had up till that time been given to the inhabitants. The laws or regulations
he proposed differed little from those issued by Guy, but they contained one
singular provision. If offences were committed on the sea, they fell within
the cognizance of the Vice Admirals in the counties of Southampton, Dorset,
Devon and Cornwall; if committed on the land, they were to be dealt with,
by the mayor of one of the towns of Southampton, Weymouth, Melcombe
Regis, Lyme, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Eastlow, Foy and Barnstaple.¹
In 1637, all prior grants were annulled and superseded by one to the Duke
of Hamilton, Sir David Kirke and others, on the ground that the earlier
grantees had abandoned the country “leaving divers of our poor subjects in
the said province living without government.” The grant covered the whole
Island between the 46th and the 53rd degrees, and included some of the
provisions, which tended to discourage settlement. No buildings were to
be erected within six miles of the sea between Cape Race and Cape Bonavista,
and the planters were put on the same footing as the ship-fishermen with
respect to the use of the shore The inhabitants were forbidden to take up
before the arrival of the fishermen all the best beaches, or to destroy any
stage or other necessaries, which the fishermen leave behind, or to commit any
act which would alter or interrupt the accustomed modes of fishing.
Power to make laws with the assent of the freeholders was granted,
but these local laws were not to extend to any fishermen “who are to be forever
free from the jurisdiction of the Government of Newfoundland.” The
fishermen were to be subject to the laws of England, and to laws made in the
9th year of the King's reign.²
Sir David Kirke, the captor of Quebec, was made governor for the new
company. He made his headquarters at Ferryland, where he seems to have
ruled with a heavy hand. The company were authorized by their charter
to collect 5% from all foreigners buying fish and oil in Newfoundland. As
this impost trammeled the fishermen in the sale of their fish, the Company
agreed to purchase the fish themselves, the quantity being determined by the
sales to foreigners during the preceding seven years. The vigor with which
Kirke made his collections led to a protest from the French ambassador.
Many complaints were made against Kirke's administration. These became
so numerous and originated in so many quarters that he was recalled, and
John Downing, a London merchant, was sent out to reign in his stead.³
This was in 1640, on the eve of the Civil War. The war appears to have
affected conditions in Newfoundland but little. During the interregnum and
Commonwealth, however, considerable changes in the policy of the governing
of the Island were made. On the death of the Duke of Hamilton, Kirke, who
was in Newfoundland in 1651 was ordered to return to England, and cornmissions
were issued to six persons, three of them merchants, and three
captains of vessels, authorizing them to administer the affairs of the colony,
1 Chancery Warrants, Series II, File 2106, No. 525, p. 1719.
2 Patent Roll, 13 Chas. I, pt. 32, p. 1723.
3 Prowse, op. cit. p. 150.
for the adventurers.¹ In 1653, the government was confided to one of these
commissioners alone—John Treworgie.²
His instructions,³ which were issued on June 3, 1653, directed him to take care for the government and well ordering of the said country of Newfoundland and the people there inhabiting, and likewise the fishery according to such laws and ordinances as are here to annexed. He was given command of all the vessels on the coast or in any of the harbours, and authorized to call
upon captains of convoys for such assistance as he might require in the execution of his instructions.
The regulations were in effect the same as those which had been in force, with the notable exception that for the prohibition as to settlement within
6 miles of the shore, the following was substituted:
“That noe planter be permitted to build any dwelling house, storehouse, courtledge, or garden or keepe any Piggs or other cattle upon or near ye ground
where fish is saved or dried.”
The policy here indicated of encouraging a colony, by removing the inconvenience suffered by the settlers under the order prohibiting them from
making permanent dwellings or places of business within 6 miles of the shores
was reversed on the restoration of Charles II, and the Star Chamber regulations of 1633 were again put in effect, with an addition aimed directly at the increase of the number of settlers. The additional regulation is as follows:—
“Moreover, and further than was ordained by the laws of our said late father, and for the encouragement of our subjects in Newfoundland, and in
the seas adjoining, and for the benefit of the said trade there, We do hereby
straitly charge, prohibit and forbid all and every the owners of ships trading
in the aforesaid Newfoundland, that they or any of them do carry or transport,
or permit or suffer any person or persons to be carried or transported, in their
or any of their ships, to the said Newfoundland, other than such as are of his
or their own ship's company, or belonging thereunto, and are upon the said
ship's hire or employment, or such as are to plant and do intend to settle
This regulation was, however, disregarded. In November 1663, the
mayors of the principal towns in the west of England which traded to Newfoundland
petitioned the King that it might be enforced, since it was the
practice of so many to go out in the ships as passengers, who took up the most
convenient fishing ports, that men could be found for only one quarter of
the ships formerly sent out.5 This petition led to an order to the mayors of
certain towns to put the regulation into force.6
In 1667, an agitation arose against the appointment of a Governor.
