurers believed they had a right to keep it as a perpetual possession for fishing, and nothing more, and for this reason, after the death of Elizabeth, they banded together to resist settlement. Had France or any foreign power over-mastered the Devonshire men and gained Newfoundland, how would New England and Virginia have fared? If once France had possessed the Island with her 20,000 hardy fishermen she would have held the key of North America, and with her sea and land forces our Colonies would have ceased to exist as independent communities.
The Fishing Admiral Period.
The second period of our history from 1610 to 1729 is a dismal time of struggle between the ship fishermen from England and the settlers, and may be designated the colonisation period. It corresponds very closely with the rule of the Stuart Dynasty. The first period presents a chapter of unwritten history of general interest and I have treated it with more fulness than is possible in the further narrative. At the beginning of the reign of James I. the King was guided by Salisbury and Bacon ; the statesmanship of Elizabeth still prevailed; colonisation was in the air and an attempt was made to carry out the project of Raleigh and Gilbert for the formation of a Greater Britain beyond the seas. Sir George Peckham, with Sydney and Carlyle (sons-in-law of Walshingham), applied for a continuation of Gilbert's grant. In 161o a charter was issued to "the London and Bristol Company for colonising Newfoundland . "Bacon was the guiding and illuminating spirit in the enterprise, and besides the great philosopher's notable essay on colonisation he wrote a tract on this special project. He was far in advance of his age, and in his own inimitable style he dwells on the far-reaching influences of settlements and anticipates the arguments of Imperialism and expansion. Of the Newfoundland fishery he says, "Greater than the gold mines of Golconda, there is none so rich. "Results have shown the correctness of his far-seeing wisdom, and for four centuries thousands of millions of dollars have been drawn from this great treasure-house of the ocean and its wealth is still undiminished - a mine that never peters out.
The Colony founded at Cupids, in Conception Bay , by John Guy (afterwards an Alderman of Bristol), is the most interesting of these projects. " Sea Forest Plantation " had forts, storehouses and a grist mill. The instructions to the young ruler of the new settlement from his associates are a curious blending of the enthusiastic and enlightened theorist, Bacon, and the shrewd business ideas of the Bristol traders. Aristocratic adventurers followed Guy. The eccentric Sir William Vaughan, D.C.L., author of the Newlander's Cure and other works, with a strange mixture of religion, poetry and business, settled at Trepassey on the South Coast. The great and learned Lord Falkland, father of the immortal hero of the English Revolution, endeavoured to form a "New Falkland" in the south part of the Avalon Peninsula . Lord Baltimore, before settling Maryland , tried his hand at colonisation in Newfoundland . All the men sent out by these aristocratic founders were wholly unfitted for pioneer and rough work in a new country. Conscription was the fashion of the age, and these poor slaves were coralled like so many cattle. Guy's associates were men of a different stamp, more like the Pilgrim Fathers, humble, hardworking people, enthusiasts for the reformed faith. Those who remained after Guy's departure, with their Puritan minister, Erasmus Stourton, had great influence on the character of our population. All the names given by Vaughan and Lord Falkland to the Southern Shore have entirely disappeared. All the other official colonisation schemes from Gilbert to Bacon and Kirke failed. They had elaborate charters, while Princes and potentates lent the weight of their names to the documents and offered titles and dignities to the new settlers. But all these honours and aristocratic forms died away in the rude air of the Island. None of the great patentees exercised the least influence on the history of the Colony and least of all Baltimore. He came to the Island in 1627 and 1628 - an uneasy stay of two years. All his company of forty persons left the Colony together and His Lordship and his retinue and his seminary priests disappeared from our annals.
