John Cull; 27 November, 1667
Deposition [taken at Totnes, before commissioners appointed by the Privy Council]
West Devon Record Office, Plymouth
W360/74; another copy is in Great Britain, PRO, State Papers SP
Abstract published in J.J. Beckerlegge ,ed., "Plymouth Muniments and Newfoundland," in Annual Reports and Transactions of the Plymouth Institution 18 (©1945) 2-23. Transcribed by P.E. Pope.
John Cull of Dartmouth, in the said county [Devon], mariner, aged 74 years or thereabouts, produced, sworn and examined before us, deposeth as follows - That he hath been employed and used fishing voyages from the port and harbour of Dartmouth unto the Newfoundland for 55 years last past [since 1612], or thereabouts, during the first ten years of which time there went yearly out of the harbour of Dartmouth betwixt seventy and eighty sail of ships to make fishing voyages. Many of which said number of ships were of good burthen and force and at the end of their fishing voyages carried their loading of fish and train oil for a market to Spain, Portugal, France and other places and brought home their return in foreign commodities, and a great part thereof in silver and plate, to the great increase of navigation and seamen. And during the first ten years of the said time nor before [until 1622], to his knowledge, there was neither governor nor inhabitants in the Newfoundland, by which means, wherever the ships left their salt or boats, train vats, nets, seines, stages and all other fishing materials, it remained safe, without embezzling, to each proprietor, until they returned thither again. Because it was the custom of the first possessor or admiral of the place for the year or season, at his arrival there, to take an account of all stores that they found by each ship the year before, and take care to preserve it until the proprietor or his order [agent] came to receive it. Which was performed with so much exactness and faithfulness that during all which time there was no complaint to his knowledge it being a custom that the first possessor or admiral of the harbour there to secure it and to give an account thereof to the company did carefully attend their duty in taking and saving of fish for the season, which sometimes continued a month and at most not above six weeks. And in those times the ships did usually go hence in the month of April and did finish their voyages in the Newfoundland about the end of July and hath been and still is the custom of the French, who fish on the other side of the Newfoundland and have so done ever since his rememberance, who never leave any men behind them to inhabit after their fishing voyages are ended. Nor did he ever hear that they or any other nation have to this day raised any fort or fortification on any part of the Land [Newfoundland], or did ever molest any of the English fishermen, or to their prejudice fish in any of those harbours where the English do usually frequent to fish - But
When an English Governor [Sir David Kirke] was sent to the Newfoundland, by his practice, some of the best fishermen were induced there to remain. Owners of ships have been discouraged. The number of ships and seamen employed in that trade very much lessened by the many injuries done by the Governor and inhabitants there (Viz.)
Whereas it was the custom of the first ship that arrived in any fishing place to possess, at his election, such convenient place as he should think fit for such a number of men as his company did consist of. And the rest of the ships, as they did arrive, succeeded him in the choice of their places, making use of such stages, respectively, as they found upon the place. And, for such stages and timber works as were wanting, was then growing near at hand, as also masts and other materials fit for ships and the said fishery -- And when any ships did arrive with salt and provisions there to sell, as usually many do to the great benefit of the voyages, it was free for every man to buy to supply their occasions in exchange for fish, without loss of time or detriment to their voyages --
But, contrarywise after an English Governor was settled there, (by his practice) many of the best fishermen were encouraged to inhabit there. (Although that country be ... so barren that it will not afford them sustenance.) The best places with stages and other necessary (provided and built at the charge of the owners) were usually possessed by the Governor and his favorites; and other stages by them destroyed and burnt; and likewise deprived the proprietors of their boats and train vats by cutting out the marks and converting them to their own use and taking away of the proprietors' (of ships) salt and other necessaries. Thereby which means, the fishing voyages continued two months longer than formerly and at least a third part more chargeable than formerly, to the owners of the ships employed in such fishing voyages, because of the time and charges in building boats, train vats, and stages and the procuring of salt and provisions from the governor and his favorites who there engrossed it and embezzle the several stores of the proprietors of ships, left there the year before.
