Hot cross bun, only on Good Friday!!

Archival Moment


On Good Friday in 1869  Edward Morris, the Manager of the Newfoundland Savings Bank  went out for his daily constitutional,  a walk about the town of St. John’s.  He interrupted his walk, deciding to drop in on his friend Robert Kent.  Upon arriving at the house, he discovered that his friend was out but his father (Jimmy) was at home, in a heated argument with the servant of the house.

In his diary Edward Morris explained.

“I found  (Jimmy) disputing with the servant about a bun which she was giving him as a cross bun, he seemed very dubious, as indeed he might, for it was one of the old familiar type of common penny buns”.

This was not a small matter in 1869. Good Friday was a day of fast,  but one of the treats, on this day, was what we now call a hot cross bun.  Jimmy Kent  was not to be deprived of his “cross bun”  for  the inferior  “penny bun’.

Edward Morris had to play the referee. He wrote in his diary:

However, as I was appealed  to  for a decision , I was obliged, for expediency sake, to compromise  myself by saying  it was very like Lash’s Cross Buns and that seemed to reconcile poor Jim to the deception”

Lash’s on Water Street, St. John’s had a reputation for making the very best Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John's shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John’s shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

Competition between  the many bakeries and shops in St. John’s to capture  the Good Friday customers was fierce.  Advertising  typically started in the St. John’s newspapers on ‘Spy Wednesday’   and more on ‘Holy Thursday’  encouraging  the purchase of the Hot Cross Buns. You could easily place an advance order but they had to be picked up on Holy Thursday. All the shops were closed on Good Friday.

In Newfoundland, the Hot Cross Bun is the most famous, and probably the oldest, of the many English buns.  The Hot Cross Bun was originally eaten only on Good Friday.

According to tradition, Father Rocliff, a monk and the cook of St. Alban’s Abbey, in Hertfordshire, on Good Friday in 1361 gave to each poor person who came to the abbey one of ‘these spiced buns marked with the sign of the cross’, along with the usual bowl of soup. The custom was continued and soon spread throughout the country.

Hot Cross Buns became enormously popular in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if one recites the ditty:

 “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be”

Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten.

Definition: What is Spy Wednesday?  Wednesday (April 17 )  is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day in Christian scripture,  Judas one of the disciples made a bargain with the high priest to betray his friend  Jesus for 30 silver pieces. (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6).


Reckless Drivers – Speeding on St. John’s streets

Archival Moment

April 20, 1903


H.D. Reid's automobile at Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, St. John's, NL, 1908

H.D. Reid’s automobile at Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, St. John’s, NL, 1908

It was on April 20, 1903 that the first two cars were imported into Newfoundland by Robert G. and Harold D. Reid. The Reid family was one of the wealthiest in the colony. At the time they owned the Reid fleet of ships, the Newfoundland Railway and were the holders of large land, timber, and mineral concessions in the colony.

A few weeks later on May 4, 1903 , Robert G. Reid’s “Thomas Flyer” became the first gasoline driven automobile  to be operated in Newfoundland, when a Mr. Stewart, one of the Reid staff,  took the car for a short drive  in St. John’s. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported that the car:

 “made its trial trip in the West End this morning and was the object  of curiosity to all who saw  it speeding up the promenade and down the southside.”

The following week the Telegram, on the occasion of Harold D Reid’s initial operation of his vehicle, reported:

“It did not go fast through the city, but got up to a speed of about 12 miles an hour in some places on the road. The vehicle is a four wheeler and cost Mr. Reid landed here $1600.00. It is run by a gasoline motor. It is called a Locomobile…”

Not everyone wanted to share the road with these new “autos.”  In the city cabmen and farmers complained about the noise of the ‘autos’ that tended to make their horses skittish.  It was also true that many of the good citizens of St. John’s were also reluctant to share the streets with autos.

The editorial writer for the St. John’s newspaper, “The Workman”, on August 2, 1918 declared in a bold headline, “Reckless Autoists” that:

The life of the average pedestrian in the City (St. John’s) these days is one of perpetual peril. Let him attempt to cross a street, in broad daylight, and he is lucky if some auto doesn’t come around  the corner, at a rate of 15 miles an hour, and just miss him by a scant foot, while the chauffeur glowers at him as much to say “Get off the earth you lobster. What right have you to be on the street?”

The newspaper continued that the car was here to stay but that the police should be diligent in convicting those that exceeded eight miles an hour.   He wrote:

 “The auto has come to stay off course. But a lot of haughty daring drivers seem to forget that the pedestrian was here first.  Even he has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” The police should take the number of any auto driver  who goes around the corner faster than eight miles an hour, and the magistrate should soak him the limit every time.”

