Author Archives: Larry Dohey

The Finest Room in the Colony: The Library of John Thomas Mullock

The Basilica Museum or Mullock's Library is home to some of the oldest books in the country.

The Basilica Museum or Mullock’s Library is home to some of the oldest books in the country.

The Library of John Thomas Mullock

Thursday, September 29 at 8PM

 Ágnes Juhász-Ormsby an Associate Professor of English at Memorial University has  compiled a searchable library catalogue of the rare books  of John Thomas Mullock held in the Episcopal Library in St. John’s.   Working with her colleague Nancy Earle from Memorial University and Anne Wash from the Archdiocese of St. John’s they recently published an illustrated catalogue of this important collection under the title The Finest Room in the Colony: The Library of John Thomas Mullock.

The Newfoundland Historical Society welcomes Ágnes Juhász-Ormsby and Anne Walsh on Thursday, September 29 at 8PM at Hampton Hall, Marine Institute, Ridge Road to look at this influential Newfoundland Bishop and explore Bishop Mullock’s book collection.

Please join us for this FREE presentation.

Hampton Hall is through the main front door at the Marine Institute and to the left. All lectures start at 8 pm. Free parking is available in front and to the west of the building.

For more on the Newfoundland Historical Society.

The Finest Room in the Colony: The Library of John Thomas Mullock is now online:



“Women and children first”


September 27, 1854


Photo Credit: “Wreck of the U.S.M. Steam Ship ‘Arctic’  Cape Race, Newfoundland.  September 27th 1854.  (Source:  N. Currier lithograph.

On (September 27, 1854) two ships collided of Cape Race, Newfoundland because of a heavy fog, killing approximately 350. For the next several weeks the eyes of the world were fixed on Newfoundland as news reporters were scrambling to find any shred of news about the passengers and crews. Lifeboats with the few survivors began to arrive in towns along the Southern Shore the following day.

The Arctic, a four year old luxury ship, piloted by Captain James Luce sailing out of Liverpool, England slammed into the steamer Vesta, an iron-hulled ship piloted by Captain Alphonse Puchesne, transporting French fishermen from St. Peter’s (now St. Pierre)  to France at the end of the summer’s fishing season.

Immediately upon impact, the Arctic released lifeboats, but many capsized in the choppy waters. Lurid tales of panic aboard the sinking ship were widely publicized in newspapers. Members of the crew had seized the lifeboats and saved themselves, leaving helpless passengers, including 80 women and children, to perish in the icy North Atlantic. It is believed 24 male passengers and about 60 crew members survived.

The captain of the Arctic, James Luce, heroically tried to save the ship and get the panicking and rebellious crew under control. Upon his return to the United States he was treated as a hero, however, other crew members of the Arctic were disgraced, and some never returned to the United States.


The first of the survivors made their way to Broad Cove, near Cape Race from there they proceeded to Renews where they began to mount a search for the wreck of the their ship. The search was headed by the local merchant Mr. Alan Goodridge of Renews.  No sign was found. Some survivors and the crew of the Vesta limped into St. John’s.  The newspapers of the day were reporting that “this small city (St. John’s) is full of wrecked crews and passengers.”  

The New York Times reported:

 “many small vessels which were immediately undertaken in search of the steamer or of any of her boats, had returned from unsuccessful cruises, and that very little hope is entertained for the safety of any…”

The public outrage over the treatment of the women and children aboard the ship resonated for decades, and led to the familiar tradition of saving women and children first” being enforced in other maritime disasters.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Explore the online  collection  held at The Rooms. Search the Archives from the comforts of your home::

Recommended Archival Collection:   The Maritime History Archives, (MHA) Memorial University of Newfoundland holds a beautiful hand colored lithograph of the Arctic.  It shows the ship broke up on the rocks with passengers and crew struggling in the cold Atlantic.

Recommended Publication:  Baehre, Rainer K. (ed.) (1999) Outrageous Seas: Shipwreck and Survival in the Waters Off Newfoundland, 1583-1893. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999, ISBN:0886293588

From ‘Colony of Newfoundland’ to the ‘Dominion of Newfoundland’

Archival Moment

September 26, 1907

There was a time when the Dominion of Newfoundland had a passport.

There was a time when the Dominion of Newfoundland had a passport.

On 26 September, 1907, Edward VII, declared the Colony of Newfoundland, having enjoyed responsible government since 1854, the status of an independent Dominion within the British Empire.

