Author Archives: Larry Dohey

Ladies, bring your thimbles to Government House

Archival Moment

September 17, 1914

Please bring your thimble to Government House

Please bring your thimble to Government House

The ladies of St. John’s were very excited about gathering at Government House on Military Road, (September 17, 1914) to be part of the elaborate sewing sessions that were being organized by Margaret Lady Davidson, wife of the governor.

Following the declaration of war in August, Lady Davidson called upon “the women of Newfoundland to assist in aiding the British Empire in the present crisis by providing the necessities needed by our soldiers at the front. ”

Seven hundred women attended the first meeting. Those in attendance passed a resolution to form a “Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland” with the object of helping the men of Newfoundland in the defense of the British Empire.

The gathering at the home of the Governor of Newfoundland at 2:30 p.m. on September 17, 1914 was the first for the working parties of the Women’s Patriotic Association (WPA) who were to begin their sewing sessions.

Lady Davidson was very pleased with the response to her call, in fact there was so much enthusiasm, so many had signed up, that the members had to be divided into four classes, according to the initial letter of their surnames. Those whose surnames began with the first three letters of the alphabet were the first to meet.

Lady Davidson placed few demands on her first sewing circle all she asked of the ladies was that “all of those who attending are requested to bring thimbles with them.”

No doubt, for many of the women of the town, the excitement was not only generated by their enthusiasm to support their soldier boys but also an opportunity to see inside the grand house of the Governor and Lady Davidson, a home that was not typically available to the general public.

It is estimated that between 1914 and 1916, the ladies at Government House and from throughout the towns of the colony produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger), and 22,422 mufflers.



Recommended Reading: “A Pair of Grey Socks. Facts and Fancies. Lovingly dedicated to the boys of the Newfoundland Regiment. And to every woman who has knitted a pair of grey socks. By Tryphena Duley. Verses by Margaret Duley.”

Recommended Archival Collection: “Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War”. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, available at the  ROOMS on microfilm. Some of the service records are on line at:



Where is the city planning?


September 10, 1894

Photo Credit: Quidi Vidi, sketch by William Grey, Sketches of Newfoundland, 1858

On September 10, 1894 the local St. John’s  newspaper, The Daily News, published a letter to The Editor commenting on development near Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s.  The writer was not amused that expansion was taking place near the lake without any definite plan.

The anonymous writer, identified as ‘A Passerby,’ wrote:

“Is there not a law about uniformity in house building.”

The writer was particularly infuriated that shebeens were being constructed and worse tolerated.

Following the Great Fire of 1892 in St. John’s there was in the city a spurt of development that saw a road “pushed rapidly ahead” toward Quidi Vidi. With this new road came development.

The initial structures established appear to have been shebeen’s, the letter to the editor reads:

“Owing to one shebeen, trouble has already ensued; it is rumoured that another is being erected in the opposite direction.”

If  sheebeen’s were to be tolerated  the letter  went on to speculate that next you would see

“ a semi-stable, semi-slaughter-house (being) erected on the banks of the lake.”

The author of the letter  would not be happy to find, almost 100 years after he wrote his letter,  that a chicken slaughter house  was erected near the banks of his beloved lake!!

Newfoundland Term: shebeen n also sheebeen, sheveen: Unlicensed place where illicit liquor is sold. [Dictionary of Newfoundland English]

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms: Sports Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador photograph collection consists of a series of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake.

Recommended Publication: A Gift of Heritage: Historic Architecture of St. John’s, Newfoundland , 2nd ed. , Newfoundland Historic Trust , This publication of the Newfoundland  Historic Trust focuses on architecture  in St. John’s.

Ceremony to Remember Portuguese Fishermen

In what has become an annual tradition in St. John’s, Portuguese naval officers will be welcomed to the Basilica Cathedral in St. John’s for a short ceremony to remember Portuguese fishermen that lost their lives of the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The ceremony will take place at the Fatima Grotto in the Basilica Cathedral at 11 AM, Thursday, September 13.

Immediately following the ceremony the Portuguese crew and the public are invited to Mount Carmel Cemetery on Kennas Hill to lay a wreath at the grave of Portuguese fisherman Dionisio Esteves.

