Tag Archives: bishop john thomas mullock

“Unite the old world and the new”

Subscribers to the St. John’s newspaper, The Courier on  (November 8, 1850) read about the feasibility of an underwater electric cable running from Ireland to Newfoundland. The letter to the Editor read:

“I hope the day is not far distant when St. John’s will be the first link in the electric chain which will unite the Old World and the New.”

Previous to this proposal all discussion about this new form of communication “telegraphic communication” had suggested Halifax as the terminus.

The writer of the letter Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland in making the proposal was the first to suggest Newfoundland as the terminus rather that Nova Scotia. Mullock wrote:

“Now would it not be well to call the attention of England and America to the extraordinary capabilities of St. John’s, as the nearest telegraphic point? It is an Atlantic port, lying, I may say, in the track of the ocean steamers, and by establishing it as the American telegraphic station, news could be communicated to the whole American continent forty-eight hours, at least, sooner than by any other route.”

Prior to penning the letter Mullock had done his home work. Critics had for example argued that an underwater electric cable would not be safe from icebergs. Mullock had read extensively on the subject collecting a number of books on the electric telegraph. He also subscribed to a number of geological publications and collected geological maps and surveys. Based on his research he argued in the letter that the electric cable will be perfectly safe from icebergs. These book and maps now form part of the collection in the Basilica Museum Library in St. John’s.

In 1854, Frederick Gisborne secured financial backers, including American capitalist Cyrus Field and British telegraph engineer, John Brett. The New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company was incorporated in 1854; the Newfoundland legislature granted the company exclusive rights to the submarine telegraph for 50 years and a government subsidy. The company successfully installed the transatlantic cable between Heart’s Content and Ireland (1866); and Heart’s Content and Valentia (Ireland) (1873-1874).

Recommended Archival Collection: Take some time to explore MG 570 at the Rooms Provincial Archives. MG 570 are the records of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company (Harbour Grace) fonds. The collection consists of letter books received, outgoing correspondence, general orders, rules, and regulations and service messages sent and received.

Recommended Book: Atlantic Sentinel by D.R. Tarrant, Fkanker Press. Atlantic Sentinel is illustrated with sixty vintage photographs and maps. The illustrations range from sketches of the early transatlantic attempts in the 1850s and 1860s to photographs of cable station staff in the twentieth century

Recommended Reading: Frederic Gisborne, Cyrus Field and the Atlantic Cable of 1858  By Ted Rowe Newfoundland Quarterly: Fall 2008, Volume 101 Number 2 .




New Year’s Levee

JANUARY 1, 1859

“The Finest Room in the Colony”

The Basilica Museum Library. The “Finest Room in the Colony.”

There was a tradition in St. John’s that encouraged the leading citizens of the town to host a New Years Day Levee.  This levee was a reception that was held early in the afternoon of New Years Day, typically at the residence of the host.  Attending these levee’s was an annual ritual in the town.

The first recorded levée in Canada was held on January 1st, 1646 in the Château St. Louis by Charles Huault de Montmagny, Governor of New France (later Québec).  In addition to shaking hands and wishing a Happy New Year to citizens presenting themselves at the Château, the Governor informed guests of significant events in the Mother Country, as well as the state of affairs within the colony.  This tradition is carried on today within The Commonwealth in the form of The Queen’s New Year’s Message.

The Levée tradition was continued by British Colonial Governors in Canada, and subsequently by Governors General and Lieutenant Governors, and continues to the present day.

One of the leading citizens that was expected to host a levee was the Roman Catholic bishop. Typically citizens would call upon the bishop on New Years Day at the Episcopal Library (now the home of the Basilica Museum) to wish him a Happy New Year. Persons attending, dressed in their finest, would upon arrival stand in cue, sign a guest book and would then be introduced to the bishop.  The introduction would be followed by refreshments.

In 1859 Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John’s hosted his New Years Day Levee in the newly established Episcopal Library. Among the guests invited on this day was Lt-Col. R. B. McCrea, a Battery Commander and later Garrison Commander at Fort Townsend (now the site of The Rooms.)

McCrea was most impressed by the levee and the newly established library.   Ten years later in 1869 McCrea wrote a book about his experiences in Newfoundlandentitled “Lost Amid The Fogs: Sketches of Life in Newfoundland, England’s Ancient Colony.”  He wrote about the New Years Day levee

“Then to His Lordship (Bishop John Thomas  Mullock) we paid our respects and congratulations as was right and proper. A hearty reciprocation and a glass of champagne were his return for the compliments, to say nothing of taking us around his noble library, the finest room in the Colony.

McCrea was impressed by the library but he was not so impressed by the living quarters of the bishop and priests. He wrote:

This reception room was handsome, adorned with statuary from Italy, but for himself and the priests that lived with him, the little room below with its deal chairs and common delf would have been probably scorned by a layman. So strange is the contrast which presents in the attributes of his daily life and the profession he upholds.”

On Thursday, 01 January 2015 from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., His Honour the Honourable Frank F. Fagan, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador and Her Honour Patricia Fagan will welcome members of the public to the traditional New Year’s Levee at Government House.

Recommended Reading: “Lost Amid The Fogs: Sketches of Life in Newfoundland, England’s Ancient Colony.” 

Recommended Website: The History of the Basilica: http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/basilique-basilica/en/index.htm