p. 1815 C
COPY OF A REPRESENTATION OF THE
LORDS COMMISSIONERS FOR TRADE AND PLANTATIONS TO HIS MAJESTY,
RELATING TO THE
RELATING TO THE
1718–1793, pp. 1–22
To the King's Most Excellent Majesty.
May it please Your Majesty,
The Fishery at Newfoundland having been obstructed and discouraged
for many Years past, not only by the late Wars, but by the Irregularities of
the Inhabitants, Traders, and Fishermen, who reside in and resort to that
We have, in Obedience to Your Majesty's Commission, whereby we are
directed to enquire into the several Obstructions of Trade, and the Means
of removing the same, considered the past and present State and Condition
of the aforesaid Fishery, in what Manner it was formerly and is now carried
on, and by what Regulations and Laws it has been and still is directed and
And thereupon we most humbly crave Leave to represent to Your
That the Fishery in Newfoundland was at first settled by Merchants and
other Adventurers inhabiting the Western Parts of this Kingdom, and successfully
carried on for many Years, under the Restriction of such Customs and
Laws as were agreed upon by the Fishermen among themselves.
That although the Harbours and Fishing Places were for some Time left
open and free to all Nations (without Prejudice, however, to the Sovereignty
of Your Majesty's Royal Predecessors) nevertheless great Numbers of Ships
and Seamen were Annually employed by the said Adventurers, some in fishing,
and others in supplying them with Salt from France and Portugal, and in
carrying their Fish to Foreign Markets ; which Ships being furnished with
Provisions and all other Necessaries of English Production and Manufacture
for the whole Voyage, it was not only a particular Advantage to the Western
Counties, but likewise to the Nation in general, by increasing the Factories
in Foreign Countries, and by promoting the Consumption of our Manufactures.
And forasmuch, as the Fishing Ships required more Hands than were
barely necessary to navigate them, the Masters and Owners, constantly bred
up many Servants and others unacquainted with the Sea, by which Method
the Charge of the Voyage was lessened, and the Number of Seamen for the
Service of the Crown and Kingdom was wonderfully increased ; and to excite
their Industry, as well as to reward their Labour, instead of allowing them
Wages by the Month or Voyage, according to the present Practice of most of
the Fishing Towns, every One had a certain Share or Shares in the Fish and
Oil that was taken and made during the Voyage ; and upon their Return the
whole Cargo was sold, and the Proceed divided, Two Thirds to the Owners,
and One Third to the Ship's Company, in such Proportions as were agreed
on, which made it their Interest to attend diligently to their Employment,
and raised an Emulation among them to outvie one another.
The First Account of this Fishery that we have met with is from Mr.
Anthony Parkhurst ; who relates, that in the Year 1574 Thirty English
Ships were employed in fishing at Newfoundland, and that in 1578 their
Number was augmented to Fifty Sail.
The succeeding War with Spain checked the Increase of the Fishery for
some Years ; but after the Peace was concluded in 1604 it flourished
exceedingly. Afterwards, in the Year 1615, Captain Richard Whitburn, who
was sent to Newfoundland with a Commission from the Court of Admiralty
to enquire into the Disorders and Abuses committed on that Coast, reported,
that 250 Ships belonging to this Kingdom were engaged in the Fishery, which
he computed, One with another, at 60 Tons and 20 Mariners, and that each
Ship had taken 120,000 Fish, and made Five Tons of Train Oil.
||Tons of Shipping,
Which encouraged the Merchants of London and Bristol, in 1610, to solicit
a Grant, which they obtained from his Majesty King James the First, for
a considerable Part of Newfoundland, in order to settle Colonies, that by their
Assistance they might be enabled to share the Advantages of the Fishery
with the Western Adventurers : But after they had expended large Sums
to no Purpose, they quitted their Design, being convinced that the Country
was not capable of subsisting English Colonies ; and if it had, that the Charge
of supporting and governing them was too great to be borne by a Fishery.
However, as some of the looser Sort, both of the Planters and Mariners,
remained in the Country, because they vainly imagined that they could not
be impeached there for such Injuries and Wrongs as they had committed,
and were supplied with Rum, strong Liquors, and Tobacco from New England
and other Parts, they retailed them, contrary to the Rules of the Fishery,
among the Seamen ; whereupon Idleness and Debauchery soon prevailed,
and increased to that Degree, that at last the Masters and Owners of the
Ships were obliged to petition his Majesty King Charles the First to restrain,
by his Royal Authority, those Disorders, which evidently tended to the
Ruin of the Fishery.
His Majesty, to prevent these Irregularities and Excesses for the future,
upon granting the Propriety of Newfoundland to several Noblemen and others,
“That Person should plant or inhabit Six Miles of the “Sea Shore between Cape Race and Cape Bonavista.”
And, that nothing might be wanting to encourage the Adventurers
diligently to attend to and vigorously to prosecute the aforesaid Fishery,
the Star Chamber, in January 1633, adjusted and settled several Orders for
the Regulation and Government thereof ;. and on the 20th February following,
his said Majesty was graciously pleased to grant a Charter to all his Subjects
trading to Newfoundland, according to the Tenor of the said Orders, which
was commonly called the Western Charter ; whereby it is provided,
1st, That if a Man kills another, or steals to the Value of 40s. he shall
be brought Prisoner to England ; and that the Earl Marshall shall take
Cognizance of the Cause ; and if it be proved by Two Witnesses, the Delinquent
shall suffer Death.
2nd, That no Ballast or Presstones be thrown out to the Prejudice of
3d, That no Person deface or spoil any Stage, Cook Room Flakes, &c.
