Perseverance: The Sealers’ Strike in Harbour Grace & Carbonear, 1832

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On the morning of January 9, between 2,000-3,000 men marched with fife and drums to Saddle Hill, between Harbour Grace and Carbonear. The gathering consisted of men from both communities and from varying religious backgrounds. The men had gathered to discuss getting rid of “truck,” the in-kind payments merchants used to negotiate exchanges with Newfoundlanders in the fishery and, partly, in the sealing industry. Often cash payments and “truck” practices were combined in the sealing industry, though the sealers now wanted rid of the latter practice for good – it was wages or nothing.

The men discussed the issue, christened Saddle Hill “Liberty Hill,” and departed peacefully.

On February 9, a second meeting was held, this time with sealing masters invited to attend. They were to bring their proposals, their new agreements, to the public meeting for discussion. If the agreement was acceptable, the men cheered; if not, they tore the agreement in pieces.

While Harbour Grace merchant Thomas Ridley attended the February 9 meeting, he did not comply with the sealers’ demands. This disagreement would soon cause great damage to his property.

In the early morning on February 18, at around 2:00 a.m., more than 200 men boarded Ridley’s ship Perseverance, docked at Harbour Grace. The men were armed with saws,  axes and guns. According to W.A. Munn’s account of the incident, a “mate was sleeping in the cabin, and ascended the companion ladder…[when] his progress was stopped by armed men with guns.” In about ten minutes, the men cut the masts, rigging, yards and gaffs – damage estimated at £120.

This action incensed the mercantile and magisterial elite of Conception Bay. Governor Sir Thomas John Cochrane proclaimed any future meetings on Saddle Hill illegal, offering £100 reward and pardon for anyone with information regarding the destruction of Ridley’s property.

Constables from St. John’s posted Cochrane’s proclamation at various mercantile establishments in Harbour Grace and Carbonear. Within two hours the notice had been torn down; the sealers even tore down the copy posted near the newly built Harbour Grace courthouse, leaving the board smashed in pieces.

The sealers used disobedience and intimidation to great effect after the vandalism on February 18. In her article “Collective Action in Outport Newfoundland,” Linda Little details these brutal tactics:

The fisherman were careful in selecting their targets. They attacked only those who they felt were interfering with their progress. A planted named Nichole was met by three men with a pistol, a large stick, and a scythe but was released when they discovered he was not the man they were after. Seven men with blackened faces visited the home of a ship’s master where a member of the household was suspected of being untrue to the cause. Amidst a great commotion the traitor was dragged from his bed and beaten. A man living near Saddle Hill who claimed to know some of the ringleaders was visited during the night by more than 100 armed men and was only saved from shooting by his wife’s pleading. Another man, who had intended to identify the vandals on Ridley’s ship, suddenly withdrew his offer of information and claimed to know nothing about the incident. (28)

The men posted a final notice on March 1: the deadline for settling an agreement was March 3. Each agreement would have two copies, one for the master of the vessel, one for the crew.

In preparation for this “illegal” gathering, the magistrates had over 100 special constables stationed in each town and at Saddle Hill. Between 500-600 sealers gathered at William Innott’s pier, on Harbour Grace wharf. The magistrates, with police and specials in tow, could do little to quell the gathering. Though the Chief Magistrate read the Riot Act, the men only dispersed briefly, soon rallying again at Ridley’s wharf, the scene of the February 18 fracas. The magistrate demanded they hand their agreement over, which the sealers did, much to to his surprise. Not knowing what then to do in front of this hostile crowd, he gave the agreement back and seemingly fled. He reported to the governor that “the noise, uproar, and numbers made any attempt to stop them futile.” The sealers then paraded through the streets, halting in front of each merchant house to call out their agreement. Each merchant agreed to the terms in turn; each agreement was saluted with a cheer and the men moved on.  Surely spotting a bellicose mob on one’s front lawn, with no lawmen in sight, had something to do with accepting these newly satisfactory terms.

