Tag Archives: women

The cod trap inventor


June 5, 1834 

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division: F 51-10, Hauling a cod trap / Robert Edwards Holloway [1901: Holloway family fonds

On June 5, 1834 William Whiteley  best known in Newfoundland as the inventor of the cod trap was born.

Whiteley first thought of the idea in 1865 when he had occasion to hold a catch of fish in the water with a seine-net. During the winter the family was employed in making the large net required for the trap, and the following summer it was used with great success.

In 1911, just over 40 years after its invention, government inspectors recorded the use of 6,530 cod traps in Labrador. By that time too, the trap was being widely used around the coast of Newfoundland. The cod trap was so effective that Captain Whitely’s original design continued in use virtually without change for a full century.

The device did improve productivity overall and it changed the character of the cod fishery by allowing fishermen to spend more time ashore in the processing and curing and thus reduced the role of women in these activities.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type  cod   in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Canadian Biography:  http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7140

Recommended Website:  The History of the Northern Cod Fishery https://www.cdli.ca/cod/home1.htm


Women plea for justice

Archival Moment

August 1891

Harbour Grace Court House

Harbour Grace Court House

We do not often hear the voices of women speak to us from the pages of history especially the wives and sisters of poor fishermen but an incident in Carbonear in 1891 forced some women to take action.

In early June 1891, George Peckam and David Clarke of Victoria Village near Carbonear, Stephen Howell, Mark Dean, James Reid, and John Powell all of Carbonear were convicted “on a charge of disobedience of orders and refusal of duty.”  They were all crew members on the banking Schooner Argonaut.

When these six  men signed up  to prosecute the fishery on the banking Schooner Argonaut it is likely that he would have signed a standard agreement known to many as the ‘Masters and Servants Agreement.’  This agreement covered the contractual obligations of the fishermen and the consequences of disobeying the Captain or deserting the vessel.

These Carbonear fishermen would likely have also been aware of the Statutes of Newfoundland passed in 1888 that detail laws concerning dissertation of a Banking Schooner. The law read:

  “When any person, fishermen, shoreman or shareman, shall fail or refuse to perform such contract or agreement without showing cause therefor, such as unseawothiness of the vessel, insufficiency of food, absence of suitable accommodation, or a medical certificate or some other good excuse, any justice may, upon complaint by some employer or his agent, issue his warrant and cause such person to be apprehended and brought before him. “

Disobeying orders and or refusal of duty automatically meant 30 – 60 days in jail.

The Stipendiary Magistrate in Carbonear, James Hippisley who heard the case  was not sympathetic to the men. He gave the maximum sentence.

The mothers and children of the six men were devastated. These men were the bread winners in their families; if they did not work their families would face starvation.

On June 15, 1891 the five women made an emotional plea in the form of a petition to the Colonial Governor of Newfoundland, Sir John Terence Nicholls O’Brien begging  for some form of relief  and that that their men be released from the prison in Harbour Grace.

In the petition Susannah Peckam explained that her son George Peckham had “six children the eldest is only ten years old.”

Martha (Clarke) Howell the mother of Stephen Howell explained that he had five children, the eldest is seventeen and that her husband is a cripple and unable to work. She was determined to get her son releases. This was the second petition presented on his behalf.

Martha Clarke the sister of David Clarke explained that she is “deprived of the ways and means of assisting an aged father of 76 years according of the duty of a child to a parent.”

Margaret (Butt) Dean the wife of Mark Dean explained that she had no support and that they were responsible for “an aged father (84) and mother (60) and two young children.”

Sophia (Mulley) Reid the mother James Reid explained that she would be “deprived of all help.”

Cecily (Gillespie) Powell pleaded for the release of her son John Powell “who has four in family the oldest 17 and labors under heart disease and very often bad with it and often falls down.”

Cecil Frane, the Secretary for Governor O’Brien, responded to the petition. He wrote:  “the case of the prisoners has already been reported upon,  Magistrate Hippisley and the Governor refused to release Howell who first petitioned and the other cases are exactly similar.”

From June till early August 1891 the six men languished in the Harbour Grace prison.

It would be a difficult fall and winter because they had no income, no share in the summer catch of fish.  Their families faced starvation and destitution.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives see GN 2.22, Box 12, v. 2, no. 27. , p. 104-111 (15 June 1891) Petition requesting  for relief due to losses incurred by imprisonment at Harbour Grace of sons and husbands, crew of banking schooner Argonaut.  Letter to Robert Bond, colonial secretary from Cecil Fane, private secretary, governor, enclosed. p. 104-11

Recommended Reading:  Bannister, Jerry: The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom, and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

Recommended Reading:  The Newfoundland Bank Fishery: Government Policies and the Struggle to Improve Bank Fishing Crews’ Working, Health and Safety Conditions. Fred Winsor, B.A., M.A.  Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1996.

