p. 1975 N
HIGH SHERIFF BLAND TO GOVERNOR KEATS.
RECORD BOOK, ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND. Volume 27, page 78.
Saint John's, 12 November, 1815.
In the usual course of this Government we can hardly hope for Your Excellency's return to Newfoundland, but I believe you feel no less a wish to contribute to the interests of this very important branch of our Commerce.
I am very far from adopting the notions of many of our Speculatists as regards an expected change in the system of this Government, Idle and inexperienced Adventurers, indulging in speculations excited by their peculiar situations, dream of local Legislation and Houses of Assembly.
Nothing can be clearer than that the great desideratum for Newfoundland, is to catch fish upon such terms as will enable the Merchant to meet his competitors upon fair ground in the foreign market. Houses of Assembly, mere burlesques upon the dignity of Legislation, can nothing contribute to this desirable end. They may promote the views of needy and contentious spirits, and thereby defeat the very object they are meant to serve. In my humble opinion the Parliament of Great Britain is the best and fitted legislature for the prosperity of Newfoundland. There, the few Laws necessary for this Island can be enacted, amended, or repealed, at the suggestion of men of observation and experience in its Trade. Nor can this be matter of great urgency since such of the existing Laws as do not suit the progressive change of the Country's circumstances have gradually fallen into neglect, the common Fate of all Laws not adapted to the wants of the People.
The return of the French to Newfoundland concerns us nearer than any changes in the existing Laws. They possess advantages over us in this fishery. Their People are paid and fed at a much cheaper rate than ours. The North Coast of the Island ceded to them, generally abounds more in fish than the other parts, and the contiguity and safety of its numerous harbours, afford facilities to the Fish Catchers, which we too generally want. It is, besides, undeniable that their local situation furnishes opportunities for illicit traffic. Their fishing posts are directly in the passage between the more Southern Parts of the Island, occupied by us and the Coast of Labrador ; and there can be little doubt that such facility of communication will hardly be neglected by those, who can make their advantage of it with little or no risk. It was therefore, greatly to be desired that at the return of Peace,
the French would have been confined to St. Pierre and Miquelon, and we left in the exclusive possession of that part of the Coast, from which during a long War, we had reaped such an abundant harvest. The only advantage on our side, under the returning state of things, is that the French have only a Summer's residence, and by their annual removal, must want the conveniences which a perpetual residence affords us.
The Ship Fishery, as it is called, is confined to the South, and is peculiarly adapted to the Genius and habits of the fishermen from the West of England, but the shore fishery, by far the most extensive is generally prosecuted by the People called Residents, and unless this description of Fish catchers can kill Fish upon terms that will enable them to afford it at a reasonable rate to the exporter, this branch of our Fishery must decrease, and our navigation of course decline. The Ships Fishery in former times has been fostered by Bounties, a measure that we can hardly expect will be resorted to in aid of our general fishery.
It appears, therefore, to be necessary to our prosperity in Newfoundland, that every facility be afforded us, to obtain upon the best terms the primary Articles of want, Salt, Provisions, Fishing gear, pitch, tar and cordage, are essentials and their Importation into this Island ought to be free from Burden and restraint, except in as far as a very important national object may be endangered.
The Government appears ever to have viewed with a jealous eye, agricultural schemes in Newfoundland. There is in truth no just ground of apprehension on this Score. The soil and climate are unfriendly to cultivation, and even admitting the reverse to be the case, I can discover no danger to the Fishery unless the Sea should refuse us that abundant supply of Fish which it has hitherto afforded. A happier climate and a more fertile soil would, indeed add to the population, but hardly contribute to reduce the Fishery. In parts of Newfoundland best adopted to agricultural pursuits, I have seen the attention of the residents diverted from the original object. Cultivation has invariably been made subservient to the Fishery, and without a certain degree of cultivation, the fish catcher would not be able to afford the produce of his labour at a price suitable to the Exporter. The Fish catcher raises his Vegetables and his fresh stock free of expence, dedicating the Days not convenient for the catching and curing of fish to the cultivation of his fields and gardens. Nor is it reasonable to apprehend that a profitable avocation will be resigned, or neglected for one of far less moment, unless we can suppose that the principal object of all men be not their private Interest.
Surely it will never be contended that Newfoundland can retrograde and return to its first Establishment, and its Inhabitants can be removed and its fishery brought back to the point from whence it has long departed. Could such a thing be practicable, then Government is excusable. But it is impossible for an enlightened mind to entertain so chimerical a scheme. The fact Sir, is that Newfoundland is arrived at a condition that requires another Policy, and a just government will give it all the consideration which its Importance demands.
