The Law at Greenspond, by Chris Curran and Linda White 2012

The Law at Greenspond, By Christopher Curran and Linda White

I. Introduction

The story of the law in Greenspond is one, among other things, of merchant adventurers, admirals, commodores, commanders, magistrates and circuit judges. That story constitutes an integral part of the community’s history and is interwoven with its social, political and economic development. This essay provides an outline of Greenspond’s legal history from early times to the opening decades of the 20th century. It places the law, and its formal apparatus, within the broad sweep of the history of this important and colourful community on Newfoundland’s northeast coast and lays the groundwork for further research in this area.

II. The Hub of Bonavista North

Greenspond is located on the north side of Bonavista Bay. The name denominates a series of islands: including, Greenspond Island, the largest, Ship Island and Batterton Island, both today joined to Greenspond Island by wooden bridges; and Pig, Puffin, Maiden and Groat’s Islands. Though the islands present a rocky prospect[1], even more so now that they are denuded of trees, their proximity to rich fishing grounds and the presence of a good harbour made them, from earliest times, singularly attractive to those engaged in the migratory ship fishery. Captain James Cook noted that “…Keels, Salvages, Gooseberry Island, Greenspond, Cat Harbour [Lumsden] [were] settled on or before the year 1660.[2]” In September 1697 William Coch, writing from Bonavista Bay, advised Colonel Norris as follows:

I think it my duty to acquaint your Honour that to the north side of this bay are many extraordinary harbours and better fishing: one William Wyng has fished there for some years (it being fourteen leagues distant from this place) and this year one Nowill has been that way who has more fish for his two boats than they (the fishers at Bonavista) have for shallops, so that next summer several inhabitants of this harbour design to remove thither and their masters of ships that have fished there this year intend to do likewise, for it is certain that the fewer the boats that are kept in a place the better the fishing.[3] Wing’s Island and Newell’s Island both form part of the Greenspond archipelago and bear the names of early, energetic and enterprising fishery entrepreneurs.[4]

Greenspond and Bonavista both once fell within the so called French Shore or Petit Nord, that stretch of Newfoundland coastline from Cape Bonavista to Point Riche which by the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713 between England and France, had guaranteed to French fishermen a right of use of this coastline in support of that country’s migratory ship fishery.[5] This lends some credence to the suggestion that the place name Greenspond derives from an Anglicization of the French “Grin d’Espagne”.[6] Though this is possible an equally likely, and perhaps more probable, explanation of the origin of the toponym is that it derives from the surnames of two of the earliest family inhabitants of the largest island, the Greens and the Ponds. It is clear that English settlement of the area once commenced towards the close of the seventeenth century, though initially small, slow to grow and subject to the vagaries of the fishery, was continuous. A French summer fishery presence is evident, however, as late as the 1780’s and resulted from time to time in some considerable tension. In 1783, by the Treaty of Paris, the Petit Nord was redefined westward to run from Cape St. John to Cape Ray. By this date Greenspond was a thriving community of 200 or so with many of the indicia of a civil society, including an active merchant-magistrate with substantial business interests in the community.

We can gain some sense of the scope of the fishery conducted out of Greenspond from English Colonial Records.[7] These show that in 1698 a population of thirteen men, women and children produced 750 qtl of cod. Records also show an early involvement in the trading of fish. Already in 1699 the Willingmind, with a crew of 16, left Greenspond bound for Oporto, Portugal. In 1701, two ships out of Greenspond bound for Oporto are recorded.[8] And cod was not the only species of interest. The salmon fishery was also significant. Records for 1706 show a catch of 100 qtl. William Keen, a St. John’s merchant and an early advocate of legal reform in Newfoundland, is known to have operated a salmon fishery with his partners out of Greenspond for a number of years, commencing in the opening decades of the 1700s. His son William Keen Jr. continued to operate the fishery into the 1770s after his father’s death.[9]

An initial period of abundance and plenty at the beginning of the century was followed by a decade and a half, from 1713 to 1728, of hardship and relative privation. The fish failed to come ashore and the migratory fishery declined. The effects on the fledgling settlement were severe and some of the settlers returned to England or moved on to the eastern seaboard to the American colonies, New England. By 1728, however, a cycle of recovery had begun; the fish reappeared, catches improved and the settlement began to grow again. It is difficult to provide precise population numbers for the community during this period as the census records for these years aggregate Greenspond and Bonavista under one heading. Macpherson suggests a fluctuating pattern.[10] Nonetheless, it was sufficient such that in 1728 the Reverend Henry Jones was directed to extend his ministerial mandate “…to a neighbouring harbour about fourteen leagues from Bonavista.”[11]

The following year Reverend Jones and two others, John Clarke and John Hemmings, also received appointments from Newfoundland’s first Governor, Captain Henry Osborne, as Justices of the Peace to administer the law and keep the peace throughout the Bonavista District, which included Greenspond.[12] Though it is likely that Greenspond experienced some benefit of Irish immigration after 1728, it is clear that most of the settlers were from the West of England. The Reverend Julian Moreton in his account of his Life and Work in Newfoundland: Reminiscence of Thirteen Years Spent [at Greenspond] noted in 1863 “…. all the people throughout the mission Greenspond, except the Romanists, are English, or descendents of English settlers, mostly from Hampshire and Dorsetshire .”[13] The improvement of the fishery in 1728 lasted until the early 1740’s when another cycle of decline and scarce fish was experienced.It was during this period that a local migratory fishery developed with some Greenspond fisherman going as far north as Fogo Island to fish. Local merchants also began the practice of buying fish from other Newfoundland fishermen.[14]