The Mayor and some citizens of Dartmouth, and a number of merchants
trading to Newfoundland, from Plymouth and surrounding places sent
1 Cal. S. P. Am. & W. I. 1574-1660, p. 1738.
2 Ibid p. 1739.
3 See Instructions, p. 1740.
4 Page 1746.
5 Cal. S. P. Am. & W. I. 1661-1668, p. 1747.
6 Acts P. C. 1613-1680, p. 1748.
petitions in August, praying that no attention be paid to the requests of those
who for their own sinister ends have endeavored to establish a governor,
“which hath hitherto been very destructive to the trade.”¹
The question as to the influence of former governors on the trade of the
island was referred to a committee for report.²
In January 1668, a memorial was addressed to the King respecting
French encroachments on the fisheries.³ It sets forth, among other things,
that Kirke was sent out to prevent the French from engaging in these fisheries,
and that he did this by charging a duty of 5% or 10% on their trade.
By the occupation of Placentia, which is well fortified, the French carry
on their operations where they please. They must be expelled from the
island. A second petition to the same effect was received in April of that
year. In addition to the expulsion of the French it called for the establishment
of a government, the expenses of which might be defrayed by taxing every
boat one quintal of fish, which is insignificant since every boat catches 300
of 400 quintals.4
Other pleas for a settled government were made during the same year.
The arguments for a government in the Island are as follows: The island is
the greatest nursery of fishermen. When trade flourished it bred 10,000
annually. It produced £50,000 customs annually by the product of fish
sent to foreign countries, besides 5% paid to the governor for the privilege
of fishing. The French now occupy three of the best harbours, 30 or 40 guns
being mounted in each place, and they debauch the English fishermen.
When the trade flourished under a government it brought in to the nation
£500,000 per annum; since then it is not 1/3 as much; traders are liable to
be pillaged, stages, boats and other necessaries are destroyed by planters,
or first coming fishermen; the woods fired; tippling houses are corrupting
the fishermen; and houses and gardens are built on land proper for drying fish.
The late act reserving the coast for 6 miles inland has driven the principal
planters to New England, and others will go over to the French
Finally, the inhabitants would be protected from lawless seamen, and
pirates, and will have the ministration of religion, “whereas now they live
Captain Robinson the chief advocate of a settled government pointed
out that, if the French took the Island, whereas now they employ 400 sail
and 18000 seamen, and the English 300 sail and 15000 seamen, the French
would have all the trade which would cause the English a loss of £700,000,
besides the advantages of having so productive a nursery for seamen.6
The merchants and masters of trading ships engaged in the Newfoundland
fisheries made answer to the foregoing.7 They asserted that for many years
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. 1661-1668, p. 1749.
2 Acts P. C. 1613-1680, p. 1750.
3 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1661-1668, p. 1751.
4 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1661-1668, p. 1752.
5 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1661-1668, p. 1753.
6 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1661-1668, p. 1754.
7 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1661-1668, p. 1755.
past few made 10% on this fishery, and in the last year the merchants of
Dartmouth and Plymouth lost considerably. Sir David Kirke's courses
afford little encouragement for another governor, as was shown by the complaints
and action taken against him. Placentia Bay was never possessed
by the English, but was fortified by the French as protection against the
savages. As the country is barren and rocky, and productive of no commodities
like other plantations, the inhabitants would be better if removed
from the Island.
The trade of the island would pass entirely into the hands of New Englanders, if it were settled.
The stretch of coast from Bonavista to Trepassey—300 miles— is all that ever was possessed by the English. On this coast are 48 fishing places,
which it would be impossible for any governor resident at St. John's to control.
