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Chapter VI. District of Bonavista Bay

THE first land discovered in Newfoundland by the Cabots, appears to have been about Cape Bonavista, and to which they gave the name of Terra Pimum Vista (the land first seen), happy sight or view. The celebrated navigator Jacques Cartier being recommended by Chabot, Admiral of France, was entrusted with a commission to form colonies. He arrived at Newfoundland on the 10th of May, 1534, and touched at Cape Bonavista, thence sailed along the coast until he entered the the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1696, when the French fleet destroyed St. John’s, and nearly every other settlement in the island, the British settlers in Bonavista sucsessfully defended themselves. In 1760 the celebrated Captain James Cook visited Bonavista and surveyed the coast. The French were allowed to fish along the shores of Bonavista Bay until the Peace of 1783, when their right to fish along this part of the coast was relinquished. Traces of the French occupancy are still to be seen, consisting of heaps of stones which were used for the purpose of curing fish on; also several rude grave stones which marks the burial place of their dead. Cape Bonavista is dashed by the ocean billows, which seem to struggle for the mastery, as they attempt to scale the lofty cliffs which guard the shore. Here, in 1843, an excellent light house was erected by the local Government. What is called Cape Bonavista is a narrow strip of land, jutting about three miles into the ocean. It is table land, and agricultural operations have recently been pursued there to some extent. Bonavista and its environs are quite level, all of which are well cultivated meadows and gardens. At Lance Cove, is the greatest natural curiosity in the neighbourhood of the Town of Bonavista. This is a grotto formed by the action of the sea, and very inappropriately termed by the inhabitants “The Dungeon.” It is about thirty feet deep and three hundred yards in circumference, situated about a hundred yards from the edge of the cliff. On one side of the bottom of this cave are two channels, each about seven feet wide, arched over with grit stone, into which the old oceans thunders its milky foam. During a heavy sea the sound Is deafening, resembling the noise made by tho working of the machinery of a large mill. On the other side is a small beach, formed by the action of the waves, on which the earth is constantly foundering from above. This roofless cavern—for it is all open to the light of day, except the channels at the bottom, and may be called a pit rather than a cavern—must enlarge very fast owing to the soft material which presents itself to obstruct the progress of the sea.

About forty years ago, in the winter season, a very singular and most extraordinary sound was heard in the neighbourhood of Bonavista. It commenced about three o’clock in the afternoon and lasted until the next day about noon. The men at Bird Island Cove were going about nearly all night, some with loaded guns, some with hatchets, and others with whatever weapon they could command. The sound is described as resembling distant thunder. It has also been compared to the growl of a bear, the bellowing of a cow, &c., conveying a deep sepulchral tone. What is most strange and unaccountable is that it appeared alongside of everybody, although at the time some were at a distance from each other of from one to five miles. Men hauling wood at the time thought the sound came out of the ground immediately under the slide or team, and. in some instances, were so alarmed as to leave the wood behind. Several females thought a bear had got into their chambers, and ran terrified from their dwellings.

This singular sound could not have originated from the rumbling noise made by the ice, because no ice, at the time, was near the coast—neither would the noise made by the ice be heard in the peculiar manner this sound was heard; and it does not appear to have been symptoms of an earthquake, because no trembling nor the slightest motion was felt in the earth; and nothing remarkable occurred immediately after the sound passed away, excepting that two days afterwards one of the heaviest ground-seas ever known took place. The origin of this sound could hardly be the eruption of some distant vulcano, the nearest of these being in Iceland, though Sir Stanford Raffles states that the detonations produced by the eruptions of Tombora, a volcanic mountain in Sumbawa, were heard at a distance of nine hundred and seventy miles. This sound is termed by the inhabitants of Bonavista and Bird Island Cove, the “thunder-growl.”

At the time of the great earthquake at Lisbon, in 1755, the effects were felt at Bonavista.

