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Historical Information

West Coast ~ Reverend Edward Wix

Bay of Islands District - Introduction

Reverend Edward Wix visited the Bay of Islands twice, once in 1830 and again in 1835. On his second visit he arrived
in the Bay of Islands on May 23, 1835 and stayed for only a few days. While there, he recorded in his journal.

The information recorded and compiled by MICHAEL BARBOUR, JACK CLARKE & STEPHEN BAKER, July 1999.
While we have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there may be typographical errors.

Reverend Edward Wix
Rev. Edward Wix

From Cape Ray the French have a concurrent right given them to fish along our shores, far as Cape John, upon the northern shore of the island. I say a concurrent right, for although I found that the French claim an exclusive right, and occasionally interfere with our fishermen, I can never imagine that the English government can have been impolitic enough to have intended to convey more to the French than a concurrent right of fishery; and indeed, as I read the treatise, no more was ever conveyed to them. None would dispute the right of the English nation to grant to any other nation the same right of fishery along these shores tomorrow, which we have granted to the French; and it is extremely absurd to imagine, that while we may grant to this or that nation a privilege of fishing along our shore, the English fisherman -the English planter should be excluded ! The English government, even allowing the supposition of its having merely granted a concurrent right to the French, has gone to an impolitic length. It has thus given to a rival nation, as it has in the case of the Americans, also, the means which the want of colonies has denied to the one, and a want of sufficient extent of coast, has denied the other, of rearing an effective mercantile marine. The importance of such a marine to any nation may be estimated, when it is considered what it has helped to make of the little island of Great Britain, and when it is remembered that it was the means of the late resuscitation of Greece and of her emancipation from the Turkish yoke. With the policy of this measure, in a political point of view, the Missionary has no concern; but it is impossible for him to travel in Placentia and Fortune Bays, or on the Western coast, without his observing much sad inconvenience, which may be traced to this impolitic indulgence on the part of the parent government.

Perpetual collision between the people of the rival nations, who are thus brought into competition upon the same field of labour, is promoted, and this is detrimental to that peace which he would wish to see existing between persons of various, nations, who are engaged in common commercial enterprises. But this is not all. The illicit dealings which, on such a coast as this, it is impossible to prevent between our people and these foreigners whom we have encouraged around us, particularly with the French, resident in the islands of Miquelon and St. Peters - confound the moral sense of the people. The temptation of the bounty which is given by the French government, for fish taken hence by the French to the West India market, induces many of the French to cheat their own government, and to tempt our poor fishermen by secretly giving the English, among whom they are promiscuously fishing in open boats at sea, a good price for their fish, while the merchant who has supplied the English fisherman with his provisions for the winter, and his necessary outfit for the fishery, is defrauded.

All dealing with the French is an injury to the colonial revenue. It may be expensive, but it is a most necessary act of policy, under existing circumstances, to station sub-collectors of his Majesty's customs, who might prevent illicit dealing, at least as far as Port aux Basque, if not as far as the important settlement of St. George's Bay. It must give a Missionary pain to observe in every house which he enters for leagues along the coast, evidences in the provisions which are set before him, in the dress of the inhabitants, and in the decoration of the houses, that illicit dealing is carried on to an extent which must injure materially, if it do not ruin and drive from the shore every English mercantile speculator, while it accustoms the people to an illegal traffic, and is so far detrimental to their moral principle.

The bad example too, of the profanation of the Lord's day by the French, in, and off our harbours, exercises a sad influence upon the morals of our people; it may be imagined, that it is a trying sight for a poor fisherman who has been toiling a whole week, and has caught nothing, to see the bait on which his whole catch of fish - his harvest -depends, caught in seine nets, and the bateaux put over the sides of the French schooner, and the fish caught and split before his face upon the Sunday!

Sunday, May 10, 1835.
Snow. Went up six miles to Great Codroy River; full service, and baptized eight children. A cold row to Codroy Island. Here I regretted to find one of the principal inhabitants too much intoxicated to derive any advantage from my visit, although he intruded himself into the house in which we held prayers, and exposed himself sadly, at the close of my sermon, by proposing to me a very senseless and indelicate question in the face of the whole congregation. He was in the same senseless state of intoxication the next day, although we then succeeded in keeping him in ignorance of our service, and so proceeded without any interruption.

On my reaching the place, the beach exhibited the appearance of a common working-day. There were several fires on the shore, by which the French were brimming or caulking their boats, and their crew were fishing in the offing, as upon a week-day.

