Newfoundland and Labrador Britain’s Oldest Colony – Canada’s Newest Province

Kingwell By Kingwell, 7th Apr 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/36z_npie/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

Here we take a break for the most part, from the actual history of Newfoundland and Labrador, and focus instead on the harshness of a system that kept the fishermen of the colony forever indebted to the Fish Merchant.

Newfoundland and Labrador Britain’s Oldest Colony – Canada’s Newest Province


Chapter VIII
Please see Chapter VII

When it became legal to settle in Newfoundland and Labrador, some of the fish merchants of England began setting up shop in the country. Some of the most important of those premises were to be found in such places as St. John's, Trinity, Fogo, Burin, Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Bay Roberts, Twillingate, Ferryland, Trepassey, St. Mary's, St. Lawrence, Harbour Breton, Forteau and Battle Harbour.
We cannot speak about the fishery of Newfoundland without speaking also of what came to be known as the credit system, whereby the merchant issued supplies to the fishermen in the spring and was repaid at the end of the season in fish. While there is no record of when the system began, it probably came about because the merchants who exported the fish also sold provisions and fishing supplies. At the beginning of the season a man with no money to buy food and with nothing to fish with would make an agreement with the merchant whereby the latter would supply him with the necessities he needed and the fisherman would repay the debt at the end of the season out of the fish that he caught. The merchant tried to ensure himself against loss by charging higher prices when giving credit than he would have charged for cash, so that any profit he made from one man would cover any loss arising from the failure of another.
Although the system appears to have been successful at first, it led to great evils in later years. In a poor season the merchant often advanced supplies not only in the spring, but also throughout the winter. Some of the most reckless and improvident of the fishermen didn’t seem to care about this state of affairs. As long as they could obtain a living they were satisfied; but it fell with particular harshness on the hard working man who sometimes fell into debt as a result of several poor fishing seasons. One of the worst evils of the system was what came to be known as pauperism. This occurred when some men became so indebted to the merchant that no further supplies could be issued and funds had to be collected to save them from starvation. This of course could not continue year after year and eventually the government had to set aside money for poor relief or dole as it came to be known.
Industrious and successful men complained bitterly because they knew that the profit which the merchant was making on them was higher than it would have been if others were as hard-working as themselves. There were complaints of greed and the harshness of some merchants, of men working like slaves and driven to despair when at the end of the fishing season they found themselves either in debt or with nothing to show for their labor and still dependent on the merchant to feed them during the winter. Many merchants set high prices on food and low prices on fish and those who complained were left to starve during the winter – and some did, especially in small communities, before the dole was introduced.
Newfoundland and Labrador was granted Representative Government in 1832 and this meant that the colony had a legislature of her own but all laws still had to be submitted to and approved by the parliament of Great Britain. Finally in 1855 the colony was granted Responsible Government and became known as The Dominion of Newfoundland. With good government, and good fishing seasons, the first few years of responsive government were the best in the country’s history. As any fisherman can tell you however, every fishing season is not a good one and as all historians know all decisions made by governments, are not always for the best. The credit system changed very little over the years and fishermen and those who worked for the merchants barely managed to make ends meet. When the great depression began around 1930, the Newfoundland government found itself facing bankruptcy and was forced to appeal to Great Britain for help. In 1934, the country surrendered its self-government and agreed to be governed by a commission appointed by The British parliament. The commission consisted of Three men from Great Britain and three from Newfoundland with the governor as chairman.
To Be Continued.

Tags

Bankruptcy, Commission Of Government, Credit System, Dominion Of Newfoundland, Great Britain, Great Depression, Kingwell, Newfoundland And Labrador, Responsible Government, St Johns, Starvation, Trinity

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author avatar Kingwell
I am 75 years old and retired.I like writing short stories, poetry as well other articles of interest.

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Comments

author avatar Carol
7th Apr 2013 (#)

Interesting information Kingwell, you know your facts.

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author avatar Kingwell
7th Apr 2013 (#)

Thank you Carol.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
8th Apr 2013 (#)

Reads like a fascinating tale and we have come thus far step by step. All the more reason we should protect democracy and freedom. A great series indeed, Kingwell, thanks - siva

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author avatar Kingwell
8th Apr 2013 (#)

I agree Siva. Thank you for your encouragement.

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author avatar madugundurukmini
8th Apr 2013 (#)

interesting old history

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author avatar Kingwell
8th Apr 2013 (#)

Thank you madugundurukmini.

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author avatar Md Rezaul Karim
8th Apr 2013 (#)

I wish the problems would be solved, if any still hanging on... You still have good leaderships and good intentions..

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author avatar Kingwell
8th Apr 2013 (#)

Things have changed a lot in recent years as you will see in later chapters, but like everywhere problems remain. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
8th Apr 2013 (#)

thank you again Kingwell for giving us another great article...

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author avatar Kingwell
8th Apr 2013 (#)

Thank you cn, you are an inspiration.

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author avatar Reni Sentana-Ries
9th Apr 2013 (#)

What awful treachery perpetrated on the local fishery communities by the greedy local fish merchant middle-men. They should never have been allowed to become so powerful over the lives of the local people. Governmental failure.

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author avatar Kingwell
9th Apr 2013 (#)

HI Reni, You are absolutely right. Thank you for following this history series

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author avatar Delicia Powers
9th Apr 2013 (#)

This hits very near to my on heritage..my uncles and grandfather where all fishermen and lobster men...thanks Kingwell-

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author avatar Kingwell
9th Apr 2013 (#)

Hi Delicia, Probably the greatest problem in Newfoundland was an almost total reliance of the fishery. A bad two or three years, or sometimes only one failure could spell disaster. Thank you for your interest.

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author avatar Songbird B
23rd Apr 2013 (#)

This would make a fascinating book Kingwell, and is so well written that it holds the reader's interest from start to end..Great series..\0/x

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