Presented by the
Newfoundland's Grand Banks Site
to assist you in researching your Family History

Click on the graphic below to return to the NGB Home Page
Newfoundland's Grand Banks

To contribute to this site, see above menu item "About".

How to report a possible transcription error

These transcriptions may contain human errors.
As always, confirm these, as you would any other source material.

History of King's Cove





The earliest business of any considerable magnitude started in King's Cove was that of James McBraire & Company. It was conducted on the premises now occupied by the Murphy family. The land on which the buildings were erected was purchased from James Sullivan. McBraire started business in King's Cove about the year 1796. Old Thomas Brown who was born in 1800 often told that he remembered when a boy bringing bottles of rum to the carpenters who were building McBraire's stores.

In the early stages of the business, McBraire himself conducted it; but later he retired to Berwick-on-Tweed in Scotland and conducted his business by means of agents. One of his agents was Michael Murphy-a native of Waterford, Ireland. Murphy was an efficient, and energetic servant. He died in King's Cove in 1823 and is buried in the old graveyard beside the present chapel. His grave is enclosed by a heavy iron railing. His death was deeply lamented by Mr. McBraire's son, John, who in his letters to the agents at King's Cove, advises them to look after Mrs. Murphy's comfort. Mr. Murphy caught a cold after walking one hot day from Broad Cove-three miles from King's Cove On his arrival at his home, he bathed his feet in cold water, This gave him a chill from which he never recovered.

Mr. Hartery-the grandfather of the present Harterys-was his book-keeper. Mr. Murphy gives Mr. Hartery a good recommendation for sobriety and attention to business. In one of his letters to McBraire he writes:

"December 12th, 1821-Mr. Hartery is as usual. His wages are too high for the present time. However, he is remarkably attentive and sober."

McBraire's business was a very flourishing one during thirty three years it existed at King's Cove. He had ten or eleven vessels carrying fish to Spanish and Mediterranean ports, West Indies, Brazil, Oporto, Liverpool, London and Waterford and bringing back provisions and dry goods.

Brown's and McBraire's trade in provisions, bricks and butter was with Hamburg. Their vessels brought molasses and rum from West Indies, salt from Cadiz, wines from Spain, dry goods and furniture from Liverpool and London. Each took a cargo of between 2500 and 3,000 quintals of fish. There was the "Gleaner", "Woodbine", "Mary and Betty", "Indemnity", the "King's Cove", "Cleopatra", "Helen", "Argus, "Lady Turner", "Geo. Robinson" "Elenza", "Edward", and "John." The firm shipped about 18,000 quintals of fish annually. They dealt also in seals and furs In the Spring of 1824 they shipped 7000 seals and a large number of furs. The prices paid that Spring for furs were as follows: Seal skins. 20 cents each; otter, $3.60; yellow fox, $1.00; cat skins, 80 cents; beaver, $2.00; muskrat, 10 cents; cowhides, 4 cents per pound.

That the business men had their troubles then as now is evident from the letters of McBraire's agent. There were pedlars in these days and they appear to have given Murphy a lot of trouble. In one of his letters to McBraire in 1821 he complains:

"We have been much visited this year by pedlars. A certain Naughton who arrived here from Liverpool. A young man from Cheevers' House has been here several trips. Douglas Campbell at Barrow Harbor and everywhere around the Bay occasionally. These fellows are of some annoyance to us. They take fish at all hours. We have been obliged to keep two people all the Fall watching at night to prevent smuggling. We shall be visited with pedlars again next year. A good stock of provisions and to sell cheaper than these fellows would be the only way to stop their progress and to annihilate some of those who are dependent on us and who deal with those fellows-as an example to others of the same denomination."

Michael Murphy seems to have been a stern man with little sympathy for the thriftless and improvident. Writing in the Spring of 1822 he says:

"At Bonavista the people are miserably bad off for provisions. Greenspond is as bad and we believe Trinity has its share of misery. There has been a great deal of wretchedness among many persons in this Bay the past winter, and in common with all other parts of the island several of the careless and extravagant in King's Cove met their reward this winter."

This seems to have been a dismal year for King's Cove Writing to McBraire in September of the same year, the agent says:

"There has been an extraordinary failure in the catch of fish here since the beginning of August month It will be a miserable season: many persons in this neighbourhood will have to leave it or starve"

Neither way he satisfied with the doings of his competitors. Writing to McBraire in the Spring of 1823 he says:

"The price given for seals at St John's and Harbour Grace is very enormous. The merchants of the island, particularly of St. John's and Conception Bay are most extraordinary in their management. They study more to ruin themselves than to prosper by giving such high prices, and allowing such wages."