If Newfoundland be not a Colony by Law, it is so in fact. It has progressively obtained all that a Colony can require. We have our Courts of Justice, our religious and charitable Institutions, a Navy to protect our trade and navigation, and a respectable Military Establishment. An immense Property is constantly retained in this Island which requires the security afforded by Laws, and shall it, after all, be asserted that we are but Itinerant, without any permanent residence ?
The Inhabitants of Saint John's, copying the benevolent example of the Mother Country have instituted various Charities, among which common justice must allow a preference to the Hospital, the first stone of which was laid by Your Excellency. The relief dispensed by this Asylum in a time of unprecedented distress, to the unfortunate afflicted is an evidence of the superior utility of this Institution. Other Charities in this Country indeed, afford relief to indigence, but the Hospital recently established has actually snatched a considerable number from premature death. The fund created by the Fees of our Law Courts, has, under Your Excellency's sanction, highly contributed to succour the afflicted, received into this Asylum, yet till the present terms of admission can be reduced this excellent Institution will in a great measure fail of its intended object, the efforts of its benevolent promoters require further aid.
I remember that about twelve years ago I suggested to the Governor the propriety of a Tax upon all Spirits imported into this Island, but I confess with a view only of making some provision for the growing wants of this Island. The objections at that time made to that Tax amounted to no more than A temporary inconvenience to the importer, for it is evident that the money comes out of the pocket of the lower order of the people who feel indifferent whether they pay two shillings or one for a Quart of Rum. I have reason to believe that there would now be no objection to an extension of this Tax, provided the produce was applied to the relief of our local wants.
The duty upon Spirits for the current year as I am informed will amount to about Sixteen Thousand Pounds. A further duty of three pence in the gallon upon all Spirits imported into Newfoundland, would produce from Four to Six Thousand Pounds, making a liberal allowance for a change of circumstances and a consequent reduction of the quantity consumed.
This sum placed at the disposal of the Governor, with the advice of the Committee, would establish the Hospital on a foundation of extension & Permanent utility, improve the streets of the town and the Public Roads. The measure of making a larger provision for the wants of the Hospital becomes every day more urgent, as cases multiply that call for the aid of this excellent charity. The scheme to raise an efficient sum of Money by deducting one penny in the Pound from the Wages of those whom it is meant to benefit is not obligatory, and experience shows will never answer the end proposed. The Tax proposed will principally be paid by this identical description of people, and the collection made without expense.
As it is very probable I may never find another occasion of communicating with your Excellency, I will not pass over a subject that considerably agitated
the public mind. It is the continuance of that system of restraint on Building so long pursued in the town and neighbourhood of St. John's. As Government never Acts without a reason, the only one that can be assigned for such restraint is the prevention of population, and of a permanent settlement, its necessary consequence. But it is answered that the Government having itself broken down this system by leasing ground for building dwelling Houses upon, to a considerable extent, without any conditions as to their uses, it becomes impossible to defend this restraining system on the broad principle of equity and consistency, as it respects the liberty of Individuals. It is unnecessary to urge this argument at length. I shall observe, that the Governor must, under such circumstances feel a repugnance to enforce a measure confessedly in itself useless, and in its operation obnoxious. Besides, in asserting this system, who is it to be known for what purpose a house is erecting ? A man exposed to suffer loss and inconvenience from the Caprice, or from the Construction which an Executive Officer may put upon his intentions, will often resort to untruth, nor can he be detected until the application of his Building is manifest. The spirit of the Laws requires that nothing shall be presumed, but that all shall be proved.
The Government, always intentionally just, and now happily released from the more important considerations which have so long engrossed its attention, can require no more than a fair view of this subject, as I conceive, to abolish a system that has not one Advocate in this Country, and from which it can never be shewn that any national utility can result.
Since Your Excellency's departure, our number of Writs had been increased to 320, among which are Eighty Cases that admits of appeal. Only one appeal however has been made, and that more from Caprice than from any rational hope of a reversal. I mention this circumstance merely to show that the opinion I gave upon this subject, when Your Excellency required it of me, previous to the departure of the Chief Justice, was not unfounded.
Whether Your Excellency returns to this Government or retires from the Labours of Public Life, I sincerely wish you Health and Happiness.
I have the honour to be with respect and esteem, Sir,
Your Excellency's most obedient, humble servant,
(Signed) JOHN BLAND, High Sheriff.
His Excellency, Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, &c., &c., &c.
A Copy. P. C. LeGeyt.