The change of name shifted the official title of Newfoundland from the ‘Colony of Newfoundland’ to the ‘Dominion of Newfoundland’.

The name change was made to clarify the theoretical equality of status within the British Empire of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland.

On September 26, 1907, by a Royal Proclamation, ‘dominion’ became the distinguishing label for Newfoundland and New Zealand.

To acknowledge their new status the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward sent a telegram to the Premier of Newfoundland on the day before the official proclamation that read: “upon the eve of the change send you warmest greetings”. Sir Robert Bond of Newfoundland responded: “I heartily reciprocate your cordial greeting and sincerely wish the Dominion of New Zealand the fullest measure of prosperity.”

By the official proclamation Sir Robert Bond was the last Premier of the Colony of Newfoundland 1900 to 1907 and the first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Newfoundland from 1907 to 1909.

After the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the definition of dominion became lot more precise, with the British drawing a clear line of separation between what was a “dominion” and what was a “colony.” From henceforth, a “dominion” was declared to be an independent country, united in “free association [as] members of the British Commonwealth of Nations” which were in turn “united by a common allegiance to the Crown.”

After 1931 the Imperial Parliament (The Westminster Statue) gave up most of its power to pass laws for the dominions, which in turn gave rise to the status quo of today, where we have a number of independent countries who nevertheless recognize the British monarch as their head of state and form a symbolic union with one another.

The Westminster Statute formally recognized: The Dominion of Canada; The Dominion of New Zealand; The Irish Free State; The Commonwealth of Australia; The Union of South Africa and Newfoundland with “dominion” status in this regard.

Unlike other dominions, and quite unique in history, the government of Newfoundland in 1934 voted to abandon self-government in favor of direct rule from London, becoming the rare entity to reject independence in favor of being governed by someone else.

In 1949 Newfoundland became a province of Canada.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report : Presented by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to Parliament by command of His Majesty, November, 1933. Call Number    HC 117 N4 G74 1933


Recommended Exhibit: Here, We Made a Home. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. The Rooms.   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. Shaped by the unique combination of location, history, cultures – English, Irish, French, Scottish – this gallery shares many of these traditions and stories. Some are personal and local; others reflect roles and achievements on the world stage. Running through most of them are qualities of perseverance and innovation, courage and generosity.

Did you know that the original document – The Terms of Union with Canada is held in the Provincial Archives in The Rooms.


Nuns at home in a tavern


September 21, 1833

Presentation School, Patrick Street, St. John’s, NL date unknown

On September 20, 1883 there was much excitement in St. John’s with religious and civic officials gathering to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the arrival of the Presentation Sisters to the colony of Newfoundland

The Irish nuns (Sister’s Bernard Kirwin, Magdalen O’Shaughnessy, Xavier Maloney and Xaverius Lynch) reached St John’s harbour on 21 September 1833 –  the first nuns to serve in Newfoundland. With no account of their arrival being received in Galway, Ireland,  until four months later,  they were given up for dead  at home  and as was the custom in the convent, a Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated for them, and copies of their vows were burned.

The four Galway women came to Newfoundland at the invitation of the Catholic Bishop, Michael Fleming to establish a school that would offer improved educational opportunity for girls and young women in St. John’s.

Upon arrival in St. John’s the nuns were agreeably surprised by the appearance of Newfoundland.

“This country,” Sister Mary Bernard  Kirwin wrote in her first letter home, “is by no means as dreary as we heard. The bay is beautiful and so is the country as far as we can see.”

Within a few weeks of their arrival in St. John’s the sisters had gathered  approximately 450 studenets that they divided into classes. They began teaching in a room at the rear of an old tavern, the “Rising Sun” that also served as their home. The curriculum included grammar, literature, arithmetic, French, music, needle work, and Christian doctrine.


One of the observers of the 50th Anniversary celebrations in 1883 was Henri de la Chaume , attaché to the French Consul in St. John’s . On his return to France, he published a book about his experiences in the colony

The French attaché admired the good works of the Irish born nuns but he was not very kind about their musical ability, he wrote:

 “During this, (the 50th Anniversary Pontifical Mass) they (the nuns) most disgracefully skinned alive the Mass of Saint Cecelia and, not content with this first crime, they went on to profane the “Inflammatus” of the “Stabat Mater.”   (Latin hymn “the Mother was standing.”