The number of cars imported into Newfoundland continued to increase; by 1925 there were 952 cars and 102 commercial vehicles. Upon joining Confederation Newfoundland boasted 9,022 cars and 4,743 commercial vehicles. Today in Newfoundland and Labrador there are more vehicles on the roads than there are people living in the province with almost 633,000 cars and trucks. There are about 500,000 people living in the province.

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms holds hundreds of photographs of cars go on line and take a look.  Did you know that you can date your photographs based on  the model of cars that appear in photograph.

Recommended Reading: Motor Vehicles, Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume Three.


“The Titanic has struck a berg”


April 14, 1912

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. At that time, she was the largest and most luxurious ship ever built. At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, she struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland. Although her crew had been warned about icebergs several times that evening by other ships navigating through that region, she was traveling at near top speed of about 20.5 knots when one grazed her side.

In 1912, the Marconi wireless radio was still in its infancy state as far as utilization. Marconi operators, Harold Bride and Jack Philips  on the direction of the ships Captain  (Smith)  put on the headphones and immediately began tapping out CQD – MGY … CQD – MGY  which translates  to CQD = Come Quick Danger or  attention all stations, D =  distress or danger, and MGY was the Titanic’s radio call letters.

Walter Gray, Jack Goodwin and Robert Hunston were serving at the Marconi Company wireless station at Cape RaceNewfounldand  400 miles west of Titanic.  The wireless news was being handled by them.


It would have been a very difficult night for Walter Gray at Cape Race.  The Marconi operator on the Titanic was his good friend Jack Philips.  Jack had been the last person that he had seen in England before he had departed for Newfoundland.  Walter had been excited all the day of April 14 – he was waiting anxiously at Cape Race waiting for the Titanic and his good friend Jack to come within ‘hearing” distance of Cape Race.   Walter later wrote:

“That evening I held brief conversation with Philips. He emphasized the magnificence of the vessel, the wonderful group of passengers and the good time being had by all.

Later in the evening the second operator (Hunston) called out “Mr. Gray the Titanic has struck an iceberg and is calling C.Q.D. (COME QUICK DANGER)  I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran to the operating room.

Donning the headphones, I heard Philips call for help using both distress calls, C.Q.D. and the newly-introduced S.O.S. His call included the ship’s position in Latitude and longitude, weather conditions, and the story of striking the berg. When he ceased, I called the Titanic and inquired whether I could assist in any way. Philips thanked me and asked me to stand by.

A short time after 2:00 a.m. a very weak distorted signal was heard and the “Virginian” being much closer picked up what they thought was Philips voice trying to get a message out and that was the last word from the radio operator, Philips.”

Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking more than 1500 people with her. Only a fraction of her passengers were saved. The world was stunned to learn of the fate of the unsinkable Titanic.

Water Gray’s good friend Jack Philips was one of those that perished.

Questions raised by the Titanic tragedy

In response to the questions raised by the Titanic tragedy, a conference was held attended by representatives from 13 nations. Out of that came SOLAS, a comprehensive set of regulations outlining safety protocols at sea. The International Maritime Organization was established in 1948 by the United Nations as the agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping.

Every year, a flight heads out over the waters off Newfoundland. When it reaches the site of the remains of the Titanic, the back of the C-130 aircraft is opened and a crewmember throws a wreath on the water, commemorating those who lost their lives when the ship went down.

The patrol monitors ice and icebergs off the Grand Banks and provides the ice limit to the shipping community. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “No vessel that has heeded the Ice Patrol’s published iceberg limit has collided with an iceberg.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division: The Cape Race Log Book:  A journal of predominantly one line entries highlighting events of local, national and international interest, as maintained by various members of the Myrick family at Cape Race and Trepassey.  Includes reference to the sinking of the Titanic.

Recommended Exhibit:  At the Rooms see  the life vest worn by James McGrady his body was recovered by a Newfoundland vessel  the Algerine and the body was then transferred to another Newfoundland ship, the SS Florizel. The Florizel took the body to Halifax for burial in Fairview Lawn Cemetery.

Recommended Reading:  The Life Story of An Old Shetlander, Walter J. Gray, Shetland Times, 1970.


