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The Newfoundland Quarterly
(Edition Unknown: Pages 31-36)

Hant's Harbour - An Historical Outline

by Edgar C. Janes

 

 

It seems to me that the history of our outports should be recorded in some permanent way because they give us a glimpse of a way of life that is passing away and while perhaps such history cannot always be supported with authentic documents and records it will contain something that should be preserved and passed on to the new generation that is fast entering upon a new way of life in Newfoundland.

May I, then, trespass upon your space to record what I have been able to gather of the story of the little outport of Hant's Harbour, on the south side of Trinity Bay.

Harvey, in the story he wrote of "How the Fish Came to Hant's Harbour," says: "Hant's Harbour is one of the oldest settlements in the island. The original settlers were from the West Country, Devonshire men of the breed that produced the Drakes, Davies, Grenvilles, Raleighs, Hawkinses, Gilberts and many other daring sea rovers. At an early date a little band of adventurers from this hardy stock planted themselves along the shore of Hant's harbour to carry on the cod fishery."

Here came the famous Capt. Richard Whitbourne who "at the age of fifteen was an adventurer in foreign countries and was captain of a good ship of his own in 1588". He was also, as Harvey records "one of Elizabeth's gallant band of Devon captains who at his own cost dashed out of Torbay into the very midst of the Spanish galleons of that great Armada as they passed."

Whitbourne himself tells us "I set out form the port of Exeter on the 11th of May 1615 in a Bark victualled and manned with eleven men and boyes (sic) at my own charge; on the 4th of June I anchored in Trinity Harbour." He then goes on to tell". . . and so I began to hold the first Court of Admiralty in Your Majesty's name that ever was as I believe holden in that country."

It is recorded that Hant's Harbour was one of his regular ports of call and he traded there for fish for forty years under sanction of the English Admiralty. He brought many a stout youngster and sometimes a few Devon matrons or maids in his early voyages to strengthen the colony.

However, even before this early date legend has it that Hant's Harbour, then called Anse Havre, had been a rendezvous for Portuguese pirates. Certainly, there is some justification for the pirate legend in the fact that in comparatively recent years "buried treasure" consisting of Spanish "doubloons" were unearthed here. There is still in existence an old cannon that was used in those thrilling days of long ago and there are some round shots of the kind that were used in those days. Who knows, perhaps they were left by one of the early marauders in a hasty exit.

Recently, a descendant of the Tilley family residing in the United States, claimed in a letter to Mr. L. E. F. English, Curator of the Museum in St. John's that his family was among the first settlers, but while the family history can be traced back for many years, no authentic documents or records have yet been found to substantiate the claim of being the "first Settlers."

Harvey continues with a description of these early settlers in these words: ". . . In battling with the billows they required skill as well as courage. One generation transmitted to another the dexterity and deftness thus acquired till it became a marked hereditary quality; and whether in the summer cod fishery around the shores, or on the storm-beaten Labrador, amid the ice floes, hunting the seal, there were no men to surpass those of Hant's Harbour.

"Out amid the icefields in their little vessels from 50 to 100 tons, they would work their way through an archipelago of huge icebergs with marvelous skill, cutting safe docks for them when the storms arose, and using the moving floes as tugs in pursuing the seals. Their skill was a hereditary gift which no mere drilling could impart, and to be a Hant's harbour man was esteemed a distinction. The blood was kept pure in this isolated village where a strong Devonshire dialect was spoken. No outsiders came among them, indeed, outlanders would have met a cold reception. The old stock not only took root, but improved, retaining however, all its original peculiarities. They were a simple, homely, honest people, their narrow circumstances curtailing both their virtues and their vices."

Thus Harvey recorded a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the earliest settlers in this little village, and the generations that followed carried on ion the tradition of their forbears.