More than a pair of socks

Archival Moment

July 9, 1918

More than a pair of socks, knitting for their soldier boys.

More than a pair of socks, knitting for their soldier boys.

On July 9, 1918 the local paper, The Twillingate Sun, published a letter under the caption “Thanks for the Socks”. The letter was one of hundreds that would have been printed in local Newfoundland newspapers, it was a thank you letter from a young soldier (Edward G. Noftall) “Somewhere in France” thanking a young woman (Miss Clarke of Twillingate) for a pair of socks that she knit for him.

The letter gives considerable insight into a ‘home front’ war time activity.

In the early days of the First World War, the Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland (W.P.A.) was formed with a mandate “to assist in aiding the British Empire in the present crisis by providing the necessities needed by our soldiers at the front.” The necessities that were identified were knitted socks, helmet liners, scarves, mittens and waistcoats for the men overseas. In every corner of Newfoundland and Labrador women were knitting for their ‘soldier boys.’

Many of these women decided to add a personal touch to the product that they had knitted inserting into the sock or mitten a note wishing the soldier well with their name and home address. Typically the sentiment of the note was “Into this sock I weave a prayer, That God keep you in His love and care.”

In May 1918, Edward Noftall, age 19, originally from Rocky Lane, St. John’s, Regimental #83 (one of the First 500) received a pair of socks from a Miss Clarke of Twillingate. Upon receiving the socks he felt compelled to write a note of thanks. He wrote:

Dear Miss CLARKE: – Just a note thanking you for the socks which were very nice indeed and in such a place as France. I know the people in Twillingate must work hard working for the soldiers of Nfld. I don’t know if I know any of your friends out here, but I can tell you that all the boys that are here at present are feeling well. My address is 83 E.G. NOFTALL, 1st Royal Nfld. Regt. B.E.F., France.

Your friend, Ted.

Some young soldiers upon receiving their knitted socks with notes inserted while they were in the trenches in France were not content with sending a note of thanks, some resolved when they returned to Newfoundland that they would visit the young woman who had knit their socks. Several cases have been documented anecdotally of young soldier boys returning, seeking out their knitter and in some cases, they developed romantic relationships and they married. (If you are aware of such a case please let me know. I would like to document as many cases as possible.)

Edward (Ted) Noftall was never to meet his Miss Clarke in person. This young man who had marched with the First 500 from Pleasantville to The Florizel, had seen action at Gallipoli in 1915 had been hospitalized several times for injuries in the trenches died of appendicitis at the 3rd Casualty Hospital, Belgium a few short months after he wrote his letter of thanks.

Miss Clarke and the thousands of other women knit many socks and wrote many comforting notes that they inserted in the heels. It is estimated that between 1914 and 1916, the women produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger), and 22,422 mufflers.

For some they were simply a pair of grey socks, for the young soldiers in the cold trenches, the socks were a connection with home, the socks reminded the soldiers that at home in Newfoundland they were loved and remembered.

 A Pair of Grey Socks

A woman is knitting most all the day

A sock that shapes from a ball of grey,

Her fingers fly, and the needles click,

Fast grows the sock so soft and thick.

“Why do you knit at such a pace,

Dear woman, with patient face?

Is it for tireless little feet,

Or covering warm for the huntsman fleet?

“Or maybe for fisherman strong and bold,

Who fights the sea when the winds blow cold.

Or perhaps for the strong brave pioneer,

Who faces new worlds with dauntless air?”

“No, no, my child, ’tis for none of those

That I patiently knit in endless rows;

’Tis for nearer and dearer” — then a broken pause,

“For those who are fighting their country’s cause.

“For those who sailed on the ocean wide,

To do their bit ’gainst a lawless tribe.

Thus, I do for my country a woman’s part,

Who give the pride of their mother’s heart.”

“But what means the white row I see right here,

Is it a sign to make the pair?”

“No, that marks the socks for the slender youth,

Who does his part for the cause of truth.

“The red is the sign for the hardy man,

At the height of his strength in life’s short span;

But young and old alike do the same,

For life or death, for honour or fame.

“Blue in the sock is the medium size,

The colour dear to the sailors’ wives,

So in the grey socks, red, white and blue

Form our colours so bright and true.

“And that is why all the livelong day,

I sit and knit in the same old way;

And into each sock I weave a prayer

That God keep our boys in His love and care.”

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 exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Regiment, available at the ARCHIVES on microfilm. Some of the service records are on line at: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.

Knitting Socks: Demonstration: Sock Knitting: In just two years, the women of Newfoundland and Labrador knit 62,685 pairs of socks for the troops in the First World War. Come to the Collecting the Great War: Enlisting Your Help exhibition to watch a pair of grey socks being made, using the original pattern, and try your hand at knitting. Demonstrations are ongoing every Thursday from 2 – 4pm on Level 2 at The Rooms.

Females engaged as servants in the fishery

Archival Moment

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..."

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