These developments paved the way both for the eventual growth of a Labrador fishery out of Greenspond and the rise of the community as a local supply and commercial centre. Both of these factors continued into the 19th and 20th centuries as drivers of Greenspond’s growing commercial importance in the area. Another component piece contributing to this burgeoning regional economic significance was the nascent seal fishery. Greenspond was strategically located in the direct path of the northern ice pack which carried seals close to the community on its way south.[15] Initially seals were taken in small quantities for food, oil and fur, largely for personal consumption. But the importance of the resource grew such that already by the end of the 18th century it was of increased economic significance. A letter from John Bland, Magistrate at Bonavista, to Governor James Gambier dated September 1802 relates that this fishery was prosecuted from land by nets in the winter months and from March to June in “…ice-skiffs and decked boats, or schooners.”[16] In the winter of 1791 – 92 “…a succession of hard gales from the northeast brought the seals in great numbers, before the middle of January….” [17] Bland estimated the catch for that year in Bonavista Bay to be 10,000 seals. In 1801, the catch exceeded 20,000.[18]

As the century unfolded Greenspond became the rendezvous point for the sealing fleet and in time, heavier vessels with sheathed hulls and larger crews were involved. Greenspond Port Records show that though the number of ships engaged fell as the century progressed, the size of the average crew grew to over 200 with a commensurate increase in economic impact on the community as Greenspond was also a favoured provisioning centre for vessels and crew. Among the many sealing captains out of Greenspond, the most storied include: Darius Blandford (the quickest trip ever), his brothers James and Samuel Blandford, Peter Carter(the heaviest load of seals in the history of the industry), Sandy Carter, Gus Carter and Alfred Burgess.[19] With its pivotal role in the seal fishery and in the Labrador cod fishery, it is hardly surprising that Greenspond should develop also as a supply and service centre. Julian Moreton commented that:

For purposes of trade this place is the capital of a very extended circuit. Here are two large branch houses of London and Poole merchants, to which the people of all parts of the neighbouring shore resort for supplies of every kind. Every want of the fisherman’s life is here anticipated and provided for, and though some men prefer to go yearly to St. John’s for their purchases, yet for small or casual needs they all frequently come to Greenspond.”[20]

Cluett notes that between 1865 and 1881 Brooking & Co., William Cox & Co., Ridley & Sons, E. Duder, W. Waterman & Co., P. Hutchings, Harvey & Company and J. & W.Stewart all operated fish shipping, outfitting and general merchandising businesses out of Greenspond. Local firms, such as Blandford and Sons, were also involved as was the Fishermen’s Union Trading Company in the early 20th century.[21]

This solid economic base meant that the social institutions and amenities associated with a growing and prosperous community followed. The first Anglican Catechist, Thomas Wally, was appointed in 1815. Wally served also as lay reader to the Anglican congregation until 1825 when he accepted a position as the resident teacher on Gooseberry Island. The first Newfoundland School Society teachers at Greenspond were a Mr. and Mrs. King who arrived in 1829; the first school building opened in 1830. The first resident Anglican minister, Reverend Nathaniel Coster, presiding over a congregation of more than 600, was appointed in October 1829. The first Anglican Church, at a cost of 300 pounds (200 pounds raised by the community and 100 pounds contributed by Governor John Duckworth on petition of the resident surgeon and magistrate, John Edgar) opened in 1815. The need for a larger building had arisen by 1850; the new St. Stephen’s Anglican Church was consecrated on September 20, 1857. Church fellowship organizations, a Drama club and service organizations followed.[22]The first Customs Officer was appointed in 1838. A mail and passenger service to St. John’s was in operation by 1848 and a submarine cable in 1885 enabled telegraphic services. Greenspond functioned in effect as the “Hub of Bonavista North”, though a visiting Wesleyan Minister in 1866 noted censoriously that it was also the “Sodom of the North” referring to the presence in the community of five public houses.[23] A population of slightly more than 800 in 1830 had grown to 1,726 by 1901. This was Greenspond at its zenith.

