“Buy a broom in May, sweep your friends away..”

Archival Moment

May Month

"Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away."

“Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”

If you are shopping in May to replace an “old broom” you might want to consider the old English rhyme that goes:

Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”

Some would even argue that one should not use a broom at all in May;  the English rhyme  for this superstition  goes:

 

If you sweep the house with broom in May, You’ll sweep the head of that house away.”

The origins of these superstitions have been lost but it is likely that the Newfoundland influence can be traced to 19th-century England in particular in Suffolk County home of the ancestors of many Newfoundlanders.

The superstition was also held by our Irish ancestors, they refused to make brooms during the month of May. It was the general rule in Ireland, to gather a stock of brooms, before May Day (1st May) in order that they should last through the month.

The broom has also taken on some considerable symbolic value.

Photo Credit: The Rooms: A 50-38:  Little Girl with her broom, women's work!

Photo Credit: The Rooms: A 50-38: Little Girl with her broom, women’s work!

The broom is often associated with woman and good housekeeping.  As a result of the association, it was the practice that when a wife had been absent from home “longer than justifiable”, a broom, decorated with a ribbon, would be hung over the doorway, as an advertisement for a housekeeper.

The men also took advantage of the broom as a symbol.  When the man puts out the broom, it is understood that he invites his friends to carouse with him during his wife’s absence. Nowadays, it might be called an invitation to a shed party!!

In Newfoundland, P.K. Devine, a journalist and a teacher, and one of the first important native Newfoundland folklore enthusiasts observed that boats were “broomed” to let people know that they were for sale. Instead of an advertisement in the local paper, the old “birch broom” used in sweeping the deck, was hoisted to the mast-head to let everyone in the harbor know that the schooner was for sale.

Making brooms was considered a noble profession and most towns had a small family business geared towards making brooms or a medium sized business that included the manufacture of brooms.  The Directory for St. John’s in 1890 for example identified Robert Martin of 18 Duckworth Street and Joshua Mills of Kickham’s Lane as broom makers for the business of F & M Company.   In rural Newfoundland certain fishermen because of their natural talent were identified as the “broom makers” and often made the brooms to support their meager income from fishing.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s a small Broom Industry was created at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) manufacturing brooms that were sold in the shops of St. John’s and other towns. It is an art form that has now all but died.

With regard to the old English rhyme “Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”   I tend to be a bit more relaxed in May month about house cleaning and absolutely no broom in sight!!

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives: Broom Industry: GN 13. Dept. of Justice (1939-1948) 1   folder  Box number, 106.

Recommended Reading:  Admiral W.H. Smyth, 1788—1865, The Sailor’s Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms (London: Blackie and Son, 1867)

Recommended Song:  Lish Young Buy A Broom (Shanneyganock) with lyrics and video http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/30/broom.htm

Body dropped on the doorstep of the magistrate

Archival Moment

29 April 1834

Photo Credit: Gibbeting is the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other criminals

Photo Credit: Gibbeting is the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other criminals

On the evening of 29 April 1834, a large crowd gathered in Harbour Grace to cut down the gibbeted body of Peter Downing a convicted murderer.

Downing was convicted in early April for the brutal murders of a school teacher (Mr. Bray) , his infant son and a servant girl. For his crimes Downing was sentenced to be hanged, dissected and gibbetted.

For much of the month of April the people of Harbor Grace were forced to look on the gibbeted body of Downing.

The residents of Harbour Grace, approximately one thousand,  had had enough, they removed the partially decomposed body of Downing,  paraded it  through the town, past the Court House, and dropped it on the doorstep of a magistrate, Dr. Stirling, along with a note, signed  by anonymous which read:

Dr. S.  This  is your man you were the cause of bringing him here take and bury him or Look Out should you  be the cause  of allowing him to be put up again we will mark you for it,  so do your duty and get him out of sight. 

truly  a friend,

Anonymous Carbonear

Dissection and gibbeting were punishments that had long been established in England and her colonies for crimes of traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers.  The intention was that the body of Peter Downing would be left as a grim reminder and would stay on the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds.  Gibbeting was formally legalised in Britain by the Murder Act of 1752.

