Exploring the Newfoundland Interior:

Geology and Communications

Cormack's journeys did not stimulate a rush into the Newfoundland interior, which for much of the 19th century remained a Mi'kmaq preserve. It was not until 1839 that Joseph Beete Jukes (1811-1869) was appointed geological surveyor, and spent 16 months travelling and writing his report. His surveys were mainly coastal, but he did ascend the Humber River as far as Deer Lake, and then, with a Mi'kmaq guide named Sulleon, travelled from St. George's Bay to Grand Lake, exploring the area for nine days. Like Cormack, Jukes obtained a good deal of geographical information from the Mi'kmaq. In 1840, he travelled up the Exploits River as far as the Grand Falls.

Joseph Beete Jukes, ca. 1860
Joseph Beete Jukes, ca. 1860
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

The Newfoundland legislature refused to continue funding Jukes' survey after 1840, and he returned to England, where his Excursions in and about Newfoundland, during the years 1839 and 1840 was published in 1842. This is a highly readable account of his time in the colony. His geological findings – he was cautious about Newfoundland's mining and agricultural potential – were published separately. Jukes also published a map, which summarizes knowledge of the interior at that time.

Frederic Newton Gisborne Exploration

A major but non-geological journey across the southern interior was made in 1851 by Frederic Newton Gisborne (1824-1892), an early promoter of telegraphs, first in the Maritimes and then in Newfoundland, where he incorporated the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company. He built a telegraph line from St. John's to Carbonear, and then turned to his scheme for a line from St. John's to Cape Ray, which would then connect with Cape Breton. Travelling with Mi'kmaq and some white companions – who did not go further than White Bear Bay – Gisborne made an arduous journey through southern Newfoundland, keeping a detailed journal throughout. The survey certainly helped reshape the map of the area. Dramatic stories in some sources of Gisborne being abandoned by his companions and of Mi'kmaq dying or deserting have been shown to be untrue. The land line to Cape Ray was eventually completed in 1856 – at great expense and with considerable difficulty. Gisborne Lake is named after him.

Mountain Range at Cape Ray, 1866
Mountain Range at Cape Ray, 1866
Watercolour by Capt. Francis George Coleridge (1838-1923).
Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, C-102483.

Murray and Howley Exploration

Gisborne was also interested in mining, and recommended to the Newfoundland government that there should be a geological survey of the island. The Geological Survey of Newfoundland was eventually established in 1864, with Alexander Murray (1810-1884) as its first director. His assistant from 1868 was James P. Howley (1847-1918), who himself became director on Murray's retirement in 1883. Until the discontinuance of the Survey in 1909, Murray and Howley, and then Howley alone, explored and mapped the northeastern and western coastlines, central Newfoundland, and other sections of the interior.

In 1865, for instance, Murray crossed overland from Halls Bay to St. George's Bay, and in 1874 explored the basins of the Gander and Exploits rivers. Howley made some extensive and difficult treks between the south and northeast coasts, as in 1888, when he went up the Bay d'Est River to Meelpaeg Lake, and then across to Exploits. He spent several seasons in the Grand Lake area, looking for commercially-viable seams of coal.

Geological Map of Newfoundland, 1919
Geological Map of Newfoundland, 1919
James Howley's 1919 geological map of Newfoundland. Larger version more clearly shows the geological features of the island, William Cormack's 1822 traverse, the 1875 railway survey, and the extent of the railroad and telegraph lines.
Courtesy of the Map Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

The reports of the Geological Survey, and the maps published by Murray (1873, 1879) and Howley (1907, 1919), made Newfoundland's land-based resources much better known, firmly established the geography of the interior, and were the essential preliminary to the building of the railway (1881 to 1897) and the development of forest industries.

Murray and Howley were not the only non-Natives to venture into the interior. As the century progressed, the surveyors, engineers and labourers who built the telegraph lines and the railway became familiar with the inland regions of the island. In addition, visitors coming to hunt and fish – the first tourists – made their contributions. By the end of the 19th century the island's interior was no longer the mystery to Europeans that it had been when Cormack set off on his expedition.

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