In the oldest cemetery, still preserved, I have taken the following dates from headstones, but there are many made from slate from which the lettering has completely disappeared. No doubt some of these were earlier than those listed here:

From this source then, we gather that "Catherine Adey, wife of Martin Adey, died July 1st, 1811, aged 19 years," which places her birth at 1792. John Soper, who died may 11th, 1851, also of his son John, who died March 11th, 1811; the age of the son was not given but the father must have been in his twenties at the latter date (1811) which would place his birth in the late 1700's. Another tombstone gave barely the names "T. E. Pelley and Mary Pelley, 1813." John Janes, aged 66 years placing his birth at 1792. (This tombstone has the name of the manufacturer "John Smith, St. John's"). The oldest decipherable record would appear to be "To the Memory of Richard Pelley who departed this life Dec. 4th, 1836 aged 72 years," thus placing his birth at 1764. The quaint verse on the stone reads"

      "Here let my slumb'ring atoms rest
      Till the last rising morn,
      When in immortal vigour drest
      I shall to life return."

From the church records which go back to 1824, we gathered the following: "Maria Short, wife of Samuel Short was buried today, April 3rd, 1825." Signed Simeon Noale.

Under marriages appears "William Janes and Anne Pelley, Dec. 5th, 1848." Signed "James England, Wesleyan Minister." Witnesses: "John Husson and John Pawley."

Probably one of the earliest Justices of the Peace licensed to perform marriages in Newfoundland was John Tilley, J. P., (no doubt an ancestor of the Tilleys referred to above), who performed the marriage of Phillip King and Leah Tilley in 1836. He signed himself as "Licensed to celebrate marriages." His name appears several times I the church records in the late 1830's and 1840's when, apparently, there was no minister or missionary available, and we find he married John Goobey and Dorcas Hopkins Nov. 8th, 1840. Capt. John Goobey, his son, was Master of the S. S. Ethie on the Trinity Bay service and Harrison Janes was purser. (The Ethie was lost at Cow Head in Dec. 1919.)

John Tilley was a somewhat remarkable man. At the age of 26, in the intervals of work as a fisherman, he taught himself to read and write, and then included in his list of reading biography, history, poetry and theology, attaining also a proficiency in the sciences, and at the age of fifty he had accumulated a large and well-selected library.

At Hant's Harbour, where he settled after his marriage, he maintained a steady christian life. He later removed with his family to Random Sound where earnest toil placed him at length in position of comparative independence. He here produced a narrative poem of Methodism in his native village. Occasional lines of considerable beauty and force occur throughout the long manuscript - From "History of Methodism in Newfoundland," by T. Watson Smith, 1811.

Of his activities we are told he was the first to commence brick making and preserving salmon in tins in Newfoundland. He also owned a sawmill driven by water power and grew find crops of potatoes, oats, grass, etc. He once exchanged a copy of Homer's "Iliad" in Greek for a copy of "Parker's National Miscellany," showing that he was also a student of Greek.

Though we could find no written record, we were told by Herbert Ellis that the first male child born in Hant's Harbour was William Adey who was born in 1735. His wife was a Reid and after his death she married an Ash, and she was the famous Sister Lydia who made the remarkable prayer recorded by Harvey in his story "How the fish came to Hant's Harbour."

Under the births we find the name of John Bulley Ayre, son of George and Mary Ayre who was born Sept. 30th, 1834. Among the old family names, some of which have entirely disappeared from the community were the Mews' and J. L. Mews was later magistrate at Old Perlican, where he is buried. Then there were the Rendells, the Watsons, the Greens, Gullifords, Tucks, Prices and Loders, all of whom were among the early settlers in Hant's harbour.

In the year 1833 Mary Husson was Post Mistress at a salary of $8.00 a year and in the year 1877 Charles Green held the same position at $20.00 a year. The school teacher that same year was R. H. Parsons at a salary of $200.00 and he had 80 pupils with suitable accommodation for fifty. There were 150 children from five to fifteen years of age eligible to attend school. An interesting footnote was that the school had 49 sq. ft. of blackboard - Journal of Legislative Council, 1878.

