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Historical Information

West Coast ~ Bay of Islands District

Joseph Beete Juke's Journal, 1839 (Excerpts)

The information was compiled by KATHLEEN TURNER & ANN TURNER, July 1999. While we have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there may be typographical errors.

August 10th, 1839
About six this morning, through a slight opening in the fog, we saw the dim outline of land a mile or two on our starboard hand, and accordingly hauled off to the west-southwest. About noon the fog suddenly cleared off, or rather we ran out of it, and found ourselves fairly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with Cape Ray about ten miles east-northeast of us, and a bright sun overhead. We then steered north for Bay of Islands, and at night were off the mouth of St. George's Bay. It was a beautiful evening, with a fine aurora in the northern sky, consisting of a diffused yellow light with brilliant streamers rising in the north-west, the whole dabbled with small black clouds.

August 11th, 1839
Fine morning, with fresh breeze from the south. Kept close in to Cape St. George, and between it and Red Island. Red Island is composed of horizontal beds of red sandstone, while the cliffs of St. Georges are a light yellow limestone, chiefly magnesium. We then passed along a low and level shore, being a neck of land running on one side of a large bay, called Port au Port. This was covered with wood. North of the entrance to Port au Port. The coast is very bold and lofty for a considerable distance, as far north as Cape St. Gregory at least, the high lands of which were visible as we came to the entrance of the Bay of Islands. We were here entirely in a new country, but the chart showed us two small harbours on the south side of the bay, called York and Lark Harbours, in the former of which we anchored about dusk. We had some difficulty getting in, as under the high lands round the harbour we were every now and then totally becalmed; then a squall, rushing down some narrow ravine, would suddenly strike us, and hurry us along, "scuppers under," straining the masts and "making everything crack again."

August 12th, 1839
At sailing this morning, we kept under the southern shore, passing several low flat islands on our larboard hand, in order to enter the most southern of the three branches into which the bay divides, and which is called Humber Sound. I had been informed that at the head of this was the mouth of the largest and most navigable river in the island; this I was desirous to ascend as far as possible, in order to get some notion of the interior of the country. In entering the sound a lofty ridge of high land rose immediately to the south of us, called the Blow-me-down Hills. Its general elevation must, I think, have been upwards of 800 feet. It was bare at the top; and in some hollows, just under the top and sheltered from the south and rays of the sun, some patches of snow twenty or thirty yards across stilled remained, although the summer hitherto had been very hot. The slope of these hills, and the flat land at their foot, was covered with dense wood. Where we lay last night there was no sign of habitation; accordingly we were yet ignorant whether we should find any people in the neighbourhood, or, if we did, what nation they would belong to. Just at the mouth of the sound, however, we saw a small hut, and made towards it, and presently a human figure presented itself in a tattered dress, but it was not till we heard him speak that we knew whether he was an Indian or a European. We found him to be an Englishman, who, with his wife and two children, had just settled there, and that this hut was his summer residence, his winter house being back in the woods. He was in a poor state at present, but expected to be more comfortable in a few years. He informed us that there were four other small settlements in the sound; accordingly in sailing up we saw on each side a patch or two of garden-ground, with a house attached forming a green opening among the black woods. The sound is about a mile wide and seventeen long, and the scenery, as might be expected from the rocky and woody character of its shores, is of a pleasing kind. We anchored at the head of the sound in not more than eight feet of water, with a muddy bottom. We found here an old man residing with his family in a small wooded house, with a garden attached. He lived in this spot for sixty years, and had seven sons; one of theirs a cripple, was with him; the other six he said were away in the woods hunting wither for deer, or beavers, otters, martens, and other fur-bearing animals.
Our first object was to visit the river, which we rowed up about a mile. It had a width of fifty or sixty yards, and a depth of several feet, with a tolerably gentle current. A little further up, however, the men at the neighbouring hut assured us there was a long rapid, and that our only means of ascent would be hauling the boat by a long line. On returning to the vessel we set to work to prepare, packed up four or five days' provisions, got ready the lines, got out the square sail for a tent, &c.

