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Chapter IX. District of Placentia and St. Mary’s

IN Plaisance (beautiful place) or Placentia, the French founded a colony in 1660, which was a flourishing settlement. At this period the French paid a duty of five per cent, on the produce of the fisheries to the British Government. In 1692, however, Commodore Williams was sent with a fleet against Placentia, which he partly destroyed. After Placentia was taken from the French, it became a deputy-governorship under the Government of Nova Scotia. But on the appointment of the first regular governor of Newfoundland, Captain Henry Osborne, in 1728, Placentia was placed under his jurisdiction.

In 1762, when the French were in possession of St. John’s, Governor Graves, who was convoying a fleet of merchantmen, was met on the banks by a sloop which was sent to inform him of the attack of the French on the British settlements. He instantly repaired to Placentia, and restored the ruined fortresses of Fort Frederick and Castle Hill.

Bishop Mullock says :—

“The great demilune which guarded the entrance of the port is now a shapeless heap of rubbish, its vaulted brick casements have been all destroyed, and the remains of a castle on Crevecceur Hill are slowly perishing. It is remarkable that several properties are still held in Placentia by virtue of the original French titles, and such importance did the government of Louis 14th, the Grand Monarch, attach to the possession of the place, that all the grants are signed by the King’s own hand, and countersigned by his minister, Phillippeau. Nor were the French oblivious of the necessity of religion in their new settlement—a Convent of Franciscans, a branch of the Convent of Our Lady of Angels, of Quebec, was established there in 1689, on the site of the present Protestant Church and burying ground, and a few French tombs of the date of 1680 to 1690 yet remain to mark out the place where it stood. Most of the French tombstones were taken by the English settlers after the surrender of the place by France, and applied to the ignoble purposes of hearth stones and door steps. Newfoundland was then under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Quebec, and in 1689 the second bishop of that See, Monseigneur St. Vallier, made a visitation of Placentia and the neighbouring parts, in company with Father Giorgieu and some of the Franciscan community of Quebec. The records of the foundation of the convent and of the episcopal visitation are in the archie-piscopal archives of Quebec. Thus we see two great and powerful nations established on the shores of Newfoundland, opposed in politics, in interest, in religion, and it is easy to imagine that the progress of the country must have been not only retarded, but absolutely impossible.”

Placentia is the capital of the district, and was once the principal place in the island. Hardly a vestige of its ancient fortifications now, however, are to be seen. The population of Great and Little Placentia in 1845 was 1,058, and in 1867, 1,250. There is a court-house and gaol at Great Placentia, also a police magistrate and custom-house officer, and clerk of the peace. The circuit court sits here once a year. There is a Roman Catholic Church and a Church of England—there are so few Protestants in the place that the latter church is left without a minister. His late Majesty, William IV., when on the Newfoundland station, as Prince William Henry, presented a communion service to this church ; and a few years ago, Adelaide, the late Queen Dowager, relict of his Majesty, gave £50 towards the repairs of the church.

Placentia is supplied with a commercial school. The principal merchants formerly were Rodger Sweetman & Co., an Irish House, and the Messrs. Murpheys. Mr. Sweetman was a member of the first legislature of Newfoundland.

Placentia Bay is one of the largest bays in Newfoundland. It is sixty miles broad and ninety miles long, rich in minerals and fisheries, with numerous settlements, harbours and islands. The cultivation of the soil is rapidly progressing. Placentia Bay is separated from Trinity Bay on the north-east coast by a low isthmus about three miles long, across which the French, when in possession of Placentia, formed a road covered with logs, on which they hauled their boats from one place to the other, and the fishermen now frequently carry bait from one bay to the other. Between St. John’s and Placentia there is a house of entertainment for travellers.

St. Mary’s is the most important place in the district, which is the chief place in St. Mary’s. It has a population of G92. There is a courthouse and gaol. The circuit court sits here once a year. There is a police magistrate, who is also preventive officer. There is a Roman Catholic Church and school. Formerly Messrs. Slade, Elson & Co., of Carbonear, carried on a considerable trade here, which, however, has been long broken up. Mr. Martin, their agent, was returned a member for the district in the first House of Assembly of Newfoundland.

