May 5, 1884
An “apartment” for the females engaged as servants in the fishery
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives A 44 1; “Labrador home-built ‘floaters’ beating North…”
The women of Newfoundland have long had a place on the fishing boats that have gone to the sea. These fishing boats were often small vessels, with limited space, that allowed for little privacy for the crew, especially for the women.
On May 5, 1884; A. J. Pearce, Sub collector at the Custom House in Twillingate responsible for recording the arrival and departure of all vessels, inspecting the cargo of the vessels and insuring that all paid the required duties and taxes made it known that he wanted the privacy of women aboard vessels protected.
Under the headline “Notice to Schooner Holders” he posted in the local newspaper an announcement that read:
“Sailing Vessels carrying females engaged as servants in the fishery or as passengers, between Newfoundland and Labrador shall be provide with such separate cabin or apartments as will afford at least, fifty cubic feet for each of such females and the owners of such vessels shall provide for such females sufficient accommodation for sanitary purposes.” (Section I and V of the said act)
Captain’s of the vessels were warned if they did not conform to this new regulation they could face “a one hundred dollar fine.”
The regulations were largely put in place for the women involved in the Labrador fishery, especially those involved in the ‘floater fishery.’ The Labrador fishery consisted of ‘floaters’ those who lived on their boats and fished along the Labrador coast. Floaters brought their catch back to Newfoundland for processing. Women involved in the floater fishery were typically young and single, and their primary responsibility was cooking for the fishermen.
The regulations that were introduced describing the space to be provided as “a separate cabin or apartment’ was somewhat exaggerated. The reality was that the small space (50 cubic feet), below deck, tended to be just large enough to curl up into and sleep. The wall of this so called ‘apartment’ would be an old wool blanket.
In 1900, approximately 1200 women –one-third of the fishing crews- travelled in small schooners from the communities of Bay Roberts, Brigus, Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Western Bay to work as hired “girls” in the Labrador fisheries.
Captain Alexander Ploughman, of Ship Cove, Trinity Bay in describing the space allotted for women wrote:
“In most cases the accommodation is very meager being merely a screen dividing the female compartment from that of the men…in many cases they [women] are lying around like so many cattle.”
No matter what the cost of making the space for the women, Captain James Burden of Carbonear was determined to provide separate accommodation because he wrote:
“I cannot think of prohibiting females as we have to make our fish on the Labrador. Two females are better than two men in many cases, and not half the expense.”
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore GN 1/3A Office of the Governor 1899-1901. Many of the despatchers make reference to the role of women in the fishery,. including GN 1/3/A Despatch 265 , Employment of girls in Labrador aboard green fish schooners. GN 1/3/A Despatch 94, Girls employed in green fish catches, Labrador and GN 1/3/A Despatch 112 the Employment of female labour in the Labrador fisheries.
Recommended Website: Costal Women in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation. This virtual exhibit portrays the women who lived and worked in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation http://www.mun.ca/mha/cw/index.html