August 13th, 1839
At seven this morning we set off. After rowing about a mile between wooded banks we came to a part where the river made several short turns through rocky precipices of white limestone and quartz, frequently eating its way into their bases, and leaving deep overhanging shelves. At about three miles we arrived at the foot of the rapids, where the scenery was highly striking and picturesque, lofty cliffs of pure white limestone rising abruptly out of the woods to a height of 300 or 400 feet, and being themselves clothed with thick wood round their sides and over their summits. Three men now took a long towing-line, while the skipper and another man stood at the bow and stern of the boat to guide her in the eddies and among the rocks and boulders. There was but little strand for the men to walk, and they had occasionally to wade through the water, or clamber along the edge of the woods, passing the rope from one to the other around the trees. However, after some hard work, we at length reached the head of the rapid, which is nearly a mile long, and stopped to rest and refresh on a bank of sand above it. Several seals rose in the still water above the rapids, but took care to keep out of gun-shot. One or two passed close by us in the rapids, but we were then too busily employed to think of shooting them. Above the rapids the river has a more straight course, and the hills recede from it without losing their height, enclosing a valley about two miles wide. This valley is filled with groves of birch, and several small brooks fall into the river. The river itself widens to 100 or 150 yards, with a shallower bed, sandy shoals existing in places, with only narrow channels sufficient for our boat between them. One straight reach, however, is two or three miles long and five or six feet deep. Above this, and about six miles long above the lower rapids, we came upon others. The upper part of these rapids, for about a quarter of a mile in length, is much more difficult and dangerous than any part of the lower rapid. The principal mass of water rushes with the greatest force and rapidity over large boulders, and sweeps against a steep rocky bank. The bank afford no footing, and the force of the water would not admit of any boat being towed up it. We accordingly tried the other side of the river, but here there was no continuous channel of sufficient depth. We were therefore obliged to unload the boat, carry the things above the rapids, and afterwards fairly lift the boat over the rocks from one little pool to another, and drag her in the best manner we could. With much labour we got her at last into deep water, and again proceeded with the oars. About half a mile above these upper rapids we suddenly came out upon a lake. This was a very beautiful sheet of water, two or three miles across, and with no land visible at its farthest extremity, which bore from us about northeast. Some strips of sand formed its banks just at the entrance from the river, on which were several fresh deer-tracks. The sand, however soon gave place to boulders, upon which it was scarcely possible to walk, from their round, smooth, and slippery surfaces. This border of boulders was about three or four yards across, with a steep slope, and above it was the usual bush of fir trees growing out of piles of soft moss. As the evening was now closing in, and it began to rain, we hauled our boat up on the southern shore of the lake, and selected the smoothest place we could find among the wood-covered rocks for our bivouac. We cleared a small space by cutting down a tree or two, rigged one of these across the branches of two that were left standing, threw the sail over it , stretching which out towards the ground we pegged it down, and thus made a very sufficient tent, which, though it rained hard during the night, kept us tolerably dry. The dampness of the ground we partly avoided by lying on the fir boughs, the trimmings of the trees we cut for firewood.

August 14th, 1839
I awoke at daybreak this morning by the cry of the "Loo," or great northern diver, a very handsome dark bird with white spots, and almost as large as a goose. Its cry is a wild unearthly yell, with a rather musical cadence, and some times a sharp termination. It might be imitated by sounding with a shrill and prolonged note the words "ya hoo," and ending short "chuck." From the loudness and closeness of the sound this morning, I concluded one to be close alongshore, and stole quietly down with my gun, but could only see two at the distance of at least half a mile. The water was perfectly still, and under such circumstances it is astonishing to what a distance their cry will be heard along its surface. It was a dark heavy morning, but as soon as we breakfasted we proceeded along the shore of the lake, shooting a young gull by the way, to a small brook coming out of a narrow valley at the southeast corner of the lake. Here I shot a couple of beautiful grey-spotted kingfishers, which were new to my eyes, but are, I believe, common in North America. A little breeze soon after sprang up, and the clouds dispersed, and we sailed with a fair wind up the lake. The high ground around the southwest end of the lake gradually slopes down into a flat country at its northeast extremity, the hills being close to the lake on its southeast side, but on its northeast side gradually receding from it and running off in a connected chain of rugged hills as far to the north as the eye could follow them. When we has sailed about half way up the lake we could just discern the tops of the low woods in the flat land around its northern extremity, from which circumstance, and from the time we took to traverse it, I judged it to be about fifteen miles long.