III. Magistrates and Commanders at Greenspond

When Governor Henry Osborn arrived in Newfoundland in 1729, Greenspond was a ‘settled community’ for more than 50 years. The opening decades of the eighteenth century, as noted in an earlier essay in this anthology, were a time of growth and incipient change in Newfoundland. Though the population was small and fluctuating, demands for more permanent forms of civil governance and legal institutions had grown. Osborn’s appointment of justices of the peace “…for the better administration of Justice and keeping the peace and quiet of the …Island” was the Imperial response.[24] A resident magistracy provided the continuity of legal machinery throughout the year and worked in concert with the naval convoy commanders who functioned as surrogate judges during the fishing season and brought the considerable weight of the British Navy to the exercise of the rule of law. The dual system of naval and civil judicature thus implemented served the legal needs of the island’s small population for over ninety years. After a short period of initial discomfiture and complaint by the merchants, the magistrates became an essential component of law and civil administration in Newfoundland. This was especially so when many of the appointments to the magistracy came from the ranks of the merchants or their agents who were amongst the most literate and influential of the island’s inhabitants.[25]

Surgeons and ministers were also preferred candidates. Over time, representatives of all three of these groups filled the roll of magistrates at Greenspond. Greenspond fell within the geographical boundary of the Bonavista District and for many years the magistrates and constables out of Bonavista administered law and order in Greenspond from that centre. In 1729, the economy in the entire area was emerging from the general downturn experienced throughout the fifteen year period commencing in 1713 during which the fishery failed. But by 1729 things were beginning to turn around. The memory of the French raids, which had caused such havoc during both King William’s War and then Queen Anne’s War, was likely beginning to fade, consequent upon outmigration and turnover of the population experienced during the downturn, though Prowse maintained that “…a traditionary remembrance of the sufferings their forefathers endured during the French Canadian and Indian raids…” lingered.[26]

The French presence on the Petit Nord probably contributed to this, but the peace following upon the Treaty of Utrecht was no doubt better than war. With peace and the upswing in the fishery, a new cycle of population growth and prosperity began. The law and other social institutions followed. The first magistrate to come to Greenspond was an Anglican Minister, the Reverend Henry M. Jones who, with two other justices and three constables, had been appointed by Governor Osborn in 1729 to administer Justice in the district of Bonavista.[27] Of Jones’ two colleagues, Magistrates Hemmings and Clarke, almost nothing is known. Jones’ roots are unclear as is the scope of his activity in the exercise of his magisterial jurisdiction at Greenspond. He came out to Newfoundland likely in 1720 or so and by 1722 or 1723 had established the first Newfoundland school at Bonavista. He was supported in his work by the English-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; he wrote the Society in 1726 thanking them for the gift of money and books for his school. Jones kept a Journal for the Society and reported that in 1729 there were 200 overwintering in Bonavista.  In 1742 he transferred to Trinity, where he noted there was a summer population of over 600, but retained his connection with Bonavista and Greenspond, both as minister and magistrate, until his replacement as minister, a Reverend Peasley, was installed. In 1747 he took up a parish in Jamaica after complaining that his constitution required a warmer climate. This was not an uncommon practice. More than 100 years later the Reverend Julian Moreton, after 13 years at Greenspond, left for warmer climes with a similar complaint.

The next magistrate with jurisdiction in Greenspond was a merchant, William Keen Jr. Keen was the son of a prominent St. John’s business man, William Keen Sr., who had come out to Newfoundland in 1704 from Boston to act as agent for New England merchants in the supply trade.[28] He prospered and by 1713 was carrying on business on his own behalf and had developed extensive commercial interests in Greenspond, Bonavista and on the Petit Nord generally. He was an effective proponent for legal reform in the period following 1715 and gave strong support to the planter community in decrying general lawlessness and in calling for the appointment of year round justices. In 1720, when planter Thomas Ford was murdered, he apprehended the suspected felons himself and transported them, with witnesses, for trial to England at his own expense and in his own ships. It is not surprising that a petition from planters at Petty Harbour for a year round justice presence recited ‘that encouragement be given to such useful and able men as Mr. Keen’. When the appointment of justices and other necessary officers of the law was finally approved in 1729, four justices and four constables were appointed at St. John’s, with Keen as Chief Magistrate. In 1736, he was made commissary of the Vice Admiralty Court; in 1742 he became naval officer at St. John’s and in 1744 Newfoundland prize officer. When the Board of Trade approved the establishment of a Court of Oyer & Terminer in 1750, and authorized magistrates to sit as commissioners of that Court, Keen was the first such commissioner appointed. Thus when William Jr. was appointed magistrate at Bonavista in 1750 he came with strong family antecedents in the law.[29]

 Like Justice Jones before him, Keen’s mandate included Greenspond. He was also involved in his father’s business interests there, and after his death in 1754, managed them with the assistance of his father’s partners. Keen Jr., like his father, was a strong, forceful character. Pedley relates his facing down incidents of mob violence, personal danger, flagrant injury and contempt towards the law in spirited fashion. He dealt with conflict involving French migratory fishing rights on the Petit Nord in a similar, but hardly disinterested, fashion.[30] In September 1770, Captain J. Hamon of the Anne Marie out of Granville filed with Bretel Brothers, the Ship owners, an end of season report outlining in great detail incidents that occurred in the harbour of Greenspond between 30 May 1770, the date of his arrival, and 18 September 1770, his departure date. Hamon’s principal complaints relate to destruction of French property by the English. He writes that on his arrival he made an inspection of the shore property—a cabin, stage, salt store, and flake—and found them much destroyed. After some investigation he discovered the principal culprit had been Keen or his agents. He confronted Keen but to no avail. It appears that Keen and Hamon had had a run-in the previous year. Hamon had caught a whale, which had been confiscated with Keen’s support; Keen maintained the French rights on the Petit Nord included only cod. When Hamon raised this old score, Keen informed him that the money from the sale of the oil was with the Admiralty in St. John’s.

