p. 1933 JOINT
GOVERNOR DUCKWORTH TO EARL BATHURST
ON QUESTIONS OF COLONISATION, 2 November, 1812.
RECORD BOOK, ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND. Volume 24, page 168.
Antelope at Sea November 2nd 1812.
In conformity with the directions contained in your Lordship's letter No 1 of the 13th of June, I have consulted with those on whose judgment, temper and information I could most rely, with a view to the formation of a Report upon the Laws by which Newfoundland is at present governed.
I am conscious of being little qualified for the discussion of a subject of this nature, yet it has occupied my most anxious attention, and I proceed to submit to Your Lordship my sentiments upon it in the fullest confidence that they will be received with candour and indulgence.
I beg leave however to remark that the result of the labour with which I have collected the opinions of experienced and sensible men upon this important subject has been to convince me that it is regarded differently by them all.
There is a general concurrence in one respect only ; that the Fisheries of Newfoundland are now decidedly sedentary, and that the War has been protracted so long as to make it very uncertain whether any change of system would be produced by the return of Peace.
The considerations upon which this opinion is founded are these.—that the resident population of the Island has now become so extensive that every attempt to lessen it, or even to check the rapidity of its increase must be completely vain ; that this population must be subsisted, and that it has no other resource than in the Fishery, and that therefore the quantity of Fish caught by the resident Inhabitants must be so great as to leave but little opening for adventurers who might fit out Ships from His Majesty's Dominions in Europe, if they should be disposed to make the trial.
The professed object has hitherto been to afford every encouragement to the Fishery Ships so fitted out and therefore to discourage the Sedentary Fishery.
As long as there existed a competition between the two interests such was undoubtedly the wisest policy to pursue, but it is no longer a question of
preference between two systems.—that which was justly the favourite is now no more, and it remains only to consider whether that which has survived be worth preserving and if so by what means it can be best improved.
I am anxious that my opinion should not be misunderstood, and therefore beg leave to repeat that any efforts of His Majesty's Government, or of the Legislature, to bring back the ancient system of Fishery would now be vain ; and would probably fail to produce any material effect even if they were seconded by the favourable circumstances which a return of Peace ould naturally create.
With these sentiments I am certainly desirous that a revision of the laws should take place, nor am I aware that any advantage is likely to arise from its being delayed.
The wisest object of such revision would seem to be to remove from the Sedentary Fishery all unnecessary impediments, and at the same time to refrain from opposing new difficulties against the partial re-establishment of the Fishing Ships which may yet be possible. Neither will it be less important to adhere to the principle which has been hitherto observed of preventing His Majesty's Subjects in Newfoundland from forming themselves into a Colony.
The Chief impediments at present existing in the way of the sedentary Fishery are the Provisions in the Laws by which all unoccupied places in Newfoundland are accounted Fishing Ships Rooms ; and the restrictions on cultivating the Lands. And these under the present circumstances are in my opinion, unnecessary—Because very few of the unoccupied places are suited to the purposes of the Fishing Ships, and the rest might therefore be given up to the Inhabitants. And because if the Prohibition against cultivating the Land be continued, the population will nevertheless continue to increase, but the difficulty of providing for its support will be the greater.
With respect to the vacant Shores of Newfoundland whether Ships Rooms or otherwise, I am very strongly inclined to wish that the Law should now be so framed as to permit the Governor to grant them to Individuals for the purposes of the Fishery to be held by such Individuals during His Majesty's pleasure, or as long as they complied with the terms upon which the Grants should be specifically given.
Every grant should be founded on a written application, describing the means of the Applicant for occupying usefully the space applied for, and engaging to keep so many Boats upon it, actually to be employed in catching fish, and the Governor should be instructed not to give Grants of Beaches naturally suited to the purposes of Fishing Ships, but on the contrary to preserve all such Beaches vacant for the use of those ships whenever they might arrive to claim them.
On the subject of Cultivation I beg leave to submit that the resident Population having grown to its present extent, and there being no prospect of its diminishing, but rather a certainty of its rapid increase, it becomes a question of deep anxiety by what means this population is to be subsisted, and whether it would not be better to cultivate the soil in the hope of lessening
the difficulty than to abstain from doing so in the fear of adding still more rapidly to the number of Inhabitants.
The Soil and Climate of Newfoundland are little favourable to the business of Agriculture, nor is there a probability that it would be pursued (or to a very trifling extent) except for the cultivation of Potatoes and some other Vegetables. There is not in my opinion any sufficient reason for adhering to the policy of preventing the cultivation of the Land when it is found necessary to relinquish that of discouraging the Sedentary Fishery, because the principal use that would be made of the privilege of Cultivation, if it were now granted, would be by the Fishermen, who would prepare the Ground in the Winter Months, and make it productive of Food for their Families support.
The Question of Colonization still remains.—Of the policy of preventing the measure there is but one opinion, but with respect to the means there are many. For my part I am not able to discover that there is at present any considerable tendency towards Colonization.
The Merchants of St. John's have formed themselves into a Society, and are making continual efforts for the acquisition of a power which ought not, in my opinion, to be vested in them. Yet the Town has become so extensive, and its Inhabitants so numerous, that it does indeed appear necessary that a Provision should be made for the better regulation by creating some local authority.
Such Authority might perhaps be given with the greater propriety to the Grand Jury, and any Regulations made by that Body approved by the Court of Sessions, and finally accepted by the Governor should be binding upon the District.
An arrangement being made upon this principle and the Magistracy being placed upon that respectable establishment which should render it above the control of any improper influence, would remove all idea of the formation of a Colony, and answer every good purpose of a local legislature, unaccompanied by any of its evil consequences.
I have the honour to be,
Your Lorship's most obedient humble servant,
J. T. DUCKWORTH.
To the Earl Bathurst,
One of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, &c., &c., &c.