Michael Murphy had an appreciation of how things can be done in this world, namely by hard work. The following is his suggestion to McBraire regarding some Irish youngsters whom he needed for general work:

"I have to suggest the propriety of sending to Mr. Richard Fogarty to order him to ship three or four youngsters for us in Waterford next Spring and to send them out by some vessel bound to St John's. He could choose stout country fellows that would be inured to hard labour."

After Michael Murphy's death McBraire's business was managed by Esmond J. Mullowney from Cork. He had been assistant Manager and Store-keeper under Murphy. As related elsewhere, Mullowney was drowned on a voyage from King's Cove to Galway.

At this time a second Michael Murphy-the grand-father of the present King's Cove Murphys-was the wharf manager of the McBraire Firm and James Stewart-a Scotchman-was bookkeeper. They took over the management of the business, and after running it for a few years they failed. The business remained idle for a few years when Lawrence O'Brien & Company of St. John's bought the premises for Michad Murphy. Mr. Stewart who had married Mullowney's widow made a precarious living by school teaching. The premises is still in the hands of the Murphy family. Michael Murphy conducted his business under the name of Michael Murphy & Sons.

During the time that McBraire's business was flourishing, William Brown-the great grandfather of the present King's Cove Browns-was also conducting a large codfish and seal industry. He was a remarkable man and a sketch of his career is noted elsewhere. He had two sealing vessels, the "Thomas" and the "Rebecca." The latter was named after his only daughter, Rebecca. He, like McBraire, had many vessels taking fish and seal-oil to foreign markets and importing provisions and fishery supplies of all kinds. When he died his business was continued under his son, George. It closed at the latter's death. In 1872 George Brown built a large schooner at King's Cove for his two sons, John and George. She was called "The Two Brothers." She was built just east of Monks-the Watchmaker's dwelling at the north end of the Beach. John Heany of Plate Cove was the master builder. The day she was launched was a gala day for the King's Covians. A number of the vessels owned by McBraire and William Brown in the earlier days were built by Henry Handcock of King's Cove. He went under the name of Henry the builder.

Michael Murphy & Sons had been in business a number of years when Munn & Carroll started business on the south side of King's Cove on the premises later occupied by James Ryan

Company. This was in 1859. They carried on an extensive business especially in Labrador herring. They failed in 1869. Archie Munn -father of John Munn, one time Editor of the Harbour Grace Standard-was a man who had an unwarrantable faith in people's honesty; and Carroll had too many irons in the fire at the one time to give proper attention to the business. When they failed they owed John Munn & Co. of Harbour Grace the sum of $120,000. There was considerable suffering in King's Cove the winter of their failure. No flour could be had in King's Cove. The supply of flour was short in Trinity also, and those King's Covians who went to Trinity for flour had to be satisfied with Indian meal.

After Munn & Carroll's failure, John Sheares of Open Hall, opened business. His father had been for a short time a partner with William Brown in the early stages of Brown's business. Sheares took over the store and premises formerly occupied by David Candow. A few years later James Ryan & Co. purchased the premises formerly occupied by Munn & Carroll. Ryan & Co. carried on an extensive business. The advent of the Ryans to King's Cove inspired hope for the rehabilitation of the village after the debacle of Munn & Carroll's failure. Ryan & Co. introduced a scheme of ship-building that aroused the interest of the young skippers,-the Ryans, Aylwards, Costellos and others. Every young man had hopes of becoming a schooner owner. Ryan & Co. supplied men to go up into the various parts of Bonavista Bay and build schooners. They took their families with them and built temporary huts, cut the timbers for the schooners and in time with Newfoundland native ingenuity completed the vessel Every man was his own builder. He was interested in the scheme because the agreement was that he was to pay so much each year and then the schooner would be his own. History repeats itself. Like the Commission Government's ship-building scheme it proved a failure. After a few years the skippers were not able to continue their payments, fell in debt, and the vessels were taken over to pay the debts.

However, it must be admitted that whilst James Ryan & Co. were supplying for the Labrador, King's Cove was a prosperous place The firm supplied dealers from Conception Bay, as well as Bonavista Bay. When the Firm's dealers gathered in the village in the Fall, it was unusually lively. But that condition of things has vanished. The retrospect is one of gradual deterioration. Seventy years ago, there were twenty-one rooms from Devine's inside Long Point to Sampson's in Otter Gulch. Some of these had as many as six large boats capable of holding from fifteen to twenty quintals each. To see this fleet corning in from the, fishing grounds on a bright summer evening with a stiff wind blowing was a sight worth witnessing. When they were moored one could almost step from one boat to another across the harbor.

