The First Transatlantic Radio Message

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 12, 1901

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 66-145; Guglielmo Marconi, with instruments used to receive first transatlantic message,St. John’s. Photographer James Vey, St. John’s.

On December 12, 1901, at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Italian scientist and engineer Guglielmo Marconi sent and received the first transatlantic radio message.

The test signal was sent by electrical engineer John Ambrose Fleming in Poldhu, Cornwall, 3,200 km away across the Atlantic Ocean. It came in through a 121 metre long copper wire antenna trailing from a box kite and out through a radio speaker.

Marconi had set up temporary masts, but high winds had blown them down. The kite contraption worked. Marconi heard the first signal as the faint clicking of Morse code – of the letter ‘S’ –three short clicks– repeated over and over, and he passed the ear piece to his assistant, G. S. Kemp for corroboration.

Marconi first started experimenting with radiotelegraphy around 1895 and he realized that messages could be transmitted over much greater distances by using grounded antennae on the radio transmitter and receiver.

A few years after his successful transmission with Fleming, Marconi opened the first commercial wireless telegraph service.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Archives Division see  F.37-’37  one of the archival documents is the Proposal of the Canadian Marconi Company to establish a wireless telephone service between St. John’s and Canada, the United States and Great Britain

Recommended Reading:  Marconi, by Giancarlo Masini, Marsilio Publishers: 1999.

Recommended Website:  http://www.marconicalling.co.uk/  Marconi Calling is a fascinating exploration of Guglielmo Marconi’s life, his scientific discoveries, the impact of wireless and the development of modern communications

Looks like a good Christmas on the Cape Shore

December 7, 1884

“A derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s … “

As Christmas 1884 approached, the people of St. Bride’s, Placentia Bay, were thinking it would not be a prosperous Christmas.  It had been a poor year in the fishery. Their fortune was however about to change unhappily born on the pain of other families from Placentia Bay.

On  December 7, 1884 residents of St. Bride’s  stood on ‘the bank’ overlooking Placentia Bay  watching as a “a derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s, dismasted and waterlogged…”

There was much excitement in St. Bride’s, it was quickly realized that “Sixty three barrels of flour and six puncheons of molasses” was aboard the vessel.   It was theirs to salvage, they would take it home.

In the days following the salvage effort, St. Bride’s fell silent.  James E. Croucher, the Wreck Commissioner stationed at Great Placentia had arrived in the town on December 10.  He immediately began a search for the cargo of the ill-fated schooner, but to his dismay only found   “24 barrels of flour broken and in a damaged condition, and two puncheons of molasses …”   

Thirty nine (39) barrels of flour and four (4) puncheons of molasses were not accounted for.

Croucher,  as the Wreck Commissioner was obliged by law, under the Consolidated States of Newfoundland to travel to St. Bride’s to investigate the loss of the Schooner, he could only conclude: “the remainder of the property being distributed amongst salvors by a person or parties who had no authority from me to do so.”

As he sailed out of St. Bride’s for Great Placentia the residents of St. Bride’s no doubt celebrated. With their newly acquired abundance of flour and molasses, it would be a good Christmas.

The people of St. Bride’s also mourned, they knew that their gain came at the loss of the crew of the Schooner Stella, a crew of nine men out of nearby Oderin, Placentia Bay.  It is said that she was wrecked in the “terrific gale of November 1884.”

Ever respectful of the dead, it is reported that All the clothes that had belonged to the lost men that had been taken from the Schooner were carefully dried and forwarded to their families.”

What was St. Bride’s Like?

The 1874 census listed a population of 140 in 29 families. Thirteen residents were from Ireland and one from Scotland.  The 79 fishermen had 22 boats. The 13 farmers had 203 cattle, 30 horses, 139 sheep and 113 swine on 200 acres of land.  Products included 60 bushels of oats and 5,460 lbs. 01 butter

By 1891, the population had increased to 256, including four from Ireland. The 66  fishermen-farmers. The community also had a priest, a teacher and a merchant, and 65 of the 122 children were in school.

What about the name?

The name of St. Bride’s is quite modern, and was given from the titular Saint of the Church of St. Bridgett.

On more ancient maps it  (St. Bride’s)  was called La Stress, apparently a French name which became corrupted into Distress.

This name “Distress”  in 1876   was reported by the newly arrived  priest Reverend Charles Irvin  as “not being of pleasant sound”  and having the authority of the church the priest  changed the name from Distress to  St. Bride’s .   

