West Coast Region - Bay St. George District
Westward Voyage of the Woodlark
The following was originally written by Don Morris, in a column he wrote called Vignettes of the west.
Transcribed by Steve Gillis with permission granted by the Western Star
Westward voyage of the Woodlark
The "Woodlark" was described as being a "gun Vessel" of the Royal Navy and among her duties was to patrol the so-called French Shore of Newfoundland, primarily to check on the fishery engaged in by the English settlers and, also, under a treaty between England and France, by numerous French fishermen.
What follows are some excerpts from the 1873 report of the Woodlark’s skipper, J. A. F. Luttrel, of the vessels visit to the southwest and west coasts of Newfoundland. The master’s report didn’t deal exclusively with the fishery. Other matters of interest and concern were noted, as witnessed the following:
" At LaPoile, a very sad case of distress came to my notice under the following circumstances: Thomas Moore, a native of Hinten, St. Mary’s Dorsetshire, was living in a wretched hut near the anchorage at the N.E. Arm. He is entirely alone, nine miles from any human being. His age is between 60 and 70, quite a cripple and unable to work, and has to exist on a few fish he manages to catch with 25 shillings currency a quarter (of a year) allowed by the colonial government. He told me he was promised a passage home from the government both last fall and the year before, but he is still, and in great fear he may be passed over again this year. Should he be forgotten, I fear he will never survive the winter in his wretched state of poverty."
Captain Luttrel reported that the health of the people along the southwest coast appeared generally good, and he saw no cases of extreme poverty of that of the unfortunate man Moore.
The Woodlark then set sail for Sydney, NS, to take on coal and then she made her way back to western Newfoundland and anchored in St. George’s Bay.
Cod fishery bad
The skipper said the cod fishery in the bay had been very bad, but fair catches of herring and salmon had been taken. The report added: " Several complaints were here made to me of the salmon rivers being barred, which I have no doubt was true, although they were clear when I visited them. I therefore gave notice to the people complained of, viz.- John Memouf, M. Huland -–Parigi, Thomas Evans and J. Delaney, that if it occurred again (netting the rivers) they will be fined. For this purpose as also for the general maintenance of the peace, I swore in as special constable William Seaworth. He is of intelligence and he volunteered service and is very anxious to do all in his power to prevent barring rivers, in addition to his other duties. I had also some disputes about land which I easily settled satisfactorily by given my opinion as to who was right."
The Skylark next visited Red Island and Captain Luttrel reported that the fishery had been very bad and the inhabitants there then were all French… " The few English who use to reside there having left."
The skipper said that he was unable to visit Coal River because of dirty weather. He added: "But I ascertained that it is considered a fair salmon river and is said to abound in large trout, but I have been so disappointed of reports of other rivers that I am rather skeptical as to their produce."
He said Coal River was fished by a man named Michael Wheeler, but whether he barred the river with nets or not Luttrel was unable to say. But no doubt he did as most of the settlers did when they had a chance. Another man named Wheeler; John was said to bar a river in the South Arm of the Bay of Islands. The captain warned John that he would be dealt with according to the law if he was caught netting the salmon rivers.
In the Humber River the Woodlark anchored in Petipas Cove "just off a merchant of that name’s house."
Reported the vessels skipper: "It is a good anchorage, though small, in from 11 to nine fathoms. Cod fishing had been very bad, the herring fishery had not commenced and the salmon catches were fair. I visited all the rivers and found the nets properly placed, indeed barring the main river would be impossible on account of the strength of the current and depth of the water. The people seemed quiet and orderly, so I had nothing to do in a magisterial way. I also visited the sawmills worked by Messers Tupper and Co. of Halifax. They appeared to be flourishing and in a fair way of eventually paying. Very fine lumber is brought down the river to be worked up. This, together with working the mills, gives labor to many who would otherwise be badly off owing to the recent scarcity of fish."
The gun vessel Woodlark visited other areas and settlements of the northwest coast and in a later column I shall pick up on that voyage.
© 2001 Stephen Gillis and NL GenWeb