St. John's, and the neighbourhood from Ferryland on the south to Cape St. Francis and around Conception Bay, was the first settled part of the Island and from thence the population spread. north to Bonavista and Notre Dame Bay. From the very earliest times St. John's was the capital, the metropolis and headquarters of the great. fishery and barter business carried on in Newfoundland . It was the rendezvous for all the convoys. Rude paths cut through the woods connected the capital with the neighbouring settlements. Newfoundland was colonised in the main by hardworking, humble settlers from the West of England. Oppressed by the harsh laws of the Stuarts, persecuted by the English adventurers, they clung with sturdy tenacity to the land they had made their home. From the very earliest time they carried on a rude kind of agriculture in small plots - "gairdens," as these small farms are now called in the vernacular. Cattle and swine were reared and horses ( Dartmoor ponies) were brought from England. They lived in the midst of rude plenty, game and fish being in marvellous abundance. Many insular peculiarities of Newfoundland can be traced back to our Devonshire forefathers. There are no lakes in the West of England, so all our great expanses of water (some of them fifty miles long), were denominated "ponds." There are no grouse there, so our splendid native bird Teteao Salicensis (The Willow Grouse) was named after the well-known little English game bird, the partridge.
Native Newfoundlanders are wonderfully handy mechanics, self-taught boat and house builders, blacksmiths, shoe-makers, &c. Their manual dexterity is no doubt inherited skill from the first settlers of the winter crews, who were nearly all mechanics. It is also no doubt due to harsh laws and the hostility of the ship fishermen that our people first planted their settlements in small coves and creeks where ships could not safely anchor. This explains the early occupation of such places as Bonavista, Torbay , &c., havens only fit for boats. Up to about the middle of the seventeenth century settlement, if not exactly encouraged, was connived at, but subsequently to the Commonwealth it was positively prohibited and every shipmaster coming to Newfoundland from England was bound under a penalty to bring back all his crew. But, notwithstanding this stern edict, numbers of young Englishmen stayed behind, settled in the Colony and married the planters' daughters. Later on, many came out to the Colony in the fishing ships as passengers and these men carried on a shore fishery and were known as bye-boat keepers. Still later, after 1640, the American Colonists began trading with Newfoundland. Many New England merchants, like Treworgie, had business establishments on the Island. The most interesting character in the Stuart period of our history was Richard Whitbourne.
Sir David Kirke, who captured Quebec and nearly destroyed the French power in America was Governor of Hamilton County in Newfoundland. Buccaneer and greedy trader as he showed himself in the Colony, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest naval commanders of that age. He was a terror to the French and would not allow one of their vessels to fish on our coast without payment of dues to the King. The one bright spot in our history at this period is the Governorship of John Treworgie under the Commonwealth. He was the first real Governor and his character was so high that he was retained in office at the Restoration. The grandson of an Englishman, born in Maine, he maintained order in the country, encouraged settlement and endeavoured to establish the New England divisions and Town meetings. At this period a good many residents of the higher class seem to have settled in Newfoundland, but one and all, gentle and simple, aristocratic and plebeian, had to encounter the fierce hostility of the ship fishermen from Devonshire. Treworgie was the only one that kept them at bay. In the next reign, the blackest period of English history, when England under Charles II. was practically the vassal of France, the fairest portion of our Island ( Placentia and the south-west coast) was ceded to the French. The Devonshire men also triumphed and procured an order from the venal Court to pull down the settlers' houses and to drive them all out of the Colony. Before the arrival of Sir John Berry, the humane naval Commander, hostilities had actually commenced and a number of settlers' houses and fishing establishments had been wrecked.
Downing, aided by Robert Growz and several other enlightened West of England merchants, saved the Colony from extirpation. The Western Adventurers (as the ship fishermen were called), although checked for the time, were still the paramount power. During this terrible time of trouble the Colonists received much aid and comfort from their fellow-countrymen in New England. The commerce of the. latter with Newfoundland, under the navigation laws, was a smuggling trade, but the bold Yankee contrabandists were never caught. By and by they developed another great business in the sale of New England rum, and latterly their most lucrative and exciting occupation was stealing fishermen from the West Country crews. Thousands of the finest Devon sailors were thus transported to America and they helped materially to further the fishery and ship-building which at one time rivalled those of England. The records show that hundreds of men were spirited away every year. In one season five hundred, headed up in casks, were taken from Conception Bay alone, and for a time these men were white slaves until their passages and expenses were paid. The strict New England divines did not care much for these jovial Devon sailors, and the Rev. Cotton Mather refers to them as "divers profane persons and swearers, mostly from Newfoundland." In the reign of William III. the Western Adventurers obtained an Act of Parliament legalising the authority of the Fishing Admirals. Amongst all the forms of Government that ever were invented this was probably the most grotesque. Yet France had precisely the . same regulation. At the present time the Veud 'homme of the Treaty Shore and the Admiral of the English Herring fleet in the North Sea are the sole remnants of this ancient rule of the sea.
