(Photo used by permission of the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.)



CHAPTER ONE: Notre Dame Bay—Including Bay of Exploits, Hall’s Bay, and Green Bay

CHAPTER TWO: White Bay and the Northern Peninsula


CHAPTER FOUR: West Coast—Southern Section

CHAPTER FIVE: Southwest Coast and South Coast

CHAPTER SIX: Fortune Bay

CHAPTER SEVEN: Placentia Bay

CHAPTER EIGHT: South and Southeast Avalon Peninsula

CHAPTER NINE: Were the Newfoundland Tern Schooners Inferior in Construction? A Challenge to John P. Parker’s Sails of the Maritimes
















(Photo Courtesy of Angus Evans.)


SOME OF MY FONDEST childhood memories have to do with being surrounded by the shipbuilding tools and artifacts of the Evans family. My grandfather Samuel was a shipwright, and his and my great-grandfather William’s tools were housed in the family workshop. There were huge bins full of trunnels, ship’s knees, blocks and tackle; walls covered with a variety of saws, axes, augers, planes, and C-clamps; and a sealing gun hung securely on a long wall. Underneath Jacob Evans’s house next door were neat coils of bank line and a variety of half models for ships the Evans family had built. Next door, on the other side, was Robert Evans’s workshop. Since Robert was still an active builder, his workshop was considered by small boys as an inner sanctum, and we dared not enter, but our hungry eyes surveyed the vast array of gleaming, polished tools. Farther along the road in the opposite direction and at the water’s edge was Luke Manuel’s shipbuilding site and his two-storey workshop. Luke was long gone and the workshop was securely locked, but cracks in the weathered building allowed us to catch glimpses of what must have been a marvellous collection. Many of the Evans tools and artifacts are now exhibited in the Botwood Heritage Centre, and only two artifacts remain in possession of the family, both used during their fishing on the Labrador: the large box-compass with its sliding wood cover and the leather-bound, retractable “spy-glass” which extends to about forty inches.

Regrettably, not a single tool or artifact of the Manuel family of the Bay of Exploits, possibly the most prolific family of shipbuilders in the history of Newfoundland, is displayed publicly. Many of their trade tools were taken to the mainland by visiting relatives as heirlooms of a quickly disappearing family tradition and heritage. Many other valuable artifacts went to private collections.

As a boy growing up in Northern Arm in the Bay of Exploits, I spent much time in the house and stores of my great-uncle Job Manuel, my grandmother’s brother, but he never once spoke about his shipbuilding exploits. Neither did Robert Evans, our next door neighbour. If it had not been for my questioning Robert in 1955 (he was then eighty-plus years old) and taking detailed notes, he probably would never have shared this information. Were these men excessively modest, or did they regard shipbuilding as simply something they were taught to do, a trade born of necessity, nothing particularly special? It must surely have been the latter. Many other men around Newfoundland were doing the same thing. The same kind of thinking was evident in our several conversations with Henry Vokey of Trinity. There is a special kind of satisfaction in working with the natural product, in Henry’s words,“Nothing but wood.” Henry’s hard, gnarled hands speak eloquently of that love and satisfaction.

The lost tools and artifacts of the Cox family of New Bay serve as a kind of modern-day parable of what has happened with much of the traditional material culture of Newfoundland. The Cox family workshop was built at the edge of the sea among their stores, wharf, and other fishing structures. As family members aged and died off, the ocean and weather took their toll until the premises gradually collapsed and fell into the sea. Metal tools sank to the bottom where they rusted away. Wooden tools and artifacts drifted out to sea where they became derelicts on some distant shore. Thus has much of our tangible and visible cultural history been lost forever.

