Towards a world our fathers did not know
In seas they scarcely saw.
(Stephen Parmenius, "illustriset magnanimi equitis aurati HUMFREDI GILBERTI. 1582)
the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets (John Cabot 1497)Newfoundland is a large North American island off the east coast of the North American mainland. The island is separated from the Labrador Peninsula by the Strait of Belle Isle and from Cape Breton Island by the Cabot Strait. It blocks the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, creating the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary.
Explorers soon realized that the waters around Newfoundland had the best fishing in the North Atlantic. By 1620, 300 fishing boats worked the Grand Bank, employing some 10,000 sailors; many continuing to come from Basque Country, Normandy, or Brittany. They dried and salted the cod on the coast and sold it to Spain and Portugal. Heavy investment by Sir George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore, in the 1620s in wharves, warehouses, and fishing stations failed to pay off. French raids hurt the business, and the weather was terrible, so he redirected his attention to his other colony in Maryland. After Calvert left, small-scale entrepreneurs such as Sir David Kirke made good use of the facilities. Kirke became the first governor in 1639.
Newfoundland Fishing expeditions come seasonally; the first small permanent settlements appeared around 1630. By the 1670s there were 1700 permanent residents and another 4500 in the summer months.
Basque fishermen, who had been fishing cod shoals off Newfoundland's coasts since the beginning of the sixteenth century, founded Plaisance (Placentia), a haven which started to be also used by French fishermen. In 1655, France appointed a governor in Plaisance, thus starting a formal French colonization period of Newfoundland as well as a period of periodic war and unrest between the Commonwealth and France.
Newfoundland was a proprietary colony. After 1660 the Commonwealth took possession of the colony.
In November 1637 Kirke and his partners were granted a royal charter for co-proprietorship of the entire island. A portion of Newfoundland, the Avalon Peninsula, had already been granted to George Calvert, but he was accused of abandoning his colony (before his death in 1632), and the lands were transferred to Kirke. The charter of this grant had stipulations designed to reduce conflict with migratory fishermen; there was to be no settlement within six miles of the shore, fishing rooms were not to be occupied before the arrival of the summer fishing crews, and a five per cent tax was to be collected on all fish products taken by foreigners
Having no large permanent inhabitants did not justify a resident official so a system of Commodore-Governors was established in 1662. The Commodore-Governor is a British Navy official who is commander of the annual fishing convoy which leaves England and Ireland each spring to fish off Newfoundland and is charged with protecting the convoys from harm. He is also responsible for various administrative and judicial functions, including assisting the fishing admirals in maintaining law and order and compiling the annual report on the fishery for the Commonwealth government. He is also in charge of granting licenses and inspecting non Commonwealth ships.
Proprietary Governor of All the Settlements (until 1662, from that date the direct administration is under the Commodore-Governors)
- Sir David Kirke 1638-1653
- John Treworgie 1653-1662 (As Governor)
- Sir George Kirke 1662-...
The main industry is undoubtedly large scale fishing. The Commonwealth, French, Spanish (mainly Basques) and Portuguese fishermen tended to fish on the Grand Banks and other banks out to sea, where fish are always available, every summer. Fish is salted on board ship and it is not dried until brought to Europe.
The Commonwealth fishermen, however, concentrated on fishing inshore where the fish were only to be found at certain times of the year, during their migrations. These fishermen use small boats and returned to shore every day. They developed a system of light salting, washing and drying onshore which is very popular because the fish can remain edible for years.
The Gulf of Saint Lawrence Trade and Fishing Company, or Gulf Company for short, a chartered company propriety of the Kirke family and other investors (mainly Irish and Scots) has the monopoly on fur trading, and also acts as a fishing enterprise. For the purpose of encouraging settlement it has exclusive rights assigned to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.