We found the church records meagre of information and some of the old diaries had been destroyed. However, we found this item in a small pocket diary kept by Samuel Green, who celebrated his 80th birthday May 17th, 1953: "July 1st, 1879 marked the completion of the telegraph communication between Heart's Content and Hant's Harbour, bringing our thriving little town within talking distance of the metropolis, and the whole populace as well as parties doing business fully appreciate the importance of this adventure."

I recall my grandfather telling me that his father (my great grandfather) evidently migrated from the West country (Devon or Cornwall) and no doubt he, like many other early settlers, came out in a fishing topsail schooner and, as was the custom, was given the privilege of going back or taking up settlement, and it would appear that they must have done their fishing that season in Conception Bay, for he landed at Lower Island Cove or Northern Bay and spent the winter with some folks already settled there. My grandfather told of one spring day when ice drifted in to the bay and was packed tight except for a few small "lakes", his father, looking out over the bay at one of these lakes, one morning saw it was practically filled with ducks; and, grabbing his gun, which was no doubt an old flintlock "muzzle-loader", he fired a single shot into the ducks and picked up 85 from that one shot.

Grandfather could not tell me who the first settlers were and no dates were given, but he said that his father walked across from Lower Island Cove over the barrens to Old Perlican, as there were no roads at that time, and then proceeded up the south shore of Trinity Bay to Hant's Harbour. He decided to settle there, and it appears settlement was done in those days by a person staking off the land he needed and occupying it by "squatter's rights". He decided that the Western Point of the Harbour looked good to him so he staked there and was only properly staked when another party, John Ash, had the same idea but was just an hour too late in arriving, so he went across the harbour and took up his land near Custard's Head.

Hant's Harbour is fairly well situated, having a deep anchorage, protected from all but N. E. winds and had ample depths for schooners up to 90 tons. I can recall seeing the forest of masts of these schooners, moored for the winter, and I recall the names of some of them: the Cower (Nicholas Short); LeMarchant (John Short); Albatross (Alfred Pelley); Druid (John Pelley); Leverett (Richard Pelley) Search (John Pitt Green); Annie (Phillip Smith). These were the larger schooners of the fleet ranging from 50 to 90 tons each. Then there were the smaller ones such as Kestrel (Samuel Short); Ernest (George Short); Brill (James Short); Encore (Caleb Janes); and the smallest the Star (Wm. Strickland).

Of course, later came the more modern type of schooner, some imported from Lunenburg, N. S. The Gurnet (Sam'l Short) and the Undaunted (Rich Pelley) were two of these. The Margaret (Stephen Janes) was one of the last of these schooners to be built in the dockyard. She was a vessel of beautiful lines and a good sailer.

I recall seeing as many as five schooners built in the dock in one winter, and very fine ships they all turned out to be, built under the master hand of Joseph Gulliford.

************************************************************************************
In the year 1877 there were built at Hant's Harbour the following ships for which a
bounty was paid:

Name		Tons	Builder	Bounty		To 	Whom Paid
WAVE		30	Joseph Gulliford	$90	J.H. Watson
BRILL		30	Joseph Gulliford	 90	J.H. Watson, per Job Bros.
							& Co., Ltd.
RUBY		31	Joseph Gulliford	 93	J.H. Watson
OTHELLO		66	John Sheehan		196	W.B. Grieve and
							Baine Johnston & Co.
E. C. W.	31	Joseph Gulliford	 93	Watson & Short
AVALON		25	John Brown	  	 75	E.C. Watson
AVALON		56	John Brown		196	C.F. Goodridge

			 - Journal of the Legislative Council, 1878.
************************************************************************************
The building of these vessels was all done, from the keel to the last nail and screw right on the spot, and the bulk of crooked timber and logs was piled in the yard, all cut in and around the nearby woods, principally of birch and witch hazel. The birch planking which was sawn by hand on tall, wooden "horses" by two men, one at the top and one below, was for the bottom and juniper was used for the top sides, while the decks were of white pine. The only wood parts not produced locally was for the spars, as our trees were not large enough. The rigging was all spliced, turned and tarred in the old rigging loft and I can still smell the pungent Stockholm tar used in this work and can see the old sailmaker, Joseph King making the sails for these schooners, while he spun yarns for our amusement.

