December 23, 1914
Governor Walter Davidson and Lady Margaret were just a little surprised to hear the rap at their door on Tibb’s Eve (December 23, 1914). Government House on Military Road, St. John’s was typically off limits to the public, the proper protocol was that guests would only show by appointment.
It was for the couple and their young family a pleasant surprise, the guests at the door were “mummers”. In his diary for December 23, 1914, Governor Davidson wrote:
“In the evening eight girls disguised came and sang carols to us in the hall. They sing delightfully and stayed for mince pies and coffee.”
As is the Newfoundland custom with “mummers” Governor and Lady Davidson immediately began to try and identify their disguised guests.
In the tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.
He was pleased to write in his diary that he was able to discover the identity of five of the eight. He wrote:
“We made out Mrs Colvill, Nell Job: Mary Rendell and the two Miss Andersons’s, all young girls.”
Governor Davidson was quite pleased that the young ‘mummers’ had come to Government House, he wrote:
“It is a tribute to the present regime that they picked up the courage to face Government House of which all stand in awe.”
The reality was that most of the residents of St. John’s were in ‘awe’ of Government House and it is likely that the young women who did show up in disguise were not your typical young ladies. Each of the women, who the Governor identified, from the Job, Rendell and Anderson families, came from some of the more affluent homes in St. John’s. It is also true that a good mummer would never venture out until the afternoon of the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26), and continued every evening and night till the end of the Old Twelfth Day. These young girls that went to visit Government House were not your typical mummers.
The Governor concluded his diary entry with the note “the attitude (of awe) is always most correct towards Government House per se: but they are no longer afraid.”
Perhaps we should all grab a disguise and head down to Government House. We have a 100 year old standing invitation.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives: GN5 /3B/19 Box13, File Number 3
Recommended Song: Mummer Song: Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering in St. John’s, Newfoundland