Hamon was not satisfied and, making no headway with Keen, complained to Captain Parker, Commander of the English corvette, which arrived in July. Parker was equally unreceptive: Parker told me that…if anyone was guilty of any grave offence towards me or stole from me, if I could catch them I could put them in irons and take them to France. To which I replied that in fact, as there was no justice in Greenspond, I would have put them in irons and taken them to St. John’s before the Governor who would certainly have granted me the justice which had been banished from this harbour. Mr. Parker still appeared very cold and told me in a very curt way that the minister in England had told him that there had been many complaints made about him. To which I replied that as far as I was concerned, I had made a faithful report of his behaviour towards me the previous year, especially when he had told me that if I returned with boats to Bonavista to have them hauled up on the shore, he would have them burned and would take me and my men as prisoner[s].[31]

Hamon and Keen Jr. were likely good sparing partners for one another. They appear equally matched in terms of temperament and pugnacity of character. Keen’s intransigence might have had some roots in the folk memory of the French raids in the area early in the century, but Hamon reports good relations generally with the settler population. There is no doubt the English wanted the French out of Bonavista and Greenspond. In 1772, Captain Le Marie, who replaced Captain Hamon the following year, reported similar disputes and similar destruction of French property over the winter months. When Le Marie complained to the commander of the English warship in Greenspond harbour in 1772 the English Captain said: “…the French had no right to build and leave behind cabins in the harbours when they were away, and that it was quite proper to have taken down all that he had left behind.”[32] The tensions were likely not reduced in the area until the Petit Nord was moved westward in 1783. And even then there was opportunity for conflict as with the foundering of the French brig, L’Actiffe off Greenspond in 1784. When it appeared the vessel would be lost “…some planters at Greenspond made free with some of the property on board which occasioned the French Captain to go to St. John’s and complain to the Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court…”36 The Vice Admiralty Court took a dim view of the “salvers” and condemned one of them to death. The sentence was widely regarded as unduly harsh and even the French Captain petitioned the Governor to have the condemned man pardoned. The Governor complied with the request but the Court nonetheless ordered that all his property should be forfeit and sold.

We lose sight of Keen Jr. at Greenspond around this time. Perhaps he retired to his property at Teignmouth, Devonshire, England. Whatever occurred, records show that in 1788 magistrates John Bland and Gerard Ford were serving at Bonavista. Bland was a merchant, having served in Bonavista before his appointment to the magistracy as agent for Samuel White and Samuel Rolles, Poole merchants, who traded there. After White died in 1797, Rolles disposed of the property and Bland acquired part of it.37 Bland was successful in his business endeavours. He achieved some official notoriety shortly after his appointment when he and Ford were reprimanded by Governor Mark Milbanke for failure to account for a quantity of feathers they had seized from hunters pillaging on the Funk Islands and had sold the feathers without giving an account. In a letter of 7 October 1790 to Bland and Ford the Governor indicated that while he heard of the incident only as rumour, this sort of rumour “affects the character of magistrates which ought not be slighted.”38 A letter of 26 September, 1790 in which Bland and Ford were ordered to send planter, John Lander, to St. John’s so that he could be tried for the death of his servant, Christopher Garrett, who it was alleged had died as a result of Lander’s harsh treatment, is illustrative of how alleged felonies were dealt with:


I have just received from Captain Trigge of his Majesty’s sloop Nautilus your letter to him of the 24th July last enclosing a copy of an inquisition taken at Bonavista on the 28th of February together with the Depositions of several witnesses examined touching the death of Christopher Garrett, late servant of John Lander of the said place, planter and being of the opinion that there is at least ground for suspecting that the death of the said Garrett was occasioned from ill treatment of his said Master, I am to desire and direct that you will cause the said John Lander to be sent to this place, to be tried at the Assizes to be held on Saturday the 15th day of October next. And that you will also take the necessary steps for securing the appearance of the witnesses at the same time. The Commander of His Majesty’s armed sloop Placentia has my direction to receive and bring round the prisoner, and such of the witnesses as may think fit to embrace so favourable an opportunity of coming to St. John’s.

I am etc.


The final sentence, offering free passage to the witnesses, was no doubt in recognition of the ongoing issue of witness expenses. In at least one respect, Bland was a man ahead of his time. He is most remembered as an advocate for the more humane treatment of the Beothics. The activities of John Peyton and his son in central Newfoundland in pursuing the native inhabitants of the island concerned him; in consequence, he made a number of representations to Governor Duckworth on initiatives that might be taken to ensure their survival:“…[b]efore another century has passed the English nation may have affixed to its character the indelible reproach of having extirpated a whole race of People.”40 Bland’s recommendations were acted upon but unfortunately proved unsuccessful. Bland was appointed surrogate at Bonavista in 1799, one of the first land-based surrogates. In 1809, he moved to St. John’s to assume the office of High Sheriff, a position he occupied until 1826, when he retired and was replaced by David Buchan.