Gibbeting was not generally accepted by the people in Newfoundland.  Many were offended by the sight and odor of a decaying body, others believed that the decaying bodies spread disease, others felt that being hung by the neck till dead was enough, even a criminal should meet his Creator in his full body.

In Harbour Grace, Dr. Sterling heeded the content of the note from the angry citizens. The decayed body of Peter Downing was buried immediately at the Court House, and no attempts were made to have the incident investigated or the body gibbeted again.

In Newfoundland “gibbetting” is well documented. In St John’s, Gibbet Hill, a small peak close to Signal Hill, takes its name from the practice.   The location was very intentional.  Anyone looking towards Signal Hill would see the ‘gibbeted bodies.”  A reminder to heed the laws of the colony!

Newfoundland for a number of years held the dubious distinction of being the last place in the British Empire to proceed with gibbetting.   The last man believed to be gibbetted in England was William Jobling on August 21st 1832. The last man in the British colonies was likely John McKay, in 1837. He was gibbeted on a tree near Perth, Tasmania.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to explore the records of the Office of the Colonial Secretary. This office served as the official repository for Newfoundland state records and as the registry for varied legal and statistical documents, the collection includes extensive holdings relating to all aspects of Newfoundland political, economic, community and social life.  In particular take some time with GN 2/2  this  series consists of correspondence, reports, petitions, and records related to the operations of government in Newfoundland. The records include summaries of court cases.

Recommended Reading: Plebian Collective Action in Harbourt Grace and Carbonear, Newfoundland, 1830 – 1840, Linda Little  (1984) . Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Recommended Activity: Visit Gibbet Hill in St. John’s, imagine the horror  the gibbetted  bodies struck in the hearts of the  citizens of St. John’s as they stared at the decaying bodies overlooking their town.

College built from Prison Stone

Archival Moment

April 27, 1857
St. Bonaventure’s College – The Old College

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 35-28; St. Bonaventure's College.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 35-28; St. Bonaventure’s College.

St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s known locally as (St. Bon’s) was designed by James Purcell and built by Patrick Keough. It is considered one of the most recognized educational facilities in the province.

In 1855 there was a public auction to sell more than 30,000 building stones from Waterford, Ireland, which had been imported to build the local penitentiary. The Catholic Bishop of the day, Right Rev. John Thomas Mullock, took advantage of plans to build a smaller penal institution and purchased sufficient surplus stones to construct a monastery.

On April 27, 1857 the bishop laid the cornerstone of the building, a year later, in March 1858, the new facilities opened. Dormitories were installed upstairs as the institution operated as a seminary.

Seven years later in 1865 the college began to admit secular students and, in 1889, the Irish Christian Brothers assumed administrative responsibilities for the school.

The building is now known as the Old College or the Skinner Building and is located directly across the street from The Rooms.

Recommended Reading
: Noble to the View:  J. B. Darcy, Creative Publishers, St. John’s, 2007

Recommended Movie: Many of the interior shots in the movie “Love and Savagery”  starring Allan Hawco were filmed in the ‘Old College’.

 

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland Mother

Archival Moment

April 25, 1915

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is Australia and New Zealand’s most important national day of commemoration. The day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces on 25 April, 1915 in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Fighting with the ANZAC forces was the Newfoundland Regiment serving as part of the 29th Division of the British Army fighting in Gallipoli.

Six months after the ANZAC forces had landed 1,076 Newfoundlanders came ashore along the shores of the Dardanelles Strait (Turkey) on September 20, 1915. The Newfoundlanders spent the first months digging trenches and keeping long night watches, spending time on the front line learning trench warfare techniques from the ANZAC forces.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

During the almost four months the Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, approximately 30 men died in action and 10 more died of disease. One of the young men who died was Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696, he was 19 years old, the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s.   A young Australian nurse held him as he died and wanting to bring comfort to his mother wrote her this letter.

 

Australian Base Post Office

Alexandria, Egypt

December 6th 1915

 Dear Mrs. Murphy,

 I am an Australian Nurse on the Hospital Ship on which your son passed away when we were crossing from the Dardanelles to Malta.