At its northwest corner we found the river again, coming in, in two branches, each about fifty yards across and several feet deep; these branches joined in about 200 yards, enclosing thus a delta whose base was about 200 or 300 yards in length. The banks of the lake hereabouts were flat and sandy, with occasion small marshes. Proceeding up the river, we found banks, rarely rising more than ten or twenty feet, everywhere covered with dense wood, consisting of fir, larch, spruce, birch, and pine, many trees being of good size, and capable of affording good timber. The river was frequently 100 yards broad, but got more shallow as we proceeded, and at one or two places we had some difficulty in finding water enough for our boat. After preceding about five miles against a tolerably rapid stream, we encamped on the north side of the river among a grove of birches. We had seen but little game, consisting only of two geese and a few divers, and had lost much time in attempts to procure these, having only succeeded in adding two or three divers and the young gull to our stock of provisions. These, with the addition of a lump of salt pork, we boiled all together in our boat's kettle, and, thickening the broth with a little flour, we generally cleared off all its contents, both fluid and solid. To the bouillee of the kettle we added some molasses-tea and a couple of common sea-biscuits both morning and evening, taking a biscuit or so during the day as we had leisure or appetite.

August 15th, 1839
On coming out of our tent this morning I could hear, the air being perfectly still, a dull but continued noise of falling water, which promised ill for further extension of our journey. However, we set of in a thin mist, and after getting a mile or two farther came to some islands on the northwest side of the river, opposite which another river came in from the northeast. Among these islands we saw several wild geese, but the noise of our oars had rendered them too alert to be approached within gunshot. Just above these islands the mist suddenly cleared off, and we saw some great rapids right ahead, whose foaming waters seemed to offer an insuperable barrier to our further progress. Nevertheless, we landed at their foot, and, taking one of the men, I set off to see how far they extended. After a most difficult and toisome scramble through the woods, which were rendered worse even than usual by a quantity of low alder-like bushes growing on the banks of the river. We came out in about half a mile on the head of the rapids, and found a deep still reach stretching off some distance beyond. Eagerly desiring to penetrate along these unknown waters, I sent the man back with directions to bring up the boat, and I would wait for them. After waiting an hour or two without seeing any signs of it, however, I retraced my steps and found the party comfortably seated around a fire with the tea-kettle boiling, and on remonstrating with them the skipper, Gaden, said it would be impossible to drag the heavy punt up these rapids, and, moreover, that they had trusted to killing more game, and had not a day's provision left. The rapids were certainly worse than the last and longer, and the boat was better fitted for a heavy sea than a shallow river; still I thought it possible to get it up; but I saw the men were gloomy and did not like the job, and to do it would require them to "work with a will." The most serious obstacle, however, was the want of provisions, as, if we knocked a hole in the boat against one of the rocks in the rapids, and were thus delayed any time, we might be a day or two without food. I accordingly reluctantly consented to go back, under the delusive hope of being one day able to return better provided to overcome the obstacles of the route. I insisted, however, on exploring the other river which we passed, and which came in from the northeast, and, if that offered an easier passage, ascending it as high as possible, and trusting to our guns for support. This other river made several short turns and then became wide and shallow, and we came shortly in sight of a set of rapids quite as bad as those we just left. The banks of the river here were open and pleasant, and on one sandy point we found the skeleton of an Indian wigwam, consisting of a circular set of poles sloping inward and meeting at top, forming a rude cone. We now turned about, and sailed rapidly down the river into the lake, on reaching which we encamped close to the mouth of the left branch of the river. The view of the lake, here receeding from the flat country into the bosom of the hills round its southwest end, was very beautiful, and superior to anything I had yet seen in the country, the features of both ground and water being broader and larger, and not frittered away into mere picturesque nooks and corners, as is usually the case in Newfoundland. The hills at the southwest end of the lake are gneiss and mica slate, containing quartz rock and primary limestone. The flat country is composed of brown and red sandstones and conglomerates. We found this evening near our tent a trap for foxes and martens; it consisted of the upright stump of a tree partially hollowed out, and four boards nailed over it, forming a box, open on one side; a heavy log of wood fell across this side on the withdrawal of a slight prop connected with a trigger inside the box; on this trigger was a piece of venison for a bait, and when the animal seized it brought down the log of wood, which broke its neck. It belonged, we afterwards discovered, to the man living down at the mouth of the river.

