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.
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.
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 Newfoundlandfor
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