He was, however, happy to report that:

 “The ceremony finished with a hymn where at last they did us the grace to give us an “0 Salutaris” by Miss (Clara) Fisher composed by Cherubini.”

One of the women kneeling in the chapel for the 50th Anniversary mass was

 “The Superior of the Convent, (90 year old, Sister Mary Magdalen O’Shaughnessy (1793-1888), one of the four sisters who came here fifty years ago, (she) was there bent over a prie-Dieu.”

Sister O’Shaughnessy  was never to return her beloved Ireland- in her first letter home in 1833 –  she wrote that she was struck by the evident prosperity of St John’s, Newfoundlandand the fondness of the children in the school for “dress-wear, necklaces, ear-rings, rings etc.”

From their appearance,  she wrote,

 “you would scarcely think you are teaching in a poor school. No such thing as a barefoot child to be seen here, how great the contrast between them and the poor Irish!”

Recommended Publication: Hammered by the Waves: A Young Frenchman’s Sojourn in Newfoundland in 1882-83:  Henri De La Chaume (Author), Robin McGrath (Editor), James M. F. McGrath (Translator) Creative Book Publishers, St. John’s, 2006.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Archives of the Presentation Congregation, St. John’s has a wonderful collection of archival documents relating to the lives of the women of the Presentation Congregations and their work in education in Newfoundland.

Recommended Activity: Visit the Presentation Convent at Cathedral Square, St. John’s home of the exquisite statue – The Veiled Virgin by Giovanni Strazza. Also home of an altar designed of pure marble, with carved motif’s documenting the first 50 years of the sisters work in Newfoundland.

A New Bridge for Placentia Gut


September 23, 2016

On  October 28, 1961, the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge was officially opened by Premier J.R. Smallwood.

Previous to the new bridge residents of the area  were advocating for a bridge across the main gut  through petitions presented to government  as early as 1926.


in 1942 a scow was put on the Placentia gut by the Americans to transport vehicles (for travel to the wireless stations they had set up on the Cape Shore). They later replaced this with a pontoon bridge, but because of the strong tides the bridge could not be kept in place.

The original  Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge consists of two approach spans and one centre vertical lift span each 100 feet in length. The total weight of the centre span which can be raised in one and a half minutes is 100 tons. Clearance under the span in the down position is 10 feet, and when raised is 70 feet.

In May 2011 the Provincial Government issued a tender to replace the aging “iconic structure.”  The new lift bridge Sir Ambrose Shea bridge  was built directly adjacent to the existing bridge.

NEW BRIDGE  OPENS – September 23, 2016


The Honourable Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, joined with the Honourable Al Hawkins, Minister of Transportation and Works, the Honourable Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, and MHA for Placentia – St. Mary’s, Ken McDonald, Member of Parliament for Avalon, along with His Worship, Wayne Power, Mayor of Placentia, and members of the community, to officially recognize the opening.

The lift bridge is staffed year round, 24-hours a day. The bridge is lifted approximately 2,400 times annually for marine traffic and sees about 6,500 vehicles pass over per day. During the busiest spring months when crab and lobster fisheries are at their peak, the bridge can lift over 400 times a month.

The new Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge cost approximately $47.7 million, which includes construction, engineering and demolition and removal of the old bridge. The construction of the bridge saw the placement of 9,200 metres of steel piling, 3,800 cubic metres of concrete, 150 tonnes of reinforcing steel and approximately 976 tonnes of structural steel.

Mayor Wayne Power of Placentia said “Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge provides a vital link for our communities; it also allows access to the harbour and serves as a unique attraction for visitors. The opening of the new bridge is a great milestone and as a community we are thankful for the investment made to make this a reality.”

New Word:  Bascule Bridge from the French word for “see-saw,” a bascule bridge features a movable span (leaf) that rotates on a horizontal hinged axis (trunnion) to raise one end vertically. A large counterweight is used to offset the weight of the raised leaf.

New Word: Scow  – a large flatbottom boat with square ends, used chiefly for transporting freight

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore MG 83 the Bradshaw Family collection that consists of 7 files comprised of land grants for Placentia Gut and North East Arm, bills of sale, printed speeches and advertisements. also contains 2 maps, [ca. 1840] The maps are a Map of Ordnance property, Placentia 1806; copied 1881 and Plan of Placentia, 1741.