Lastly the proposal to maintain the governor by levying a tax of 1%
on fish and 2% on oil would prove very vexatious to the merchants, and
hinder the revival of the trade. They asserted that, through Kirke's indulgence,
contrary to his company's patent, the trade was in large part carried on by the inhabitants and boatkeepers and was following the course of the New England fishing which was now entirely lost to England.
In December 1670, the merchants and shipowners returned to the attack. They prayed that the fishery might be maintained by fishing ships and that
the mayors might depute persons to execute the laws for the fishery. This
was signed by the mayors of Exeter, Dartmouth, Lyme Regis, Barnstaple
The Council for Foreign Plantations, having heard all parties advised
that His Majesty grant, by way of addition to his former charter and regulations,
certain other regulations. The more important of these were, that
all His Majesty's subjects might enjoy the liberty of taking fish in any
of the rivers of Newfoundland, provided they submitted to the orders established
for the fishery; that masters of ships be required to bring back all
seamen, fishermen, and others, and none be suffered to remain in Newfoundland;
that penalties be imposed for offences; and encouragement given to
the inhabitants to go to Jamaica and other foreign plantations. The foregoing
was confirmed by order in council.²
Captain Robinson replied to the terms of the merchants' petition,³ dwelling chiefly on the danger from the French. He was not concerned to
defend Kirke. If any governor administered badly, remove him, not abolish
the government. He insisted that Kirke was governor of a great part of the
Island, and that Gilbert took it Elizabeth's possession of under patent.
On September 9, 1671, Captain Davis made his report on the fisheries.
The blame for the irregularities in Newfoundland he attributed to the masters
of the fishing ships, who brought out laborers for the year, and “then to save
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1669-1674, p. 1757.
2 Order in Council March 10, 1670-1671.
3 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. 1669-1674, p. 17C4.
provisions and freight pack them away to New England.” The order for
the removal of the inhabitants would probably drive them to the French,
who were very kind to the English who came to them, the King of France
being ready to send them a protection and with it a year's salary.¹
At the beginning of 1672, the Government determined to fortify St. Johns
and other places in Newfoundland. The ships for the fishery were required
to take out munitions for that purpose; and to engage not to carry out more
than their proportion of men, all of whom, if alive, were to be brought back
at the end of the season.²
In February, 1675, a petition with several other papers setting forth
the reasons for the appointment of a governor and the regulation of the fishery
led the Council to reconsider the whole subject. They asked that all the
papers be laid before them, as they were inclined to accept the view that
a governor was necessary in the Island.
During the several weeks that followed, the question in its every aspect
was thoroughly examined. A number of witnesses were interrogated and
a great deal of useful information obtained, particularly as to the number of
the planters and their distribution throughout the several harbours.
On the conclusion of the hearings, the Committee of Trade and Plantations,
after full consideration, reported in favour of the contentions of the
Western fishermen. They were convinced that, owing to the activity of
the French and the New Englanders, as well as to the contumacy of the
inhabitants in disregarding the regulation as to the six mile limit, in engrossing
the most convenient places in the harbours, and in debauching the fishermen
with wine and brandy, the trade of Newfoundland had greatly diminished.
They had no faith in the establishment of a resident governor as a remedy
for the evils indicated. The dispersion of the fishermen and planters in so
many isolated harbours, difficult to reach at all times, and impossible during
the winter when supervision was most required, and the cost of maintaining
an establishment were effective arguments with the committee against the
appointment of a governor.
The committee, after a review of the whole matter, were persuaded that the cardinal evil from which all others flowed, was the presence of the planters
on the Island. They therefore recommended that the regulation forbidding
habitation within six miles of the shores be strictly enforced; and that those
who, after warning, persisted in remaining within the prohibited area, should
be sent home “as offenders, to answer their contempts.” Such inhabitants
as were willing to return to England, or move on to any of the other colonies
were to have every assistance.
This report was adopted by the Privy Council on May 5, 1675, and orders
were issued to have its terms executed.³
If the Privy Council were really convinced that the presence of the
planters was the root of all the ills from which the Newfoundland trade was
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1669-1674, p. 1766.
2 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1669-1674, p. 1767.
3 Acts P. 0. 1613-1680, p. 1768.