The sea retired and left the head of the harbour dry for the space of ten minutes, when it again flowed in and rose to an unusual height, overflowing several meadows, for about the same space of time as it had retired, and the waters on each side of the Cape were greatly agitated. Bonavista is the capital of the district of Bonavista, and in 1845 contained a population of 2,097. There is a very neat Church of England here, also a Methodist Church, and a Roman Catholic. The Rev. Henry Jones, a Church of England Minister was settled here in 1725. The first Methodist minister stationed here was the Rev. George Smith, who endured great privation and suffering. He, however received great hospitality from Dr.|Mayne, who afterwards removed to Harbour Grace. The writer has read an autograph letter from the celebrated Dr. Adam Clarke, addressed to Dr. Mayne, thanking [him for his kindness to George Smith. The letter was accompanied by the Doctor’s Treatise (just then published). “On the Use and Abuse of Tobacco.” Bonavista has a tine Court House and Gaol, and two well-conducted Public Schools. The Circuit Court sits here once a year. In 1857, two hand-looms were in operation here, from which were manufactured one hundred yards of common cloth. Soap and candles were also manufactured.

Wm. Sweetland, Esq., (well known for his literary acquirements) was the late resident police magistrate.

Cape Bonavista is celebrated for the great number of seals usually obtained there. During the early part of the sealing voyage, seals can always be obtained off the Cape.

In the month of March the field-ice passes along the northern and eastern shores of Newfoundland, and sometimes, for weeks, nothing is to be seen but the glittering surface of the icy ocean. This floating ice brings with it immense numbers of seals. Numbers of seals are taken at Bonavista in seal nets. The late Mr. Saint usually obtained from one hundred to three hundred during the winter and spring. In 1843 the number of seals taken at Bonavista, by persons who went off on the ice from the shore, was estimated at 20,000; and it was calculated that 40,000 were taken to the shore throughout the Bay; and in 1862 it is said 150,000 seals were taken a few miles from the shore on the ice, in this Bay and the Bay of Notre Dame. Some years ago the ice was packed and jammed so tight in Bonavista Bay for several weeks, that the seals on it could And no opening to go down, when numbers of them crawled upon an island, and some people happening to land upon the island discovered them. It is said 1,500 seals were slaughtered among the bushes. Seals have been known, when pressed in with the ice, to crawl across Cape Bonavista, a distance of half-a-mile, to the water on the opposite side.

The number of vessels employed from Bonavista in the seal fishery, is seven. These vessels, however, usually sail from Catalina, owing to Bonavista being an unsafe harbour for shipping. Agriculture is pursued very extensively in the village of Bonavista. The quantity of potatoes raised in 1843, were 45,000 bushels. Were it not for their gardens, the fishermen of Bonavista could not live. Herring and potatoes are the principal food of the poorer class of the inhabitants. There is no part of Newfoundland where I have seen so much poverty as in Bonavista, in 1841 and 1842.

“There is much nourishment in fish, little less than butcher’s meat, weight for weight; and in effect it may be more nourishing, considering how, from its soft fibre, fish is more easily digested. Moveover, there is in fish a substance that does not exist in the flesh of land animals, viz., iodine—a substance which may have a beneficial effect on the health, and tend to prevent the production of scrofulous and tubercular disease,—the latter in the form of pulmonary consumption, one of the most cruel and fatal with which the civilized, highly educated, and refined are afflicted. Comparative trials prove that, in the majority of fish, the proportion of solid matter—that is, the matter which remains after perfect desication, or the expulsion of the aqueous part—is little inferior to the several kinds of butcher’s meat, game or poultry. And if we give attention to classes of people, classed as to the quality of food they principally subsist on, we find that the ichthyophagus class are especially strong, healthy, and prolific. In no class, than that of fishers, do we see larger families, handsomer women, more robust and active men, or a greater exemption from maladies.”

