Garrison Life in the 18th Century (continued)
Soldiers' pay was wholly inadequate, given the cost of living. Men were
paid 18½ pence every Monday. Those who were married received an additional
food allowance for their wives and children. The wife received half a
ration, the children received a quarter ration each, a normal ration
being 1 lb. of bread and 3/4 lb. of meat per day.
These allowances were so inadequate that the soldiers were encouraged
to grow vegetables. The land around Fort William and later Fort Townshend
was turned over to garden plots. Both officers and soldiers farmed this
land, and by 1831 Fort William was said to resemble a farm rather than a
military post. The parapet of its harbour-side battery was overrun by
marauding hens and sheep. Thus, one important consequence of the military
presence was the way in which it encouraged subsistence agriculture. Men
with recognition for good conduct were also entitled to fishing passes,
and archaeological evidence suggests that fish was a very important part
of the diet.
||Map of St. John's, 1784.
This map shows Fort
Townshend (top left) and Fort William (top centre). Soldiers
were often not given enough food to feed their families so they began growing their own
vegetables. The land around these forts was regularly used as garden plots.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives
(Coll - 193, 12.04.070), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's,
Nevertheless, the soldier stationed in Newfoundland, especially if he
was married, frequently faced poverty, even destitution. Soldiers were
rarely paid in cash, but in notes. Local merchants refused to accept these
at face value, charging a substantial discount. And the extremely high
mark-ups on goods further eroded purchasing power. Occasionally, an
officer might acquire some hard currency before leaving England or Ireland.
He would sell the cash to his soldiers for a 5% to 7% premium, which became
his profit. Newfoundland was practically a cash-free society, and the few
coins which were in circulation came from all over the North Atlantic
trading world. To be paid in this "ready currency", a soldier had to
accept the cost of the cash premium as well as the cost of currency
exchange. And always, the soldier faced discriminatory exchange rates
from the local merchants. To buy a Spanish dollar (a labourer's daily
wage), a soldier had to pay five shillings in
scrip when the
going rate charged to civilians was 4 sh/6 d.
During the American Revolution, chests of hard coin were sent out from
England to pay the soldiers, in order to maintain their morale at a
critical time. This practice was abandoned when the war ended, and by
1797, when England was once again at war with France, the failure to
pay the troops in cash was causing such loud complaints that the governor
feared a mutiny. He therefore urged the government to find a way of
introducing cash. This was done, and the governor urged that the practice
be maintained. Otherwise, the cash gravitated into the hands of the
merchants and quickly went out of circulation because merchants tended
to hoard it, or use it to pay off their overseas debts. Apparently, the
appearance of hard currency caused retail prices in St. John's to fall
dramatically. Bread, which had sold at 6d/loaf, now sold for only a
penny or two. Thus, the presence of the garrison played an important
role in pumping hard currency into the St. John's economy, and enhanced
that town's growing economic importance.
©1991, Olaf Janzen