 I have not much to tell you but thought it might comfort you in your sorrow to have a few lines from someone who was with him in his last hour. He was a very good boy and though so badly wounded was very brave and courageous, as I know he must have been when fighting.

 His injuries were such that his mental condition was not very clear so that he could not talk much about his home and friends but in his half delirium I often heard him say “Mother” as if he was thinking of his home. He suffered very little pain and passed peacefully away.

 He was seen by the priest before he died and had the Last Rites of his church. I am a Protestant myself and did not quite know what to do about a Crucifix he was wearing but thought it best to leave it to him when he went to his last resting place.

 These two letters I am enclosing were in the front pocket of his coat and were evidently treasured by him. I feel sure you would like to have them.

Trusting, that God will comfort you in your great loss and sorrow.

 I remain yours very sincerely,

 Jessie Reeves

 P.S.: The only address I have is St. John’s, Newfoundland so this may never reach you but am sending it; with the hope that it may do so. I think, St. John’s may not be a very big place so that it may get there.

Note: Jessie Reeves was a nurse with The Queen Alexandrea’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) She was originally from 5 Fenwick Street, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria. During the First World War (1914- 1918) she was at the Stationary Hospital in Ismalia,Egypt. After the war she did not marry, she died in Box Hill, Victoria in 1967.

Note: Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696 was 19 years old was the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s. He died from shrapnel wounds that he sustained on a 4 November 1915. He was buried at sea on 7 November 1915 having died on the Hospital Ship.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 36 This collection consists of photographs related to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War. The collection consists of two photograph albums compiled in 1915-1916 in recognition of the services of Newfoundland Regiment soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign.

Recommended Activity: On April 25th visit the War Memorial in your town and remember the men of Newfoundland and Labrador who stood with ‘the diggers’ at Gallipoli, Turkey.

Recommended Reading: When the Great Red Dawn Is Shining by Christopher J.A.Morry; Breakwater Books Ltd. St. John’s, NL. On their march towards the Somme, and Beaumont Hamel, the young men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment raised their voices to sing “When the Great Red Dawn is Shining,” a song about returning home to the people they love. Howard Morry was one of the young men who managed to make it back. And now, one hundred years after the events that changed his life, we hear Morry’s voice, in these pages, rising from the silence to recount his days with the famed Regiment.

Recommended Web site: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/gallipoli-eng.pdf

 

 

Newfoundlanders with “The Diggers”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

April 25, 1915

Newfoundlanders fought side by side with the men of Australia and New Zealand.

Newfoundlanders fought side by side with the men of Australia and New Zealand.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is Australia and New Zealand’s most important national day of commemoration.  The day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces on 25 April, 1915 in Gallipoli, Turkey.

The Australians and New Zealander’s stayed together and fought the Turks for eight months. They took part in battles that are forever etched in the military consciousness of their countries. In one battle alone at a place called Lone Pine, the Australians lost close to 2,200 men.

They won the ground and seven Victoria Crosses were earned in the process.

Six months after the ANZAC forces had landed 1,076 Newfoundlanders came ashore along the shores of the Dardanelles Strait on September 20, 1915. The Newfoundlanders spent the first months digging trenches and keeping long night watches, spending time on the front line learning trench warfare techniques from the ANZAC forces (they had been dubbed with the nickname diggers).

The number of Australian and New Zealand casualties ran high, New Zealand: 2721 and Australia approximately 8700.

The lack of a military breakthrough convinced the Allies it was time to withdraw from Gallipoli. It was decided the Newfoundland Regiment would help in the difficult task of covering the evacuation of Allied troops onto waiting ships. This rearguard operation went well and the Newfoundlanders were among the last Allied soldiers to leave Turkey in January 1916.

During the almost four months the Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, approximately 30 men died in action and 10 more died of disease.

Gallipoli was the first of many battles that would earn the Newfoundland Regiment an impressive reputation during the First World War. The Newfoundland Regiment would go on to fight with distinction in Belgium and France throughout the rest of the conflict. The regiment even earned the title “Royal” in 1917 in recognition of its exceptional service and sacrifice—the only regiment to be honoured this way by the British during the war.