The tools and artifacts that remain form the only tangible evidence of the master shipbuilders’ accomplishments. Many of these were fashioned in the family carpenter shop or the blacksmith shop, and here the builder displayed his innovative skills in crafting truly distinctive artifacts. Each tool bore a distinctive mark of ownership, often the initials laboriously carved in a wooden handle or filed in the metal, so these could not be claimed by other workers but could be returned to the right tool box at the end of the work day. Fortunately many of these artifacts have been preserved by thoughtful families, and some of them are now mounted in professionally-designed exhibits such as in the Grand Bank Fishermen’s Museum, the Winterton Boat Building Museum, and the Botwood Heritage Centre. The exhibition of tools in the Trinity Museum is disappointing because it lacks the organizational touch of the professional curator, yet Trinity was perhaps the prime shipbuilding site in all of Newfoundland. Carbonear fortunately has the one remaining Rorke Store with an amazing pictorial display of the early fishery and shipbuilding as well as the dramatic ship’s knees which support the ancient building. The Harbour Grace Museum displays only a few significant pictures depicting its historic role as a major shipbuilding site. We look in vain for similar exhibits in Monroe, Heart’s Content, New Perlican, Hant’s Harbour, Rocky Harbour, and Bay D’Espoir.

Only a few remnants of ancient shipbuilding sites remain, such as at Monroe, Trinity Bay, but these are fading fast. Still visible there in 2010 were several deep hollows in the bank where the Stone family’s ships were laid in the stocks. One of our hopeful expectations from this project is that local heritage groups will be motivated to identify specific shipbuilding sites in their communities, erect appropriate signage, and incorporate these sites into their walking trails as a way of remembering and honoring those who were skilled founders of communities and early employers. There are still many Newfoundland communities once much involved in shipbuilding without a heritage centre or museum to exhibit the tools and artifacts associated with the trade. One significant example is New Harbour where the Newhook family of shipbuilders featured prominently in local economic history for several generations.

Were shipbuilders actually founders of communities? While they were not the primary founders, they still played a significant role in settlement formation, along with merchants and ordinary fishermen-planters. This was particularly linked to the practice of winterhousing as families moved from outer coastal settlements to the heads of bays from October to May each year, primarily to build ships and boats for pursuit of the fishery. Rev. Joseph Parkins’s account of a month-long journey from Exploits Islands to the upper Bay of Exploits area, as described in detail in the Twillingate Sun of April 13, 1883, furnishes a fine account of this practice with an emphasis on shipbuilding in various locations. The Evans family had been using this area for shipbuilding at least thirty years before Parkins’s visit, first living in winter tilts and then permanently settling at Evans’s Point by 1876, thus becoming the founders and first settlers at Northern Arm. They had brought with them several other families who worked with them as ship’s carpenters and Labrador fishermen. The Manuel family had used Ship Cove, in Botwood, for many years as a shipbuilding site but soon settled with the Evanses at Northern Arm. Not only were these two families the founders of Northern Arm, but they were also the economic engine that provided labour and sustenance for many others. The upper storey (third floor) of the Evans residence housed the men who came from surrounding communities to assist them in the harvesting of timber and then helped with the construction of their vessels, who returned in June to accompany them to the Labrador for the summer fishery and again in the fall to assist with the curing of the catch. The Evanses had three shipbuilding sites in Northern Arm; the Manuels had two sites and a sawmill and eventually established a local merchant firm. Additionally, the Manuels provided a house which served as a school during weekdays, a chapel on Sundays, and a social and community centre on occasion.

Likewise at Moreton’s Harbour, the Horwood family of Carbonear set up a shipyard in the late eighteenth century and constructed vessels for the cod fishery and the seal hunt. Then came the Knight family of St. John’s and the Small and Osmond families, all of them fishermen-shipbuilders and founders of this community. The story is repeated again and again throughout Newfoundland.

The distinction between fisherman, planter, and shipbuilder is almost impossible to make. And the McAlpine and Lovell Directories from 1871 to 1897 are so subjective and inconsistent in categorizing occupations that they are of little help. While most of the Newhooks of Trinity Bay are classified as fishermen in the McAlpine Directory of 1870-71, the reader should note in the Appendix to Chapter Four, Volume One, that most men in Bonavista Bay during this period—particularly in Gooseberry Islands, Flat Islands, Flower’s Island, Bennett Island, Indian Arm, and Bloody Bay—are classified as shipbuilders. Perhaps the compiler visited these places during the shipbuilding season and saw all these men at work in the docks. The ship registers are the only reliable source for occupational classification, and many men whose occupation was given as fisherman, planter, trader/dealer, etc. were also the builders of these particular vessels. The building of a ship was simply a means of getting to where the fish were and therefore incidental to whether the man was designated as fisherman, planter, or trader/dealer. Shipbuilding occurred in so many coves and harbours it is impossible to name all of them, thus the common use of general designators such as Trinity Bay, Bonavista Bay, Notre Dame Bay without any possibility of determining where the actual construction took place. The ship registers generally make a clear distinction between the person who owns the ship and the person who built the ship. These are often the same, but he may, for example, have been one of five brothers or the owner/builder. The infamous 1854-77 gap in the records, when shipbuilders’ names are not recorded, deprives us of important information during what some describe as the golden age of shipbuilding in Newfoundland.