In 2012 at the request of a Commanding Officer in the Portuguese Navy research was initiated to find the unmarked grave of Dionisio Esteves, a 26 year old fisherman who lost his life of the coast of Newfoundland in 1966. Using photographs and film, the unmarked grave was discovered and since the discovery of the grave, Portuguese Naval officials annually host a wreath laying ceremony at the site to remember Esteves who has come to symbolize all Portuguese fishermen who have died prosecuting the fishery. Esteves was one of the thousands of Portuguese who plied Newfoundland waters as part of the crew of the Portuguese White Fleet. Estves sailed on the celebrated Santa Maria Manuela.

A memorial to the Portuguese fishermen was unveiled at the grave of Portuguese fisherman in October 2015.

Local businessman and author, Jean Pierre Andrieux  was responsible  for the idea of creating and erecting the memorial that now serves to remember all Portuguese fishermen who lost their lives fishing in Newfoundland waters.

For further information contact Jean Pierre Andrieux    or 753-7277.


A St. John’s horse went into hysterics

Archival Moment

Motor cars begin to displace horses

September 9, 1914

There was much excitement in St. John’s on September 9, 1914 with crowds gathering, all scrambling to get the best view of the first annual work horse parade that was ever held in the city. The parade held under the auspices of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and under the distinguished patronage of His Excellency the Governor and Lady Davidson took place and was described as “a decided success.”

Upwards of 130 horses were entered into the parade that looped past the post office along Water Street to McBride’s Hill, thence to Duckworth Street and up Cochrane Street to Government House grounds where the exhibition was held.

The parade was headed by the Salvation Army’s fine brass band that “presented a very attractive and novel sight, the horses being decorated with patriotic colours.”

For many the parade was seen as a distraction from the seriousness of the conversation about the ‘Great War’ that had been called a month earlier.

The local newspapers reported:

“Citizens from every point of vantage, viewed the procession as it wended its way to the exhibition grounds, (at Government House on Military Road) accompanied by an immense crowd of people who thronged the sidewalks and followed with admiration the long line of horses from different classes”

On the field at Government House the animals were taken to their allotted spaces and the judging was done by some of the leading citizens, the gentlemen and ladies of the town, including his Excellency and Lady Davidson, the Premier and Lady Morris.

Judges had to choose the best horses in a number of categories including; “Heavy Draft Horses”, won by “Ben” driven by J. Morrisey; the “Truck Horse” that had to driven and owned by truckmen was won by “Charlie ” owned by John Fowler;   “The Express and Delivery Horses” category was won by “Bruce”, owned by M. Fleming; “The Cab Horses”, category was won by “Stella” owned by   A. Symonds. There were also categories for farm horses, ponies and an old horse category.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that was established in Newfoundland in November 1888 was always seeking new ways of bring attention to their cause.

Motor Car or Horse

The parade of horses was in September 1914 a success but because of the Great War (1914-1918) what may have been a grand tradition was interrupted after only one year.

The parade also stands as a symbolic divide between the old and the new. It was in 1914 that motor cars or automobiles began to take the place of the horse. The shift from horse to motor car was so evident in St. John’s that the Editor of the Twillingate Sun in July 1914 felt obliged to write an editorial about the phenomena.

The Editor noted that the first motor car had arrived in Twillingate owned by Mr. Ashbourne’s had brought with it:

“considerable criticism, and naturally there are some old folk who can see no use in such contraptions as automobiles. There are also the owners of horses who, unused to such things, easily see in an automobile a terrifying sight.”

The Twillingate man cautioned in 1914 that it was inevitable that the horse would be displaced by the motor car. He wrote:

“Now although horse owners, (with the exception of Mr. POND, whose horse Dick, regards automobiles with contempt and indifference,) have their kick, they are not the first. A St. John’s horse went into hysterics when the streetcars first started, and no doubt the cars were valiantly cussed by the drivers, but the horses got used to them, and ours will do the same. …..”

Recommended Archives: Search the Rooms Archives online database for descriptions of our archival records and to view thousands of digital photographs. Click the image to begin your search. Try this in the search bar type Horse.

Recommended: Support the work of the Newfoundland Pony Society: Read more:

Recommended Web Site: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Consecration of the Basilica


September 9, 1855

The Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s, NL was consecrated on September 9, 1855.

