English Migration

Newfoundland experienced three types of migration from the English West Country: seasonal, temporary and permanent. Seasonal migrations provided the initial impetus for individuals to stay for longer periods, and eventually temporary migrations spawned permanent residence. It was noted in 1714 that the settlers were relatives of the seasonal adventurers and came from the same places. West of England fishermen from Bristol and Devonshire began making seasonal cod fishing adventures to the Newfoundland coasts, along with other Europeans, during the 16th century and continued into the early 19th century. Permanent migration or immigration was constant, but the main period of both English and Irish settlement occurred during the half century between 1780 and 1830.

Bristol, 1787
Bristol, 1787
View of the harbour, showing Redcliff Church.

Painting by Nicholas Pocock. From Stanley Hutton, Bristol and its Famous Associations (Bristol: J.W. Arrowsmith, 1907) 21.

Seasonal migrants left home in the spring, fished in Newfoundland or Labrador, and returned home in the fall. Temporary migrations involved overwintering - migrants stayed on for a winter or two before returning home. Temporary migrations became closely associated with immigration, since as time passed some migrants brought out wives and families, or married into the families of earlier settlers (including, in some areas such as coastal Labrador, the Aboriginal populations) and became part of the resident or permanent population. For over two centuries, however, immigration was a mere trickle compared with the seasonal and temporary flows. Indeed, early English settlements were characterized by the overwhelming predominance of men, most of whom were overwintering servants, a scarcity of families, and a high degree of turnover in the resident population.

Until the 1780s the fishery was overwhelmingly dominated by the seasonal migrants from England and Ireland. A drastic decline in the migratory fishery during the 1790s and early 19th century, due to the effects of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, encouraged the resident population to expand, and by the 1830s it had more than quadrupled in size and numbered nearly 60,000. By this time, the patterns and balances among the English, Irish and other ethnic groups within the resident population were largely established both by region, and within Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Importantly also, Newfoundland planters and their servants, including now significant proportions of native-born, were able to produce nearly all the cured, salted cod that the markets normally required. This forced the migratory fishery out of business.

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