A definitive history of early shipbuilding in Newfoundland (1500-1800) has not yet been written, and that was not my intention. My focus has been primarily the approximate period 1800-2000, the period covered by the ship registers available to me. Any references to early shipbuilding in the published literature have been incorporated into the opening sections of each chapter, but this must surely be only a smattering of ship construction that occurred during that 300 year period. My primary interest has been the shipbuilders themselves rather than the types of ships they built, though I have supplied that information where it has been available.

This two-volume set, Master Shipbuilders of Newfoundland and Labrador, was designed as a tribute to the men who developed or were gifted with such considerable skills with wood that they fashioned truly excellent wooden ships for the Labrador and Grand Banks fisheries and for transporting the finished products to European and South American countries from at least the 1600s to the 1940s, as well as to skilled boatbuilders who constructed smaller vessels for the pursuit of the inshore and near-shore fisheries of Newfoundland and Labrador. The first volume of this set, published in 2013, is subtitled Cape Spear to Boyd’s Cove. The present volume completes the remainder of Newfoundland and includes Labrador.

Apart from a very few of the better known and well-publicized of these shipbuilders, the names of the vast majority have long been forgotten or were never known to a broad public audience. All of them deserve a significant place in our history, for they played a role during the early years of our colony and province in helping to form some of the hundreds of coastal communities and a way of life still remembered in broad outline, but deserving of an even better reconstruction. We can recapture some of that way of life through the eyes of shipbuilders and other artisan classes which have now almost entirely disappeared.

I committed a great deal of forethought as to how I would present this material to the reader and considered that any approach would be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, I decided on the regional approach, “one bay at a time,” with a view to highlighting the most prominent of these shipbuilders and shipbuilding families chronologically within these regions. Because there are so many shipbuilders and so much information about them, both volumes are necessarily heavy, fact-filled presentations. These are reference works written in narrative form and therefore do not comprise a unified narrative of the shipbuilding industry. I would recommend that these volumes be used as a reference source, taking small portions at a time, rather than reading them sequentially, and using the Index as a starting point for individual shipbuilders or families. My role, as I see it in these volumes, is to make available primary data of use to other writers; I am thus a compiler as much as, or more than, a writer. I would be delighted if others would use these offerings as a starting point for their own historical or imaginative writings.

These two volumes contain many details about individual shipbuilders and shipbuilding families and the communities where these builders lived and worked. The primary sources for these data are the ship registers deposited at the Maritime History Archives at Memorial University, the Registry of Shipping in St. John’s, the National Archives in Ottawa, newspapers published in St. John’s, Harbour Grace, and Twillingate, and the published literature. As discovered since the publication of Volume One, in briefly reviewing the early fishery and early settlement, I did not adequately consider the more recent scholarship on these topics.

Little new information on early shipbuilding has come to light since the publication of Volume One; one remarkable exception was of the construction of the entire superstructure on the 180-ton Spanish galleon Trinidad which was built in Spain in 1574 and sent to Labrador for the crafting of the “bridge deck and its upper part” (Barkham 81-82). More data on this is found in Chapter Three on Labrador.

