Exploring 19th-Century Labrador
From the files of The Gazette April 27, 1995.
Randle Fynes Wilson Holme was born July 4, 1864, in Beckenham, Kent, England, the son of Caroline Fynes Clinton and James Wilson Holme. He received his early education at home from a governess and at two private schools. In 1878 he was enrolled in Sherborne public school in Dorset where he graduated in 1883; he then moved to Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, where he received a first-class honors law degree in 1887.
Holme's involvement with Newfoundland took place shortly after his graduation from Oxford. Already having explored the interior of Brazil with his brother Clinton, in 1885, Holme was ready for another adventure before settling down to a career in his father's law office. He chose Labrador as the object of his exploration, specifically travelling up the Grand (Churchill) River as far as the Grand (Churchill) Falls. He left England on July 5, 1887, on the SS Nova Scotia, accompanied by H. Duff, a law tutor friend from Oxford, and arrived in St. John's on July 13. They left St. John's for Labrador aboard the Plover on July 19, reaching Battle Harbour on July 24. From there they transferred to the Lady Glover, arriving in Rigolet at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet on the 27th. From Rigolet they boarded a small Hudson Bay Company vessel for the trip westward to North West River where, unsuccessful in engaging native guides, they were able to secure the services of John Montagu (1858-1902). A Scotsman, Montagu had been resident of Labrador since 1872 and had a much knowledge of the area they wanted to visit.
After spending two weeks exploring the rivers around North West River, Duff returned to England. On Aug. 22 Holme and Montagu began their trip to the Grand Falls. They went up the Goose Bay River where they met a second Scotsman, Flet, who was to accompany them. They spent the next three weeks rowing the Grand River, portaging several rapids and small waterfalls, reaching Gull Island Lake on Aug. 28 and Lake Wamini Kapou on Sept. 9. Though they had not reached the Grand Falls, rations were too low to allow them to carry on; after two days exploring Lake Wamini Kapou, they turned down river on the 12th, arriving in North West River on Sept. 19. Holme then returned to St. John's, leaving there for England on Oct. 12. Back in England, Holme presented a paper on his adventure to the Royal Geographical Society, which also published the account in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography (April 1888).
In 1891 he was called to the bar and joined his father's law firm, where he practised for over 60 years. He was much involved with the British Law Society, serving as its president during 1939-40 and as chair of the Solicitors' Discipline Committee from 1941 to 1953. In 1941 he was knighted and also became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1949 he published a book of reminiscences entitled Some Things I Have Done (London: Hepburn and Sons), which includes a chapter on his Labrador adventure, well illustrated with pictures taken at the time.
Randle Holme married Evelyn Frances d'Egville on April 14, 1892; they had no children. He died Dec. 23, 1957.
In the early 1970s, through the offices of Dr. Leslie Harris, then dean of arts (later president) of Memorial University, the Centre for Newfoundland Studies acquired a large leather-bound volume containing Holme's account of his Labrador adventure. It consists of 82 pages of typescript, partly letters from Holme to his mother, partly diary entries, accompanied by 60 photographs interspersed between the pages of text. Twenty photographs document his stopover in St. John's; the other 40 record the journey to North West River and the exploration of the interior of Labrador. There are also a number of newspaper clippings and extracts from publications concerning other attempts to explore that part of Labrador. Internal evidence indicates the volume was compiled after 1913.
In addition to Holme's account of his exploits, there are also a number of personal letters referring to Labrador, a copy of a note written by Holme expressing his desire that the name of Lake Wamini Kapou be changed to Lake Randle, and a photocopy of his obituary from The Times. This collection is part of a growing body of material the archives has been able to acquire on the exploration of Labrador.