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
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
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
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,
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
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.
4 Kirk of Scotland.
1,351 Church of
8,371 Church of Rome.
13 Kirk of Scotland.
5 Churches of England.
15 Churches of Rome.
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,
15,020 Barrels of Herring.
100 Tierces Salmon.
The whole producing
128,248 gallons of oil.