The Labrador Boundary


Privy Council Documents


Volume III
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[19 March,
1768.]

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No. 258.

CASE OF PROPRIETORS AND POSSESSORS OF SEAL FISHERIES ON COAST OF LABRADOR



B.T. NEWFOUNDLD.    VOL. 20.

Case of The Land holders in Canada, Proprietors of Seal Fisherys       on the Coast of Labrador, and their Leasees,* As also of the       Possessors of certain Seal fisherys on that Coast, under Grants       from the Governor of Quebec, with respect to certain Rules &       Regulations established by the Governor of Newfoundland.

      The Rules and Regulations which give birth to the present question, may have been well intended, to promote two capital objects, viz. The improvement of the fisherys of Newfoundland & the Labrador Coast, and the training up of Seamen, from which nursery His Majestys fleets might be Supply'd. But the best of purposes may sometimes fall short of the Sanguine expectations of Projectors.
      In the present case, it is presum'd there will be little difficulty to show, that neither of those Advantages could follow the observance of these Rules, as to the Seal fisherys; That His Majestys Subjects in Canada, must be deprived of their natural rights, The propertys vested in many Canadians, must be annihilated, And Adventurers in the trade, who upon the greatest good faith have employed large Sums in re-establishing the Seal fisherys on the Labrador Coast, which had been destroyed by the war, must be heavy Sufferers, while the Seal fisherys must be unavoidably lost to Great Britain.
      It can be no matter of dispute, that the Coast of Labrador was one of the dependances of Canada, anterior to the reduction of that Country, by His Majesty's Forces, and it is equally undeniable that the Several Governors appointed by His Most Christian Majesty exercised every Act of power upon that Coast, which they lawfully could do in any other part of Canada or New France; of consequence after the Reduction Labrador was held and deemed as much a dependance of Canada, as any other part of that Country, until regular Governments were established, and the Coast of Labrador United to that of Newfoundland.
      While Canada remained in the hands of the French, the improvement of the various fisherys, along the Coast of Labrador, became an object of national concern; Among others a Seal fishery was attempted and brought

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to a degree of perfection, and the returns from this branch, sent yearly to France in payment of the products of that Country consumed in Canada might Ammount* to about £10,000 Sterling.
      This Species of fishery is almost unknown in any other Country, and is practiced in a manner widely different from any other fishing, in the Gulph or River St Lawrence: Great caution, experience & Judgement are absolutely necessary to bring the Seal fishing to any account, and it will appear evident that any attempt to make it general must ruin it. Other fisherys such as Cod, Whale & the like may be prosecuted in the open Seas, and in various different places and Shapes, and were general under the French Government But the Seal fishery's are chiefly formed by the Contiguity of small Islands or Rocks to the main Land, which occasion strong Currents called Passes, where only such fisherys can be exercised, and hitherto only about twelve that are of any consideration have been discovered. The Seal fishery is chiefly followed in the Winter Season, and the operation of catching these Animals, commences the first week in December and continues only about fifteen days; But the fishers employed in this business, must be at their Station in the course of the month of September, & cannot get away from it before the end of May. Thus besides the fishing implements and matterials, a Sufficient Stock of provisions and other necessarys must be laid in, and for the same reason as well as for the purpose of making preparing and Storing the oyl, The Occupiers of Seal fisherys must have dwelling houses warehouses & a variety of utensils, whence it is apparent that the exercise of these fisherys will ever be attended with a very great expence. The method of fishing is thus, A certain number of nets remarkable for Strength, and of a particular contexture fitted to the depth of the Water and the width of the respective Passes, are fitted to strong Cables or hawsers, & placed in the Pass at certain distances, having one end Secured on the Rock or Island by Anchors, and the other on the main Land by Capstones, The uppermost or lower nets (as may Suit the occasion) are sunk quite to the Bottom, the others are kept at full stretch across the Pass—This done, the people carefully watch the appearance & motions of the Seal Shoals as they approach the Pass, either in coming up or in going down the River, and as soon as the bulk of the Seals have got over the outermost or end nets, all hands are set to work to heave these nets to the Surface of the Water, by which means the Seals are enclosed, and entangle themselves in the nets till they are caught. In this operation Singular care is necessary to any Success, The fishers must not allow the trace of a foot, to appear on the Shore, nor any Carrion to lye within their Smell otherwise the Seals often change their course and defeat for that time the Success of the fishery, even the smallest interruption in the neighbourhood of the entrance of a Pass would have the same Effect and hence it was, that the french Government found it impracticable to make these fisherys general because the least competition among Contending Adventurers destroyed the Success of each. Besides every Occupier of Such fishing must Suit his tackle to his particular Pass, which will by no means answer at any other but at such an expence & loss of Matterials as to destroy in one Season perhaps what