Recommended to view: 

The sadd face of wynter upon all this land

Archival Moment

April 7, 1623

The Charter of Avalon was granted to George Calvert by King James I on (7 April 1623). The charter created the Province of Avalon on the island of Newfoundland and gave George Calvert (later known as Lord Baltimore) complete authority over all matters in the territory. The charter extended from Ferryland to Petty Harbour, bound to the northwest by Conception Bay and to the west by Placentia Bay. Lord Baltimore chose Ferryland as the principle area of settlement.

In 1625 Sir George Calvert resigned as Secretary of State and declared himself privately to be a Roman Catholic. He was given the Irish title of Baron Baltimore of Longford, a pension of 2,000 pounds per annum, and was now free to devote himself to the flourishing little colony of 100 settlers at Ferryland.

It was not until 23 July 1627 that Lord Baltimore, accompanied by two Catholic priests, Fathers Anthony Smith and Longville, finally set eyes on Ferryland. He was so encouraged by what he saw he returned the following year with his wife, Lady Joan, and all his children except his eldest son, Cecil, who remained behind to look after family affairs in England. He was also accompanied by a third priest, Father Hackett.

Besides problems with French privateers who raided the colony Lord Baltimore was soon involved in a religious dispute. On his arrival in Newfoundland on July 23, 1627 the two Roman Catholic priests he brought with him offered the first mass in British North America at Ferryland in thanksgiving for a safe voyage.

Rev. Erasmus Stourton, the first Church of England Clergyman in Newfoundland, made it his business to check out the rumors of Popish (Roman Catholic) practices at Ferryland. Back in England, Reverend Stourton lost no time in spreading the news that new convert to Catholicism, Lord Baltimore, was encouraging Popery among English subjects at Ferryland. No one apparently took any action about the complaint.

Despite living comfortably in a stone mansion with his family, Calvert (Lord Baltimore) became disheartened over the next year as he had to sustain attacks from French privateers, including the pirate de la Rade (or de la Ralde), and to endure a harsh winter and a food shortage that claimed the lives of 10 settlers and inflicted many others with scurvy.

“The sadd face of wynter upon all this land”

By 1629 Calvert had decided that he did not like his Newfoundland province. He blamed this change of heart on the miserable weather he and his wife endured in 1628 -1629. He complained to his friend Sir Francis Cottington that he had suffered much

“in this wofull country, (Newfoundland) where with one intolerable wynter [winter] we were almost undone. It is not to be expressed with my pen what wee have endured.”

And he told King Charles I:

that from the middest [middle] of October, to the middest of May there is a sadd face of wynter (winter) upon all this land …. “

The winter of 1629 must have been much like this winter.

Recommended Archival Collection:

Newfoundland Prime Minister Escapes Riot


April 5, 1932


Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 2-167; A boy removes heater during the riot at the Colonial Building

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 2-167; Two boys remove a  heater during the riot at the Colonial Building. April 5, 1932.

On (April 5, 1932) a crowd gathered in front of the Colonial Building on Military Road, St. John’s to express their concern and displeasure with the manner in which the Richard Squires’ Government was administering the affairs of the Colony.

In 1932, Squires’ finance minister, Peter John Cashin, resigned from the executive council accusing his fellow cabinet ministers of widespread corruption and Squires himself of having falsified council minutes to hide the fact that he had been receiving secret payments out of public funds. Cashin’s charge inflamed a public which had already been seized by discontent due to the deteriorating economic situation in the province.

What had begun as a peaceful demonstration had quickly escalated to a full scale riot. Every window in the building was beaten out; furniture was dragged from the Colonial Building and destroyed on the grounds, and the members of the Government, who were still inside the Building, feared for their lives. The Police responded to the mob with more violence, beating back the rioters with their batons.

The Prime Minister, Sir Richard Squires, barely escaped the building. Though accounts of his escape vary, it seems that he waited until 7:30 that evening when the mob had quieted down and exited the building by the front door to make his way to a waiting car.

Some of the rioters still lingered in the area, and upon recognizing the Prime Minister making his escape, they charged at him and he had to rush into a house on Colonial Street.

Clergy from churches in the area were called; they stood on the steps of the house on Colonial Street exhorting the men to return to their homes. The rioters pursued Prime Minister Squires into the residence, but by the time they had gained entry he had made his escape through the back door.

The result of the riot was a tremendous amount of damage to the Colonial Building, at an estimated cost of $10,000, not to mention the numerous personal injuries which were suffered in the affray.

From 1850 to 1959, the Colonial Building was witness to Newfoundland’s unique political story – from colony to nationhood, from nationhood to the suspension of democracy during the Commission of Government years, and onwards to provincial status within Canada.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives has a small collection of photographs taken during the riot.