Lloyd’s Registers for the eighteenth century note several ships built in Newfoundland but with no information about builders or place of construction. These ships are all designated “Plantation-built” and noted to have been constructed in Newfoundland. The records for the 1750s and 1760s were checked carefully and spot checks were made following this period. The 130-ton Aurora was constructed in 1752; the 50-ton Ann in 1753 for Joliff; the 80-ton Dispatch in 1754 for Joseph White; the 100-ton Beckford in 1755 for Pitts; the 150-ton Alex & John in 1757 for Crosbie; the 70-ton Betty in 1760; the 30-ton Billy in 1762 for William Spurrier; the 250-ton Escape in 1763 for Pike & Green; the 90-ton Bee in 1763 for Bayley & Co.; the 70-ton Betsey in 1765 for Anthony Mery; the 120-ton brig Neptune in 1768 and the 50-ton Penguin in 1769. Some of the owner names are familiar from Volume One. For example, the Dispatch would probably have been constructed at Trinity for Joseph White, and the Billy and the Ann would probably have been built at Oderin or Burin for William Spurrier and Peter Joliffe. Some of these men may have been agents for British merchants or the merchants themselves. Some spot checking of the Lloyd’s Registers was done following this period, but no substantive information was found except the names of a few ships: the John in 1753, the Industry in 1773, the John in 1782, the James in 1783, and the Jane with no date. These ships were registered in British ports.

Helpful comments from several interested readers have furnished additional information to what was presented in Volume One.

In Volume One, I mentioned Murley Berkshire of Random Island as one of the “finished carpenters” on the renowned Splinter Fleet at Clarenville in the 1940s. Since then I have corresponded with Murley, who is now ninety-three years of age. The names of only four of the master builders and two of the finished carpenters were identified in Volume One. Murley has now furnished additional details. The superintendent of construction was a Mr. Hayes, likely from Nova Scotia, since we know that William J. Roue (the designer of the famous Bluenose) was also the designer of these ten remarkable ships. After a short period, probably after the second ship was launched, Mr. Hayes was succeeded by a Mr. Pentz from Nova Scotia. Murley began work after the first ship, Clarenville, was launched in the spring of 1944 and was laid off in August 1946. He did not work in the dock. About 150 men were involved in the building operation. After the ships were launched, they were taken to the railway wharf, and Murley was one of the “finished carpenters” who built the superstructure on each vessel, consisting of the cabins, bridge, and forecastle (crew’s quarters)—i.e., everything above decks. The men worked during the entire period under the superintendence of Max Sinclair from Gin Cove. Bramwell Smith from Hodge’s Cove was Murley’s foreman. Two other foremen were Alonzo Frampton of Gin Cove and Colin Baker of Snook’s Harbour. Five of the finished carpenters were Eleazer (Lees) Hiscock, Ezekiel Cooper from Clarenville, Ernest and Gordon Wiseman from Shoal Harbour, and Watson Bowering from Apsey Brook. Other carpenters were Ross Laite from Petley, Hayward and Lindo Smith from Apsey Brook, and George Wiseman and Norman Blunden from Shoal Harbour. Boyce Smith of Elliott’s Cove was one of the engineers installing the engines. The rigging of the vessels was also done under the superintendence of Max Sinclair. The riggers were Charles Laite of Petley, Jake Morgan of Seal Cove, and William Burt of Elliott’s Cove. The government’s intention was that these vessels would be built with Newfoundland materials; much of the birch and spruce was harvested near Glenwood and sawn at the mill in the dockyard.

New information has also come to light on the famous shipbuilder Michael Kearney through my correspondence with one of his descendants, Anna Kearney Guigne, a Folklorist and Adjunct Professor of Music at Memorial University. The shipbuilder extraordinaire Michael Kearney was actually Michael Kearney Junior. His father, Michael Kearney Sr., was employed by Holdsworth & Co. in the early years, operated a salmonry at Biscay Bay in Trepassey Bay about 1804, and moved to St. John’s sometime after Michael Jr’s birth in 1811. Holdsworth & Co. was an important merchant firm of Dartmouth, Devon, with its Newfoundland headquarters at Ferryland and pursuing an extensive trade along the Southern Shore. The John Kearney who crafted the 84-ton Messenger at Bay Bulls in 1820 must certainly have been Michael’s uncle, his father’s brother, so we will designate him as John Kearney I. Daniel Condon of St. John’s married Michael’s daughter, Margaret, and at age twenty-three he became an apprentice of Michael Kearney and learned the trade of shipbuilding from his father-in-law. Condon became a significant shipbuilder and shipowner in St. John’s, constructing the first steamer in Newfoundland.