Later, at Carbonear, another radical procession occurred on March 6. As at Harbour Grace, the merchants agreed to the new terms. However, at the Best & Waterman’s pier, some sealers signed on despite dissatisfaction with their agreement. In response, about 200 men boarded Best & Waterman’s two vessels and ordered the scabs ashore. Three or four men on the vessel Morning Star refused to leave, and the strikers physically hauled them from the boat; one man, Thomas Scalon (Scanlon), was severely beaten with sticks and gaffs. The strikers threatened Waterman with violence if he did not draft a new agreement. Waterman acceded to the demands.

Peace had been established by March 14, and the fleet sailed for the ice.

The sealers’ strike of 1832 is one of Newfoundland’s most fascinating instances of labour agitation. The strike seemed set the stage for other collective action – and violence – in the following decade.

This post is part of the Harbour Grace Notebook series. Follow the updates on social media with the hashtag #hgnotebook

Photo source: From the animated short film 54 Hours (2014), National Film Board of Canada. 

Author’s note: If you’re interested in the broader socio-economic context of the 1832 sealers’ strike, I highly recommend reading Linda Little’s “Collective Action in Outport Newfoundland: A Case Study from the 1830s,” published in Labour/Le Travail. This post is merely a brief sketch of the history.  Also, see W.A. Munn’s serialized history of Harbour Grace and Shannon Ryan’s writing for more information. 

Sources & Further Information

Little, Linda. “Collective Action in Outport Newfoundland: A Case Study from the 1830s.” Labour/Le Travail, vol. 26, no. 1, 1990, pp. 7-37.

Ryan, Shannon. “Newfoundland Sealing Strikes, 1830-1914.” Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord, vol. 4, no. 3, 1994, pp. 19-37.

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Summer Fundraising Concert, Feb. 16

The winner of our 50/50 ticket (#0155) was in the audience and took home $1,909! Congratulations!

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In total, with the 50/50 draw and the gate, we raised $3,500 for our summer programming. Special thanks to our performers – Long Drung, Pam Parsons, Kaitlyn Noel, Brenda Hunt-Stevenson and Paul Stevenson, John Smith & Benny Lewis, and Chad Hunt – to those who donated door prizes, and to those who came to last night’s show. We appreciate your continued support!

Here are some pictures from our Summer Fundraising Concert. Thank you to Pamela Whelan for grabbing these shots – they’re excellent.

Long Drung

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Pam Parsons

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Pam Parsons

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Pam Parsons

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Kaitlyn Noel

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Kaitlyn Noel

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Paul Stevenson

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Brenda Hunt-Stevenson

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Brenda Hunt-Stevenson

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Benny Lewis & John Smith

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Benny Lewis & John Smith

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Chad Hunt

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Chad Hunt

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Chad Hunt

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Pamela (Barton) Lee’s model of the Customs House / Conception Bay Museum

 

Photos courtesy Snap by Pam: https://www.facebook.com/snapbypam/

Third Harbour Grace Methodist Church, 1851-1904

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After the fire on February 7, 1850, Rev. William E. Stenstone petitioned the Newfoundland Legislature for aid, which Governor Sir John Gaspard LeMarchant endorsed. The government subsequently granted £200 for a new Methodist church. There were also donations from local merchants: Ridley & Sons donated £50, and John Munn and his wife gave £100 each. In five months, the subscription list stood at about £600, and further donations were expected from the Methodist congregation in St. John’s.

On February 9, 1851, the third Harbour Grace Methodist Church opened for parishioners. The building was 58 feet long and 36 feet wide, with capacity for 500 people. Its windows and galleries were designed in the Gothic style, in a manner similar to the former church. A separate room, the Sabbath school, was attached to the chapel, measuring 26 feet in length, 18 feet in width.