Recommended Museum Visit:  At The Rooms Provincial Museum visit the exhibit ‘Here, We Made a Home’ in The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. This exhibit highlights some of the events associated with the political history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Recommended Website:


Tartan Day in Newfoundland and Labrador

Tartan Day in Newfoundland and Labrador

Credit: Barbara Griffin Art Collections
Newfoundland Nostalgia

Tartan Day in Canada, April 6th, has become a yearly event. The concept of Tartan Day began at a meeting of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia on 09 March 1986.

Tartan day  was chosen to promote Scottish Heritage by the most visible means. The wearing of the Scottish attire, especially in places where the kilt is not ordinarily worn, i.e.: work, play or worship.

Starting originally as ‘Tartan Day in Nova Scotia’, Jean Watson approached every provincial Legislative Assembly in Canada, as well as other Scottish-cultural societies across Canada, to help get such a date established.

After ten years of work, Tartan Day in Canada was approved in every Provincial Assembly from sea to sea by Premier’s proclamation or Members’ Bill. The Provincial Government of Newfoundland & Labrador officially adopted the Newfoundland tartan on 6 April 1995.

The official tartan of Newfoundland and Labrador

 The official tartan of Newfoundland and Labrador was designed in 1955 by Samuel B. Wilansky, a local store owner on Water Street in St. John’s. It was registered in the Court of the Lord Lyon in 1973. The white, gold, and yellow come from the province’s official anthem, “Ode to Newfoundland”:

The green represents the pine forests, the white represents snow, the brown represents the Iron Isle, and the red represents the Royal Standard. Its International Tartan Index number is 1543.

The region of Labrador also has its own design of tartan created by Michael S. Martin. The tartan of Labrador, was inspired by the influence of Donald Smith.  Scots migrated to Labrador in the 19th century to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Sir Donald Smith, (1836 – 1914) HBC’s chief trader for Labrador in 1852 and established the company’s headquarters at North West River.  Smith lived at Labrador for 21 years before becoming Lord Strathcona in 1897. Smith became engaged in many other business and political ventures, including helping to make Canada one nation through the visionary plan of a railway system connecting the entire country. As the co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, Smith spearheaded the building of the trans-Canada railroad and drove the last spike in 1885.  The Labrador tartan  was sent to the Scottish Register of Tartans, which assigned reference number 10004 to the tartan.  See:

Photo Credit: The Rooms VA 59 – 46. Scottish soldier and his lover.

“Some of the greatest builders of Empire in Terra Nova have been and are Scotsmen … “

The Scottish are no stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador, in fact it has been said   that “Some of the greatest builders of Empire in Terra Nova have been and are Scotsmen … “  The evidence is persuasive. Some of the Scottish Merchant Firms in Newfoundland and Labrador include:

William Alexander, Bonavista
Baird Brothers, Saltcoats, Ayrshire St. John’s   (1852)  St. Andrew ‘s Society
Browning & Son, biscuit manufacturers, Ayrshire.
Baine, Johnston and Company, Port De Grave and St. John’s  (1780)
Crawford and Company, St. John’s
Goodfellow & Company
Archibald Graham, Trinity
Walter Grieve and Company, St. John’s
Robert Hutton, St. John’s
Hunter and Company, St. John’s
John Munn and Company, Harbour Grace
Robert Templeton of Glenluce, Scotland in 1860.
H. Davidson, Aberdeen, (Messrs. J. & W. Stewart)

Sir Robert Thorburn was born at Juniper Bank, Peebleshire,  1852. Thorburn & Tessier.
Thomas McMurdo & Company,St. John’s  the well-known drug firm, 1823
MacPherson at Port De Grave of Greenock
McBride & Kerr (Greenock)
McPherson , “The Royal Stores, St. John’s
The Reid Newfoundland Company Coupar Angus, Perthshire.
Messrs. Patrick and Andrew Tasker, St. John’s
Rennie Stewart & Company, St. John’s
William Frew, Saltcoats, Ayrshire, in 1881, Newfoundland Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company.
John Syme,  Irvine, Ayrshire, J. & W. Stewart,. Known as the “Dundee Co.”
James Stewart

The tartan they “richt weel” wore, and far across the foam,
 Did foster the old traditions of the dear loved Highland home.
 The land of Burns and Wallace is proud it gave them birth,
 For all have played a noble part in proving Scotland’s worth

Wear your Newfoundland or Labrador tartan on Saturday, April 6th.