4th, That according to ancient Custom, every Ship that first entereth
a Harbour shall be Admiral of the said Harbour, &c.
5th, That no Person cut out, deface, or alter the Marks of any Boats
or Trainfats, to defraud the right Owners.
6th, That no Person steal any Fish, Train, or Salt, or other Provisions
belonging to the Fishing Ships.
7th, That no Person set Fire to the Woods, or rind the Trees, except
for Cook Rooms.
8th, That none cast Anchor so as to hinder the haling of Seynes for Bait.
9th, That none rob the Nets of any Drift Boats, or take away any Bait or Nets.
10th, That no Person shall set up any Tavern for selling of Wine, Beer,
Strong Waters, or Tobacco, &c.
11th, That on Sundays the Company assemble to hear Divine Service.
And, that speedy Punishment may be inflicted upon the Offenders against
the said Laws and Constitutions,
It is ordained, that the Mayors of Southampton, Weymouth, &c. take
Cognizance of all Complaints made against the Offenders of these Ordinances
upon the Land ; And,
That the Vice Admirals of the Counties of Southampton, Dorset, Devon,
and Cornwall proceed against the Offenders upon the Sea :
That these Laws be in Force until annulled by His Majesty : And,
That the Admirals proclain the same in every Harbour, and on the Shore.
The ancient Customs and Constitutions of the Fishery being in this
Manner confirmed, and the Magistrates in the Western Counties impowered
to put the aforesaid Laws in Execution, the Fishing Trade was again revivied,
and at length, by the frugal Management and industrious Application of the
Adventurers (notwithstanding they were frequently obstructed and injured
by the Governor and Inhabitants, contrary to the Conditions of the Grant
in 1628, by virtue of which they had settled there) most of their Foreign Competitors
were constrained to abandon the said Fishery, and the European
Markets were plentifully supplied with dry Fish by the Subjects of this
Kingdom, at such moderate Rates as promoted and secured its Consumption,
to the vast Encouragement and Increase both of Navigation and Trade.
The best and exactest Account of the Fishery under this Regulation,
that is to be found in our Office, is in a Representation from the Merchants
and others of the Western Ports in 1674 to his late Majesty King Charles the
Second, wherein it is asserted, that about the Year 1644 at the least 270
Fishing Ships were Annually employed in the Newfoundland Fishery, besides
those that supplied them with Salt and other Necessaries, and that carried
their Fish to Market.
The Burthen of these 270 Sail may be computed at 80 Tons each, and for
every 100 Tons 50 Men and at least 10 Boats.
To each Boat they generally allowed 5 Men, and usually made 200 to
300 Quintals of Fish per Boat, which was then sold in the Country at 14 to
16 Rials, of from 7s. to 8s. per Quintal, and some Times higher, as the Season
proved more or less favourable.
But the Course of this Success was soon after interrupted by that unnatural
War which broke out in this Kingdom ; by the Measures that were
concerted and taken by the Government in 1650 and 1655 for settling a
Governor and Colonies in Newfoundland ; by the many Losses sustained by
the Adventurers during the Wars, first with Holland and then with Spain,
especially in the latter ; and by a pernicious Practice, lately introduced by
the Masters and Owners of the Fishing Ships of carrying to Newfoundland
Bye Boatkeepers, and their Crews and Servants, to assist the Inhabitants in
So that at the Time of the Restoration of King Charles II. the Fishery
was very inconsiderable.
In order therefore to retrieve and recover the Fishing Trade, his Majesty
was graciously pleased, upon the humble Petition of the Western Adventurers,
by Letters Patent, bearing Date 26th January 1660, to confirm the aforesaid
Charter, with an additional Clause to prevent the transporting of Bye Boatkeepers and Servants ; vizt.
“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 nor 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 and Employment, or such
as are to plant and do intend to settle there.”
But this Prohibition not being enforced by proper Penalties (which were
now become more necessary than formerly) it was evaded and opposed by
some of the Masters and Owners of Fishing Ships, who chose rather to quit
Part of their Annual Fishery by lessening the Complements of their Men
and Boats than to lose the Advantage they made by carrying of Passengers,
and by disposing of their trifling Adventures to the Inhabitants ; from whence
several unhappy Consequences ensued ; vizt.
That the Number of the Fishing Ships and Seamen employed in Newfoundland was considerably reduced, and that the breeding up of young Men
for that Service was generally neglected :
That the Price of Fish in Newfoundland was enhanced, from 14 or 16
Rials per Quintal as aforesaid, to about 24 Rials the Quintal, whereby the
Consumption thereof was lessened in all Foreign Parts :
That the Merchants of London were induced to set up a Fishery in New
England, which has been ever since carried on to the great Discouragement
of the Adventurers ; and though it may possibly be a Question, whether this
unlucky Management did not first prompt and encourage the French to
settle at Placentia in 1662 ; yet it is not to be doubted, but that it contributed
to the Establishment of their Fishery, and enabled them to supply not only
their own Markets, but to rival us in Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
However these Innovations, by the Remissness of some, and by the
Contrivance of others, were not restrained ; nor does it appear that any
Notice was taken of the Complaints exhibited against those that had violated
the aforesaid Law and Constitution, until the latter End of the Year 1663,
when by His Majesty's Command circular Letters were wrote by the Lords
of the Council to the Mayors and Magistrates of the Western Corporations,
requiring them to be careful that the said Law should be punctually observed
and duly executed ; and at the same Time the Officers of the Customs were
directed to charge all Masters of Ships to observe and keep the said Rule.