This post is part of the Harbour Grace Notebook series. Follow the updates on social media with the hashtag #hgnotebook

Photo source: Conception Bay Museum archives, photo no. 2016-117

Second Methodist Church of Harbour Grace, 1822-1850

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Built between 1820-23, the Harbour Grace Methodist Church replaced John Stretton’s first Methodist church, built on the hillside which now bears his name. Following the accepted style of architecture, the church was patterned in a similar fashion to other Wesleyan structures in Newfoundland during that time. It was 50 feet long and 40 feet wide, with eastern, western and southern galleries; the southern gallery was for the choir. Though the church lacked an organ, for many years the choir was commended for its unique musical talent. Noted for its comfortable pews and neatness, the church could seat 450 people.

In 1849 the roof had been shingled, the building painted inside and out. Due to these needed repairs, the church was £100 in debt and carried no insurance. On February 7, 1850, in the midst of a severe winter, the Harbour Grace Methodist Church was destroyed by fire. Through the goodwill of the Board of Works and Sheriff George Gaden, church service continued at the courthouse for the rest of 1850.

This post is part of the Harbour Grace Notebook series. Follow the updates on social media with the hashtag #hgnotebook

Picture source:  Pictorial Harbour Grace: Souvenir Guy Ter-Centenary Celebration (1910).

Harbour Grace Featured in New Short Film

Harbour Grace will be featured in a new short film, New Woman, directed by Benjamin Noah and starring Rhiannon Morgan and Stephen Oates. You can view the new trailer here:

As described by the Newfoundland Quarterly, New Woman is a “gothic-romance [which takes] place just prior to the great St. John’s fire of 1892. The landscape of Newfoundland is also a lead actor in the film, though it’s a more foreboding and wild landscape than you’ve ever seen in a tourism commercial.”

In an interview with the Compass, Noah said Harbour Grace, an “old, beautiful spot,” was an ideal location for filming: “When you’re shooting any sort of project set in an older time period, it can be kind of difficult when it comes to finding places to film, but Newfoundland has a lot of these really nice looking buildings and areas that, when shot the right way, can really look the part, like the church we filmed at today [St. Paul’s Anglican Church].”

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St. Paul’s Anglican Church (1835)

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St. Paul’s Anglican Church (1835)

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Stevenson’s rock wall, Water St, Harbour Grace

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Harbour Grace Islands

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St. Paul’s Anglican Church (1835)

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New Woman poster, featuring St. Paul’s Anglican Church

Look out for New Woman soon at a film festival soon.

Links & Further Info

NQ interview | Compass profile | Benjamin Noah Vimeo

Profile: Harbour Grace Grammar School, 1845-1902

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In the spring of 1843, an act was passed establishing a Grammar School at Harbour Grace. A grant of £400 was allocated to support the school. A Board of Commissioners was established as well, consisting of three members from the Church of England, three from the Roman Catholic Church, and three from other denominations. The chairperson was Dr. William Archibald Stirling, the prominent local surgeon.

For the position of headmaster, twenty-three applications were submitted, including one from Thomas Talbot, who would later become an MHA, Sheriff of the District Court, and teacher at St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s. However, John Irving Roddick, of Jedborough, Scotland, was chosen as headmaster. Roddick’s grandfather, Martin, had considerable interests in Newfoundland, owning a fleet of ships which traded in the colony. Roddick had originally trained for the ministry, before settling on teaching as a profession. Notably, he was a friend of the eminent Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. Roddick’s salary was one hundred and fifty pounds per annum.

Built by Thomas Kitchen, the Grammar School officially opened on February 3, 1845, with fifty-five students registered. The school was located near the courthouse, a little west on Harvey St. Families paid seven and sixpence for their children’s registration every quarter. Students had three weeks vacation in the summer, three weeks at Christmas, and a week at Easter. Many Grammar School alumni went on to become prominent members of Newfoundland society, notably William Azariah Munn and the headmaster’s own son, Sir Thomas Roddick. Unsurprisingly, the Grammar School was considered one of the best schools in Newfoundland at the time.