Ryan & Co.'s business in King's Cove was conducted by Daniel A. Ryan. He was a man of keen and strict business instincts, unrelenting in the application of his business methods. He had an untiring industry and during the fishing season did as much work by night as by day. He had established small barter shops in the settlements surrounding King's Cove, and it was a usual occurrence to see him start off after midnight on horseback on a tour of inspection of these barter shops. There were no soft spots in him. He had his clerks-of whom Mr. Hart still living was one-trained in his methods. If a dealer received two pounds of tea by accident where an official considered one pound was sufficient, a messenger was despatched immediately to bring back the other pound. A dealer receiving goods on credit during the winter, had to submit his order to the Manager D. A. Ryan before it could be filled. Any article on the list that he deemed extravagant was crossed out. One illustration will suffice to show his methods:

A dealer brought in a list of articles amongst which was a crock of jam.

"Jam, jam," exclaimed D. A. "Don't you know you can't get jam. That's a luxury. Only the clergyman can get jam."

"Oh, begor, I suppose I'll have to get ordained," retorted the disappointed applicant.

It is not surprising that with such a keen overseer, the business prospered immensely. The proof of this is shown by the fact that the Will of Mr. D. A. Ryan was probated at $700,000.

Besides the Firms already mentioned, smaller businesses sprang up. John Devine, father of P. K. and M. A. Devine had ventured into the sealing and codfish supplying. David Candow had 8 store; afterwards occupied by John Shears. Candow will be remembered on account of the smallpox scare created by the arrival of his vessel the "Lillydale" from Labrador. All the crew took small pox and two of them died on the way home Doctor Buchanan was practising in King's Cove at this time, and he had an hospital built on the south side of Stock Cove Road at a considerable distance below the road and the rest of the crew placed there. So great was the horror generated by this dread disease that for a quarter of a century afterwards, everyone kept at a safe distance from where the hospital had been located.

King's Cove was famous for the number of vessels that prosecuted the seal fishery. McBraire and William Brown were the pioneers in this industry. William Brown's son "Jacky" was his chief skipper. He commanded the "Rebecca". The McGraths, Martins, Curtisses and Captain William Doyle-grandfather of Gerald S. Doyle-were masters of sealing vessels. In 1869 James Martin had the "Goldfinder". She sailed that year from Griquet and got 1,000 seals Captain William Doyle ran the "Tartar" for some years. One Spring with a load of seals she drove over the "Harries" near Cape Bonavista and was lost Afterwards he ran the "Nautilus" supplied by Michael Murphy & Sons. Michael McGrath had the- "Falcon"- brigantine fitted out by Baine Johnston & Co. The "Falcon" was owned by Mrs. Edmund Dowsley-aunt of the late School-Inspector Hanrahan. Skipper Mike Ryan sailed the "Celt",- 100 ton brig. "Jacky" Brown sailed also the "Emily Tobin" supplied by Munn& Carroll. William Martin sailed the "William & Sarah" supplied by Ridleys of Harbor Grace. Tom Ryan-grandfather of Thos S. Devine Inspector of Lighthouse sailed the "Fanny" supplied by John Devine through Edward Smith, St. John's. Both these vessels were lost at the seal fishery in 1869. Joe Coleman of Trinity in the "Emma" brought the crews home in April.

William Brown had two sealers,-the "Thomas " and the "Rebecca." The Thomas" was a brigantine of 125 tons, and the "Rebecca" a brig of 120 tons. In the Spring of 1843 Wm. Brown's son Jacky commanded the "Rebecca". She was met by "The Big North-Easter" which drove her within ten miles of Southern Head. This was the Spring of the "Big Haul" already mentioned. The seals were driven into Bonavista Bay and men and women secured good catches. The "Hunter" commanded by John McGrath, got 2,200 seals on board that Spring and was driven up the In February 1845 a heavy south-west gale carried the ice out of King's Cove harbor and with it went the Thomas and Rebecca. A volunteer crew managed to get on board the Rebecca and got up sail and ran to Bonavista anchoring there. The Thomas went ashore at Birchy Cove and became a total wreck. The Rebecca volunteer crew walked home. A week afterwards an easterly gale drove the Rebecca out of Bonavista and half way up to King's Cove. She remained caught in the ice for five days when a strong south-west wind drove her out the Bay. After ten days a north-east gale drove her back again to within three miles of Western Point. A full supply of stores for the sealing voyage was hauled out to her on the ice. Her crew was signed up and on the 5th of March with flags flying she sailed for the icefields. After striking the seals at Groais Island she arrived in King's Cove on April 9th with a full load. McBraire's and William Brown's firms each had a seal vat on the south side of the harbor where Jas. Ryan Co's premises was built in later years and ran off their own seal oil for export.