Recommended Reading: The tartan registry: 

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Archives is home to hundreds of photographs that feature individual and family photographs of Scottish heritage.


Confederation with Canada


“… we do not feel that you in Newfoundland have ever been strangers… “

March 31, 1949

The act creating the new  Canadian province of Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) came into force just before midnight on March 31, 1949, ceremonies marking the occasion did not take place until April 1.

The British Parliament passed the necessary legislation on 23 March, and the Terms of Union came into effect “immediately before the expiration of the thirty-first day of March 1949” (Term 50).


In Newfoundland, official events were concentrated in St. John’s. There was a brief swearing-in ceremony at Government House for the new lieutenant-governor, Sir Albert Walsh, who then accepted a Canadian citizenship certificate on behalf of all Newfoundlanders. Those present at the ceremony listened to a broadcast of the ceremonies in Ottawa before attending a reception. Later in the day, Walsh swore in the first members of the interim government. Despite the fierce contest that had led to  this point, the day passed  very quietly, with little demonstration either for or against Confederation.

The official ceremonies at Ottawa took place on Parliament Hill. The Peace Tower carillon began by playing “Squid Jigging Ground,” a traditional Newfoundland song. Official speeches then followed, coming from Prime Minister St. Laurent and F. Gordon Bradley.   The Prime Minster said:

“In greeting you as fellow citizens we do not feel that you in Newfoundland have ever been strangers. In peace we have been happy to live and work beside you. In two wars we have been glad you were in our company and we in yours. We have the same traditions and the same way of life… He continued … During the centuries since the original settlement of Newfoundland, the people of your island have met the forces of nature, on sea and on land. In adversity and in prosperity they have developed qualities of heart and spirit for which they are renowned.”

F. Gordon Bradley,  chosen to act as the new province’s first representative in the federal government; said to those gathered:

“… This is a day which will live long in North American history. It is a day of fulfilment – fulfilment of a vision of great men who planned the nation of Canada more than eighty years ago …. I fancy we see them now, bending over this scene in silent and profound approval …. Thus we begin life as one people in an atmosphere of unity. We are all Canadians now ….

Joseph R. Smallwood would become the first premier.

St. Laurent then made the first few cuts into a blank escutcheon that had been reserved for Newfoundland’s coat of arms since the reconstruction of the Centre Block after the fire of 1916.

After a speech from the Governor General, events concluded with the singing of “God Save the King,” “Ode to Newfoundland,” and “O Canada.” As events were broadcast via radio, people from Newfoundland were able to listen in.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives Division  explore  GN 154  a collection that  consists of minutes of the delegations 41 meetings in St. John’s; letters to the Chairman and the Secretary of the Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa from societies, business firms, Labour unions, etc. regarding the effect of Confederation on various organizations.

Recommended Exhibit:  Here, We Made a Home. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. The Rooms.   Come over to the Rooms and find Joey Smallwood’s glasses and bowtie.

Did you know that the Newfoundland and Labrador official version of – The Terms of Union with Canada are  held  in The Rooms.


Father and son embrace.

Archival Moment

March 31, 1914

Sealing DIn 1911, Reuben Crewe was one of a handful of sealers who swam to safety when their vessel sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Afterwards Reuben’s wife, Mary, insisted that he give up sealing. She could no longer bear the sleepless nights of worry for his safety.

It was a rite of passage for the young men of Newfoundland to try and find a berth on one of the sealing vessels going to the ice to prosecute the seal fishery.  In March 1914, Albert John Crewe  had just turned 16 and he was determined that he was going to go.

His mother refused to listen to her young son. The boy insisted, he was determined go.  Finally she relented but she insisted he would only go if his father took him under his wing.

Ruben Crewe agreed. He and his son signed up on the S.S. Newfoundland with a group of other men from Elliston on March 4, 1914.

On March 30th, 1914,   Ruben and his son John Albert with another 164 men left the SS Newfoundland and headed towards the SS Stephano seven miles away. For the next two days they were lost in a vicious blizzard; the captain of each ship assuming the men had found refuge on the other.  78 men were to freeze to death, including Ruben and Albert.

Cassie Brown in her book ‘Death on The Ice’ wrote about the father and son.  They had struggled for hours to stay alive, the father encouraging his son to walk to move.

“But now, father and son were unable to encourage each other any further. Albert lay on the ice to die, and his father lay beside him, drawing his son’s head up under his fishermen’s guernsey in a last gesture of protection.  They clasped in each other arms, they died together.”