James D. Munn succeeded Roddick as headmaster. The school was closed briefly but reopened in 1898 as a boys school, with Levi Thomas Chafe as principal.

The school operated until 1902, when the school’s committee decided to close the institution, citing its unfavourable location: most pupils lived in the town’s west end, and a school on Downing St was more convenient.

Chafe and his family continued living in the building and its attached dwelling, formerly a dormitory for out-of-town students, until 1906, when he left to become manager of Murray & Crawford at Harbour Grace. The adjacent homeowner, E.B. Thompson, then purchased the property, took down the schoolhouse and dormitory, and sold the land to R. Morrison.

Sources & Further Reading

Davis, May. “Harbour Grace History.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 1957, pp. 21-22.

Fawkes, Marion Elizabeth. In Search of My Father: One Woman’s Search for the Father She Never Knew. Dundurn, 1994. Print.

Munn, W.A. “Harbour Grace History: Chapter Sixteen.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 1937, pp. 9-14.

Profile: John Irving Roddick, Headmaster of the Harbour Grace Grammar School

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John Irving Roddick, of Jedborough, Scotland, was the first headmaster of the Harbour Grace Grammar School. Roddick’s grandfather, Martin, had considerable interests in Newfoundland, owning a fleet of ships which traded in the colony; and his cousin was the famous preacher Edward Roddick. Roddick had originally trained for the ministry, before settling on teaching as a profession. Before coming to Harbour Grace, Roddick was a professor of classics at the High and Lower School of the Mechanics’ Institute in Liverpool, England. Notably, he was a friend of the eminent Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle.

His appointment aroused some indignation in Harbour Grace – some thought Thomas Talbot, a future MHA, Sherriff of the District Court, and teacher at St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s, better suited. In 1844 Roddick arrived in Harbour Grace on the brigantine Alert, captained by Azariah Munden. He was the first teacher to open the school on February 3, 1845. His salary was set at one hundred and fifty pounds per annum.

Soon after arriving in Newfoundland, Roddick married Emma Jane Martin, daughter of Harbour Grace merchant Thomas Martin, on October 2, 1845, at St. Luke’s Church, Port de Grave. The pair had five children: Thomas George (b. July 31, 1846), Janet Irving (b. July 8, 1848), John (b. July 4, 1850), Emma (b. May 18, 1852), and Margaret (b. unknown). Thomas was his father’s most well known pupil, later becoming a successful professor of surgery at McGill University and an influential MP.

At school, Roddick was a well-respected, strict disciplinarian, who insisted on punctuality for lessons. A former pupil described his mentor as “a scholar, linguist, systematic in his conduct of the school and one who never missed a day from attendance; a born teacher of youth, beloved by his pupils and a shrewd judge of character.” The Commissioners of the Grammar School in 1851 were similarly impressed: “[We] have much pleasure in expressing the utmost satisfaction with Principal Roddick, who, in the discharge of [the] onerous and important duties devolving on him, has continued to manifest that indefatigable zeal and ability which in a great measure it owes its efficiency, to whom the public stand indebted for its extended usefulness.” Under his guidance, the school was considered one of the best in Newfoundland.

During his time at Harbour Grace, Roddick was also treasurer for the Sons of Temperance Society and took a leading role in the Presbyterian community of Harbour Grace.

After his retirement from the Grammar School in 1876, Roddick and his wife moved to Montreal to be near their children. Roddick died there in 1879, his wife in 1890.

Sources & Further Reading

Davis, May. “Harbour Grace History.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 1957, pp. 21-22.

Fawkes, Marion Elizabeth. In Search of My Father: One Woman’s Search for the Father She Never Knew. Dundurn, 1994. Print.

Munn, W.A. “Harbour Grace History: Chapter Sixteen.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 1937, pp. 9-14.