Monday, May 11, 1835.
Full service again, and baptized fourteen. From Cape Ray to this place, the soil is so much improved, that it is quite capable of being brought into cultivation; cattle are very numerous here already. Between Cape Ray, indeed, and the Bay of Islands, there is decidedly more land capable of being brought, with very little trouble, into cultivation, than in all the parts of Newfoundland with which several pretty extensive tours had made me previously acquainted. There is another advantage too, peculiar to this part of the coast; there is so little fog and dampness of atmosphere, that fish may be laid out to dry here with much less risk than elsewhere, of its becoming tainted.

Wednesday, May 20, 1835.
The "Hope," a brig belonging to Messrs. Bird, of Sturminster, having put in to Harbour Briton, on her outward passage from England, brought me a packet of letters from my dear wife, which had been forwarded to Harbour Briton from St. John's, for the chance of falling into my hands. This welcome packet was the first I had received from her since my departure in February! Several parcels of letters which had been forwarded in search of me, reached my hands after my return home, having been sent back to St. John's, after they had been kept some time for me in different out-harbour settlements. I sailed in her for the Bay of Islands, a little to the south of Cape St. Gregorie, which I did not reach through adverse winds, until

Saturday, May 23, 1835.
found that this bay had been visited by the Reverend William Bullock, in company with his Excellency, Sir Thomas Cochrane, in 1829. He was the first clergyman, in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, who had visited the place. The river Humber, which discharges itself here, like the river Exploits, in the north of the island, is an immense body of fresh water. From the great quantity of snow which was now melting fast in the interior and swelling the current, it was not easy to stem it within Guernsey and Governor's islands. There are some other islands near the mouth of the Bay; from these the Bay obtains its name.

Sunday, May 24, 1835.
Held two full services, and baptized fourteen children.

Rev Wix Bay of Islands Baptisms

I was frequently, during my journey, struck with surprise, but no where more than here, at the very marked difference which might be observed between the inhabitants of places only separated by a few leagues from each other. One who shall take the tour which I have recently taken might say, on reviewing the manners and customs of the people, through whose settlements he had passed, that he had seen no one people - Mores Multorum Hominum Widit, Et Artes.

The difference of extractions has occasioned, as may be supposed, a marked dissimilarity between the descendants of Jerserymen, Frenchmen, Irish, Scotch and English people. The people, too with whom the first settlers and their immediate descendants may have had contact or intercourse, have attributed much of the formation of their dialect, character and habits of the present settlers.

The inhabitants of Conception Bay, although a neck of land of only a few miles extent separated them from Trinity, may differ from the inhabitants of the latter, as much as if they were from a distinct nation. The same may be said of the difference between those who live in Placentia and those who live on Fortune Bay. But a single league may often carry the traveler upon the same shore, from a people whose habits are extremely course and revolting, to a population which has suffered nothing - perhaps has gained - from its being far removed from the seat of advanced civilization and refinement.

Much of the character of a settlement must, of course, depend, for several generation, on the character of the original settlers. The descendants of some profane, run-a-way man-of-wars man, or of some other character as regardless or ignorant of decorum and delicacy, are likely to show to a third and fourth generation a general licentiousness of conversation and conduct, which portray the foul origin of their stock.

Between the people of the Bay of Islands, and those of Bay St. George, there was a difference as wide, as between the untutored Indian and the more favourable child of refinement. There were acts of profligacy, practiced indeed, in this Bay, at which the Micmac Indians expressed to me their horror and disgust. The arrival of a trading schooner among the people, afford an invariable occasion for all parties (with only one or two exceptions, and those, I regret to say, not among the females) to get into a helpless state of intoxication. Women, and among them possibly girls of fourteen, may be seen, under the plea of its helping them in their work, habitually taking their "morning" of raw spirits before breakfast. The same, the girls among the rest, are also smoking tobacco in short pipes, blackened with constant use, like what the Irish here call "Dudees," all day long. The instant they drop into a neighbour's house and are seated by the fire, there is a shuffling of the clothes, and the pipe, already partly filled, is drawn from the side pocket, and applied to the ashes for lighting.