The potato disease was a terrible calamity to the poor people of Bonavista; yet notwithstanding the poorness of the diet, a hardier, healthier, or better looking race of men are not to be found upon the face of the globe. A great part of the poverty of Bonavista, is owing to the want of room to erect stages and flakes for the fishery. Half the fishermen, in consequence of their having no water-side premises, cannot “go on the plant,” as it is called (all the fishermen who keep a boat and employ men, or even keep a skiff and fish alone, are called “planters” in Newfoundland), they are therefore obliged to go as sharemen,—that is, the planter finds every requisite for the prosecution of the fishery, for -which the shareman allows him half his catch of fish; but, Unlike the sharemen of Conception Bay, the practice at Bonavista is for the shareman to pay the planter for his diet.

The shareman of Bonavista Bay catches 50 qtls. of fish for the summer (which is beyond the usual catch), out of this, 25 qtls. only belongs to himself; and when the planter is paid for his diet, the poor shareman has about 14 qtls. to call his own, out of which he may have to support a family of from five to ten persons, from the beginning of October to the commencement of the fishery in June, unless he may catch a few seals in March. Vegetables, then, are indispensible to the poor of Bonavista, in order to a subsistence. The islands of ice which sometimes ground near Bonavista in the spring, no doubt has a tendency to check the progress of vegetation. These icebergs appear like crystal castles, with their high and glittering pinnacles, towering in solitary grandeur, and sometimes reflecting the most beautiful colours. Some of these icebergs are several hundred feet in altitude above the level of the sea; it is calculated that seven-eighths are below the surface. Captain Ross saw several of them together in Baffin’s Bay, aground in water 1,500 feet deep. One of these immense masses of ice exploded in the summer of 1843, about a mile from Bird Island Cove, with a tremendous noise 'ike the rumbling of heavy thunder. Several large streams of water were running off it a long time before it burst. One side of it was covered with a quantity of earth and small stones. I have been informed by several persons that they have seen large trees embedded in them, which appeared as if tom from the earth by some violent force.

It is said that many icebergs contain rocks and earth, frequently exceeding 50,000 tons. Captain Scoresby describes a large iceberg drifting along, locked with earth and rocks, conjectured to be from 50,000 to 100,000 tons, and other observers speak of millions of tons of stone and other solid matter carried by the ice. They are, no doubt, agents in the production of shoals, as wherever they ground and are disolved, the earth and stones must sink to the bottom, thereby diminishing the depth of the water.

"In this manner,” says Lyell, “many submarine valleys, mountains, and platforms become strewed over with gravel, sand, mud, and scattered blocks of foreign rocks, of a nature perfectly dissimilar from all in the vicinity, and which may have been transported across unfathomable abysses. If the bergs happen to melt in still water, so that the earthy and stony materials may fall tranquilly to the bottom, the deposit will probably be unstratified like the terminal moraine of a glacier ; but whenever the materials are under the influence of a current of water as they fall, they will be sorted and arranged according to their relative weight and size, and therefore more or less perfectly stratified. There can be little doubt that icebergs often break off the peaks and projecting points of submarine mountains, and must grate upon and polish their surface, furrowing them or scratching them precisely the same way as the glaciers act on the solid rock over which they are propelled.”

By means of these icebergs a large quantity of water is returned to the ocean. If it were not for the movement of the glaciers, vast accumulations of snow and ice would be piled mountains high in the polar regions. Glaciers have had an important influence in the distribution of animals over the globe. The mammoth, elephant, and mastedon have been found imbedded in them. There is scarcely any part of the world which at some time was not submerged, and where traces of the action of icebergs or of glaciers cannot be found. In parts now far removed from the icy regions, there are marks ploughed centuries ago by the passage of glaciers to the sea, or of icebergs dashing on the rocky coast-lines of the primeval world

Sir William Logan showed me some very beautiful slabs in the Museum in Montreal, marked with the grooves of the glacier grinding over them at some remote age. These islands of ice are supposed to be masses detached by the action of the waves from the vast glaciers descending into valleys terminating in the sea, which are known to abound in Greenland, Spitzbergen, and other high polar latitudes.