August 16th, 1839
There was heavy rain last night, but our tent was waterproof. Today we pulled down the lake against a brisk wind, and dined on a little island at the bottom of it, on which were many bilberries, or whortleberries, which the men called "hirts." We then went to the rapids, and with some difficulty "eased" the boat down by a line in the best channel we could find. On arriving at the lower rapids, however, we determined on shooting them, which we did safely, and, after again admiring the striking scenery of the cliffs and woods around them, we reached our vessel at sunset.

August 17th, 1839
I had been too eager to set off, at starting, to extract information from the old man living here, while he by no means seemed inclined to communicate it regarding the surrounding country. He now told us, however, that the branch of the river we last visited came out of a large pond on the east, which had a half-moon shape, stretching away to the south farther then either he or his sons had ever penetrated, and that in a southwest gale there was a heavier sea or swell on this lake than was safe for a small boat. He also said that this pond stretched towards St. George's Bay, at which place I hoped to hear further intelligence of it. On the opposite side of the sound to the old man's house we found an Indian wigwam, with an old Indian women and her two daughters, one of the latter of whom has a daughter married to one of the old man's sons opposite. The old women had a kind of moustache tattooed on each cheek, and spoke nothing but Indian, but one of the daughters could speak English. They were busy making baskets and moccasins, and were very neat, tidy, civil people. I bought a pair of very pretty moccasins for half a dollar, made of dressed deer-skin (like Woodstock gloves), and ornamented in front with bits of coloured cloth. The wigwam was composed of a frame of poles like that before mentioned, and other poles resting upon them. The top of the cone was left uncovered to let out the smoke, and the door was closed by a curtain of deer-skin. There was a small fire on the ground in the centre, around which was arranged a layer of small boughs and twigs of fir in a circular fan shape, forming a mat to sit down on. They sat something like Turks, with their legs doubled under them. An Indian man, the husband of one of the daughters, was living with them, but was now away in the woods.

August 18th , 19th, 20th, 1839
Calms and contrary winds detained us in various parts of Humber Sound, and we only reached Lark Harbour on the evening of the 20th. We visited one family about half way down the sound that were much more civil and intelligent people that the old fellow's family at the head of it. Their name was Blanchard, and the old man had lived here about sixty years, having settled there before the breaking out of the American war. He had several sons that were getting married and beginning to settle about him. His house, though small, was neat and comfortable, and he had two or three small fields under cultivation. They were just getting in the hay from one small meadow, and it appeared of good quality. They had very good currants, raspberries, and gooseberries in the garden hedges. These three kinds of fruit we also found at various places wild in the woods. At one part of Lark Harbour, where there had been one or two temporary huts and cleared spots, the raspberries were in the utmost profusion, and were equal both in size and flavour to the best garden raspberries of England. Currants were found pretty plentifully also, chiefly on the cliffs, or wherever there was a broken bank with rocky ledges. They were both red and black and of a different species from our English currant, being covered all over with small spines like the rough red gooseberry: the branches, too, had occasionally a soft horn. Their flavour was rather harsh, but still very agreeable, especially when made into puddings. The gooseberries were more rare, but occasionally we like the small rough red gooseberry of England.

August 21st, 1839
Set sail, and tried to beat up for St. George's Bay against a southwest breeze, which, when we had made about fifteen miles, through a hazy atmosphere. On the 24th , finding ourselves in soundings, having drifted some distance with the tide, we tied a hook to each end of the log-line, baited it with a piece of pork, and in about an hour and a half we had the deck covered with great codfish. There were fifty-five of them, weighing from five pounds to thirty pounds apiece, and the men split them and packed them into the beef tubs with some brine. Having once caught one, we were at no loss of bait, as there was always something in the stomach of one sufficiently attractive for another; or, if his stomach was empty, a piece of that itself generally tempted one of his fellows. The most killing bait was a bivalve shell, with its enclosed animal, which we found in several of them.

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Bay of Islands District