Michael Kearney and John Lambert, another prominent St. John’s shipbuilder, purchased waterfront property on the south side of the harbour, probably in 1845, and the Public Ledger of January 7, 1845, mentions both an upper and lower shipyard. During 1845, three other vessels were under construction in the “lower shipyard.” By 1850, however, Kearney was declared insolvent, and from that point he appears to have used the Mudge’s dockyard or the merchant’s property for whom he was building.

At the launch of his 180-ton brig Thomas Ridley at Carbonear in 1852, Michael Kearney gave a public address which was commented on in the Harbour Grace Weekly and repeated in the Royal Gazette of February 5, 1852:

Kearney…compared the fishermen of Newfoundland to the miners of California, enabled as they had been to preserve the country from irretrievable ruin, notwithstanding the thousands of pounds that were absurdly sent away year after year to other colonies for vessels far inferior to those that could be built in this Island. He appealed to the hardy sealers of the Bay whether in a tempestuous night and amid rolling icebergs, they wouldn’t feel as comfortable on a Newfoundland built vessel as they would on board vessels from neighbouring provinces, although the price of the latter might be a few chalks lower.

Kearney’s comments are particularly relevant to the arguments made in Chapter Nine of this volume. For additional information on the Kearneys, see Chapter Eight of this volume.

Gilda Parsons, a retired teacher and a descendant of the Humby family of Summerville, has provided corrective information about her ancestors. Her paternal grandfather was Edward Humby II who constructed the 98-ton Golden Stream in 1935 and several other ships. He was the son of Eli Humby, not of Henry William Humby, as I had suggested in Volume One. Eli and Henry William were brothers, sons of Edward Humby I who built thirteen ships and rebuilt two others between 1876 and 1903. Edward I died in 1912. Edward Humby II was interviewed by historian and model shipbuilder Robert Halliday several times before Edward died in 1995; the interviews were taped for CBC.

In Volume One I leaned too heavily on D. W. Prowse as a source in establishing an historical context and did not sufficiently take into account the more recent scholarly writings on the early fishery and early settlement in Newfoundland. I have now read Newfoundland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries as well as Early European Settlement and Exploitation in Atlantic Canada and checked other available sources.

Ships were being registered in St. John’s as early as 1804, but these references were found only when the ship was re-registered at a later date. It appears that attempts were being made for ship registration as early as 1786, but it is not until 1813 and 1817 that we begin to see a few fulsome records. By 1818, the records become detailed and regular. In the twenty-sixth year of King George III (1786), an “Act for the further Increase and Encouragement of Shipping and Navigation” was passed by the English Parliament, and this was very probably what occasioned the first registration of ships in Newfoundland. This was also called the Merchant Shipping Act and required that any ship with a deck and of more than fifteen tons burthen be registered with the Customs Office at its home port. This was undoubtedly the Act that Capt. David Buchan was following in 1819 or 1823 when he supervised the registration of Margaret and John McCarthy’s ship George at Harbour Grace. There was an Act passed in the fourth year of the reign of King George IV (1824) entitled “An Act for the Registering of Vessels,” and this caused a spate of re-registrations in 1825 from which we derive a great deal of detailed information on prior shipbuilding in the colony. The year 1825 also almost exactly coincided with the collapse of the English migratory fishery, and the work of exporting codfish was then being taken over by the St. John’s merchants and merchants of the south coast. What is known about shipbuilding in Newfoundland before 1813 is sparse indeed and is confined to occasional references in re-registration of ships and in the published literature such as D.W. Prowse (165, 378, 402, and 711) or Lloyd’s Registers for the 1700s. Of particular importance is Prowse’s statement that the 1718 Parliamentary Report indicates that “nearly all the Poole vessels engaged in the Newfoundland trade were built in the Colony. Spurriers built barques, brigs, and ships at Oderin, Burin, and St. Lawrence” (165). Some scholars question Prowse’s statement about 1718 and suggest it could possibly have applied to 1817 or 1818, but in the ship registers during this latter period, only two ships were found to have been built for British merchants and these were crafted at Harbour Breton and Trinity. Prowse’s two sentences in a footnote (165) are not time-connected in my judgment; the way they are written appears to imply that William Spurrier Sr. was the builder of some of these ships, yet Spurrier very probably did not come to Newfoundland until the 1750s. Prowse also lists thirty ships constructed in Newfoundland in 1804, a variety of schooners, sloops, luggers, brigs, and “ships,” ranging in size from 31 tons to 232 tons (711). He unfortunately missed six additional vessels built during 1804 in Conception Bay (Volume One 58). All ships constructed during the early period were registered in British ports.