The day of the launching of these vessels was one long to be remembered. Notwithstanding that the launching usually took place early in the morning we were there and sneaked aboard and stowed away in the forecastle or cabin until the schooner was off the ways and was plunging into the water, when we made our appearance on deck and ran from side to side to "rock the boat" to roll the timbers out from under her bottom.

The launching itself was quite an undertaking, for the runways had to be laid on the dock bed and large runners placed thereon; then the vessel had to be raised from her keel blocks so that her weight was carried on the runners. There were no Jack-screws available and the raising had to be done by wedges, and when the time for wedging up came it was quite a sight to see from 15 to 20 men on each side, all hitting their wedges in unison to the shout of the master builder. Before launching, the runways were greased with blubber or some other kind of grease, and when all was in readiness the chain which held the vessel from slipping was let go, and if the schooner did not start to slide by gravity a sampson post was placed against the stem and it only usually needed a start, and away she slid gracefully into the water amid the shouts and cheers of the onlookers. After launching, coffee and raisin and currant buns were served to all comers. It was a big day for the village and everyone able to hobble turned out for the launching.

Business of the village was carried on and the vessels were supplied largely by a branch of Job Brothers & Co., of St. John's and the resident manager was Ellis C. Watson and his brother James H. Watson who, it appears came from Torquay, England where they had been trained as carpenters and undertakers. This business was afterward managed by my father, J. W. Janes, who entered the employ as a boy with the Watson brothers. The business was later sold to Alan Goodridge & Sons and was carried on under my father's management. Incidentally, Robert Watson, a son of Ellis C. Watson became a member of the House of Assembly, was Colonial Secretary and later Governor of the Newfoundland Savings Banks.

The people of the harbour took their politics seriously and many a wordy battle was waged, particularly was this so, in the early years when each candidate vied with the other in supplying liquor on election day. The means of travel were difficult and in some places almost impossible. The party in power had the advantage of the use of the Revenue Cutter, the "Fiona" to take the principal candidates. Sir William Whiteway had the exclusive use of this fine yacht-like vessel and I recall one visit when the Fiona arrived about 8:30 p.m. with Sir William on board and a meeting was hurriedly called. Sir William insisted that my grandfather (Uncle Bill Janes) then an old man who had retired, was to be chairman at the meeting. He hurriedly dressed and presented himself at the meeting place, the old Fisherman's Hall, and his opening remarks were that only three things would have taken him out of bed, and these were "fire, shipwreck or political business."

Religion was a serious business and the people of the village were on the whole devout, God-fearing people. The old Methodist Church was usually packed for the Sunday services, notwithstanding some of the services were conducted by laymen in the absence of the Minister. Men like Peter Tuck, T. G. Seeley and Samuel Maidment, devout souls who gave of their best, the latter struggling through the reading of Talmadge's sermons with his "firstly", "secondly", and so on, sometimes going on to the "twentiethly", and never under one hour and sometimes lasting a full two hours. The Church was the centre of the spiritual life of the village until in later years the Salvation Army gained a foothold and grew into a strong and virile part of community life. There was only one Roman Catholic family in the village, the Sheehans, whose spiritual welfare was taken care of by the priest from Turk's Cove.

Today new wharves and fish stores are built on the site where the shipbuilding went on and a thriving General Store and fish buying and packing business is carried on by P. Janes & Sons.

I am sure that a series of such historical outlines from other outports would be welcomed by your readers.

 

 

Page contributed by: Brian Janes, March 30th, 2000
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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