Under this unique government the Commander of the first fishing ship entering port from England became the Admiral of the station, with autocratic power to rule and govern the community. By a curious freak in the fishing admiral legislation, there were no penal clauses. in the Act, and therefore no power to enforce judgments and every punishment inflicted by a Fishing Admiral was consequently illegal. Besides the Admirals, there were other functionaries with still more high-sounding titles. We read in the records of the violent acts of Ford, the "Governor of Petty Harbour" and the truculent humours of the "King of Quiddy Vitty." The oldest fishermen were called Kings. I will try and describe the Fishing Admiral as he appeared to our ancestors, clothed, not in the dignity of office, not in flowing judicial robes, not in the simple and sober black of the police magistrate, but in his ordinary blue flushing jacket and trousers, economically besmeared with pitch, tar and fish slime, his head adorned with an old sealskin cap, robbed from an Indian or bartered for a glass of rum and a stick of tobacco. The sacred temple of law and equity was a fish store, the judicial seat an inverted butter firkin. justice was freely dispensed to the suitor who paid the most for it. In the absence of a higher bribe, His Worship's decision was often favourably affected by the judicious presentation of a few New England apples. The litigant who commenced his case with the production of a flowing bowl of calabogus captured the judicial mind most effectually. Sometimes, alas! the dignity of the Bench was diminished by the sudden fall of the Court prostrate on the floor, overcome by the too potent effects of this mixture of new rum and spruce beer.
The Fishing Admirals were not satisfied with the powers conferred upon them. The Western Adventurers petitioned to allow them to appoint deputies to exercise their duties, but this was sternly refused. Time would fail to recount all the enormities and barbarities of these ignorant and vulgar tyrants. They displaced the rightful owners of rooms, seizing them either for them-. selves or their friends. They fined, triangled and whipped at their pleasure every unfortunate wretch who earned their displeasure, and against whom some trumped-up charge could be made out. They always put off hearing cases until August. Invariably they tried their own causes first. Chief justice Broddy on his first visit to a western outpost found, to his astonishment, that the agent of the great English house in the place had sat on the Bench and given a number of judgments in favour of his own firm. We need not wonder that the residents petitioned the Home Government that "they might be ruled as Britons and not like banditti or forsaken people without law or gospel." The end of the seventeenth century, when the French, guided by the great Canadian Viceroy, Frontenac, tried to destroy English rule in America, is the most exciting time in our history. The record of the Indians under LeMoine D'Iberville and their burnings and slaughter is still preserved amongst the far-off memories of Newfoundland fishermen. The Anti-Confederates in 1869 played upon this traditional dread of the Canadians ; and their pictures of babies tossed on bayonets and poor settlers blown from guns and the whole country loaded with taxation to satisfy the greed and lust of the bloodthirsty "Canucks," carried many constituencies against union with the Dominion.
Under Naval Governors .