The first resident magistrate associated with Greenspond was John Edgar. The Blue Book for 1823 shows Edgar as having been appointed by the Governor as Justice of the Peace at Greenspond in 1810 with a salary of £5. 14.6. Edgar was a surgeon by profession. In the search for independent and capable candidates for the magistracy, surgeons were a natural choice. They were educated, would have been able on occasion to provide useful insights into criminal matters because of their knowledge of wounds etc. and would have had necessary converse, and hence familiarity through their medical practice, with all strata of society: merchants, naval commanders, planters and servants.41 Surgeons would of course have been a necessary part of the ship’s complement on every English warship.But they were also in the coastal communities. Reeves suggests that “in every harbour, almost there is a resident surgeon or medical man.”42 And despite the reservation expressed by Governor Waldegrave noted earlier43, they were frequently appointed to the magistracy. Edgar was the first of at least two such appointments to Greenspond. George Skelton, appointed in 1873, was also a medical man.

In addition to his judicial duties as magistrate and his practice as a surgeon Edgar served also as a valuable liaison between the inhabitants within the community and the Governor in St. John’s. This was likely a role thrust upon most magistrates, one in which they functioned as a year round bottom administrative layer of government. In Edgar’s case, records indicate successful interventions with Governors John Duckworth and Richard Keats respectively on a variety of issues, including the securing of a gift of 100 pounds towards the construction of the new Anglican Church in Greenspond and the settlement of a salary on Thomas Walley so that he could devote himself fulltime to his duties as school teacher. But it was the magistrate’s role as point of contact with the central authorities for the conduct of community civil governance that was of especial importance.

The following letter from Governor Hamilton is illustrative of that process:

Fort Townsend

St. John’s


28 October 1823


I have received your letter of the 16 inst, acquainting me with the resignation of Mr. Cram as Justice of the Peace, and I have in consequence thereof, and of your recommendation of Mr. Thomas Read Jr. issued a new Commission in which the last mentioned Gentleman is included in place of the former which Commission I enclose herewith, and you will accordingly administer the proper oaths, to him before he enters on the Office. I have also enclosed herewith a Commission to you to act as Deputy Naval Officer for Greenspond, being of the opinion from my own observations as well as from statements made to me by the merchants interested that it will be beneficial to the trade. I have also conferred a similar appointment upon Mr. Ford for the Bonavista side of the Bay.

(sd) C. Hamilton

This letter also confirms that Greenspond, like Newfoundland generally at this time, was growing45 and evolving. The magistrates’ role as “government intermediary” was symptomatic of that process.

IV The Supreme Court on Circuit and Court Infrastructure

The Judicature Act of 1824 mandated that the Governor divide the island into three districts47 and institute circuit courts, which were to be courts of record to be “…holden once at least in each year by the …chief judge, or by one of the …assistant judges of the …Supreme Court of Newfoundland, at such times, and at such places within each of the three districts…as the governor…shall from time to time appoint.”48 In accordance with this provision, and pursuant to the Charter, the Mercantile Journal of January 26, 1826 contained notice of the Governor’s  proclamation that “…the Central, Northern and Southern Circuit Courts [were to be] respectively opened at St. John’s, Harbour Grace and Ferryland, on the 15th day of May next.”49

Greenspond fell within the Northern Judicial District. The first sitting of the Supreme Court in Greenspond occurred on October 6th 1827. The Court’s Minute Book, as maintained by John Stark, Chief Clerk and Registrar of the Northern Circuit, records that “…at five o’clock this day his Lordship, the Honourable Judge DesBarres took his seat upon the Bench when the Proclamation of his Excellency the Governor dated 6th August 1827 was read and the Court opened with the usual formalities.”50 The Court’s docket appears to have been comprised almost entirely of civil cases.51 These cases were reflective of the economic realities of the fishery and typical of those litigated at other circuit locations along the northeast coast. The first case at Greenspond was heard on October 8th, 1827: John Sleat, Mary Sleat and Susan Elliot v. William Coleman and William Broden. This was an action on account to recover a balance owing of £142. 2. 6. M. C. Simms, likely a local business person, appeared for the Plaintiff; the Defendants appeared in person. None of the names of those who appeared on behalf of the parties during this first sitting of the Court at Greenspond are recorded on the Rolls of the Law Society. A jury was sworn, consisting of Thomas Barber, Foreman, George Allen, John Lush, George Elliott, John Harding, Nathaniel Wright, David Bury, George Bury, Thomas Stratten Jr., Thomas Stratten Sr., James Oldford and Edmond Stratten. The jury appears to have been comprised of prominent planters, merchants or their agents. Witnesses were sworn and examined. The Defendants admitted receipt of items on account from the Plaintiffs but plead set-off. At the conclusion of evidence, the jury retired and brought back a verdict for the Plaintiff in the amount of £89. 12. 2.

