Early Exploration

Later Exploration
Portuguese Explorers

English & French Exploration

Early Cartography

18th & 19th Century Exploration
James Cook

NF Interior

NF Interior Geology

Labrador: The French Period

Labrador: Moravian Voyages

Labrador Interior: 19th & 20th Centuries








European exploration in the region would have to justify itself not only in terms of a route to Cathay, but also in terms of what of value might be found on the New World itself.
The Newfoundland Interior

"The Beothuk Phase"

The first reasonably accurate portrayal of a part of the Newfoundland interior appeared on James Cook's 1770 "General Chart of the Island of Newfoundland". His knowledge of the Humber River as far as Deer Lake came from actual experience; the information which allowed him to outline the river systems between St. George's Bay and Grand Lake came from Mi'kmaq in St. George's Bay.

On the other side of the island, several attempts were made to establish contact with the Beothuk by venturing inland. In 1768 Lieutenant John Cartwright explored the Exploits River as far as Red Indian Lake (which he called Lieutenant's Lake), which he mistakenly thought was connected to Grand Lake. However, his maps generally defined the Exploits water system for the first time.

John Cartwright: "Sketch of the River Exploits", 1773.
Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada/NMC 27. Larger Version (56 kb)
Cartwright's map

Cartwright did not meet any Beothuk, and there were no further official expeditions until 1810, when Lieutenant David Buchan was commissioned by Governor Duckworth to explore the Exploits River and establish friendly relations with the Indians. Buchan also reached Red Indian Lake (January 1811), but retreated when two of his men were killed by the Beothuk. He travelled to the Lake once again in 1819-20, this time to return the body of Demasduit (Mary March). Buchan's maps were never published.

Also interested in establishing contact with the Beothuk was William Epps Cormack (1796-1868). Born in Newfoundland and educated in Scotland, Cormack decided to explore the interior. Guided by a Mi'kmaq, Joseph Sylvester, he set off from Smith Sound, Trinity Bay, on 5 September 1822, and reached St. George's Bay - exhausted - on 4 November. He failed to meet any Beothuk, but his expedition is now seen as one of the most important in the exploration history of Newfoundland. So far as is known, Cormack was the first European to cross the island. Trained as a scientist, he made close observations of the flora and fauna, noted geological formations, and recorded the information he obtained from the Mi'kmaq - for instance, their use of the interior, and their travel routes.

William Epps Cormack.

Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Larger Version (30 kb)

Cormack's Narrative of a Journey across the Island of Newfoundland in 1822 was first published in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal (1823-24) and later expanded into a book. This work contained the first geological map of any part of Newfoundland, and the details of all he had seen and experienced. It has been called "the undisputed classic of Newfoundland travel." (Story 1976). For many years, the Narrative was one of very few sources of information about the interior, and therefore had considerable influence. Some of his place names survive - Mount Sylvester, Serpentine Lake, George IV Lake and Jameson's Hills.

Five years later, Cormack made a second journey to the interior, this time up the Exploits River, again seeking the Beothuk. His party explored the territory between the Bay of Exploits and White Bay, and the eastern end of Red Indian Lake.

These journeys, as well as others of which we have no record, established the basic geography of the interior of the island of Newfoundland—for Europeans. It is clear, however, that the island's Mi'kmaq were intimately familiar with the interior long before Cormack. European knowledge of the interior was added to gradually over the rest of the 19th century, sometimes with the assistance of Mi'kmaq guides.

©1998, J.K. Hiller


Partnered Projects Exploration and Settlement - Table of Contents Site Map Search Heritage Web Site Home