Four Roman Catholic bishops arrived in St. John’s for the consecration of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica)  early in the night of Monday, September 3, 1855, and proceeded immediately to the Cathedral, amid the tumultuous welcome of a large and enthusiastic throng of spectators. Every available space along the route of the procession was densely packed. The great bells of the Cathedral, together with those of the Old Roman Catholic Chapel on Henry Street and of the convents, pealed forth. The windows of the houses along the route were brilliantly lighted and the streets were illuminated not only by the gas lights but also by flaming torches, giving a most picturesque appearance to the town.

The procession wended its way to the recently completed Cathedral, where the bishops knelt in prayer. After a blessing was given to the congregation, Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John’s spoke to the crowd, thanking them for the warm reception they had given the visitors. All then dispersed for the night.

During the next few days, the prelates were entertained at various functions, and received addresses of welcome from the Benevolent Irish Society, and other groups.


On September 9 the day of Consecration, great crowds of people flocked into St. John’s, from remote as well adjacent settlements. It appeared that the entire Catholic population of the island had come to participate in the ceremonies. The Consecration of the Cathedral was carried out by Bishop Mullock, with all the solemnities prescribed in the Roman Pontifical. Twenty-two of the thirty priests in Newfoundland were present, as well as the Secretary-Chaplain to Archbishop Hughes, and the Chaplain to Bishop MacKinnon.

The celebrations with which the day of Consecration came to a close were truly impressive. That night, the entire frontage of the Cathedral and adjacent buildings was decorated with 1500 coloured lamps, while the Catholic people in every quarter of the town vied with one another in illuminating the windows of their houses. Tar barrels blazed in the streets, firearms were discharged, and sky rockets streamed through the air. Every available means was employed to proclaim the prevailing joy and thanksgiving that the great work, which was truly a labour of love, was at last accomplished.

The four visiting Roman Catholic Bishops were: Most Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York; Bishop Armand-Francois de Charbonnel, of Toronto; Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly of New Brunswick; Bishop Colin Francis MacKinnon of Arichat (Antigonish),Nova Scotia.

Archbishop John Hughes of New York was so impressed that such a substantial cathedral could be built in a town of the size of St. John’s (approximately 25,000) by sealers and fishermen that he resolved when he returned to New York that he would commence the construction of his cathedral that we now know as St. Patrick’s Cathedral on  Madison Avenue in New York.

The Basilica has undergone many revisions since its completion in 1855,  its very existence represents something more durable even than stone, as this simple verse describes:

“The fishermen who built me here
Have long ago hauled in their nets,
But in this vast cathedral
Not a solitary stone forgets
The eager hearts, the willing hands
Of those who laboured and were glad
Unstintingly to give to God
Not part, but all of what they had.”

Recommended Website: History of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s, NL:

Recommended Reading: Fire Upon the Earth: the Life and Times of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, O.S.F.  by J.B. Darcy, C.F.C.: Creative Publishers, 2003.

Recommended Reading: The Story of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist by Susan Chalker Browne;  Flanker Press, 2015  


The Cape Shore Road: “A path through a bog”


August 29, 1927


The Cape Shore Road, is the only thorough justification for the invention of the automobile.

Every Roman Catholic bishop since 1784 has been responsible for a “pastoral or Episcopal visitation” to the parishes in rural Newfoundlandand Labrador that are under their jurisdiction.  The “Episcopal visitation” is essentially an opportunity for the bishop to meet with the parish priest and the local people to discuss the state of the local church and its future. In that tradition, Archbishop Edward P. Roche of St. John’s made an ‘Episcopal Visitation” to the Cape Shore in August 1927.

Upon returning to his home in St. John’s, Archbishop Roche wrote a two page letter to the elected members of the House of Assembly in particular to Sullivan, Walsh and Sinnott who were responsible for the Placentia District that included the Cape Shore.

In his letter to the elected officials 29 August 1927 Archbishop Roche wrote:

 “The road from Placentia to Patrick’s Cove is now complete, and passes through some of the very finest scenery in the country.

His description about the state of the road from St. Bride’s to Branch was not as flattering. He wrote:

 “the road is almost impassable; it can scarcely be called a road at all, being very little more than a path through a bog.”

The Archbishop was keen on seeing the roads developed from an economic perspective.  He stated:

 “the people are hard working and industrious, and better road communications would make for greater prosperity in the settlement.”

