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14 - Pretty Fanny Goff



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

Tryphena Goff - or as she was generally known, Pretty Fanny Goff - was born at Portugal Cove about the commencement of the last century. I think that the original pet name must have been Pretty Pheenie, her christian name being Tryphena, and not Frances, but Fanny she was generally called. She was the daughter of Mr. George Goff, Innkeeper and Chopman at Portugal Cove. Goff's Inn was a celebrated hostel in its day; the elite of the land visited it and stayed there when enroute from St. John's to the large ports in Conception Bay. Pretty Fanny's mother was a daughter of a Mr. & Mrs. Pottle of Bonavista. At the commencement of the reign of King George III Mr. Pottle was a Captain of the Guards and Mrs. Pottle, nee Miss Jennings, a great-niece of the celebrated Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte.

In the summer of 1761 the couple eloped, came to this country and settled at Bonavista. While pursuit was being made after them in the direction of Gretna Green, this loving couple got quietly down to Poole in Dorset and embarked in a ship bound for Newfoundland. Had they been caught it would have gone hard with them both, but especially the man for he had deserted the King's colors. On the return voyage the ship in which the Pottles left England was lost with all hands, and the place of their residence and hiding remained so long unknown to the authorities that they escaped punishment for their elopement.

On the 24th of August, 1787, their eldest daughter, Mary, a tall aristocratic-looking woman, possessed of a fair share of her mother's good looks, was married at Bonavista to George Goff, an Englishman. He was said to have been the illegitimate son of a member of the Royal family of England. George Goff and Mary Pottle were married by a Mr. Akerman, who was an S.P.G. lay-reader at Bonavista, and had a license to marry from the Bishop of Nova Scotia of whose Diocese Newfoundland then formed a part.

After his wife's death Capt. Pottle came to reside with his daughter Mary Goff at Portugal Cove. Here he died about 1826 and was buried beside his grand-daughter Tryphena. He has been described as bring a tall and handsome man, clean shaven and ruddy of countenance, and though advanced in years, very upright in stature. He wore a three-cornered hat, his hair in a queue, a coat with gilt silver buttons, scarlet silk vest, blue cloth pants, silk stockings fastened with silver clocks at the knee, and shoes with silver buckles.

He was not popular at the Cove. Once I asked an old woman who knew him why this was "It was because he lived to spoil trade", she said. How was that I asked. "In this way" she said. "One day mother sent me to the Inn to sell a basket of eggs to Mrs. Goff. While Mrs. Goff was counting the eggs and placing them in a dish on the counter, her father, who was sitting by the fire in the bar-room smoking a long church-warden pipe, said "Don't buy those eggs, Mary, They aren't fit to eat, for all the Portugal Cove hens are fed on fish maggots". Mrs. Goff laughed and said, "Oh father, these are all right, for Mrs. Nealy feeds them only on potatoes and milk with a little Indian meal".

(How is it that some non-natives appear to take pleasure in writing and speaking disparagingly of Newfoundland and its people? To my mind such conduct is a decided indication to say the least, of defective education, and possibly of low origin on the part of those who are guilty of it.)

Miss Jennings was an heiress, and it is certain that her relations strongly objected to her union with Capt. Pottle, which they considered a decided mesalliance on her part, hence the elopement. (I have known not a few men who were by birth of lowly origin but were nevertheless wholly and altogether gentlemen in mind and action. Capt. Pottle's jest, if it was a jest, was decidedly unrefined and what you might expect from a costermonger who sold strawberries by the pottle.)

But to return to the subject of this narrative. Pheenie Goff was remarkable for great beauty of face and figure. She had a sweet voice. What is best of all, she was as good as she was beautiful. In a land that always had been noted for the beauty of its women, she was considered to be of her time the most beautiful woman in Newfoundland. All who knew her loved her and she was quite as much liked by the women as by the men.

An old lady at Portugal Cove who know Pheenie Goff well said that she had such an expressive countenance that having once looked thereupon you could not withdraw your gaze. She had a host of admirers among the naval and military men, of whom there were many in Newfoundland at that time. At that time she had more than one excellent offer of marriage, but she refused all except one. That favoured one was a Newfoundlander named Barter who carried on a profitable business at Brigus, Conception Bay.

Mr. Barter has been described by one who knew him, as being tall, rather powerfully built, and a very handsome man. The couple were well matched. The wedding was to take place in March, 1823. Preparation was made for it on a large scale at Goff's Inn, but the wedding was not to be. Less than a fortnight before it was to take place, the intended bride was smitten by typhoid fever. More than one doctor from St. John's hurried to the bedside to render assistance but all human help was in vain.

From the first, poor Pheenie felt that it would be so, and was said to have been resigned to the Divine will. She was even cheerful, saying with the simplicity of an innocent child that the Divine Master wanted her for his bride and that she was quite content to go to him and to be "safe in the arms of Jesus" for evermore. So she fell asleep.

She left a loving message for her intended earthly bridegroom, telling him not to grieve for her, but to get ready to meet his God, for it would not be long ere he too passed "behind the veil". From what will appear presently it is doubtful if Mr. Barter ever received this message.

As the time drew near for his wedding he loaded a sleigh with presents for the bride and bridesmaids, and tackling his horse thereto left Brigus to drive around the Bay on the ice to Portugal Cove. There was then no telegraph communication in Newfoundland, and he was quite ignorant of the terrible news that awaited his arrival at Portugal Cove.

Mr. Barter whiled away the tedium of his journey with happy song. On the morning of the very day on which he was to have been married, and on the afternoon of which his intended bride was to be buried, he reached the house of Mr. Wm. Squires at St. Phillips. He entered Mr. Squires' home joyfully, asking for breakfast, and saying that this was to be the happiest day of his life. Mr. Squires and family were exceedingly troubled, and at first could say nothing, for they knew of Miss Goff's death and were getting ready to attend her funeral. But in a little while, Mr. Squires recovering in a measure his composure, took poor Barter into a private room, and there as gently as he could broke to him the sad tidings of Miss Goff's death. After hearing this dreadful news, which fell upon him like a bolt from heaven, Mr. Barter spoke not a word but harnessed his horse and drove back to Brigus. There he speedily settled his affairs and taking to his bed, died within three days of a broken heart. His intended wife's death-bed prophecy had a speedy fulfilment. They were lovely and beautiful in their lives and in death were not divided.

In 1823 there was no regular graveyard at Portugal Cove in connection with the Church of England. Pretty Pheenie Goff's remains were interred under an apple tree in her father's garden, a place where she had often sat on summer evenings. A head-stone was erected to her memory, though from time and neglect the inscription thereon is almost illegible. Miss Goff was buried by a lay-reader named Curtis who preached, it is said, an impressive sermon upon the occasion.

It is only the Light and the Peace that comes from the Manger at Bethlehem that can make bearable such trying incidents in life's journey.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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