Dartmouth’s Mayor-elect speaks at lecture event celebrating links between Dartmouth and Newfoundland
As Dartmouth prepares to celebrate the Mayflower 400, future Mayor Professor Richard Cooke spoke at a Devonshire Association event.
The event, the Devon Newfoundland Story, was a two-day series of lectures held in the council chambers at Devon County Council, aiming to “to celebrate the historical and cultural links between Devon and Newfoundland, the large island lying off the coast of Labrador, in modern day Canada”.
As Dartmouth prepares to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower in 1620, another event took place to commemorate a more durable and older association between Devon and the New World which flourished for almost a century before the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers.
Dartmouth’s Mayor-elect, Professor Richard Cooke, was amongst the international faculty speaking in the council chamber. He emphasised the important role Dartmouth played in this industry.
Dartmouth contributed more ships and men than any other port in the South West, 150 ships a season at its peak. Dartmouth families such as the Newmans and Holdsworths became wealthy on this trade, eventually owning land and building fine houses in Newfoundland.
Another Devon man, Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for the English crown in 1583. Permanent settlement followed early in the 17th century. Once again it was Devon folk who led the way, outnumbering settlers from elsewhere in the South West and France.
Following Cabot’s voyage in the Mathew in 1497 which documented the existence of this New Found Land, European fishermen were quick to exploit the massive stocks of huge Cod found off the coast there.
It was a trade that soon became dominated by ships and men from Devon. A triangular trade was often employed in the 16th century in which ships sailed from Devon to western France and the Iberian peninsula to pick up stocks of salt, then on to Newfoundland where they spent two to three months each Summer catching, gutting and salting the fish and pressing their livers to produce “train oil” which lubricated the wheels of our developing Industrial revolution and lit our lamps.
Before the Atlantic weather deteriorated, they brought the salted cod back to Devon, or the west coast of Europe where salt cod fetched higher prices returning to Devon with a cargo of wine and dried fruit.
These migratory fishermen, often ‘green’ men with little previous experience of life at sea, were looking to supplement their income from farming, weaving or cloth production.
Relations with the indigenous tribes such as the Beothuk of Newfoundland were initially friendly and mutually advantageous but competition for land and resources eventually displaced these tribes.
In modern times the interchange between Newfoundland and Devon has come full circle with recent excavations at Ferryland and other sites on the ‘English Coast’ of South East Newfoundland revealing fragments of Devon pottery that are greatly superior to those available from local finds in Bideford, Totnes and Exeter.
Lexical elements which have persisted in the English spoken in Newfoundland, but long lost in our local dialects, give further evidence of the ancient links between the South West of England, especially Devon, and Newfoundland.