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DESPATCH FROM SIR THOMAS COCHRANE TO SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES,
ON THE SUBJECT OF GRANTING REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT TO NEWFOUNDLAND, WITH ATTACHED CENSUS RETURN FOR 1827-28.
DUPLICATE DESPATCHES, ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND, 1828-1832.
Secret and Confidential.
St. John's, Newfoundland,
14th April, 1831.
I have had the honour to receive your Lordship's dispatch of the 1st January transmitting a copy of a memorial addressed by a portion of the Inhabitants of this Island to His Majesty praying that a Local Legislature may be established in the Island and desiring that I will communicate to your Lordship my sentiments thereon.
The duty your Lordship has been pleased to lay upon me is a very important and to me painful one.
The length of period I have been honoured with the direction of this Colony and the unremitting pains I have taken to inform myself as to its situation in every part its condition and wants will most likely induce your Lordship to place a degree of importance on my opinions corresponding to it, and the sentiments I shall be compelled conscientiously to express will I much fear bring me into conflict with a people with whom since my first assumption of this Government, I have lived upon invariably amicable terms, but as my opinions on a question so momentous to them will be accompanied by the grounds on which they have been formed Your Lordship will be able to judge how far my conclusions are justly drawn.
There are already so many communications in the Colonial Office from me upon the internal state of this Island that a perusal of them would convey to your Lordship a tolerable idea of its present condition but to save your Lordship unnecessary references and to bring the whole subject into one general view I will first lay before your Lordship a short statement of the Island and its Inhabitants as at present existing.
It will be unnecessary for me to observe to your Lordship that this Colony has sprung up not by encouragement on the part of the Mother Country but in spite of opposing laws—that the fishermen have from time to time established themselves upon these Shores finding it more convenient
to do so than return annually to their native country till at last they have accumulated to the number by the Census taken in 1827 of about 60,000. The inhabited part of this Island extends from Cape John to St. Georges Bay being a distance of 620 miles The population of the town of St. John's is about 11,000 Inhabitants. That of Harbour Grace, 3,000, Carbonear 2,500. The numbers in the other and distant settlements varying from time to time and being much influenced by the state of the fishery on those shores, and in most cases each settlement is unconnected with any other as the accompanying table will more fully explain. The whole of the population is established on the Coast.
Until I made three or four miles of road in the neighbourhood, a Carriage could not go a mile from the town.
St. John's is inhabited first by a few Principals or Partners of Houses in England and Scotland and a much larger proportion of agents to other houses.
Secondly small shopkeepers, some of whom are natives, others transitory, and others who intend to make the Island their home ; and a few, but very few, Merchants, who have the same intention. The proportion annually observed between these different classes is influenced by the circumstances of Trade and other considerations. The interest of the first named class in the Island is confined to their stores—where they are not hired—and their goods their only inducement to remain, being confined to Trade.
The various outports are inhabited by fishermen and at the principal or most convenient of them reside Agents to Houses in Great Britain the numbers in general bearing a proportion to the importance of the place, and with the exception of Carbonear and Harbour Grace they do not exceed four but commonly two, and some one—these Agents are here for the express purpose of supplying the fishermen with provisions and clothing, Fishing Craft &c. and taking their Fish and Oil in lieu ; they have no other occupation and if the House fails, the parties immediately remove and have no other concern with the Island.
With reference to the property in soil possessed in the Island, it is of the most trifling description. St. John's is bounded for one diameter of a circle by the sea—and the whole of the ground in cultivation of the other does not (with the exception of some Grants which I have recently given) exceed Three thousand acres. In other parts cultivation is entirely limited to the small fields and Potatoe Gardens which each fisherman finds it necessary to bring to the aid of his fishery and without which he could not support his family.
Of roads of communication between one place and another there are none except the one from hence to Portugal Cove a distance of ten miles but only at present available to horses—the whole of the communication is kept up by water until the approach of winter and its gales when one place is as much severed from another as if they were in different hemispheres—and one of the sources of anxiety to a Governor on the approach of winter and the apprehension of distress in any settlement in consequence of a bad fishery is how to regulate his conduct between sending supplies which may be uncalled
for, and the risk of the people perishing for want before relief could be furnished in the Spring.
I will lastly add in completing the description of the Colony—that with the exception of this town and a very indifferent Magistracy in Harbour Grace I cannot find sufficient Individuals of Independence and Respectability in the other parts of the Island from whom to form a bench of Magistrates and to prevent the serious consequences that might result from the total absence of the Civil Power. I have had to select the most respectable from each Settlement as Conservators of the Peace, with Power simply to confine or take Bails until the Circuit Court arrives, and so seriously does this evil press upon the people almost to a denial of Law and Justice ; that a mode to remedy it, will form one of the principal suggestions I shall have the honour to submit to your Lordship when a new Judicatory act becomes the subject of discussion. I have now had the honour to lay before Your Lordship in as compressed a form as it will admit of, a faithful description of this Colony, and the elements out of which it is proposed a local Legislature shall be formed.
Since the subject of a local Government has been agitated here, I have in vain tried to ascertain the plans upon which its projectors propose it shall be conducted ; and I am inclined to believe that that which should have been their first subject of consideration has not as yet been adverted to at all. It is therefore impossible for me either to acquiesce in or object to the Basis upon which they are proceeding ; but assuming it is to be founded upon the Custom in other Colonies, I am quite ready to admit that the town of St. John's is in a condition to furnish a sufficient portion of well informed persons from whom to select Individuals to represent them in a House of Assembly, notwithstanding that the mass of wealth of the town has no interest beyond its boundary, and no connection with the soil ; and so fully was I inclined to admit the competency of the town to govern itself, that on my first arrival here, I approved of and encouraged the Idea of their availing themselves of the powers vested in His Majesty to give them a Charter of Corporation—to solicit from His Majesty such corporate rights, as would invest them with the regulation and improvement of their town, and my Despatch to Earl Bathurst of 27th May 1826, will inform your Lordship of the failure of that plan.