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would serve at one pass for three years with moderate repairs, for there are not two Passes on the whole Coast that do not differ most matterially in the essential Articles, the depth of the Water, the Strength of the Current, the width & length of the Passes, being as various and different, as the Passes themselves are distinct and Separate. Some of them require fourteen or fifteen nets to fill them, others more and Some are occupied by a Smaller number; so that unless a Seal fisher knows with certainty the Pass which he is to occupy, he neither can judge of the Outfits necessary to be made, or the number of people to be employed, nor can he afford the expence when he has done it, if by the Regulations his possessing any one Pass more than one Season depends on the uncertainty of a first arriving Ship.
      The Seal fishery was first discovered and practiced many years agoe, by Messrs Jolliet, Anticosti Cartier, Niverville & others, and it is certain, that in respect of their discoveries or other services rendered to the Government of France, they did obtain Grants of Several Islands in the River or Gulph of St Lawrence and some tracts on the main land, with the exclusive privilege of the Seal fisherys, hunting and trade with the Indians, They connected their familys by inter marriages, and the rights of property which were vested in them, have been transmitted thro a long line of Successors, have been the Subject of Sale and transaction with indifferent people and have passed into other familys by variety of marriage settlements as patrimonial inheritances. These Heirs or Proprietors have always either occupied or Leased out their Seal fishing Posts to Tenants at pleasure. Others of these original Seal fishers only obtained Grants or leases for life or a term of years, and upon expiration were occasionally renewed by the different Governors of Canada. There came also to be a different Sort of property established in these fisherys for so soon as the Seal fishing became known as an object of any value, the Proprietors of Islands which from their Situation became useful to any Grantee of a Seal fishery, claimed a property in that fishing by virtue of their right in the said Islands.
      This gave rise to various Suits at Law, and it was at length determined that the Grantees of such Seal fisherys, should pay in the nature of rent to the Proprietors of the Islands, a Sum equal to three p. cent upon the gross yearly produce of every such fishing, to be ascertained according to the market price for the time being at Quebec. These propertys too have passed thro different hands by Succession and otherways and the three p. cent has been regularly paid for many years before, and ever since the Conquest.
      Soon after the Reduction of Canada, several trading people resorted to Quebec from Great Britain with large quantitys of merchandize. The products of Canada and its dependances were soon discovered to be more narrow than had at first been imagined. Formerly the trade with the Savages in the upper Countrys from Montreal to Fort Illinois had been carried on with Success, and chiefly engrossed by the Canadians, But after the reduction, the Interruptions from the Indian war, and the participation of the other British Colonies in that trade greatly reduced its value to Canada, and hence the new Settlers finding difficulty to make their returns to Britain, and Seeing that the Seal