Three cases were heard the following day, October 9, 1827: John Brine & Nathaniel Smith v. John Bingley Garland & George Garland; John Bingley Garland & George Garland v. Thomas Read, John Sleat, Mary Sleat and Susan Elliott; and John Edgar Esq. v. Thomas Smith. The parties to these actions were again represented either by local business notables or appeared in person. A jury was sworn consisting of John Borne, Foreman, John Newton, William Hand, Richard Burry, John Porter, John Lee, William Barnes, Joseph Hutchings, John Lee, John Green, James Gillingham, and John Spurrel. The same jury dealt, in turn, with each of the three cases called on the 9th. The first case was an action to recover £10 compensation for damages sustained by the Plaintiffs at their salmon fishing enterprise at Shallows Cove in the summer of 1827 by the acts of the Defendants, their agents or servants. The Defendants Plead the General Issue; denied the claim and put the Plaintiffs to proof. Witnesses were sworn and gave their evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury “…retired for a short time and brought in a verdict for the Plaintiffs, £7 currency judgment accordingly.”52 The second case was an action to recover £150. 8. 10. for goods and supplies delivered to the Defendants at their request. Witnesses were sworn and examined. In this case it is recorded that the jury retired “…for a considerable time…”53 They brought back a verdict in favour of the Plaintiffs for the full amount against Thomas Read. No cause of action was found against John Sleat, Mary Sleat and Susan Elliott. In the third case the local magistrate, John Edgar, brought an action against the Defendant to recover £35 for money had and received. The defendant tendered £4.10.0 in Court with costs to witnesses called by the other side. The jury retired for a short time and brought back a verdict for the Plaintiff for £2.10.0, in addition to the money already tendered.

It is not known with certainty where the court proceedings were held on the occasion of this first visit by the Circuit Court to Greenspond. It is conceivable that the matters were heard on the schooner which carried the court contingent to the community; but it appears more likely that some other makeshift accommodation in a local building, appropriate for the purpose, was utilized. As early as 1842 the Diary of Robert Dyer, the local Newfoundland School Society teacher, records that “…there has been no attendance this week in consequence of the Court occupying the Schoolroom. [I] received £3 from the Deputy Sheriff for the loan of the School.”54 The need for suitable accommodation was clearly recognized in the community and brought to the attention of government members and officials in St. John’s. The Royal Gazette, February 4, 1845, directed Justices of the Peace of the General and Quarter Sessions in the Central, Northern and Southern Circuits, in a number of named communities, including Greenspond, to hold court in the “Court Houses or other usual convenient places within the said towns and settlements… at such times…as the said courts have been heretofore customarily holden.”55

In August 1844 Magistrates John Winter, Thomas Wills and Lorenzo Moore at Greenspond made the following representation to the Legislative Assembly concerning the need for a proper goal and lock–up facility in the community:

The anomalous conditions of this populous bay with regard to the administration of Justice, and also for the efficient conservation of the Peace, arising from the want of Goals and Lock Up Houses within reasonable distances from each other, in this District, was last year especially brought by us before His Excellency’s notice, and the same has been regularly presented for several consecutive years by the Grand Jury here at the sittings of the Circuit Court.56

Magistrates Winter, Wills and Moore used a case recently before them as an example of the difficulty caused by the want of a lock-up facility. A seaman from the brig, Superb, out of Poole and then at anchor in Greenspond harbour was convicted by them of having stolen personal property. Before passing sentence they asked the Sheriff’s Officer whether he was prepared to convey the prisoner to the Harbour Grace gaol. The Sheriff’s Officer declined on the ground that he had no means of defraying the expenses he would incur in doing so. He said that he had conveyed a prisoner to that gaol last year at great expense, trouble and loss of time and that upon making application for reimbursement he was denied “…a considerable portion of his account amounting to about one third…notwithstanding its credence was certified by the Magistrates”57 Nor was he told what items were denied or why. He now owed the money which he had borrowed to pay for his and the prisoner’s passage and the resulting bill remained unpaid. In these circumstances the Magistrates complained that the appropriate mode of punishing the offender was out of reach and they were left with the single option of imposing “…a moderate fine as it was probable his employment would advance.”58 They noted that it was not their intention to prefer charges against the Sheriff’s Officer as they regarded his actions as reasonable in the circumstances. The response from the Legislative Assembly is unknown. The need for a Court House and appropriate lock-up facility continued until the middle of the next decade.

We know with some certainty that the practice of the Supreme Court on Circuit to Greenspond, from at least 1840 until the mid 1850’s, was generally to use the School House for its sittings. Robert Dyer’s Diary entry for the week of 18 September, 1850, for example, records that Judge DesBarres together with his”suite” arrived for the week and that Mr. Gaden, the Sheriff, came to ask for the use of the School. On September 19, the “Judge and suite” came to see the School; Dyer notes that Judge DesBarres commented on the number of children, boys and girls, in attendance, viewed the different classes, heard them read, saw their copy and cipher books and remarked “You have the largest School in the Island, larger than St. John’s.” Dyer was thrilled.