The small town of Harbour Grace and Carbonear in conception Bay might find a sufficient number of intelligent persons to represent the Interests of their fellow townsmen, although not a sufficient number of such persons to admit of a fair variety of choice.
With these settlements I believe I must close my enumeration of places from whence Representatives could be obtained. Of the whole of the remaining inhabited parts I really do not know one where such persons could be found. The next in consequence is the Harbour of Trinity and its respectability is composed of one Partner and one Agent of Houses in the West of England, a Surgeon, and the Missionary. Other places are similarly provided for with the exception of the two latter Gentlemen, and the more distant parts have but one Supply Merchant.
I might expaiate to your Lordship upon the anomaly that would arise
in sending the only two Individuals in the Community fit for it, to represent the whole neighbouring population, and they not settlers, but Agents of Houses in England, but I am saved the necessity of doing so by the conviction that not one of these Individuals would accept of such a Service. Nor would their employers permit them to do so. They have a great charge upon them. Magazines filled with stores for the use of their Dealers which must not only require their constant attendance, but the depredations their property would be liable to from a Winter's absence would alone deter them from such an undertaking, for your Lordship will have gathered from the description I have already given of this Island that those who resort to St. John's in the Autumn have no power of returning home until late in the ensuing Spring.
If these persons would be disinclined to a Winter's absence they would be still more averse to quitting their homes in Summer when the whole machinery of the fishery is in motion, and when one weeks neglect of their business would be of more consequence to them than an age of internal Legislation.
Then my Lord what is to be done for the great mass of population distributed about the Island ? How are they to be represented and who to attend to their interests ? Some have, I am told, ventured to suggest as a remedy for this defect, that all the Members for these places should be chosen from the People of St. John's. I merely state this to Your Lordship as a specimen of the crude Ideas on the Subject of Legislation of some of those most sanguine for the proposed measure.
The applicants for a local Legislature take as a ground on which to found heir claims to one, the example set them in the case of Nova Scotia at a period when neither her Population nor Commerce equalled that of Newfoundland ; but the situation of the two countries with reference to that period is altogether dissimilar. Newfoundland as I have already observed, became settled because the fishermen found it more convenient to establish themselves on her shores for the purposes of fishing, but as to anything further, the whole Island with the exception of the spots they occupied, might have disappeared and not affect them. The cultivation in it and that of the most miserable description being confined to Potatoes not exceeding, as appears by a return made to the Colonial Office in 1825, about 8,000 acres, and the Commerce depending solely upon the success of the Fishery and the return of food for those engaged in it.
Nova Scotia on the other hand commenced as a Colony long before it
came into our possession. It was peopled by a very different description of persons to those who resorted here ; and I find on reference to the Statistics of that Province that when the Acadians were expelled in 1755 they were possessed of upwards of 60,000 Head of horned Cattle, had 100,000 acres of land in Grain and 100,000 more in Grass, orchards, Gardens, &c. It must therefore be quite unnecessary for me to carry the contrast further, for the purpose of impressing Your Lordship with the conviction that there is no parallel between the situation of the two Countries from which the Crown can refer
to the steps pursued with respect to the one as a Guide for its conduct towards the other.
I am given to understand that Commander Pearl of the Navy who has recently established here and is now in England has made representations to Your Lordship with respect to this Colony calculated to mislead your Lordship as to its situation, and which his short residence here, and that confined to the town of St. John's by no means justified him in doing. I am ignorant of the precise points on which that Gentleman conferred with your Lordship except in one case, when it appears by his own admission he stated to Your Lordship that no less than three thousand persons had applied for and were waiting for Grants of Land. I have little doubt Your Lordship has been led from such a statement to believe that probably a million, or not less than five hundred thousand acres are partitioned off. Your Lordship will be no less astonished than I was on hearing of this assertion, when I inform you that on the perusal of the above statement, having called on the Surveyor for a return of all the ground petitioned for and in the course of being granted ; I find it does not amount to fifteen thousand acres, a considerable portion of which has been long in cultivation and for which the parties only require a confirmatory title.
How Commander Pearl could lend himself to such misstatements I am at a loss to understand, and which is the more inexcusable on his part, as from being the brother in law to the Chief Surveyor, he had the power, had he wished to avail himself of it, fully and accurately to inform himself on the subject.
With reference to the extent to which the wishes of the people generally are involved, in the request that has been preferred for a legislative Government, it is necessary I should make a few observations. I learn that your Lordship has been told by the parties who had the honour of a personal interview with you on the subject that the wish of the Island was unanimous on the occasion, and that certain queries I had sent to the Outports on the subject of the expiring Judicatory Act were answered by requests for a local Legislature. That the majority of the principal Inhabitants of St. John's have been within these two years brought round, by those who had influence over them, to think a local Legislature desirable ; I believe to be the case—but I am no less aware, that with reference to the signatures of the lower orders attached to the petition—all those means were resorted to, to induce them to place their names to it, which are practiced in England on similar occasions, and I conceive it receives its full share of importance if it is taken as the expression of the wish of those only who signed it.
The petition from Harbour Grace and Carbonear which I understand was either numerously signed, or stated to be the voice of the people, was the result, as I am informed, of the deliberations of twenty five Individuals—as to the petitions from a few other unimportant places I can say nothing—but perhaps the measure before referred to, and which the advocates for a local Government attempted to turn in their favour ; will afford a pretty good test of the feeling of the Inhabitants farther removed from the seat of