SOME writers have affirmed that Newfoundland was discovered by the Scandinavians in the year 1001, while others assert that this alledged discovery by the Northmen is not worthy of credence : ” The error appears to have been the work of some designing interpolator of the old Icelandic MS. Chronicles.” We, therefore, pass over the mists of romance and fable for the facts of history.
The discovery of the West Indies by Columbus in 1492 ; and of Newfoundland by the Cabots, in 1497, is detailed in almost every book written on America. Without then attempting to go over the same ground, we shall proceed at once to state, that John Cabot (or Cabota, his Italian name), a Venetian, and his son, Sebastian, under a commission granted by Henry VII, of England, sailed from Bristol with a fleet of five small vessels, and discovered Newfoundland on the 24th of June, 1497, near Cape Bona-vista, and to which they gave the name of Terra Primum Vista, the land first seen (happy sight or view), because this was the place that first met their eyes in looking from the sea. Cabot called Newfoundland as well as the American continent Baccalaos, that being the name by which the Indians called the cod-fish. The writer found several ancient histories of Newfoundland in the library of Harvard University, United State ; by Hackluyt, Whitbourne and others ; but as extracts from these old writers have been given by various modern historians of Newfoundland, it is unnecessary to repeat them here. It is not the writer’s intention to give a minute detail of every event connected with the earlier settlement of Newfoundland, but rather to bring before the notice of the reader the most interesting and important circumstances. The best modern histories of Newfoundland have been given by Macgregor, Martin, and Sir Richard Bonnycastle, Anspach, Reeves, Murray, Buckingham, Lyel, Jukes, Cartwright, Chappelle. Carson and Morris have also written on Newfoundland, and more recently the Rev. C. Pedley and McRea. A correct account of the country has been given in the ” Edinburgh Cabinet Library.” There has also been a very interesting ” Catechism of the History of Newfoundland,” written by Mr. St John. But the best sketch of Newfoundland I have ever seen is by Bayard Taylor, the great American traveller. Newfound-land lies between the latitudes of 46° 40′, and 51 ° 37′ north and between the longitudes 52° 25′ and 59°15′ west, and approaches to a triangular form. It is separated from Cape Breton by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and from Labrador by the Straits of Belle Isle. It therefore affords a northern and southern entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The surface of the island comprises an area of 36,000 square miles, which is nearly as large as England ; 7,000 square miles larger than Scotland, and 4,000 square miles larger than Ireland. It is 350 miles long, and 200 broad, or 2,800,000 acres, and has a line of coast, including the indentations of the numerous bays, of about 2,000 miles. Newfoundland is nearer to Europe than any of the islands, or anypart of America. The distance between St John’s and the harbour of Valencia, in Ireland, being only 1656 miles, and from Liverpool, England, about 2,000 miles.
In the year 1500, Emmanuel of Portugal commissioned Gasper de Cortereal to discover Baccalaos, which Cabot had three years previously coasted. He accordingly visited the island, gave to Conception Bay the name that it bears, and coasted along the American continent, all of which was then called Baccalaos. It is said that Gasper de Cortereal and his brother Michael perished in a second attempt to visit Baccalaos. In 1502, the Portuguese established the first regular fishery on the shores of Newfoundland, who were subsequently followed by the Biscayans and French. In 1517, the Portuguese, French and Spaniards employed forty sail of vessels in the cod-fishery. In 1534, Jacques Cartier, the celebrated French navigator, visited Newfoundland with two small vessels ; he touched at Cape Bonavista, and then sailed along the coast and entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After exploring the Gulf, he returned to France. The next year he discovered Canada, and sailed up the St. Lawrence.
The English began to be aware of the importance of Newfoundland in the twenty-eighth year of Henry VIII.’s reign. So early as 1536, Robert Hore and others sailed from England to colonize Newfoundland and Cape Breton. There were 120 persons. They, however, failed in their design, and returned to England after great privation and suffering. In 1540, Francis the First of France appointed Roberval, Viceroy of all the newly-discovered lands. He accordingly sailed with five ships, having Jacques Cartier as chief commander. An attempt at this time was made to colonize Cape Breton, Saguenay, Terre Neuve, or Newfoundland, and Labrador, but without success. Newfoundland was not yet discovered to be an island. Roberval subsequently sailed with a greater number of ships, but his fate has never been known. In 1540, the English first began to prosecute the Newfoundland fisheries, from the ports of Bristol, Biddeford and Barnstaple. In 1576, Frobisher is said to have been forced by the ice upon the Newfoundland coast, when some of the Indians came on board his ship. He sent them ashore in a boat with five sailors, but neither the boat nor men were ever seen again. Frobisher seized one of the Indians and took him to England, where he soon after-wards died.