It has been pointed out that Nimshi Crewe’s assertion that Charles Newhook I “was brought out from Europe to Newfoundland about 1777 by the mercantile firm of Benjamin Lester, to be its master shipbuilder at Trinity” needs to be questioned. There appears to be no corroborative evidence to maintain that claim. Crewe also asserted that Rev. George Lester-Garland had stated that Charles I was mentioned in Lester’s letter books, but no specific letter was cited. Indeed, according to Gordon Handcock, there are no extant letter books in the Lester papers for 1777. Some of my conclusions about shipbuilding at Trinity in the very early period are rather conjectural, but the question still remains: If the amazing Newhook shipbuilders were not trained by Charles I, by whom were they trained? They must have learned the trade from Lester’s other master builders. Thomas Stone, Lester’s agent and formerly his chief clerk, supervised shipbuilding at Trinity from 1776 until the 1790s, and Lester’s diaries contain many references, some not always favorable on this topic, but no entries mention Charles Newhook I. Lester frequently complained that ships built by Stone and sent to Poole had faults. In particular, some were not properly caulked or fitted. The second generation of Newhook shipbuilders certainly outperformed their teachers.

Indicative of the kind of error that can easily be made in research of this kind is the case of James Burden of Salvage (Volume One 160). He was presented as one man but they were actually father and son, the father building ships from at least 1867 to 1881. James Burden I was listed as a planter in 1867, a merchant in 1878, and a trader/dealer in 1881. He may well have constructed other ships during the period when shipbuilders’ names were omitted from the registers, 1854-77. He died in 1894. The son James Burden II of Salvage was noted in the Free Press of February 1908 as “building a new schooner for the fishery. He is the only one building here.”

My hope is that new information will become available as a result of the publication of these two volumes, information that will either support what I have written or correct and even refute some of the claims I have made. This has been an enormous undertaking and keeping all the factual information under control and consistent has been a challenge. I simply want to pay tribute to these amazing men who contributed so much to the establishing of early communities and to a burgeoning shipbuilding industry in our colony and province.

There are thirteen distinct areas of Newfoundland and Labrador covered in these two volumes. I have followed the divisions used by the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project at Memorial University in the 1950s and 1960s. These generally correspond with the large bays, but there are several long coastal stretches such as the south and southwest coast. The south and southeast Avalon Peninsula are combined into one district. The St. John’s merchant firms discovered the mighty timber stands of Notre Dame Bay, Green Bay, and White Bay in the early period and sent professional shipbuilders there for a winter to construct large vessels for transport of their products. As timber stands became depleted in Conception Bay, builders moved along the coast to Trinity Bay and Bonavista Bay. The timber resources of Bay D’Espoir were also discovered in the early period, as were the regions at the head of Fortune Bay and Placentia Bay. Certain regions of the west coast yielded timber for the crafting of many ships, some of considerable size.

The tonnage of vessels is consistently given throughout the narrative, but this should be supplemented with information about the dimensions of the vessel. Research shows there is no specific formula for calculating the size because there are several variables depending on the kind of ship in question, but at least there are reasonably accurate comparisons. A 15-ton ship was found to measure 40 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. The dimensions for a 22-ton ship were 42 x 15 x 6, for a 50-ton ship 63 x 19 x 8, a 77-ton ship 72 x 22 x 8, and a 100-ton ship 78 x 24 x 9. The 125-ton brig Scotch Lass, constructed by Michael Kearney at Ferryland in 1838, was 73 feet long, 19 feet wide, and 13 feet deep. The 190-ton brig Gratia, constructed by Garrett Curtis at Renews in 1838, was 86 feet long, 19 feet wide and 14 feet “deep of hold.” Some of the dimensions of the three-masted schooners were as follows: the 372-ton Attainment of 1917 was 137 feet long, 32 feet wide, and 11 feet deep; the 428-ton Marie Louise H. of 1919 was 140 feet long, 32 feet wide, and had a depth of 14 feet; the 149-ton Nancy Lee of 1920 measured 116 x 29 x 11.

