Garrison Life in the 18th Century

Page 4

Supplementing Incomes through Unmilitary Activities

Nevertheless, military service in Newfoundland remained an economic hardship. Many soldiers had to find ways of supplementing their incomes. Occasionally, they worked on building or repairing fortifications, for which they received additional allowances. However, the money did not compensate for the additional wear and tear on uniforms and shoes, and when the authorities refused an increase in 1771, the soldiers became what one officer described as "artfully lazy" (Janzen, 1983, 134). In the end, the defence works were built with labourers imported from Ireland.

In any case, soldiers usually turned to unmilitary activities. Some sold rum to fishermen, or had their wives do it. Others worked in the fishery. This was a common practice throughout the century, though technically forbidden by law. Sometimes, garrison commanders forced their men into such activities, garnering most of the profits even as the soldiers supplemented their rations. There were many complaints from the merchants and no end of friction. Thomas Lloyd, the commandant at St. John's in 1705, was court-martialed because he "put into practice all sinister wayes and base means he could devise to get money" (Davies, 1981, 196). His successor, John Moody, operated three fishing boats when the garrison shifted to Placentia, and purchased land from the departing French which he then leased to English merchants. His men kept liquor houses and sold cheap rum to visiting fishermen.

Quidi Vidi Harbour, 1801
Quidi Vidi Harbour, 1801
It was at sites like this one that soldiers would often work out of to supplement their incomes.
Courtesy of The Rooms Provincial Museum Division, St. John's, NL.

Moody's successor at Placentia, Samuel Gledhill, was even more rapacious and self-serving. Out of an annual salary of £638, Gledhill managed to amass a personal fortune of at least £10,000 during his 13 years in command there. He owned 24 properties, including fishing rooms and shipping, and he controlled the regional wholesale trade. In effect, under Gledhill the garrison played much the same role at Placentia that commercial establishments did at Trepassey, Harbour Grace, and Trinity.

Garrison soldiers often had little choice but to become active in the fishery. In 1700, Lieutenant Lilburne at St. John's was suspended and dismissed for using soldiers as labourers in the fishery. Yet his soldiers had received no pay or supplies of clothing since their arrival in 1697. In 1699 the barracks burned down. With no pay, no clothing, and no secure quarters for his men, Lilburne was forced to accept provisions from the merchants, paying for them with the labour of the soldiers in his command. Such abuses of power, and the related friction with the local population, faded away after 1729, when the naval commodores also became civil governors, with authority over the local military. Naval supervision helped reduce the worst excesses and abuses of the military. And, as the local community grew in size and complexity, the military population became a smaller proportion of the whole.