And, whereas before there was a governor and inhabitants there, the stages were found standing from year to year at the return of the ships and if any extremity of the weather in winter were broken down. Yet the timber and ironworks thereof was usually found near the places where the stages were, the harbours there being all the winter shut up with ice, which did not only save much labour and cost unto the owners of ships but did also greatly preserve plenty of timber and trees for masts and other necessaries to supply their ships (growing near the seaside) to the great furtherance, expedience and benefit of their voyages. But, since not only the stores left there from year to year were wasted and embezzled by the inhabitants, but also the stages was broken down and burnt with vast quantities of timbers, trees, besides the ironwork converted to their own use, which hath occasioned so great a waste upon timber and trees fit for masts there and other necessaries useful for the fishing trade, that now in the choicest harbours the masters and companies of ships must go about four miles in the deep snow into the country, from the water side, for convenient timber for their stages and other necessaries. Which doth not only very much weaken the mariners and seamen, by contracting of diseases, but renders them much the more unfit for the whole voyage. Then following, besides, the occasion of spending six weeks time more than ordinary, so that such ships as are not early set forth, or that are prevented by contrary winds from coming timely with that coast, do oftentimes fail of their whole voyages, for want of their materials left (which the inhabitants have embezzled and converted to their own use and convenient timber to supply these occasions.)
And, moreover, the abuse of governors, by licencing of abundance of the inhabitants there to keep tipling houses [taverns] to sell wine, beer, brandy and tobacco, which occasions the greatest debauchery of seamen, to the mispending of their time, embezzling of the proprietors' goods, and more especially the fishing craft, for the inhabitants, being not able to supply themselves with materials for the said fishery, do incite the seamen to steal and purloin from the owners, to supply their occasions. And do entice many seamen to spend their voyages, whereby they are engaged to remain there, to the utter ruin of their families at home, merely upon the assurance of having a choice fishing place, the next ensuing season, with a stage standing and many other stores and materials built and provided at the cost and charge of the owners. And, by these injurious practices, the owners of ships are very much discouraged, not only because many of their best pliers and ablest fishermen are yearly drawn away and upon the matter left (for that few of them that are so enticed to remain there do at any time return home or send relief to their families, many of whose wives and children are maintained at the charge of the parishes where they dwell). By which means there is yearly a decrease of ships and seamen employed in that trade, to the great prejudice of his Majesty's Service [the Royal Navy] and discouragement of owners and employers of ships in that trade, who are the nursery of seamen and who have heretofore, for many years following, set forth for the Newfoundland above seventy sail of ships from out of the port of Dartmouth. But, such hath been the great decay of ships and seamen since the before mentioned abuses and discouragements have been practiced, that now there is not to be found in those parts fit men for the management of twenty ships. So, if a governor should be be erected and the inhabitants permitted to remain longer there, it will prove a great prejudice to his Majesty's Service, by destroying the greatest nursery of seamen in England, the impoverishing of those western parts, and an utter ruin to that fishing employments.
And this deponent farther saith that, since his remembrance, he never knew any forts or fortifications made or guns mounted in the Newfoundland, for the defence thereof. Save only a few at Ferryland, St. John's and Baywards [Bay de Verde] - chiefly used to command the poor fishermen to submit to the said Governor's will and pleasure and that power being of late for many years abated and found useless for any other purpose, the said 3 places being about 30 Leagues distant, the said guns have, to his knowledge, laid buried in the earth for some years together. And this deponent believes that if there should be an occasion for defence against an enemy, which must be in the summer during the fishing season, for that in the winter that country is frozen up, that the ships in several harbours, having ordinarily a competent number of guns and men to manage them, are able to defend themselves, without any charge to his Majesty or his subjects. For, should there be any additional charge laid on the trade (which is already so poor and overloaden with discouragment, as aforesaid) the said trade will of necessity fall.