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A Note on Jersey and Newfoundland

E.R. Seary - 1970

 

 

The Priaulx Library, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, contains a small volume by one John Sullivan, Newfoundland, its Origin, its Connection with Jersey . . . published in Jersey in January 1886. The following extracts are reproduced for those readers of the Newfoundland Quarterly who are interested in the relations between the Channel Islands and Newfoundland.

The epigraph on the front-cover-title page is in the Jersey patois:

    J' nos'nallons pour Terr'neuve,
    C'hest nouot pays d'Esden,
    J' vos en dounnai la preuve,
    J'en sis soeux et certain.
    Pour li man coeu soupire!
    Oh man biau p'tit pays,
    Je ttadouor, je t'admire,
    Pus meme que Gerry. - J.S. 1829.
which, roughly translated, reads:
    We are going to Newfoundland,
    It is our garden of Eden,
    Thereof I will give you the proof,
    Of which I am sure and certain.
    For her my heart sighs!
    O my fair little country.
    I adore thee, I admire thee,
    Even more than Jersey.

One may be permitted, perhaps, to suspect a measure of irony in the poem.

The author, J.S., is presumably not John Sullivan, since there appears to be a gap of fifty-seven years between the poem and the book.

On pp. 5-6, Sullivan discusses the early trade between Jersey and Newfoundland and its subsequent decline:

The beginning of Jersey's intercourse in those parts (i.e. Newfoundland) is uncertain. Sir W. Raleigh who was Governor of this Island from 1600 to 1603, introduced in it tobacco and the potato, and induced the inhabitants to begin the fishing trade, which they did in a very small way, for they had not the means to enable them to start with (p. 6) large vessels adapted for the Newfoundland Fisheries. We find in the report of the Royal Commissioners, Conway and Bird, 1617, that the Governor is charged with having embezzled 130 pounds of the King's powder at two different times for the use of a ship, in which he ventured to Newfoundland. In the reigns of Charles the First and of Charles the Second the Jersey shipping employed in the Newfoundland trade wintered at St. Malo, Jersey having no harbour for its shipping. Mr. Dumaresq in his Caesarea, written in the reign of Charles II., mentions that trade as being then in a declining state:- "While the Islanders addicted themselves to the Newfoundland Fishery the number of fishing boats was the richest of it; for it brought in ready money, and many necessaries, and those seamen increased husbandry; for residing here in winter they ploughed and husbanded the land to maintain their families in summer, while they were abroad to get money.

But of late the French have so much outdone them, whether by being able to victual themselves at cheaper rates, or living more hard, that we have not above three or four ships, of twenty, that heretofore used the trade, and the late imposition in France upon English fishing brought in there, of a crown per quintal, will more and more discourage it."

Thereafter, on pp. 6-8, Sullivan sketches the fortunes of the firm of Charles Robin at Paspebiac, Fercee and Arichat, apparently confusing the Gaspe Peninsula and Cape Breton Island with Newfoundland. He continues the history of the trade in the eighteenth century:

It would then appear that the Newfoundland trade had not declined in consequence of the wars that followed from the Revolution of 1688 to the peace of Utrecht in 1714, but that it had done so from other causes, which are mentioned in Mr. Dumaresq's M.S., which we have in our possession. When Mr. Falle wrote, in 1734, things had had time after a peace. of twenty years, to return into their former channel. The Town of St. Helier's had been built and had a harbour, though not an important one. From that time till the French revolution, was the most prosperous period of the Jersey Newfoundland Fishery, but the Island had then but very little other trade. During the last forty years the Newfoundland fishery has gone down, many of our shipowners and proprietors of fishing establishments have been ruined. At one time Jersey had a very large fleet of Newfoundlanders. About the year 1816, when Europe was at peace, it had about 80 vessels, now it has none.

In the year 1785, the States, urged on by the Chamber of Commerce, applied through Mr. Dumaresq, then Constable of the Parish of St. Peter's, and some years after Bailiff of Jersey, to the Imperial Government for special aid and protection for the Jersey shipping and the Newfoundland trade; he was supported in his exertions by Marshal Conway, the then Governor of Jersey, and Lord Beauchamp, who were true friends to our ancestors. The Government offered great advantages to the Jersey Merchants and Shipowners, if they would start in the Whole Fishery; (p. 9) this they declined and continued the Newfoundland trade, which was a great source of profit to the inhabitants generally

On page 11, Sullivan gives an account of an incident which illustrates the rigours of the Newfoundland voyage in the eighteenth century:

12, Novembre ( 1786). Le Chambre de Commerce a depeche un batiment charge de provisions pour aller a la rencontre des navires venant de Terra-Neuve avec ses passagers, lesquels, il est a craindre, ont beaucoup souffert manque de provisions, rapport a la longue continuation des vents de l'est. On ne peut assez admirer l'importance & utilite des merchands dont les projets tendent si essentiellement a l'avantage du commerce et de lthumanite. On ne doit pas oublier, en meme-temps, d'informer le public que le Lieut. Poingdestre s'est offert de conduire, gratis, le batiment a cet usage bienfaisant.

(The Chamber of Commerce has despatched a vessel loaded with supplies to go to meet the ships coming from Newfoundland with their passengers who, it is to be feared, have suffered much from shortage of provisions because of the long spell of winds from the; east. One cannot admire enough the importance and usefulness of the merchants whose ventures tend so essentially to the benefit of commerce and humanity. One should not forget, at the same time, to inform the public that Lieutenant Poingdestre offered to take the vessel on this benevolent mission free of charge.)

He continues (pp. 11-12):

There are many curious anecdotes about Newfoundland which were the subject of conversation in Jersey at the knitting soirees (a la veille), during the winter months, when some twelve or fifteen men, women and children worked by the dim light of a crasset, filled with Newfoundland oil of the coarsest quality. The young men who had spent some time "daeux estais et un Hive" (two summers and a winter), on the "Banc de terre-neuve" the (Banks of Newfoundland), made it a point to go in and tell them cock and bull stories, which made the humble rural party shudder and cry bitterly. Those who had been to Newfoundland were looked upon as great navigators and as having made "le tour du monde" (gone round the world). They had issued a table of commandments made by one Moise (Moses) Le Ruez which were engraved on the hearts of the poor fellows w ho toiled often night and day, Sundays not excepted, on mountains of ice and snow, as the fishermen called them. We give here the first commandment:- "Siex jours tu travaillas et la septquieme a la cliviere tu porteras." (Six days shalt thou labour and on the seventh push the barrow ). We hasten to say that this commandment was altered some fifty years ago - working on Sundays was, after a struggle, declared impious and unlucky. Men took to go to church and reading the Bible.

I for one, would like to know the other nine commandments.

 

 

 

Transcribed by Bill Crant, from an Article in the Newfoundland Quarterly, sent by Barb McGrath

March 28th, 2000

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