In their enthusiasm to lure hunters to the Cape Shore in the 1880’s the people of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay, boasted that there was no better place for fishing, trouting and birding than on the Cape Shore. In fact they let it be known to the celebrated travel writer Captain Robert William Kennedy, R.N. that the partridges were so plentiful that they were “jostling each other on the barrens.”
An avid hunter Kennedy in 1880 travelled to Branch, St. Mary’s Bay, where he enjoyed the hospitality of the townspeople and all the partridge hunting that he wanted. Five years following his experience (1885) he wrote in his book Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies that it was true ‘patterridges’ (as the Branch people pronounced the name) could be seen to “be jostling each other on the barrens.”
With such grand reports of good hunting in the area it was inevitable that other ‘birders’ should be attracted to the area. It proved to be too much!! By 1900 the partridge population was near extinction.
In May 1903 the people of Branch and Trepassey were petitioning the government to protect the partridge. The local people had “for the last year or two been witnessing their entire crop of birds, swept away prematurely … by the wanton destruction of so many immature birds… “
Sir Robert Thorburn, the former Prime Minister of Newfoundland and a member of the Fisheries Board stood firmly with the people of Branch and their petitions to the government of the day. He took to writing the local press (The Evening Herald) in May 1903 he observed:
“that in comparatively few days at opening of last season shooting, (that a certain city so called sportsman), stated he killed enough birds on Trepassey and Placentia grounds to pay his expenses and that he sold 250 (two hundred and fifty) birds to one of our city grocers.”
Thorburn went on to write:
“Assuming this statement to be true, and that it is not a solitary instance or exception to the rule, does it not emphasize the necessity of preventing if possible a repetition of this wanton destruction of so many immature birds?”
The former Prime Minister, the people of Branch and the people of Trepassey argued that the partridge should remain “undisturbed until about the first of October.“ By tradition the ‘partridge season’ did not open up until October but over the years the ‘birders’ were arriving earlier and earlier.
They argued allowing the birds to mature:
“would have afforded a fair share of sport to the legitimate sportsman, be he a city man, or one of the manor born. ” Thorburn continued : “Put the shooting back to the first of October and allow the use of firearms on no pretext whatsoever … and the game will be preserved …. “
It appears that the petitions of the people of Branch and Trepassey were heeded the Consolidated Statutes of Newfoundland were revised to read “ No person shall hunt, kill, take, sell, barter, purchase … any ptarmigan or willow grouse (commonly called partridge).”
Those of “the manor born” the people of Branch and Trepassey were quite satisfied! It was their petitions in the early 1900’s that saved the partridge from extinction.
The partridge (Lagopus sp) or ptarmigan is now the provincial game bird of Newfoundland and Labrador Two partridge species, Willow Ptarmigan and the Rock Ptarmigan, are found throughout the province.
Recommended Reading: Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies by Captain Robert William Kennedy, R.N. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburg, Scotland, 1885.
Recommended Reading: Department of Environment and Conservation, Newfoundland and Labrador. Small Game Regulations: http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/wildlife/hunting/smallgame.html