Dr. Urville saw one glacier in the southern ocean, thirteen miles long, with vertical walls one hundred feet high. The great Humboldt Glacier, connecting Greenland and Washington Land, shows a solid glassy wall three hundred feet above the sea, with an unknown depth beneath, while its curved face bowed by pressure from behind, extends sixty miles in length. Dr. Hayes measured an iceberg in Baffin’s Bay, which was three hundred and fifty feet above the sea, and three-fourths of a mile long. Its total height was two thousand eight hundred feet.

During Captain Ross’s Arctic expedition, he discovered land from 9,000 to 20,000 feet in height, perfectly covered with eternal snow, and the glaciers descending from the mountain summit projecting many miles into the ocean, presenting a perpendicular face of lofty cliffs. These icy break-waters are undermined and excavated by the waves, and in proportion as the excavations are enlarged and the snow and ice accumulate above and become heavier, immense masses fall into the sea, whence come the icebergs which appear in the spring along the eastern and northern shores of Newfoundland. They are looked upon as dreadful engines of destruction by all mariners. Many vessels engaged in the seal fishery frequently come in contact with them, when sometimes vessels and crews are engulphed in the mighty deep.

“As when in northern seas, at midnight dark,
An isle of ice encounters some swift bark,
And startling all its wretches from their sleep,
By one cold impulse hurls them to the deep.”

The next important place to Bonavista is Green’s Pond, which is an island composed of granite, on the north side . of the Bay. It contains a population of about 900. The principal merchants formerly were Booking, Son & Co., Wm. Cox & Co., and Burry & Carter. There is a custom house officer and postmaster, also a justice of the peace. A circuit court sits here once a year. There is a neat Episcopal Church and large congregation.

In 1834 Green’s Pond employed 12 vessels in the seal fishery. In 1847 there were 13 vessels employed, and in 1849, including a few vessels from the other northern harbours, there were 27 vessels employed, of an aggregate tonnage of 1,850, carrying 752 men. There is also a considerable foreign trade.

The number of seals manufactured at Green’s Pond in 1839 was 11,500, and in 1845 there were 4,800.

The next populous places are Salvage, King’s Cove, and Open Hall.

At the head of Bonavista Bay there are numerous islands, and the scenery is interesting and beautiful. Considerable quantities of pine boards are sawed there in the winter season.

In 1836, the population of Bonavista Bay was 5,183. The agricultural produce then was 62,287 bushels of potatoes and 184 tons of hay. The live stock consisted of 57 horses, 377 neat cattle, 693 hogs, and 60 sheep.

In the year 1845 the population of Bonavista Bay was as follows:

4,684 Episcopalians.
1,809 Roman Catholics.
727 Methodists.
7 Presbyterians.
7,227 Total.

There were 1,039 dwelling houses, and 17 schools, with 039 scholars.

There were 1079 acres of land in cultivation, producing annually 25,971 bushels of potatoes ; 272 bushels of oals and other grain ; and 260 tons of hay. There were 121 horses, and 967 cattle.

According to the census of 1857, the population of Bonavista Bay was as follows :—

There are 1,360 dwelling-houses, and 19 schools, with 812 pupils. There were 1,278 acres of land under cultivation, yielding annually 604 tons of hay; 49 bushels of wheat and barley; 5 bushels of oats; 66,407 bushels of potatoes; 2,207 bushels of turnips; and 405 bushels of other root crops. There were 733 head cattle; 258 milch cows ; 67 horses; 873 sheep; 3,293 swine and goats. Quantity of butter manufactured, 2,661 pounds, and 16 pounds of cheese. The number of vessels employed in the seal and cod fisheries was 57. Boats carrying from four to thirty qutls and upwards of green fish, 783. Quantity of fish cured, 98,942 qutls of cod-fish; 182 tiers of salmon; and 160 barrels of herring. The number of seals taken, was 33,192. Seal nets owned, 1,357. Gallons of oil manufactured, 54,137.

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