In 1729 the first Governor, Captain Osborne, R.N., was appointed to. rule Newfoundland , and the reign of the Fishing Admiral began to decline. It was intended to. send out a lawyer, or judge, with the new ruler, but instead of a judicial officer Osborne brought a set of law books. The control of the Naval: governors lasted only during the fishing season,, and they returned to England every autumn.. Their quarter-deck law suited well the rude state of affairs then existing in the Colony. Their Government was a great advance and improvement on the reign of the Fishing Admiral. Rodney, Graham, Byng, Drake, Graves, Radstock, Palliser, were amongst the illustrious Naval Commanders who ruled the Colony. They were all able men in their way and, according to their lights, admirable rulers. Not one of them, however, seems to have realised that their policy of preventing the cultivation of the soil and the settlement of the Colony was a monstrous one, and even Sir Hugh Palliser, who was a politician as well as an Admiral, warmly supported this barbarous project of keeping Newfoundland simply as a fishing station for Devonshire fishermen. Only one naval officer, the humblest of them all - James Cook, who afterwards rose to be one of the most illustrious explorers and scientific men of his age - declared that Newfoundland was rich in timber, minerals and agricultural resources. He reported to his friends in England about the coal, iron and copper, and stated that the Island was too valuable to be left unsettled and undeveloped. For three years he had been engaged on the coast survey, and his map of Newfoundland is a marvel of painstaking accuracy and careful observation. Here he first made his mark in the scientific world by his notes on the observation of the transit of Venus.
The memorable events in this period must be simply noted. Just before the close of the Seven Years' War (1762), St. John's and the outlying settlements were captured by the French and recaptured in the same year when Colonel Amherst, with the Highlanders and Royal Americans, gained a most decisive victory over a French force superior in number and holding a position almost impregnable. In England the battle was considered the most gallant exploit of the long war. In 1763 was concluded the famous Treaty of Paris. France had to relinquish all her Colonies in America . The concessions to the enemy which followed were denounced with even greater vehemence than the attack on the Treaty of Utrecht. The great Chatham, so ill that he had to be allowed to sit in his place in the House, thundered forth one of his most magnificent speeches attacking the Ministry for their ignoble surrender of Cuba, St. Pierre, Miquelon and the fishery. In almost prophetic words he predicted the results of this infamous arrangement upon the future of the Colony. Bute and his colleagues were openly charged with corruption by Junius. But the folly of the English Ministry in dealing with Newfoundland was nearly eclipsed by the still more outrageous proposition to restore Canada . It was the strong protest of Franklin on behalf of the American Colonies that alone prevented the latter sublime act of folly. In 1776 the Revolutionary War caused great distress in Newfoundland, but at the same time largely increased its trade.
In 1791 the first Supreme Court was established. John Reeves, who inaugurated the judicial system in the Colony, was a most able and independent judge and a true friend of Newfoundland during his residence in the Island . On his return to England he was exposed to the most venomous attacks from the old West of England party. His sketch of Newfoundland annals and his evidence before the House of Commons are simply invaluable to the student of local history. In 1796 occurred the last French attack on the Colony and an abortive attempt on St. John's was completely defeated. In the same year the first Roman Catholic Prelate, the most excellent and patriotic Dr. O'Donel, was appointed. In 1805 we had our first Post Office and the first newspaper, The Royal Gazette, two years later. In the War of 1812 St. John's was the great English naval station for North America. The ostensible reason for the outbreak of hostilities was the right of search, but the real cause was undoubtedly Madison 's desire for re-election as President. Professor Goldwin Smith, in his review of my History; contradicted this view of the situation, but in his own admirable short history of the United States he emphatically confirms my statement. However our American friends may boast there can be no doubt that they suffered severely in the contest. Their commerce was driven from the sea. Newfoundland grew rich on the spoils of the Republic. Our harbour was so full of prizes that I have heard my father describe how he has walked across from one side of the Port to the other on American vessels chained together. The year 1815 witnessed the second Treaty of Paris and, owing to the end of the war, the depreciation of fish in the foreign markets caused almost universal bankruptcy in Newfoundland . Dried cod that had fetched 45s. a quintal fell to less than 10s. - whilst the merchants had to pay, in the spring, war-prices for wages and provisions. Fires in the two following years and bread riots in 1817 reduced the unfortunate Island to the lowest extremity. In 1818 a splendid seal and cod-fishery season brought a return of prosperity and the Island again flourished.
The Modern Period.
