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by Frank E. Clarke



Lovell's 1871 Directory reported that Victoria Village was a fishing settlement on the north side of Conception Bay, in the district of Carbonear. At the time of the census it had mail service once a week and a population of 200. Of the 29 heads of households reported to be living there, 23 reported that they were directly associated with the fishery. Records available indicate that the settlers were involved exclusively with the Labrador fishery and traveled there seasonally. Economic conditions in Newfoundland at the time were disastrous. Governor Sir Stephen Hill (1809 - 1896) who served from 1869-1875 stated that the country was in a state of widespread "pauperism." The fishery had failed several times and most of the country was on the verge of starvation. Victoria Village and other communities around Conception Bay were no different. Sir Frederick Bowker Terrington Carter (1819 - 1900) came to power in 1874 and served until 1878. During that time he made great efforts to improved the lot of fishermen. He had been a Northern Circuit Court Judge at Hr. Grace and had a great knowledge of the socioeconomic conditions around Conception Bay. Also, the people in the local area had the good fortune to have two very important people elected to represent them in the House of Assembly. Sir Ambrose Shea (1815 - 1905) was elected to represent Hr. Grace in 1874 and brought with him extensive knowledge of the economic state of the country at the time. Shea joined Mr. John Rorke (1807 -1896) who was already serving in government. John Rorke was born in Athlone, Ireland and came to Newfoundland in 1824 as a clerk for the firm of Bennett and Ridley. In 1826, he was a shopkeeper for William Bennett; and in 1827, when Bennett went to England, he became bookkeeper for the firm. By 1880, he had moved to Adams Cove, a small community north of Carbonear on Conception Bay, and opened a fish store. In 1837, he registered the Elizabeth, a vessel of 109 tons, in partnership with Ann Tocque of Carbonear, and shortly after moved to Carbonear himself where he set up a fishery supply business occupying the old Slade and Elson premises.

In 1846, he supplied three vessels for the seal hunt and six in1847. Between 1839 and 1920, John Rorke registered a total of 48 vessels in Newfoundland, ranging from 50 to 159 tons, and was the sole owner of a majority of them. His business expanded rapidly, with a steady acquisition of vessels and the establishment of branch operations at St. Francis and Venison Island in Labrador. In 1880, Rorke was able to bring his two sons, John and James, into the firm, which then became known as John Rorke and Sons. Rorke also had an active political career. He was first elected in a by-election as the member for Carbonear on November 7, 1865 as a member of the Coalition government He was MHA for Carbonear from 1863 - 82. He supported Frederick B.T. Carter and stood as a Confederate in 1869. He was a member of the executive council from 1879 under William V. Whiteway. Rorke was re-elected four times. After Carter retired Rorke served in the cabinet of William V. Whitbourne and sat on a committee struck to study the construction and expansion of the Newfoundland Railway. He retired from politics in 1882. Up until 1919, John Rorke and Sons maintained close ties with the firm of C. T. Bennett of Bristol. This firm had long been involved in the Newfoundland trade and had a number of vessels registered in Newfoundland. Bennett handled 90 per cent of Rorke's export business, and acted as agent and broker for the salt codfish. During the last quarter of the 19th century, Rorke started expanding his retail business; and in the 1890 directory, he is listed as a general importer, selling a variety of dry goods, boots and shoes, groceries and lumber. In 1896, John Rorke died and John and James took full control of the business. In the mid 1860s the fishery in Newfoundland was in chaos. Large fishing companies in the outports were becoming insolvent and the effect on local people was disastrous. The Robert Slade Company, a large fishing merchant in Fogo, Twillingate, Trinity Bay and Carbonear failed. Other companies that met a similar fate were, P.W. Nicholl & Co. 1863, Newman & Co. 1864, William Cox & Co. 1868 and Ridley & Sons 1870. The effect on rural Newfoundland was profound with many families on the brink of starvation for they had few places to barter their catch; if they were lucky enough to have one.

The significance of John Rorke's representing the Carbonear District was immense. His knowledge of the fishery and the state of the fishing families in his district was intricate because he had done business with most of them. It was during his time in government that the Fisherman's Road was constructed. Victoria Village was well known for its clean water and vast timber lands. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons why the first settlers came here from Crocker's Cove, Carbonear, Otterbury, Salmon Cove and other nearby places.. When Roland Clarke (1916 - ) asked his Grandfather John (1860 - 1923) why his family choose to move to Victoria Village his simple answer was, "...for water and wood, my son." John Rorke, trying to put some money into the pockets of the fishermen, convinced Prime Minister Carter, who was familiar with the area, to introduce a make work program, one of the first in Newfoundland, that would help the fishing families to stave off poverty. He proposed the construction of a road from Freshwater, Flat Rock, Blow-Me-Down and Crocker's Cove to gain access to the vast tracts of timber land that lay behind Victoria Village. The Fisherman's Road, as it came to be called, would begin at Canister's Hill outside Freshwater and stretch several miles along the South side of Victoria Village to George Priddle's Turn where it would meet Swansea Road. Men from the fishing communities, along with those from Victoria Village ( a list of the fisherman from Victoria Village who probably worked on the construction of Fisherman's Road is attached) constructed the road at the end of the fishing season of 1875; finishing it sometime around the end of September. The work enabled the fishing families to earn enough cash to help them survive through the winter. The following year saw an improvement in the Labrador fishery and many of the men returned there to work. Fisherman's Road was used extensively for more than a century after its construction. Since wood was vital to fishermen for building boats, homes, flakes, and sundry other uses; this road was invaluable and was used for many years thereafter. Older people in the community report seeing dozens of horses and carts traveling into the country on a daily basis to gather wood for use in the fishing industry and for general purposes. Today, Fisherman's Road has all but reverted back to nature. Efforts are underway to have it declared a heritage area and to restore and incorporate it as part of Victoria's walking trail system.

The following men, living in Victoria Village in 1871, may have worked during the construction of Fisherman's Road. All of them are recorded either as a fisherman or a planters.

George Antle
William Ash
Joseph Balam
Jasper Bright
William Burk
Henry Carnen
Abel Clark
George Clark
Joseph Clark
Richard Clark
William Clark of John
John Cole
Robert Cole
Richard Dean
Philip Hiscock
John Little
Joseph Parsons
Thomas Penney
Silas Royal
John Stevenson
John Summers
John White

Other heads of households living at Victoria Village in 1871 (occupation not stated) were:

William Balam
James Clark
William Clark
William Collins
Clement Penney

The only woman recorded as a head of a household was Sarah Powell, widow, teacher

Over the years since 1871 many last names have been coloqual.



Page contributed by: Frank E. Clarke
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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