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fishery was abandoned in consequence of the war, which had disabled the Canadians from carrying it on, apply'd to the Governor of Quebec for leave to embark therein.
      Enquiry being made into the nature & state of these fisherys, it appeared that some of them were by undisputed titles, clothed with uninterrupted possession the property of Individuals, & that others were in the gift of the Crown, and it also appearing from the nature of these fisherys, impracticable to re-establish them except upon the principle which the french Government had adopted, The proprietors were encouraged to lease them out in the usual manner and those in the gift of the Crown were bestowed on such as made the first application, for a certain number of Years or until the Kings pleasure should be known.
      Here it may not be improper to observe that as this happened anterior to the dismembering the Labrador Coast from the Government of Canada & uniting it to that of Newfoundland The Governor of Quebec did report his proceedings to the Board of Trade, the motives inductive of his conduct, and every grant he had made; And as no contrary orders appeared until the Regulations of Governor Pallisser were published, the Grantees were in the mean time induced to believe their Grants were approved. In this Confidence they were at much labour and expence in the prosecution of the fisherys, They followed the established practice of Canada, by purchasing from the former Grantees the whole of the dwelling houses, fishing implements utensils &c for preparing & warehouses for Storing the oyl, in a word at some of these Posts Adventurers in this way laid out to the ammount* of three thousand pounds to re-establish a fishery at one Post or Pass; a Sum which no man would have risked but from the encouragement he had reason to expect in behalf of a wise measure tacitly approved of, and that if his Grant when expired should be given to another the Successor would be obliged to purchase of him in the same manner as he had done from a Canadian at his entry, agreeable to the ancient custom of the Country.
      This custom had always been practiced and obtained the force of a law, which owed its existence to the peculiar circumstances of the Seal fishery because the implements of fishing as well as the houses could not be used at any different Post and it would have been a singular hardship upon a possessor to suffer so great a loss upon the expiration of his Grant, as must have been brought upon him if the new Grantee was at liberty to refuse the purchase upon a Valuation, when they could not be otherwise disposed of but at the greatest disadvantage. As an example of this, it stands in the clearest manner authenticated, that the present possessor of one fishing Post has a property there to the extent of £1400 Stg exclusive of Repairs laid out on houses and fixtures. In this Situation it would be extremely hard, that the Grantees under the Governor of Quebec should be hastily deprived the benefit of a fishery they had established at so great an expence, which leads one to consider the advantage that would acrue, if the Regulations of Governor Pallisser should continue in force with respect to the Seal fisherys. In this point of view the Rights of property vested in Canadians shall be laid out of the question,

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and the matter treated on the general purpose Governor Pallisser seems to have had in view.
      The language of the Regulations appears to be that as a premium upon industry and an encouragement to activity, the first arriving Ships from Britain shall have the exclusive privilege of occupying the Seal fishing Passes nearest to the harbour, in which each Ship shall first take Post Now if the Ships from Britain are to make any advantage by the proposed encouragement, they must be perfectly certain of the following particulars First, which ship shall first arrive & at what harbour Secondly what Seal fishing Posts fall within the district of that harbour, thirdly the breadth of the Pass and depth of the water, and when these particulars are known, they must next prepare a Vessel of 80 Tons burden, Seal nets fitted to the Pass with many other matterials and a crew of men capable to conduct the fishery under the Severity of a Labradore Coast winter, with a Stock of provisions Sufficient to maintain them for at least fourteen or fifteen months; For example any vessel contending to gain this premium ought to Set out from Britain in the month of march the latest, her 80 Ton consort must accompany or follow her, the Crew must be employed in the Summer in the Cod or Whale fishery and must be at their Station for the Seal fishing in the month of September from which they cannot get away before the latter end of May following. And supposing the many accidents attending Sea passages or other casualtys were to create no uncertainty as to a first arriving Ship, it comes next to be stated the degree of Advantage that would result from one years possession under every fortunate circumstance that can be figured. From Good experience it is known that any new Adventurer, who makes his outfit from Quebec to establish a Seal fishery at any pass where about 2000 Seals are usually caught in a season, it will cost him at least £2000—and for other Passes in proportion, provided he has every thing to begin anew, such as houses to buy or build, his stock of provisions, Vessel, Boats, and all other matterials to lay in, all which he must do, unless he be allowed to benefit by the industry and effects of his predecessors; His 2000 Seals will yield him at the most about 300 hogsheads of oyl and if they net him at market £3 10 each, being as much as is commonly done after deducting leakage & other expences, he will receive £1050. The first years adventure will therefore expose him to a loss of £950, with no other propect of relief, but the price which the fishing implements &c. might bring, or from pursuing the same plan another year, under the certainty of a great additional expence, purely for the sake of a precarious chance, that his Ship may Sail faster than any other the Succeeding season. It is to be observed that in this state no notice has been taken of the Shares or Wages of the fishermen, which generally amount to one third of the produce, to pay which there only remains the Seal Skins, & they commonly sell for 1/- to 1/6 each, which will still reduce the returns.
      If indeed an Adventurer in the Seal fishery obtains a grant for 7 years, at the end of these if no accident intervenes, and no Conditions are imposed on him that may Subject him to any expense but what is necessary to carrying on this fishery, he may with great management, recover his first outlay and

[1927lab]

 


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