The average life of a wooden ship has been calculated to be about nine years. When the vessel is well-maintained and regularly refurbished, the average life rises to about fifteen years. There were many exceptions to this rule-of-thumb, however. Robert Evans’s 39-ton Defender lasted for thirty-eight years (1901-39), and his 48-ton Reliance served from 1903 to 1936. Thomas Palfrey’s tern schooner Mollie Fearn had a long life of thirty years. Michael Kearney’s 180-ton brig Thomas Ridley spent thirty-three years in the trading business. Matthew Hudson’s 32-ton Three Sisters lasted for thirty-six years. Joseph Matterface of Boat Harbour built the 19-ton Joseph M., which served for thirty-seven years. John Dunphy’s 27-ton Mary Nagle, built in 1895, lasted for forty-two years, and Benjamin Foote of Placentia Bay constructed vessels which lasted for forty-four and sixty-seven years. It is not at all exceptional to find in the registers many vessels which served for more than thirty years.

I would say that ninety per cent of the vessels constructed in Newfoundland were carvel-built and the seams caulked with oakum, the builders using the moulded and rounded model, the layered model, or the three-stick method so enthusiastically presented by Jerome Canning during his workshops at the Winterton Boat Building Museum. There were exceptions, of course, as illustrated especially in various newspapers of the day. For example, in 1907 the 63-ton ketch-rigged schooner Cecil Belle which had been started at Gambo by W. R. Strong and finished by Thomas French and Amos Piercey was noted by the Free Press to be

“of peculiar build and rises very high aft…due to the rake of the stern timbers being in a continuous line with and forming a part of the upward curve made by the planking under the vessel’s quarter. The object of this no doubt is to reduce to a minimum the retarding effect of the ‘dead water’ when sailing.”

In that same year, 1907, Thomas A. Winsor of Exploits Islands built the first “knockabout” schooner in Newfoundland, using American plans. The schooner was about 50 tons, had no bowsprit or jibboom, and regularly reached the great sailing speed of 15 knots. Likewise, the south-coast builders were greatly influenced by American schooners for their sailing qualities and used American plans in designing their ships. William Wakely of Haystack had designed and crafted several small schooners in the 40-ton range in the early 1900s on which the Free Press of 1907 commented when the Pandora arrived in St. John’s:

“Mr. Wakely’s own design…is a departure from the old model. One prominent feature is the shape of the hull aft. She is hollowed on each side so as not to cause so much suction from ‘dead water’ as the ordinary craft, a fact which adds considerably to her sailing powers.”

There are many other instances in the literature which demonstrate the shipbuilder’s innovative skills and willingness to adapt the model to the needs of changing times.

Throughout both volumes of this set, occasional reference is made to the kinds of woods used in the construction of ships. No such references occur in the Newfoundland ship registers, which seems strange indeed. About Lloyd’s Registers it is asserted that when no reference is made to the kind of wood used it is to be assumed that the wood is oak. Most references to the woods used in the construction of Newfoundland ships were found in newspapers, in the literature pertaining to the trade, through family recollections, from merchant account books, or even eyewitness accounts. A Newfoundland forestry book published in 1974 states that there are only two existing Newfoundland hardwoods: white birch and trembling aspen. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell’s romantic and exaggerated references to Newfoundland schooners being crafted out of the softwoods fir and spruce should be discounted as inaccurate. It is doubtful fir was ever used except possibly for the crafting of cabins. Spruce was used in a judicious manner, usually alternating with juniper and birch in the framing timbers of the vessel, and sometimes as masts because of their tall, straight, knot-free nature. For example, William Carberry’s 45-ton schooner Lady Braham at Burgoyne’s Cove in 1907 had masts of local spruce, the mainmast being 56 feet high and the foremast 54 feet high. In that same year, it was stated that Alfred Vey’s 40-ton British Empire, built in Random Sound, Trinity Bay, had masts of pitch pine and American spruce.