Rescuers from the S.S. Bellaventure found Reuben and Albert John frozen in an embrace, the father attempting to shield his teenage son from the elements.

Mary, the wife and mother, recounted later that she was awakened the night of the disaster to see Reuben and Albert John kneeling at her bed and that she was struck by the look of peace on their faces.

The embrace of father and son has been immortalized in a statue that was created by renowned bronze sculptor and visual artist Morgan MacDonald. The statue was erected in Elliston, Newfoundland commemorating those lost in the tragedy.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives see GN 121 this collection consists of the evidence taken before the Commission of Enquiry regarding the S.S. Newfoundland. The collection includes the Sealers Crew Agreement and the evidence given by the surviving members of the crew. Evidence entered concerning the loss of the SS Southern Cross is also included on this collection.

Recommended Film:   The National Film Board’s documentary 54 Hours written by Michael Crummey, uses animation, survivor testimony and archival footage to create the story of the Newfoundland Sealing Disaster.  View this  short film from your own home at

Crew List: In the days and months following the loss of the S.S. Southern Cross and the tragedy of the loss of the men of the S.S. Newfoundland there was much confusion about the names and the number of men that did die. You will find the definitive list of all those that did die as well as the survivors at

Recommended Reading:  PERISHED by Jenny Higgins (2014) offers a unique, illustrative look at the 1914 sealing disaster through pull-out facsimile archival documents.


“The present generation in Newfoundland . . . leaves a mighty inheritance”


March 29, 1869

The Mullock Episcopal Library (now the Basilica Museum) is home to some of the oldest books in the province.

On this day (29 March 1869) the talk in the town was all about the death of the Catholic Bishop of St. John’s, John Thomas Mullock.
John Thomas Mullock was born in 1807 at Limerick, Ireland.  In July, 1850, he became the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland.

He is celebrated for much that he did for the local church, he completed the splendid Cathedral (now Basilica) of St. John’s, built the Episcopal Library now the home for the Basilica Museum, founded St. Michael’s Orphanage, and established St. Bonaventure’s College.  All buildings designated in 2010 as part of the Ecclesiastical District of St. John’s by Parks Canada.

He would have likely celebrated the building of The Rooms in the neighborhood of his Basilica Cathedral.  He had hoped that the neighborhood around the Basilica would become the academic and cultural centre of the town.

He was also keen to make Newfoundland a hub of activity in the emerging communications industry.  Long before the first attempts to lay a submarine cable across the Atlantic he was (1857), the first to publicly propose the feasibility of connecting Europe with America by means of submarine telegraph.

In a series of two lectures on Newfoundland given in St John’s in 1860 he revealed his hope in his adopted land:

“The present generation in Newfoundland . . . leaves a mighty inheritance to their children, and we are forming the character of a future nation.”


Recommended Reading: Ecclesiastical History of Newfoundland, volume II / by Archbishop Michael F. Howley, edited by Brother Joseph B. Darcy, associate editor, John F. O’Mara.

Will the new craze of “Velocipede Riding” come to Newfoundland?

March 20, 1869

Try this on the hills in St. John's, NL

Try this on the hills in St. John’s, NL

There was much excitement in St. John’s during this week in 1869. The people of the town were anxious to see the “newly imported velocipedes”   that were available for viewing at the Fishermen’s Society Hall on Queen’s Road.

Edward Morris, General Manager of the Newfoundland Saving’s Bank was so fascinated by the phenomena that he recorded in his diary (March 20, 1869) that even the ailing Roman Catholic Bishop (John Thomas Mullock) was determined to leave his sick bed to see the “newly imported velocipedes.”

The velocipede was invented in France in 1865, upgrading previous bicycles with the addition of pedals to the front wheel. In 1868 E. B. Turner, an agent for Coventry Sewing Machine Makers, England,  was on holiday in Paris where he witnessed the new craze of velocipede riding. Having tried the machines himself he returned to Coventry, England with a new velocipede and persuaded the machine manufacturers to revive their flagging fortunes by manufacturing the bikes themselves.

These bicycles became known as `Boneshakers` due to the severity of the ride afforded by their solid wooden or metal wheels.

In 1869 the Franco-Prussian War broke out and all metal production in France went to the War effort, therefore the French bicycle industry ceased temporarily and English production took over.

In 1871 the penny farthing was invented and took over from the Velocipede, so ending its production.

Recommended Archival Collection: Diary of Edward Morris, Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese, St. John’s.

New Word: velocipede: French vélocipède, from Latin veloc-, velox + ped-, pes foot — fast foot.