In 1578, England had 50 ships engaged in the fishery ; France and Spain, 150 sail ; whilst the Portuguese had 50.
In 1583, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh engaged in an expedition to Newfoundland, having five vessels under their command ; but the ” Raleigh,” commanded by Sir Walter, after being some time at sea, was obliged to put back to England, in consequence of an infectious disease breaking out among the crew. Sir Humphrey was created viceroy, admiral, and sole judge for six years. Sir Humphrey, with the remaining four ships under his command, arrived at St. John’s on the 5th August, 1583, which he took possession of, with all the land within the circumference of 600 miles, in the name of his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. In August, during the same year, he despatched one of his vessels, the “Swallow,” to England with some of his followers who wished to return home, after which Sir Humphrey sailed from St. John’s on a voyage of discovery to the westward. During a heavy gale of wind and a thick fog they fell in upon land, probably Sable Island, when the “Delight” went on shore, and out of 116 persons only 14 were saved. A few days after this occurrence, the other two vessels bore away for England. During the passage a heavy storm arose, in which the “Squirrel ” (commanded by Sir Humphrey) sunk, together with her crew. The “Golden Hind,” the only remaining vessel of the fleet, arrived in England thirteen days after. These vessels were all small, the largest being 120 tons, two of 50 tons each, and the smallest (the one in which Sir Humphrey was lost) being only 10 tons, and insufficient to weather a heavy gale. Sir Humphrey Gilbert was brother-in-law of Sir Walter Raleigh. Just before the ” Squirrel ” sank, Sir Humphrey was seen reading on deck.
After the fate of his brother-in-law, Sir Walter Raleigh directed his attention to the American continent, and eventually established a colony in Virginia.
In 1610, John Guy, a Bristol merchant, under the patronage and assistance of the great Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Northampton, and Sir Francis Sanfield, to whom, with forty others, letters patent were granted by James I., giving them all that part of Newfoundland lying between Cape Bonavista and Cape St. Mary’s, with the rights of mines and metals, and all the seas and islands within ten miles of the coast ; the fisheries, however, were to be open to all British subjects.
Guy, with his followers, sailed from Bristol in 1610, in three ships, and after a short passage, arrived in Conception Bay, where he established a colony and opened a promising intercourse with the Indians. After remaining two years, Guy and the remainder of the colony returned to England. Captain Richard Whitbourne, of Exmouth, in the County of Devon, published a history of Newfound-land so early as 1622, which was dedicated to James I. Whitbourne was employed in a ship of his own against the Spanish Armada, in 1588. He visited Newfoundland as early as 1578, and in his second voyage to Newfound-land, in 1583, met with Sir Humphrey Gilbert at St. John’s, and in his third voyage, in 1585, he saw Sir Bernard Drake, who had been sent to St. John’s from England with a fleet by Queen Elizabeth, to assert her sovereignty. Drake seized several Portuguese vessels, with their cargoes on board, which he carried to England.
In 1615, the Court of Admiralty commissioned Whitbourne to impanel juries, and to rectify various abuses and disorders amongst the fishermen. Agreeably to his commission, Whitbourne arrived in Newfoundland, and opened the first regular court ever held in the island. One hundred and seventy masters of English vessels are said to have submitted their complaints to his jurisdiction. In 1618, Whitbourne was appointed Governor of a small colony which had been sent out by Doctor Vaughan, a Welsh gentleman, in 1616, who it appears had purchased part of Northampton’s patent, granted in connection with Guy by James I. Whitbourne finally returned to England in 1622.
In 1623, James I., gave his principal Secretary of State, Sir George Calvert, all the South-east part of the island lying between the Bays of Placentia and Trinity, which he erected into a province, under the name of Avalon, this being the ancient name of Glastonbury, where Christianity was first preached in the British Isles. Sir George a short time after was created Lord Baltimore. He established a colony at Ferryland, where he resided several years, but subsequently removed to England and obtained a grant of land in the State of Maryland, where he founded the City of Baltimore, which still bears his name. For a more detailed account of Lord Baltimore, the reader is referred to the District of Ferryland, in another part of this volume.
In 1626, the French established a colony in Placentia, which led to constant disputes between them and the English settlers. The permission of the French colony was considered a matter of favour on the part of the English Government, to which the French fishermen paid a yearly tribute of five per cent. on the value of the fish taken. This payment was relinquished by Charles II., in 1675.