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, holds 70% of the Crew Agreements from 1863-1938, and 80% of the Agreements from 1951-1976. The crew agreements include particulars of each member of the crew, including name (signature), age, place of birth, previous ship, place and date of signing, capacity  and particulars of discharge (end of voyage, desertion, sickness, death, never joined etc). http://www.mun.ca/mha/

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home: At the eastern edge of the continent, bounded by the sea, the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s livyers was tied to the fisheries and the North Atlantic. A rich mix of dialects, ways of life, food traditions, story and song developed here. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4

The first Christmas cards arrive in Newfoundland

ARCHIVAL MOMENTS


December 2018

The local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram in an article on December 25, 1883 suggests that the first Christmas card was not introduced into Newfoundland until after 1868.  The newspaper reported:

“Even in the celebration of Christmas, what vast changes and improvements has Terra Nova seen within these fifteen years!  A  ‘Christmas Card’  was then (1868) utterly unknown, now what millions of them pass from ‘hand to hand’, wafting with pretty colors and gracious sentiments, the very spirit of the grand old season.”

The tradition of sending commercial Christmas cards can be traced to 1843. A gentleman by the name of Sir Henry Cole had several problems that he was trying to resolve.

In the 1840’s Christmas cards were very expensive; they were individually painted and delivered by hand. Henry did not want to have to contend with the expense and he especially disliked the idea of writing a personal greeting to each person. He also wanted the message on his Christmas cards to bring attention to the importance of supporting the destitute during the Christmas season

Then the answer came. It was a marriage of art and technology.

Sir Henry commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. It was a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels depicting the charitable essence of Christmas; feeding the poor and clothing the homeless. In the center was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year To You” under a colorful drawing of a family celebrating, their wine glasses raised in a toast.

Sir Henry had good intentions, but his Christmas card design, showing a child enjoying a sip of wine, was described as “fostering the moral corruption of children.”

Eighteen of the original 1000 cards printed  are known to be still in existence, one of which recently changed hands at auction for around $40,000.

Originally the custom  was not to post the Christmas Card but rather cards were passed from “hand to hand.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at MG 63.356 – MG 63- 358 these files consist 125 Christmas cards produced by the International Grenfell Association.

The Rooms:   The Rooms is dressed for Christmas  – come and see our Christmas trees.

Send me a Christmas Card:   9 Bonaventure Ave. (P.O. Box 1800) St. John’s ,NL . A1C 5P9   –  include some suggestions for Archival Moments.

 

 

Horses, turned into the roads and woods to die of frost and starvation”

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: NA19658: Horses grazing ina field

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: NA19658: Horses grazing ina field

Archival Moment

November 29,1893

In November 1893 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in the local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram published an article “enlisting the services of supporters throughout the colony.”

The article read:  “The SPCA desires to enlist the services of its supporters throughout the colony in detecting and punishing cruelty, and, at this season, the practice of exposing old horses and other animals.”   The article stated:  “Worn out horses are often turned into the roads and woods to die of frost and starvation.”

The Executive of the SPCA were keen to stop this cruel practice and insisted that “the crime should be effectually stamped out.”

The SPCA which was established in Newfoundland in November 1888 was originally formed to eradicate this practice and other cruel hardships that the horses had to endure such pulling excessively heavy loads.

The Executive of the SPCA wrote to the readers of the Evening Telegram that “Without the watchful assistance of the public, the efforts of our agents must be of little effect.”

Since their founding in 1888 the SPCA had encouraged laws “wide enough to cover all cases that may arise, and the magistrates never fall in their duty when such cases come before them.”   They proposed however that “While it is the duty of all Justices of the Peace to execute this law upon offenders, it is no less the duty of every citizen to prosecute cases coming to notice.”

In 1893 it was the hope that  “branches of our Society (should be) formed in every outport where a Justice is within reach.”

To assist with establishing societies  outside of St. John’s  “Either Mr. Greene, Q.C. (Hon. Treasurer) or Mr. Johnson, Q.C. (Hon. Secretary)  of the St. John’s Society  will be ready  at all times to assist in the formation of branch Societies an in instructing as to the method of prosecuting offenders.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At The Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 593 is the SPCA Collection 1912 -1927. It consists of correspondence; complaint books, and investigation reports into complaints of cruelty.

Recommended Song: Tickle Cove Pond. Allan Doyle (Great Big Sea).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SNScBpa4lc

Recommended Web Site:  Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – http://www.spcanl.com/

“We could hear their cries all night below us.”

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: IGA Lantern slides, Pouch Cove, IGA 1-189

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: IGA Lantern slides, Pouch Cove, IGA 1-189

ARCHIVAL MOMENT
November 29, 1875

On the night of November 29, 1875, the Schooner Waterwitch left St. John’s bound for her home port of Cupids with 25 souls on board. She never made it to Cupids; in the middle of a blinding snowstorm she struck rocks just north of Pouch Cove.

