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Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)

Welsh slaters standing with cartload of slates in the Summerside slate quarry, c. 1903. Man with pipe on extreme right may be Owen J. Owen. (IV/8.)
Although some of the Random Sound quarries outlasted that at Nut Cove, they gradually succumbed one by one to the depressed slate market. The final load of Newfoundland slate left the Allison quarry in 1910. The half-filled vessel stopped at St. John's to take on barrels of cod liver oil. During the stormy passage across the ocean, the barrels broke loose and rolled around; the ship arrived in England with nothing left of its slate cargo but an oil-soaked pile of dust and debris.

A few individuals, including a descendent of the original Currie family, have tried to reactivate the Trinity Bay slate properties since the early 1900s, but to no avail. It is unfortunate that the quarries seem destined to obsolescence. With their quality, they deserve a better fate.


Workers in the Pelly brickyard in 1918. From left to right are Ben Pittman, Jack Tilley, Am Harris, Nath Pelly, Ned Tilley and Mac Pittman. (IV/9.)
Long before the onset of slate quarrying in Trinity Bay there existed a local industry that persists in the area to this day: the art of brickmaking.

Initial reports of Newfoundland brickmaking came from Bell Island in Conception Bay where, in the 1830s, a Mr. Wiseman (and later a Captain Pitts) manufactured bricks at Lance Cove and sold them in St. John's. Wiseman spent one summer in Trinity Bay experimenting with clay found near George's Brook. His activity piques the natives' curiosity and led John Tilley of Hants Harbour to ask the government on 28 April 1833 that he be given the exclusive rights to make bricks in Trinity Bay. Tilley was known as 'Scholar Tilley' for having taught himself to read and write at the age of 26. He attempted to make bricks as well, but unwittingly chose inferior clay that would not harden properly. After quitting brickmaking in the mid-1830s he went on to develop a highly successful farm in Random Sound and to become the first man in Newfoundland to can salmon.(40)

About the time that Tilley gave up brickmaking, another more experienced brickworker called Clements started up a small brick plant at the head of Smith Sound. Like Wiseman and Tilley, Clement made the bricks by hand: he shovelled out the clay, removed the pebbles, shaped it into bricks and baked them in the sun. Clement's site subsequently received the name "Brickyard" - not because of him, however, but because of James Pittman who took over the brickworks in 1879.

James Pittman, a Devon brickmaker, left England in the early 1860s as a stowaway on a French ship bound for Blanc St. Blanc [sic] in Labrador.[*]  Disliking the Labrador coast, he rowed from there across to St. Anthony in Newfoundland in a stolen punt, obtained a working passage on a fishing schooner and eventually reached Trinity where his uncle William had a cooperage. Such were the attractions - both scenic and personal - of Trinity Bay that James sought permanent employment in the area. He naturally considered brickmaking and visited Clement's old brickworks, which by then belonged to a St. John's mason, Daniel Cameron. Cameron was pleased to have an assistant. The two men worked together until Cameron retired in 1879 and sold the plant to Pittman for £400.

The most sophisticated piece of equipment that Pittman inherited from Cameron was a 'one-horsepower' pugmill: the unfortunate horse walked around the mill in a continuous circle while harnessed to a boom that had a bladed, rotating vertical shaft, which mixed the clay. Once churned, clay was hand-pressed into sand-lined moulds and then dumped onto wooden pallets as ready-formed bricks. Pittman and his helpers carried the wet bricks to a drying shed; thrice a year they removed the shed roof and stoked a huge fire beneath the racks of bricks to bake them into hardness.

Pittman's technique differed only slightly from that of the earliest Newfoundland brickmakers; nonetheless, he knew more about bricks than anyone in Trinity Bay. His closest friend was Charles Pelley, Scholar Tilley's grandson, who owned a sawmill nearby in King's Cove (now called Milton). Pelley had a keen interest in, but no knowledge of, brickmaking; Pittman, on the other hand, desired to learn the sawmill business. Charles Pelly took to walking at dusk through the woods to Pittman's house, where they exchanged information about their respective professions until the small hours of the morning. By 1886 Charles Pelly was ready. He hired some relatives, including a 9-year-old nephew, Malcolm Pelly, and started up his own brick plant in King's Cove.

[* Blanc St. Blanc is likely Blanc-Sablon on the Québec side of the Québec-Labrador border - webmaster.]