The last period of our history begins with the constitution of the Supreme Court under Royal Charter in 1824 and the appointment in the following year of the first resident Governor, Sir Thomas Cochrane, K.C.B., a most notable and indefatigable ruler. He built roads and made wonderful improvements in the Colony. In 1832 the first Session of the House of Assembly was opened by His Excellency in great state. From that period on the Island advanced slowly but surely. The full grant of Responsible Government was not obtained until 1855. Like all other dependencies of the Crown we have had our political squabbles and fierce faction fights and rather more than our due share of bitterness and contention. In .the first portion of our political existence sectarianism was rampant, though its unholy fires have now pretty well burned out. In 1844 the first Anglican Bishop, the Right Rev. E. Feild, D.D., was appointed and the first steam-packet, the North American, arrived at St. John's. The year 1846 will be ever memorable to Newfoundlanders as the year of the great fire of the 9th of June. The once flourishing city was literally swept off the face of the earth. A whole population of 20,000 souls was rendered homeless. Fortunately we had at the head of affairs a very able man in our Governor, Sir John Harvey, K.C.B., a prototype of Lord Dufferin. I can remember him well when a small schoolboy and often had a chat with him before early prayers at St. Thomas's. He was the handsomest and most courtly old gentleman I ever met in my life. Mr. Gladstone, who was Colonial Secretary, promptly sent aid ; and contributions flowed in from England, the other Colonies, and the United States.
Passing rapidly over many important events up to 1880 we reach the commencement of the Railway era in Newfoundland . In this year the first Act for the construction of the line to Harbour Grace and Hall's Bay was passed, and in August of the following year construction commenced. The Newfoundland Railway Company, however, turned out a bogus concern and their line was soon handed over to a Receiver and failed to fulfil its obligation to continue the road to Hail's Bay. After years of litigation the Government was compelled to buy out the bond-holders at a pretty stiff figure. Our next contract with Reid and Middleton, and afterwards with Mr. R. G. Reid alone, has been eminently satisfactory. Every obligation has been fulfilled by the contractor in the most honourable and efficient manner. The fire of 1892 followed and the Bank crash of 1894 left us for a time a community without a currency. The election petitions of the same year against seventeen members of the Whiteway party was also an event of great importance. But, like the Reid arrangement and the abortive attempt at union with Canada in 1895, these events are too recent to be calmly and impartially considered. Mr. Chamberlain's despatch admirably summed up the objections which can be raised against the Railway arrangement. Whilst, however, the contract itself and its passage through the Legislature is open to grave censure, no one can deny that the results so far have been beneficial to the Island. A large amount of labour has been employed and trade promoted. St. John's has been admirably paved and will soon have the benefit of the newest type of electric railway. The seven new steamers now being built by Mr. Reid, for employment on the Bays in connection with the Railway and to Labrador, will greatly improve our communications and advance the progress and prosperity of the Colony.
Just at the present time the most striking and hopeful feature of Newfoundland is its mining development. Capital is being attracted to the Colony from England and abroad. Everywhere there are fresh discoveries of copper and iron. The unlimited deposit of ore at Belle Isle and the contract to ship one million tons of iron annually from the little Island next year are opening men's minds to the potentialities of Newfoundland as a mining country. The Belle Isle iron mines are amongst the most wonderful in the world. One of the three properties was recently sold to the Whitney Syndicate for one million dollars, and it is calculated that there are over thirty million tons of ore in sight on this mine alone. We may hope the day is not far distant when ore will not only be mined but manufactured in the Colony and when wood will not only be cut but made into paper on the Island. The saving of freight, the cheapness of labour and the absence of all labour combinations and strikes should be great inducements to capitalists. It seems clear therefore that Newfoundland stands on the threshold of a great development, a development that will go on extending as she becomes, better known. A considerable tourist traffic is also beginning, and Newfoundland is being recognised as an ideal health resort and a sportman's paradise.
Source : D. W. PROWSE , "Historical Sketch of Newfoundland ", in J. Castell HOPKINS, ed., Canada. An Encyclopaedia of the Country, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 1898, 557p., pp. 461-472.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College