In the local St. John’s newspaper, The Times, the Anglican Minister of Pouch Cove, Reginald Johnson wrote:

“We had a frightful wreck here last night. The schooner Waterwitch, … to and belonging to Cupids, in the Bay, total loss. There were 25 souls on board, – out of which we saved only 13. I was on the spot soon after the terrible news reached the houses, and helped to haul up the survivors. Every man was hauled up fast to about 100 fathoms line, as the wreck could not be approached. We could hear their cries all night below us. It was frightful! The people have behaved nobly ….”

The loss of the 12 men and women on that cold November night is commemorated  in song and story with much of the credit for the rescue of the survivors, given to Alfred Moores of Pouch Cove. He allowed himself to be lowered to the ship by a rope from an overhanging cliff so that he could carry the people to safety.

Also recognized for their role in the daring rescue were David Baldwin, Eli Langmead, William Noseworthy, and Christopher Mundy.

The horror of the night is told in the verses of the song the Waterwitch that is still song in Pouch Cove.

But, hark! Another scream is heard, the people get a shock,
Another female left below to perish on the rock;
When Alfred Moores makes another dash, as loud the wind do roar,
And brings a woman in his arms in safety to the shore.

The town of Cupids went into deep mourning; nine of the dead were from their small place.

A year after the tragic event Governor and Lady Glover at Government House, St. John’s presented Alfred Moores with the Silver Medal of the Royal Human Society. The other four were presented with the bronze medal for their heroic effort. The present location of the medals is not known.

Recommended Museum: The Pouch Cove Museum located in the Town Hall has a small exhibit commemorating the sinking of the Waterwitch.  The Cupids Legacy Centre has a model of the Waterwitch as well as a piece of the original wreck.

Recommended Song: Sung by Richard Moores [d.1975] of Pouch Cove, NL (son of the song’s hero, Alfred Moores) and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA). http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/01/witch.htm

Recommended Book: The Loss of the Waterwitch & Other Tales by Eldon Drodge, 2010, Breakwater Press.

 

 

Prisoner Escapes Penitentiary, Reward Posted

Archival Moment

November 25, 1887

"Manslaughter Without Mercy"

“Manslaughter Without Mercy”

There was much excitement in St. John’ on November 25, 1887, the talk in town was all about the whereabouts of Michael Whelan, a convicted murderer who had escaped from the penitentiary at Quidi Vidi Lake. The local newspapers ran advertisements that stated:

“Whereas, Michael Whelan, a prisoner in the Penitentiary, under sentence of manslaughter, escaped recently from prison, and is now at large. Notice is hereby given, that reward of two hundred dollars will be paid to any person or persons who shall give the police authorities such information that shall lead to his arrest; and all persons are cautioned not in any way to harbour or aid the said Michael inn his escape.”

Michael Whelan, a fisherman of Horse Cove, (now St. Thomas) was charged with the willful murder of Livi King of Broad Cove, on the 6th of October 1883.

Witnesses swore that the tension between the two men was driven by alcohol and religion. According to the trial testimony it seems that the custom of those travelling from St. John’s to the Broad Cove – Portugal Cove area in those days on horse and cart was to make an occasional stop for a drink along the way. They stopped at M. Lundrigan’s to pick up a bottle to bring home, next they stopped at Walsh’s, near the pond, for a few drinks. It was here that the trouble started. It seems that Whelan “was cursing the Orangemen” and King threatening to “go down and haul down the chapel.” Nothing good was to come of this.

Michael Whelan pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Levi King when he was arraigned. The trial took place on November 28, 1883. It took the jury one hour to decide on a verdict of “manslaughter without mercy.” Whelan was sentenced to prison for life in H. M. Penitentiary.

On November 25, 1887, between seven and eight o’clock seven prisoners left to work on a drain which they were constructing from the General Hospital (Forest Road)  to Quidi Vidi Lake in the charge of two prison officials. Amongst the prisoners was Michael Whelan.

Whelan had been slowly plotting his escape gradually ingratiating himself into the good books of the prison officials. He was rewarded for his good behavior by being allowed to join the other prisoners in their work detail. While at work in the drain he asked to retire “for a natural purpose”. He was permitted to do so.

In the meantime the prison wardens were distracted by the other prisoners, when Whelan saw this he made a dash for liberty; he was a powerful man and a fast runner; he followed the margin of Quidi Vidi Lake to the East end. The officer gave chase; Whelan outdistanced the prison officials and disappeared into the White Hills.

Despite an intense search using all of the police resources and the large reward offered for Whelan’s capture, he was never caught. Police watched his home and questioned his friends but to no avail, he was not to be found.

An inquiry into the escape established that this was a planned escape, not some spontaneous act by the prisoner. Whelan’s prison guard told the inquiry that he should have known that something was up because Whelan had taken his Rosary beads that had always hung on his bed post. Typically,  when he went with the prison work crews  the beads were left in his prison cell.