Placentia and St. Mary’s are very flourishing agricultural districts. The geological structure of the district for the most part is composed of variegated slate rocks, which, next to the soft sandstones and coal regions, is the most fertile formation in Newfoundland. St. Mary’s Bay has a number of settlements. From Salmonier, at the head of the bay, to Conception Bay the distance is ten miles, and from Colinet to Trinity Bay the distance is but eight miles.

Trepassey is the next important place in the district, which is a good harbour situate in Trepassey Bay, near Cape Pine, where an iron lighthouse has been built by the British Government, said to be one of the finest in the world. Trepassey was formerly a place of some note, but is now a very inconsiderable fishing village. Its population in 1857 was 541.

Not far from Cape Fine, at the entrance of St. Mary’s Bay, is situate St. Sliotts, which is the scene of nearly all the shipwrecks which occur on the Newfoundland coast. The tides along the shores of Newfoundland generally do not rise or tall more than six or eight feet. On the coast of St. Shotts, however, a strong current sets in from the eastward at the rate of four miles per hour. It has been observed that the current runs faster during the spring tides, and owing to a proper allowance not being made for the force of the tide, vessels coming from Canada and the west are frequently wrecked upon the coast. Several of H.M.S. ships were lost here at different periods. In 184!), the steamer Kestrel, commanded by Captain Meagher, was lost here, on her way from Halifax with the Newfoundland mail. Wm. Sweetland, Esq., and C. W. St. John, Esq., have written two very interesting papers on the probable cause of the shipwrecks at St. Slhtts. The paper by Mr. St. John is a masterly production.

Cape St. Mary’s is called the “ garden of Newfoundland,” on account of its superior fishing ground as well as its agricultural capabilities. Formerly fishing boats used to assemble at the Kegs (two rocks about four or five miles off the Cape) from all parts of the country, and even now a great number of boats frequent the place from remote districts. The cod-fish is larger and better than what is usually caught in other parts of the island. During the summer months a dense cold fog usually attains here, hence a common saying among the fishermen, “ Cold as St. Mary’s fog.”

According to the returns of 1845, the following was the population of the District of Placentia and St Mary’s:

5,455 Roman Catholics,
971 Episcopalians.
87 Methodists.
8 Presbyterians.
6,471 Total

The number of dwelling-houses in the district was 960, and 11 schools with 573 scholars. There were also 9 Roman Catholic Churches and 4 Protestant Episcopal.

There were 2,200 acres of land in cultivation, producing 28,759 bushels of potatoes, 588 bushels of oats and other grain, and 1,573 tons of hay and fodder. Of live stock there were 45 horses and 1,618 cattle.

In 1833, Placentia employed ten vessels in the foreign trade, now, however, it does not employ half that number. A considerable coasting trade is carried on in the cod and herring fisheries.

The census of 1857 gives the population as follows:—

966 Church of England.
7,156 Church of Rome.
208 Wesleyans.
4 Kirk of Scotland.
8,334 Total.

In 1874—

1,351 Church of England.
8,371 Church of Rome.
239 Wesleyans.
13 Kirk of Scotland.
9,974 Total.

There were—

5 Churches of England.
15 Churches of Rome.
1 Wesleyan.

Twenty-five schools and 982 pupils. There were 1,291 dwelling-houses. Of land under culture there were 3,806 acres, producing annually 1,547 tons of hay, 42 bushels of wheat and barley, 180 bushels of oats, 27,005 bushels of potatoes, and 730 bushels of turnips. Of live stock there were 1,540 neat cattle, 928 milch cows, 284 horses, 3,592 sheep, and 355 swine and goats. The quantity of butter manufactured was 24,083 pounds.

The number of small schooners and fishing boats carrying from 4 to 30 quintals of green fish, employed in the fishery was 1,121, using 1,511 nets and seives, curing—

131,848 Quintals Codfish.
15,020 Barrels of Herring.
100 Tierces Salmon.

The whole producing 128,248 gallons of oil.

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