One woman who was pointed out to me here, who, in her haste to attack a quantity of rum, which she had brought in shore with her from a trading vessel, and under the influence at the time of a certain quantity which she had drank on board, left an infant of 6 months old on the land wash and forgot this her suckling child, until the body of it was discovered the next morning, drowned by the returning tide. The father, immediately after the discovery of the awful disaster, went on board, unwarned, and apparently unaffected, for another gallon of the poison for the wake, or wicked drinking revel, which the customs on the Island has too commonly made an appendage to a funeral. The same person, for I can scarcely called this monster Woman, has over-layed another child of two years old, when she had retired to bed once in 1822, in a state of intoxication. She is now shamelessly co-habitanting with her own nephew, and there are other instances on this Bay of adulterous and incestuous connections with which I am unwilling to pollute my journal - "for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them" - unblushingly - it can be said - "in secret."

The habitual conversation of the people is of the most disgusting character, profanity is a dialect, common decency and delicacy are the rare exceptions, children swear at their parents, and frequently strike them.

There is not a probability, but, unless missionaries and schools be multiplied in the island, the state of the next generation must be worse, if possible, in places of this description than it even now is. I may be asked why I give even a partial publicity to such disgusting details of crime. I have been silent as regards much which came to my knowledge; the interests of morality may not, indeed, I know, be directly served by the exposure of any of these details of immorality; but may not the attention of the humane legislature- of the true patriot, of the Christian philanthropist be roused by the knowledge of the existence of such horrible enormities, to devise some plan for the emancipation of our rapidly increasing population from their present godless ignorance,-from a slavery worse than that of the body? - and may not the next generation, if not the present settlers, he benefited by the glare of strong light which is thus thrown upon deeds of darkness, which, else, could never be suspected or conceived ?

If the contrast between the state of some of these populous settlements and that of the inhabitants of the most thinly populated village in England, where the poor have the gospel preached to them, lead any to see, and to acknowledge, the value of an established religion which supplies a church, and a spiritual pastor, and a spiritual provision to the poorest, without money and without price,-I shall not have raised a blush for depraved human nature, by exposing these her natural fruits, in vain! I met with more feminine delicacy, however, I must own, in the wigwams of the Micmac and Canokok Indians than in the tilts of many of our own people. Except some sympathy be excited for the improvement of our people in this and like places, they may fast merge into a state similar to that in which the first missionaries found the inhabitants of the islands in the South Seas; unless, indeed, which seems not improbable, nature vindicates herself, and the vices and excesses, by which their natural vigor and constitutional energies do seem already impaired, shall, in a generation or two, exterminate them as completely as drunkenness has some of the tribes of Indians.

Wednesday, May 27, 1835.
I was happy in being able to stay on board the brig while she remained here. My object, of course, was the improvement of the people; but none, who have not been similarly situated, can imagine the difficulty of awakening, or of fixing, the thoughts of persons thus utterly unused to any sacred appeals or sanctions. Schools, in such places must, at least, accompany, if they do not precede, the missionary; unless, indeed, which in the case with some of the Protestant Episcopal missionaries, in the service of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the same person be fitted to undertake the joint duties of the schoolmaster, and of the authorized ordained spiritual guide. But, in this case, he could only be a fixed pastor, which the means of no existing society could afford wherever such was needed; for, it is obvious, that in proportion as he was zealous in itinerating as a missionary, all schemes for the improvement of the young, by a school in the centre of his station, must suffer frequent suspension and interruption.

When the brig left, I did not proceed in her to Forteau, in the Straits of Belle Isle. The settlement's were so thinly scattered, and so thinly peopled beyond this point, that I did not think that any proportionate degree of good could be effected to repay me for the consumption of time, which would be occasioned by my passing through the Straits, and returning to St. John's, by the northern side of the island; thus making my visit a complete tour of circumnavigation. I had not leisure either, to go to the Labradore again, and to remove my former disappointment, when I was obliged to return without reaching either of the interesting Moravian Missionary stations.

I was glad, therefore, to return to St. George's Bay, trusting that some opportunity might unexpectedly occur for my getting out of that bay towards St. John's, if not directly to it. As no more eligible opportunity offered of leaving Bay of Islands, I started at six A.M., in a drenching rain in an open boat, with Michael James, a temporary resident in this bay, who was kind enough to assist in rowing me in an American marblehead whaling boat. He took me twenty-four miles to Little Harbour, where, as well as at Batteau Cove, I was very kindly treated by the French, who were fishing, there.

  • Six Months of a Newfoundland Missionary's Journal, Edward Wix, 1835
  • P.A.N.L, Vol. 30 of St. Thomas's Church in St. John's

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Bay of Islands District