There were lots of rumors about what happened to Michael Whelan, some said that he made his escape to Placentia, a town where the Whelan family were well established, and from there he got away to America in a fishing schooner.

It is known that his wife left Newfoundland some years after his escape for America, fueling rumors that he had established a home somewhere in the Boston States. Twenty years following his escape in November 1906 the Evening Telegram speculated that she was living with him in Boston.

The Whelan’s were among the first settlers of Horse Cove; the town changed its name to St. Thomas in 1922 and was amalgamated with Paradise in 1992. St. Thomas with the amalgamation is now the oldest settled part of the town of Paradise and the Whelan’s remain among the residents.

It is not likely that Michael Whelan came home but did any of his kin visit with him? Did he keep his connections to friends and family in Horse Cove?

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives see GN2.2 Evidence taken at the Magisterial Inquiry, The Queen vs Michael Whelan for the felony of Prison Breach, November 29, 1887. A transcript of the trial can be found in the Evening Telegram (St. John’s, N.L.), 29 November 1883.

Would the First American Thanksgiving have happened without Newfoundland support?

Archival Moment

first-thanksgivingWhen our American friends sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner it might be appropriate if they gave thanks to the early colonists of Newfoundland, in particular the colonists of Cuper’s Cove (now Cupids).

It could be argued that it was some of the early fishing and farming techniques that were practiced in Cupids, Newfoundland and  were later passed on to the  Mayflower Pilgrims  that helped them survive  their first winter  in the United States, allowing them to have their first Thanksgiving!

In late 1614, Squanto (also known as Tisquantum and Squantum ) walked into the London office of John Slany, manager of the Bristol Company, a shipping and merchant venture that had been given rights to Newfoundland by England’s King James I in 1610.  Squanto had been captured four years earlier in his home  (Massachusett) and sold into slavery in Spain. Having escaped his slavers he made his way to London.

Squanto, while in London, worked with Slany learning the English language, Slaney had hoped that Squanto would be his interpreter working with other native groups in the New World. In 1617, Squanto set sail with Slaney and the other Colonists for Cupers Cove,  (Cupids) Newfoundland.

While in Cupers Cove, Squanto worked with the other colonists, perfecting his English and learning farming and fishing techniques.

Late in 1619, Squanto befriended Thomas Dermer, a British Merchant in Newfoundland who agreed to sail Squanto home.  On arrival, Squanto learned that his people the Patuxet  (a Native American band of the Wampanoag tribal confederation, they lived primarily in and around modern-day Plymouth)  were no more. Disease had ravaged his home in his absence, and not a single Patuxet native had survived.

Just weeks later the Mayflower’s naive and ill-prepared (Mayflower) Pilgrims arrived to face the winter of 1620 in the New World. Squanto, now alone and his home and people destroyed became a mediator and interpreter for the Mayflower Colonists.

As historian Charles C. Mann wrote in “Native Intelligence,” (Smithsonian, December 2005):

Squanto was critical to the colony’s survival. The Pilgrims’ own supplies of grain and barley all failed in the New World soil while the native corn gave them a life-saving crop. Squanto taught them how to fish, and how to fertilize the soil with the remains of the fish they caught…|”

In the spring of 1621, the colonists planted their first crops in Patuxet’s abandoned fields. While they had limited success with wheat and barley, their corn crop proved very successful, thanks to Squanto who taught them how to plant corn in hills, using fish as a fertilizer as he had seen in Newfoundland.

With Squanto’s help, the pilgrims grew enough food to survive the following winter, prompting them to invite him to the first Thanksgiving Feast in 1621.

The first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast to celebrate the successful fall harvest. No exact date for the feast has ever been recorded but it is believed that it most likely took place sometime between September and November. The pilgrims served fowl and deer for the occasion.

Squanto’s other claim to fame is that he also served as a negotiator between the Pilgrims and other aboriginal groups in the area. Because he spoke English (that he  perfected in Newfoundland) he was instrumental in establishing a friendship treaty between other aboriginal groups and the Mayflower Pilgrims, allowing them to occupy traditional aboriginal land.

Newfoundland has another connection to the American Thanksgiving. According to a popular local legend the ship that the Puritans sailed on, the Mayflower landed at Renews, Newfoundland in 1620, where it picked up water and supplies before sailing on to Plymouth Rock.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends!!

Recommended Archival Collection:   File GN 8.59 1913 Office of the Prime Minister,  Edward Patrick Morris,  file consists of correspondence related to proposal by Governor Ralph Williams (1908 -1913) for the establishment of Thanksgiving Day in Newfoundland.

Recommended Read: The Story about Squanto in Cupids, Newfoundland:  http://www.cupids400.com/english/about/squanto.php