All these vessels were laid up in King's Cove during the winter, and sailed for the seal fishery on the first of March They were manned by men from King's Cove and the neighbouring coves. Hardy, courageous and adventurous were these old sealers. With little or no education, they drove their vessels through fogs and ice-floes and trusted to their instincts, sharpened by experience. As one old sealer once remarked:

"They could sit down in the cabin and tell how fast the vessel was going by listening to the swish of the log line over the, taffel. They could handle a brig like a fishing jack."

These men were sought after by the Catalina and Trinity captains. In the fifties there were Johnny Carroll, Mike McGrath, John Holland, Ned Carroll, John Devine, Edward Sullivan, "Big Jim" Sullivan, John Costello, John Martin, Bill Doyle, Jim Flynn, the Handcocks, Browns and Curtises. In the next generation there were Tom McGrath, Din McGrath, Maurice Devine, Will Devine, Dan Costello, Ned Martin, Tom Sullivan, Will Ryan, Jerry Martin, and Billy Carroll who was master of the "Kite" two springs in the Gulf.

The seal fishery was at first prosecuted with seal nets during the months of December, January and February, before large boats and schooners engaged in the industry. Some Springs the winds brought the whelping ice well into Bonavista Bay sod clone to the land. Whenever this happened, women and boys as well as men went on the ice to haul seals. In the Spring of 1843~ referred to always as "The Spring of the Big Haul" - some families made as much as one hundred pounds ($400). The three decades from 1830 to 1860-whilst the sealing industry was prosecuted by sailing vessels were times of prosperity in King's Cove and many became "well off", and had stockings full of gold and silver. It is worth noting that the confidence man is not a modern introduction for it is related that a confidence man named Pinrose visited King's Cove at this time and induced several people to part with their life savings on the promise of having their little hoards doubled.

As is well known, the cod fishery has always been shadowed by uncertainty. It has had its ups and downs in every settlement. Many a planter and merchant had had to succumb to the vagaries of the fishery. In these early days the suppliers showed no mercy to their debtors, especially if they had say waterside premises or stores or stages. A bailiff was sent from St. John's and the premises was auctioned. The premises of Wm. Casey- great-grandfather of P. K. Devine was thus auctioned off. The foreshore of King's Cove that was originally owned by a dozen settlers had in the fifties and sixties changed hands to fifteen new occupants including the Martins, Hollands, Barretts, Hogans, Maddoxes, Carrolls.

Though the cod and seal fisheries occupied most of the fishermen's time, there were other occupations which filled in the winter months. The saw-pit and the pit-saw were familiar objects of the olden days. All the rough boards, clapboard and shingles needed for dwelling and stores were manufactured by the residents. Hoop-making was a remunerative avocation during the winter months and schooner loads were sent every Spring to St. John's after the local demand was supplied. The money made by the sale of hoops was in many cases sufficient to buy the whole outfit for the summer fishery. Boat and punt building were other necessary employments. There was no such condition a "enforced idleness". There was a summer's supply of firewood to be hauled from the woods, garden-rods, rails, posts and "shores" for the Spring fencing. The winter was a busy time for the coopers, making casks and barrels for the summer demand in the oil, salmon and herring trades The early settlers were a hardy race. Circumstances made them so. It was a time in which each individual had to earn his own living. They looked with scorn on the dole or "poor relief" as it was then called. They lived under the regime of the cod-oil lamp, the sanded floors, the open chimneys, the tinder box and the power horn. They built their houses with their own hands, sawed lumber with pit saws, made their own doors and windows, and many of them built their own chimneys. Work and not amusement was the daily incentive. It was common routine to hear hoop makers urging on their dogs at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning towards the woods and listen to the creaking of the sides of the frozen slide paths.


Page transcribed by: Bill Crant May, 2000
Page revised: Sept 2002 (Terry Piercey)

Recent Updates Contact Us

Search through the whole site
Hosted by
Chebucto Community Net

Your Community, Online!
JavaScript DHTML Menu Powered by Milonic
Newfoundland's Grand Banks is a non-profit endeavor.
No part of this project may be reproduced in any form for any purpose other than personal use.

© Newfoundland's Grand Banks (1999-2018)