Who was Ambrose Shea? Read More:

Recommended Song: The Bridge at Placentia Gut:

“The soldiers paired off and waltzed around the field …”

Archival Moment

September 21, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 58-69; Payday 1st N.F.L.D. Reg. [Regiment][Pleasantville] Note the Greatcoats.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 58-69; Payday 1st N.F.L.D. Reg. [Regiment][Pleasantville]
Note the Greatcoats.

There was quite the party at Pleasantville, St. John’s on September 20, 1914  the local papers reported  that:

“A large number of citizens visited Pleasantville where an enjoyable concert was given by the Catholic Cadet Corps (C.C.C. ) Band. The programme was an excellent one, and as the band played the “Pink Lady” waltz, several of the soldiers paired off and waltzed around the field. They wore their military great coats and as they moved to the strains of the waltz, the sight was a novel and attractive one.”

The men were no doubt proud of their new greatcoats that had just arrived from Halifax. Why not show the off! A greatcoat, also known as a watchcoat, is a large overcoat typically made of wool designed for warmth and protection against the weather. Its collar and cuffs can be turned out to protect the face and hands from cold and rain, and the short cape around the shoulders provides extra warmth.

It was also recounted that a young boy from the city wanted to entertain the soldiers. The newspapers reported:


“During the intervals the small boy with the mouth organ entertained a number of lads and lasses to a programme of quadrilles, which were danced in fine style on the bridge.”


This was one of the last concert events at Pleasantville that was scheduled before the Newfoundland Regiment departed Newfoundland to fight for King and Country, on October 4, 1914.

The St. John’s Evening Telegram reported that many of the young soldiers were very conscious of their responsibilities.

“The scene at the camp was military in every particular, and amid the joviality that prevailed, the guards slowly paced their grounds apparently unconscious of aught but duty. Patriotism was everywhere resplendent amongst those that visited the scene and the beautiful blending of duty and pleasure in the soldier’s life was manifested in a marked degree.”

One of the privileges that a soldier of the Great War was entitled to upon his return home was the “privilege of retaining his uniform including great coat”  (Department of Militia, The Sailor and Soldiers Handbook Published by the Civil Re-Establishment Committee, January, 1919).

Recommended Archival Collection: Great War service records of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment are available on line, those not on line are available at the The Rooms Provincial Archives on microfilm.  Search the Archives:

Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories. – See more at:

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium   Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.

Newfoundland and Cod Liver Oil

Archival Moment

September 20, 1943

Gerald S. Doyle was a major distributor of Cod Liver Oil in Newfoundland

During the final months and days of WWII governments throughout the world began to  realize that something would have to be done for the health of the children in war torn Europe.

The Pope’s delegate to Canada and Newfoundland  was aware that Newfoundland had a product with considerable medicinal value  that should be considered.

On 20 September 1943, church officials in Newfoundland were notified by the  Vatican that Rome:

“plans to secure a considerable quantity of cod-liver oil to be kept at its disposal so it can be distributed at the end of the war in those regions where the health conditions of poor children demand it.”

The letter went on the ask the local bishop in St. John’s   to

 “obtain information, if several thousand pounds of it  (cod liver oil) could be bought now  in Canada and Newfoundland.”

In Newfoundland, local businessman P.J. Lewis  was charged by Archbishop Roche of St. John’s with  finding the cod liver oil and looking at how it could be transported to the children in Europe.

Lewis had proven to be equal to the task that was assigned to him. He had managed to find six tons of cod liver oil that they were  “able to ship abroad that year, for the children of Europe.”

During World War II, the British Ministry of Food, concerned about the effect of a tightened food supply on health, provided free cod-liver oil for pregnant and breast-feeding women, children under five, and adults over forty.The British government, believing that the oil had produced the healthiest children England had ever seen, despite the bombings and the rationing, continued the program until 1971.

Cod Liver Oil is pressed from the fresh liver of the cod and purified. It is one of the best-known natural sources of vitamin D, and a rich source of vitamin A. It has been shown to prevent rickets. Because cod liver oil is more easily absorbed than other oils, it was originally  widely used as a nutrient and tonic.

Recommended Archival Collection:    Search the online database for descriptions of our archival records and to view thousands of digital photographs.  In the search bar type; Cod liver oil  –

Recommended Video:   Information Video from the British Ministry of Information WWII

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea on their album The Hard and the Easy