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Robert Newman and Company

The Newman Family originated from Totnes, Devon but by the end of the fourteenth century were living in Dartmouth, South Devon. They established an import and export trade mainly in cloth and wool. By the early 1500's Thomas Newman began importing European wines in exchange for fish and salt. There began the relationship between the family and the Newfoundland fish trade.

By the seventeenth century John Newman was sending his own fishing vessels to Newfoundland. In 1601 Richard Newman was granted fishing rights off "Newman's Rock" on the south coast. By the middle of the century the Newman family and the fishery were inseparable, they had set up seasonal fishing stations in Newfoundland. In 1672 Richard Newman built a trading station at Pushthrough, the first Newman plantation. Despite the laws against it there were permanent settlement with year round residents by 1679. They also established trading stations at Harbour Breton, Gaultois and Hermitage. The firm traded with the planters and Mi'kmaq in the area.

The practice of sending shipments of port wine to Newfoundland began about 1679 when a Newman ship left Portugal bound for England with a shipment of Port Wine. The ship was chased by a French privateer and ran off course. The captain decided to head for the plantation in St. John's. The ship wintered over and upon return to London they discovered the quality of the port wine had greatly improved. This began the 300 year old tradition of sending wines to Newfoundland to mature.

By 1679 the firm expanded with another Dartmouth family the Roopes and became Roopes and Newman, by 1700 this partnership became Robert Newman and Company. Again by 1735 the firm developed a long term partnership with the Holdsworth family of Dartmouth, known as Hunt, Roope and Company which conducted the wine trade.

Between 1730 and 1775 the business in Newfoundland was run by brothers Richard and Robert Newman. Richard conducted the business in Conception Bay, Robert in St. John's and the south coast. Between them they operated a fleet of about 10 vessels. When Robert died in 1776 his son John reorganized the firm as John Newman and Company. When John died in 1779 the company became Robert Newman and Company once again. By the early nineteenth century they opened branches at Little Bay and Burin. The decision to move to the outports was largely attributed to the firm's success.

Each spring in Dartmouth Newman's would recruit "pauper- apprentices" to come to Newfoundland for an eighteen month apprenticeship from the surrounding areas. The residents of Dartmouth were considered the skilled workers and expected to remain in Dartmouth in the trades. It is stated in the New Maritime History of Devon p.170 " During the annual cycle, servants might spend the summer in Newfoundland 'in the situation of day labourers, in which many have been employed at home in the winter season; similarly, bye-boaters displayed a 'propensity to. . . maintain their families in England, and to integrate the overseas fishery with homeland farming, trade work or other maritime pursuits'. In 1774 it was said that Devon and Dorset supplied "lads from the plough, men from the threshing floor and persons of all sizes, trades and from the manufactories [who] flock annually, in the Spring, to Newfoundland [in] hope of returning with six or ten pounds [from] the land of fish."

The "green-men" came from parishes such as Ashburton, Chudleigh, Hennock, South Bovey and even Okehampton. These "green- men" were given the option of returning to England or remaining in Newfoundland after they served their apprenticeship. Most decided the latter over the conditions in North Devon and Dorset as a pauper at the time. These "green-men" would become the early planters of the south coast and a large portion of the present population can trace their ancestors back to these "green-men".

Newman and Company foreseeing the supply trade to the growing resident population, made more profit from the goods they supplied the fisherman than the fish itself. By the 1850's offices at Burgeo, Gaultois and Harbour Breton were handling the fishery trade while the St. John's office operated the wine business.

The Company was concerned with the quality of salt fish it was trading by the 1850's and competition from St. John's based firms became increasingly involved in the south coast trade. By 1864 the Burgeo operation was closed. The Gaultois operation was down sized by 1897 and sold in 1900. By 1907 the Harbour Breton office was sold, ending in the three hundred years that Newman's were involved in the Newfoundland fisheries. Although today they still mature Port Wine at the government owned plant at Kenmount Road in St. John's. In 1986 the provincial government purchased the wine vault's that were built in 1847 and declared a historic site.

by Bill Crant.



Page Revised: July 2002 (Don Tate)

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