On Sunday Judge DesBarres, Mr. Lewis Wilkins Emerson (Clerk?), Mr. Gaden (Sheriff), Mr. Matthew W. Walbank (called to the Bar in October of that year), and Mr. Lorenzo Moore (one of the local resident Justices of the Peace) attended Sunday Service. Court opened on Monday the 23rd but closed shortly thereafter there being no business to conduct. Representations for more appropriate facilities continued to be made. The Circuit Court Minute and Process Books, located at the Rooms, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, contain a comprehensive record of the work of the Court. While the analysis of this mountain of material is still in the early stages, it is clear from what has been done by historians Christopher English, Jerry Bannister, Sean Cadigan, Nina Goudie and others that the Court took its function as a Court of Record seriously.

On the Northern Circuit, Chief Clerk and Registrar John Stark kept meticulous notes of the proceedings and in 1852 provided an elementary statistical analysis of the Court’s workload over the first twenty-five eight years of its life59. Table I on the previous page summarizes the work of the Court on the Civil Side at Greenspond for the twenty five year period 1826 – 185060. Figure I highlights sitting days at Greenspond and Figure II provides a comparison of the number of writs sued out with the number of actions tried. While it is clear that the volume of work throughout the entirety of this period was moderate at best, the social and economic impact of the Court’s presence in promoting peace and security and facilitating the resolution of disputes essential to the growth of trade and business activity was no doubt greater. The first Custom Officer at Greenspond, as noted above, was appointed in 1838 and the port records show significantly increased import and export activity in the period 1839 – 1850. The 1854 census puts import trade out of Greenspond harbour at £ 8,639 and exports at £23,996.

Peace and the orderly conduct promoted by the rule of law have traditionally been good for trade and commerce. The annual visit of the Circuit Court also provided the impetus for resolving commercial disputes outside the trial process. Thus Figure II, which compares writs issued with actions tried, under-reports disputes resolved as it does not capture cases settled “on the courthouse steps” or complex disputes arbitrated. We know from the Judges Report of 1831 that, even in these early times, case settlement and arbitration were both encouraged as dispute resolution mechanisms.61 Stark’s records also show that the volume of Circuit Criminal work at Greenspond was relatively small. The total number of persons indicted for offences at Greenspond was 9 as compared with 356 for the entire circuit in this timeframe, less than one half of one percent (Table II below). This tells us that Greenspond was generally a peaceful law-abiding community and that such crime as did occur was likely of a petty nature dealt with by the magistrates in Courts of General and Quarter Sessions.

Greenspond’s first Court House and goal were completed in 1855/56. In September 1856 Reverend Julian Moreton noted in his quarterly report to his Archbishop:

A new duty has devolved upon me in Greenspond since the 11th of this month in consequence of the imprisonment of a criminal in the new gaol here. This has obliged me with the performance of a Service in the gaol every Sunday evening, after my duties at church are over, besides a visit to the prison on other appointed days.62

The opening of the new Court House and gaol, approximately 28 years after the visit of the first Circuit court, meant that the Community now had a proper facility for the conduct of the Court’s business. A presentment of the Grand Jury at Greenspond to the House of Assembly on September 9, 1858 noted however:

The Grand Jurors for Our Sovereign Lady the Queen, upon their oaths, present the present unfinished state of the Court House, and the absolute necessity that exists for completing it without delay; the great want that is felt by not having a Gaol-yard, where persons might obtain fresh air, which is so necessary to health; they further beg leave to present that the present gaoler, George Bridle, has for the past two years kept the Gaol and attended to the several prisoners confined without receiving any remuneration, and that it would be but an act of justice to him to be placed on the same footing as the Gaolers in Bonavista or Twillingate.

It was noted by way of addendum to the Presentment that the sum of £50 “judiciously expended” would suffice for purposes of finishing the gaol yard.

In addition to capital infrastructure, efforts were also made to improve the Circuit Court’s administrative infrastructure. In 1851 the legislature passed An Act to Amend the Practice and to Fix and Establish Terms or Sittings of the Northern and Southern Circuit Courts, and to Provide for the Appointment of Clerks and Registrars and other Officers in the Several Electoral Districts.63 The Act divided the Northern Judicial district into four sections: the Conception Bay Section; the Trinity Section; the Bonavista Section and the Fogo Section and specified the terms for holding Court in each Section. In the Bonavista Section at Greenspond, Court was to be commence annually on the 15th day of September, and to continue for four days; at Bonavista in the same section, to commence on the 22nd day of September, continue for ten days; and in the Trinity Section, at Trinity, to commence on the 6th day of October, and continue for ten days. The Conception Bay Section at Harbour Grace had both a Spring and a Fall Term, the former to commence of the 20th day of April and continue for twenty-one days and the latter on the 27th day of October and continue for another twenty-one days. The Act also provided that, where necessary for the dispatch of business, the Court had the power to extend the period of each term; in Harbour Grace for a period not exceeding six days and in the other places for a period not exceeding three days.