The Newfoundland forests were well-stocked with juniper, birch, pine, and black spruce and up until at least the 1920s with an abundance of witchhazel (yellow birch, Betula lutea) which oozed an oil-like substance that made it ideal for underwater planking. For example, the Free Press reported in 1918 that Adam Chalk’s 504-ton Bella Scott at Botwood had “bottom planking 3 and ½ in. witch-hazel—which is considered the finest timber our country produces.” Yellow birch still exists in Newfoundland but only in rich, moist areas and in exceedingly small stands in the Bay D’Espoir area, western Newfoundland south of Deer Lake, and a few regions on the Avalon Peninsula, but it is seldom if ever used today. Many large staunch and sturdy vessels were crafted with Newfoundland woods, particularly in the early years. For large vessels built in the later years, local woods were usually supplemented by imported oak, particularly Baltimore white oak, English elm, BC fir, California fir, pitch pine, American spruce, American beech, and Demerara greenheart. Shipwrecks on the coast sometimes furnished oak and other hardwoods which were reclaimed for the construction of new ships or the rebuilding of damaged vessels. Nothing was wasted.

Newspapers of the day make frequent references to newly built ships being brought to St. John’s for registration and noting some special characteristics. For example, the 26-ton Speedwell constructed at Lance Cove, Trinity Bay, in 1907 by William Taverner was “full-timbered with juniper, spruce and birch, planked with hardwood.” At Norman’s Cove that same year, John Piercey’s 40-ton Alice C. was “strongly-built, planked with hardwood,” and Patrick Seward’s 27-ton Native Lass at Heart’s Ease had “hardwood plank with spruce decking.” The 62-ton Ronald Barry constructed in 1918 at Green’s Harbour by James Green had “a hard pine deck, plank and ceiling and was built for the bounty.” Many other ships were noted to have hardwood planking and to be “full-timbered” with birch and juniper and sometimes with alternating spruce. “Full-timbered” means the timbers were placed especially close together for sturdy construction. For example, Robert Evans’s 372-ton three-masted schooner Attainment at Thwart Island in 1917 had timbers that were only five inches apart.

From an earlier period, Garrett Curtis’s 190-ton brig Gratia at Renews in 1838 was “built of juniper and witchazel.” Michael Kearney’s 130-ton brig Mary Hounsell of 1842 was noted to have been built of “White-hazel and Juniper” and the “Stem and Stern-post each in one length, all the growth of this island.” Jonas Newell Newhook’s 248-ton Fleet Wing of 1857 was framed entirely with local juniper but its “topsides, rails and covering boards of Baltimore white oak, keelson of white oak and Demerara greenheart with greenheart treenails.” And Henry Vokey’s schooner J. & B. in 1970 had a juniper hull with decks and masts of BC fir, cabins of solid mahogany, and deck railings of oak.

These few references give a flavour of the selection of woods from a surrounding productive forest, and in some instances supplemented by imported timber, all available for purchase from St. John’s merchant firms. Many other references to the woods used will be found throughout this two-volume set.

Chapter Nine of this volume offers a corrective to the assertions of John P. Parker about the Newfoundland tern (three-masted) schooners of the early twentieth century. Parker was a respected writer, ship master, and superintendent of harbour pilots in Nova Scotia who, in his influential 1960 book Sails of the Maritimes, asserted that these Newfoundland schooners were “not a success,” that “the wood was not of good quality” and of “unseasoned timber of poor grade,” that they were “built hurriedly” and “without great capital investment,” that “they were too light in design and were insecurely fastened,” that “the pumping was primitive,” and that they were “constructed by men who were expert only at building smaller craft.” I attempt in that chapter to counter Parker’s conclusions.

In spite of my almost thirty-year effort in collecting and organizing material on Newfoundland shipbuilders, I believe there is much material that has not yet come to light. Perhaps the publication of these two volumes will encourage local historians, family researchers, and other interested readers to delve into and reveal other sources to complement what I have done. That would make all my efforts worthwhile.