The “Trail of the Caribou” designed to trace the path of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment  through its engagements in the First World War, consists of six large caribou statues cast in bronze.  Each caribou, the symbol of the regiment and the province (then-dominion), stands facing the enemy line with its head thrown back in defiance, a symbol of Newfoundlanders’ bravery and fortitude in battle.

A replica  of the six  caribou  are at Beaumont -Hamel,Gueudecourt, Monchy-le-Preux, Masnieres and Courtrai, all sites where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought for king and empire. A replica also stands in Bowring Park in St. John’s.There is no Caribou at  Gallipoli.

So it’s over the mountain and over the sea
Come brave Newfoundlanders and join the Blue Puttees
You’ll fight the Hun at Flanders and at Gallipoli
Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 36  This collection consists of photographs related to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War. The collection consists of two photograph albums which have been dismantled, as well as individual items. One album was apparently compiled in 1915-1916 in recognition of the services of Newfoundland Regiment soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign. (Note: Originals are restricted for conservation reasons. Digital scans available.)

Recommended Activity: On April 25th visit the War Memorial in your town and remember the men of Newfoundland and Labrador who stood with ‘the diggers’ at Gallipoli, Turkey.

Recommended Web site: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/gallipoli-eng.pdf

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea: Recruiting Sergeant: http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/04/recruit.htm

Is this holiday about St. George or William Shakespeare?

Archival Moment

April 23

Since 1936 their have been voices in Newfoundland suggesting that St. George's Day be called Shakespear's Day.

Since 1936 their have been voices in Newfoundland suggesting that St. George’s Day be called Shakespear’s Day.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, April 23, is St. George’s Day  celebrating our ‘English ancestry’.

 (The provincial holiday is held on April 25, the nearest Monday.)

 

St. George’s Day has long been acknowledged as a significant date in Newfoundland and Labrador but it was not celebrated as a holiday until April 23, 1921.

Traditionally it was a day filled with pageantry and parading. Typically all of the English Protestant organizations including the Newfoundland British Society, Loyal Orange Association, Society of United Fishermen, Independent Order of Oddfellows and the Sons of England Benefit Society, lined up in honor of St. George parading through the streets of St. John’s.

Throughout the town on St. George’s Day all of the men would be sporting a red rose in their lapel, the national emblem and flower for England

April 23 is however not only about St. George it is also all about William Shakespeare.

In Newfoundland there have always been enthusiasts for William Shakespeare and on April 16, 1936, George W. Ayre, a lawyer from St. John’s writing from his home at 24 Circular Road wrote to the local newspapers:

“Now, I should like to call your attention to the fact that the 23rd of April is far more important than its being St. George’s Day and that is that it is also the day on which Shakespeare was born and died, his birthday and deathday, and Shakespeare is as far above St. George as the intellect is above the physique or something mental is above something physical.

St. George is more or less confined to Englishmen or the person of British Empire, as their Patron Saint but Shakespeare is the intellectual ocean into which the little tributaries of intellect flow. He is the myriad minded man, the greatest, mind, possibly, that ever was on earth, and as Englishmen, for he was an Englishman, as Britishers, for he was a Britisher, as men of intellect, as his was the greatest intellect, we should honour his birthday and deathday.

He is not only all these but he is the outstanding genius of the world, whose works are studied by schoolchildren, scholars, actors, and others, of all countries.

We could easily afford to drop the 23rd of April as just, St. George’s Day.

We cannot afford to drop it as Shakespeare’s Day.

Let us therefore honour Shakespeare on that day, (April 23) let there be Shakespearean recitals and performances; let there be dances, concerts, etc. all in honour of the greatest mind that was ever in the world.”

There were those in St. John’s who were not amused with the letter; in fact they were quite baffled. Mr. Ayre (the gentleman penning the letter) was the first President of the St. George’s Society in St. John’s.  Ayre’s loyalties were clearly suspect. One of his first acts as the president of the St. George’s Society (founded on April 23, 1921) was to encourage theatrical groups in St. John’s to present Shakespearean plays on April 23.

Many thought it was really a bit much for the President of St. George’s Society, which was to advocate for their great patron St. George to write that:

“We could easily afford to drop the 23rd of April as just, St. George’s Day.”

