Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)
The first slate quarry in eastern Newfoundland predated the west coast quarries by half a century and, like many other early Newfoundland mines, belonged to Charles Bennett. Bennett leased a slate deposit in Bay Roberts from John Butler on 15 March 1847 and imported Welsh slaters to develop the quarry. He sent them home again two years later, as local demand for slate was negligible.
Limited local demand also affected three Carberry brothers - William, George and Jubal - who in the 1850s began quarrying slate from Nut Cove on the north side of Smith Sound, Trinity Bay. Their material was excellent, but their markets few, St. John's being the largest buyer. As some of their slates were being installed on the roof of a St. John's building one day, a professional Welsh slater named John Currie arrived in town looking for employment. He asked about the slates' origin; and when a job in St. John's did not emerge he obtained a land grant beside the Carberrys' Nut Cove quarry in 1860 and started up his own quarry.
Inevitably, competition arose between the Welshman and the Newfoundlanders. In order to gain an edge over the Carberrys Currie wrote to his relatives in Wales and suggested that they take over his quarry so that he could handle its business affairs in St. John's. The relatives, brothers David and Pearce Currie, welcomed the proposal. They sailed to Newfoundland around 1867, built a house in Porridge Cove (now called Britannia) and became quarry managers.
Over the next 30 years, the three Curries and their descendants expanded the Nut Cove holdings and quarried slate.(38) They balanced their quarrying in the summer with lumbering and running a store in the winter. However, as the latter venture expanded to become the main commercial centre of Random Island, the Curries grew less concerned with slate; and so, in the fall of 1899, they sold the quarries to A.J. Harvey for $25,000.
Once in possession of the Currie claims, Harvey and others incorporated the Newfoundland Slate Company Limited in New Jersey.(39) The poor Carberrys, who had refused an earlier offer to buy their quarry, begrudgingly sold out to Harvey in 1900; by then the Newfoundland Slate Company had them at its mercy and paid them only $2800.
The money that the company saved on its transactions with the Carberrys it spend on renovating the quarry facilities. Larger cutting sheds sprung up at the site; a more solid wharf was erected and was ballasted by waste rock. Whereas before the slaters had travelled individually in rowboats to the quarry, they now travelled en masse at 6 o'clock each morning from Britannia to Nut Cove in a company-hired ferry. The Welsh quarry manager, Richard Williams, replaced the old hand saws and steel gams with rotary saws and steam drills. The new equipment had its effect and increased quarry production by 1000 per cent in one year. On the other hand, the company's wage scale was as antiquated as the tool it had discarded: $1 a day for Newfoundland blockcutters, $1.50 for Newfoundland slatemakers, $1.75 for Newfoundland quarrymen - and $2.50 for Welshmen working at any of these jobs.
However, personnel problems experienced by the company came, not from the Newfoundlanders, but from the company managers. Williams left without warning in 1902. Evan Davies, also Welsh, replaced him until a fire destroyed most of the surface workings and gave him an excuse to leave. Davies' successor turned out to be a charlatan. The man used dynamite indiscriminately, fracturing the slate into worthlessness; and he worked the quarry face vertically rather than in steps, so that it became a 150-foot overhanging cliff that jeopardized all who approached it.
Mismanagement of the quarry took such a toll of company finances that, when combined with the cost of replacing the charred surface facilities and with the poor slate market, the company had to halt work. The last shipment of slate left Nut Cove in the fall of 1906; by the end of the year the site was deserted.
Some jobless Nut Cove slaters returned to fishing after the quarry's closure, but a few moved across Trinity Bay to Random Sound where three smaller slate quarries were in operation. One quarry in Hickman's Harbour belonged to William Ellis and Sir James Winter. The St. John's merchant, Walter Baine Grieve, operated another quarry in Black Duck Cove. The largest of the three quarries, also in Hickman's Harbour, belonged originally to Charles Byrant, who on 11 July 1906 sold it to a Yorkshire slate merchant, James Allison.