He also felt that the Cape Shore had considerable tourism potential. He wrote if the road was completed:

 “it will be one of the most attractive and picturesque drives in the country.”


The beauty of the Cape Shore and the condition of the road has not been lost on  those that have travelled to the Cape Shore.

Rex Murphy the CBC host and commentator wrote in the Globe and Mail, October 6, 2001:

 The going to it, (Goosebery Cove, on the Cape Shore Road) and the coming from it, over the splendid wilfulness of the Cape Shore road itself, is the only thorough justification for the invention of the automobile that has yet been hit upon.”

Recommended Archival Collection: See  MG 658.  This small collection consists of account book re: trust accounts, accounts with St. John’s firms (1936); cheque book and stubs (1947-1948); journal (1938-1945) created by the Branch and Cape Shore Area Development Association. Search on line

Recommended Reading: A cove of inner peace on Newfoundland’s Cape Shore: Globe and Mail.


Newfoundland Convicts Sent to Australia


AUGUST 31, 1835

A convict team much like the one that Thomas Baldwin would have served with ploughing a farm, while a guard looks on.

Many Newfoundlanders have made their way to Australia over the years; among the very first to reach the shores of that beautiful country were those who arrived on the “convict ships.”   They were convicted felons, often of very minor crimes, chained in the hold of the convict vessels that carried them to the prison colonies in Australia.  Among the early ‘documented’ Newfoundlanders to arrive in Australia was Thomas Baldwin  (alias Baldwell) who arrived aboard the convict ship  “Hero” on  August 31, 1835.

Australia at the time was not the tourist attraction it is today. It was originally established by Britain as prison colony. Between 1788 and 1868, 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia.

The Newfoundlander, Thomas Baldwin who found his way to Australia was  24 years old, married with one child and recorded his religion as Catholic. Thomas’s trade was a carter. (A carter typically drove a light two wheeled carriage). He had no education and was sentenced for 7 years for stealing poultry.  Thomas was tried at Waterford City, Ireland  on  February 2, 1834 and arrived in the colony of New South Wales (NSW), Australia on August 31,1835 aboard the convict ship ‘Hero’ and was then assigned to Grose Farm.

The Hero was one of fourteen sailing vessels bringing prisoners to New South Wales, Australia  in 1835, six of them brought Irish prisoners.  On board there were 197 prisoners. The journey took 169 days. Included on the passengers list were 8 women and 9 children.

It is likely that given he gave his home address to the court as Newfoundland  that he must  have been in Newfoundland during  previous summers, perhaps prosecuting the fishery. The Baldwin family name has been established in Newfoundland since 1724.

It is possible that Thomas Baldwin was intentionally trying to get arrested so as to be sent to Australia to be with his brothers. Thomas’s family was no stranger to the law.  His brother Lawrence (convicted of stealing clothes) was transported on the convict ships to Australia in 1828 and his brother James in 1833.

Thomas had issues with authority, while in prison in 1836 he was charged with the offence of ‘neglect of duty’ and was ‘placed in cells for 6 days on bread and water’. In 1841 he was charged with the offence of ‘disorderly conduct’ and was placed on the treadmill grinding corn for 2 months at Carter’s Barracks from where he was discharged.

It is likely that Thomas also knew what it was like to be flogged.  Discipline was firm. One observer of the cruel treatment to the convicts reported:

“The floggings are hideously frequent. On flogging mornings I have seen the ground where the men stood at the triangles saturated with blood, as if a bucket of blood had been spilled on it, covering a space three feet in diameter, and running out in various directions, in little streams two or three feet long…. “

Thomas’s home for the duration of his imprisonment would have been Carters’ Barracks, home to the convict gangs working on the brick fields as carters and brick makers.The barracks provided sleeping quarters for these tired workers who daily carted the new made sand stock bricks.

Other Newfoundland families that have links with Australian convict history include Edward Shaw, a soldier transported to New South Wales in 1840, John Watson , a fisherman  transported in 1824 and  John Woods a fisherman salter of St. John’s transported on the convict ship Southworth in 1822.

Recommended Archives: The Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Search the Archives:

Recommended Web Site:  Irish Convicts to New South Wales: List of Ships Transporting Convicts to NSW 1788-1849.