Who was St. George?  According to legend, St. George, a soldier of the Imperial Army, rescues a town in what is now Libya from the tyranny of a dragon. St. George overpowered the beast and then offered to kill it if the townspeople would convert to Christianity and be baptized. The story is that there were 15,000 conversions on the spot. Openly espousing Christianity was dangerous and eventually the authorities of Emperor Diocletian arrested George. He was martyred about 303 AD.

St George is the patron saint of England. He is the patron of soldiers and archers, cavalry and chivalry, of farmers and field workers, Boy Scouts and butchers, of horses, riders and saddlers. He is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Genoa, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Istanbul, Lithuania, Moscow, Palestine, and Portugal.

Recommended Action: Wear a Red Rose in your lapel on April 23 just to remind people that you know why you had the day off. If you want to celebrate the birth and death of Shakespeare impress your friends by reciting a few lines from the bard.

Patrick’s Cove man “… represents the Dead who rest in France.”

Archival Moment

April 13, 1921

The-Call-To-Duty-Join-The-Army-For-Home-And-CountryWhen the United States entered the Great War of 1914-1918 it was only to be expected that sons of Newfoundland living in the United States would be amongst the sailors and soldiers who would join the American ranks.

Newfoundlanders living in the United States joined the Americans in the hundreds. Some died a hero’s death. The government of the United States had decided (if a request was made by parents or next of kin) to remove from foreign soil the bodies of those killed in war and bring them home for burial. Thousands were transferred, amongst those bodies was one destined for Newfoundland.

The dead soldier was Private Anthony McGrath, a native of Patrick’s Cove, Cape Shore, Placentia Bay, the son of George McGrath. Anthony had been working in New York when the United States declared war on Germany. Shortly afterwards he enlisted in the 106th Infantry Battalion of New York. After training he embarked with his unit as a part of the American Expeditionary Force to France, and in short order was in the front line trenches.

On September 27th, 1918, in the Argonne district, Anthony McGrath sealed his patriotism with his blood, when he was killed in action. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the Argonne forest (Sept 26–Nov 11), was their biggest operation and victory, in which Sergeant Alvin York became a national hero (played by Gary Cooper in a 1941 movie).

In the spring of 1921 the remains of Anthony McGrath were removed from France, brought to the United States, and then forwarded to Newfoundland.

In St. John’s, the newly formed Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) and Newfoundland Militia Department were consulted and arrangements made for a suitable military escort to meet the body on arrival of coastal steamship Kyle in the city.

Upon being notified the G.W.V.A. took charge of all arrangements and issued an appeal to all veterans to assemble at the dock pier, on arrival of S.S. Kyle to do honor to the remains of their deceased comrade. Permission was granted to all sailors and soldiers to wear uniforms and it was requested that all who could do so to wear them, as also for all American sailors or soldiers in St. John’s and vicinity to attend the funeral.

Commenting on the arrangements, the St. John’s newspaper the “Daily News” reported:

“This is an unique occasion in that it is the first body of a Newfoundland soldier who fell in France to be brought back for interment in his homeland …”

Another quotation from the same paper states:

“…. a Newfoundland soldier is being carried from the battlefields in France to find a resting place in his own country, and preparations are being made to pay him due respect in this instance, for he, after all, must represent the Dead who rest in France.”

The funeral procession paraded through the several communities on the Cape Shore, flags were flying at half-mast everywhere. All who could do so joined the funeral en- route to the soldier’s home, where, on April 13th, (1921) he was laid in his final resting place in the little cemetery on the hill overlooking Patrick’s Cove.

The final chapter was written in November, 1942, when representatives of the American Legion went from Argentia to Private McGrath’s grave at Patrick’s Cove and posthumously made him a member of the American Legion.

Anthony was the son of George McGRATH, age 65. He left to mourn his brother Bartholomew McGRATH, age 35; John J. McGRATH, age 25; George McGRATH, age 20; and sister Lucy F. McGRATH age 23.

Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Regiment, available at the ARCHIVES on microfilm. http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium.

Recommended Reading: Author: Collins, E.J. Repatriated: Veteran Magazine, July 1943, Vol. 14(1), pp. 93-95.