In 1628 a colony was sent to Newfoundland by Lord Falkland, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and in 1630, Sir David Kirk, with a few followers arrived in Newfoundland. About this time 350 families were settled in the various harbours along the coast, and the fisheries were rapidly progressing.
In 1633, Charles I., through the Star Chamber, promulgated certain laws for the better government of Newfoundland. Some of these laws were, that all persons who committed murder, or theft above forty shillings, were to be taken to England for trial ; that no buildings erected for prosecuting the fishery should be destroyed at the end of the voyage ; that no tavern, or houses of entertainment, should be set up, and that according to the old and corrupt system, the master of the first fishing vessel arriving at any port should be Admiral of the sanie (luring the season. These Admirals were empowered to settle all disputes among the fishermen, and to enforce due attention to certain Acts of Parliament. The power of these men was very great, which they abused by a partial and corrupt administration of the laws. The shipowners and merchants in England engaged in the Newfoundland fisheries, opposed the appointment of any civil permanent Magistrate or of any Governor of the Island. In the Commission granted from 1634 down to 1660, a clause was inserted to the effect, that no master or owner of any ships should send any settlers to Newfoundland. In 1654 there were fifteen different settlements in the island, and about 400 families.
About 1670 Sir Josiah Child, one of the principal merchants in England, connected with the Newfoundland trade, induced the Government to prevent settlement by destroying the entire colony. Sir John Berry was deputed to burn the houses and drive out the settlers ; he, how-ever, strongly remonstrated against this cruel edict and very reluctantly obeyed his orders. Although John Downing, a resident, procured an order from the King in 1676 annulling the order for destroying the houses, &c. ; yet at the saine time no vessel was permitted to take emigrants to Newfoundland, and all persons were forbidden to settle. In consequence of the interference of Sir John Berry and others no further severe measures were resorted to. It is said the Board of Trade recommended that one thousand persons might be permitted to remain in the island to construct boats, stages for drying the fish, &c.
In 1696 all the English settlements in the island were destroyed by a French fleet, excepting Carbonear and Bonavista, which defended themselves. France and England now struggled for the supremacy of N Newfoundland till the Peace of Ryswick in Holland, in 1698, which re-stored to each power all their possessions, as at the commencement of the war. In the meantime, the French strengthened their positions, and encouraged in every possible way an extension of their settlements. While, on the contrary, England as much as ever discouraged permanent settlement. The French were therefore better prepared to defend themselves than the English.
During the reign of Queen Ann, in 1702, a British squadron arrived in Newfoundland under the command of Sir John Leake, who took possession of the greater part of the island, and captured no less than twenty-nine sail of the French, and returned to England with his prizes before the end of October. Admiral Graydon was sent with a fresh fleet in 1703, but returned to England with-out entering into any engagement.
In 1705 the French attempted to become sole masters of the island, their garrison at Placentia having been reinforced by an accession of 500 troops from Canada. They made a formidable attack upon the fortified harbour of St. John’s in which they were unsuccessful, they, how-ever, spread their devastation as far northward as Bona-vista.
In 1706 they were again expelled by the English from their recent conquests and many of their men-of-war and fishing vessels were either captured or destroyed.
In 1708, a French fleet, under the command of St. Ovide, visited and destroyed St. John’s, and also every British fishing station, excepting Carbonear, which again defended itself.
England and France were so impressed with the vast importance of the fisheries of Newfoundland, as well as being an extensive nursery for seamen, and occupying a commanding geographical position with respect to the Canadas, that for the eight following years, owing to the wars of Europe, in which England was engaged, Newfoundland presented a constant scene of warfare and de-predation, being sometimes in possession of the English and sometimes in possession of the French, until the peace of Utrecht.
The celebrated Treaty of Utrecht was concluded in the Netherlands on the 4th of April, 1713. By this treaty Newfoundland and the adjacent islands were declared to belong in exclusive sovereignty to Great Britain ; liberty, however, was given to the French to catch and dry fish only on that part of the coast lying to the north of Cape Bonavista, and stretching along the western shore as far as Point Riche ; they were not to make any fortifications or erections, except such as were necessary for the fishery nor were they to remain in the island longer than the time necessary for curing their fish.
Owing to the continual wars with the French, England was not able strictly to enforce her laws against her own subjects with regard to settlement. The population of Newfoundland had therefore increased very considerably during the wars with France.
In 1721, France employed 400 ships in the Newfoundland fisheries. The island was at this time under the nominal administration of the Governor of Nova Scotia. In 1728 it was established a separate colony of Great Britain.