The Act provided also for the appointment of Court Staff and other Officers. The Sheriffs in each of the two Districts were to appoint a Deputy in each of their sections “…for the service and execution of all Writs, Rules, Orders and other process of the said respective Courts and…to keep hung up in their respective offices a list of such persons.”64

The Governor, or the Administrator of the Government, was given authority to appoint “…a fit and proper person in each Section to act as Clerk Assistant of the Court” to issue process, to take Affidavits for matters pending in the Court and to collect fees. The Chief Justice was also authorized to appoint Commissioners in “…any of the Outports…where sittings of the Court may not be appointed for taking Affidavits and issuing Mesne Process…”65 Registries of Deeds were to be established in each Judicial District and the respective Registrars of Deeds charged with “…register[ing] in proper Books to be kept for that purpose, all such Deeds, conveyances and Assurances, in writing, relating to Lands and Tenements within the respective sections…”66 Fees collected were to be transmitted half-yearly to the Registrar of Deeds for the Central District, as was a Docket of all Deeds and other instruments registered in their respective sections. The Docket so transmitted was to be open for inspection on payment of a search fee by any member of the public who might be interested in searching title or examining the record. The Clerks Assistant and the Registrars appointed under the Act were required to reside at Bonavista for the Bonavista Section; at Twillingate for the Fogo Section and at Trinity for the Trinity Section.

Finally, in respect of writs of execution on final judgment the Act wisely provided that a writ issued in any of the Districts was to have validity throughout the Colony and to be enforceable in each and every District, notwithstanding that final judgment had been obtained in the Circuit Court of any other District. The Act addressed existing staffing and administrative needs and appears to have functioned well enough, though payment of the officials appointed was likely not always a smooth process. Additional legislation amending practice and procedure on circuit was passed in 1859.67 Section 1 of that Act, perhaps in recognition that the travel and lifestyle associated with the Circuit Court could be arduous and may even have varied from circuit to circuit, specifically mandated that the Judges of the Court were to hold the Central, Northern and Southern Circuit Court in rotation, with the proviso, however, that the “…section shall not take effect during the incumbency of the present Chief Justice.”68

More importantly, the amending Act simplified procedural practices. To expedite the adjudicative process and to facilitate the satisfaction of money judgments the Act provided that the Chief Justice could appoint Commissioners in any of the districts and authorize them to take affidavits, issue final process and subpoenas, examine debtors and return their examinations to the Court so that a Judge could make an order “…to enforce the same in the same manner as if such examination had been before … [a Judge of the Court].”69 Originating processes were also simplified and the requirements of proceedings, forms of process and pleadings in all civil causes before the Circuit Court made less formal and summary. It is also noteworthy that the 1859 amendment specifically provided that the Circuit Court had full power and authority, in both criminal and civil proceedings, to commit and imprison in any gaol in the Colony, in the same manner as if such gaol were within their respective districts.70 As indicated above, the provision of adequate lock-up facilities was an ongoing concern in many communities and essential if Courts were to have available to them a full range of sentencing options for those convicted of offences.

By mid-1880 the Greenspond courthouse and goal, constructed some 30 years earlier, were beginning to show signs of significant deterioration. The Journal of the House of Assembly for 1888 indicates that the legislature voted money that year to carry out repairs to courts at Harbour Grace, Carbonear, Greenspond and Channel.71 By the early 1890’s there was talk of a new courthouse for Greenspond, larger in size, and more adequate for its purpose. The volume of Court work continued to be modest but commercial activity was strong and Greenspond’s population was nearing its highest point. This perhaps explains government’s decision to proceed with the project and even to consider an expansion of service. The new courthouse was on the model of similar facilities constructed during this period72 at St. George’s (1903)73, Placentia (1902)74 and Trinity (1903)75. Rostecki provides the following details of the construction process and architectural style:

Construction began in late August, 1900. The structure was likely designed by William Henry Churchill, the Superintendent of Public Buildings from 1895 to 1927. The work of construction may have been done by a J. J. Mifflin, probably a local tradesman, and the erection completed by the autumn of 1901.

The frame edifice measured approximately 42 ft. x 20 ft. and was two stories in height, with a two-sided mansard roof. An off-centre mansard-roofed tower found its place on the front elevation, as did a number of dormers upon the roof. The total cost of the structure came to $1, 621.21.76 The Evening Telegram for September 4, 1900 reported that “…the erection of the new Court House and Jailor’s residence was started at Greenspond last week by Mr. W.Churchill, having gone there for that purpose by train and S.S. Dundee.” The courthouse was apparently constructed on land previously owned by a Dr. McDonald. The Board of Works’ Minute Book for December 6, 1898 directed that the McDonald property, consisting of land and buildings “…be purchased for $500 as a Magistrate’s residence and site for a new Court House, and that the Board of Works be authorized to arrange for repairs of buildings not to exceed $500, an arrangement to be made with the Magistrate as to rent of house and grounds.”77 The Minutes of November 15, 1898 record a letter from Magistrate Alfred Seymour in reference to alterations and repairs required to the house and outhouses. Correspondence in the fall of 1899 addressed the issues of the foundation stone for the new Courthouse and fencing material, paint and a fence.

The final sitting of the Circuit Court at Greenspond occurred on 22 September, 1923. The presiding Judge was Chief Justice Sir William H. Horwood. The Court’s Minute Book records “no business ready, whereupon the Court adjourned.” The decline of Greenspond as a business centre in the opening decades of the new century was consequent upon the shift in focus of the commercial activities of the fishery from the outports to St. John’s. This trend, to greater or lesser degrees, was evident along the entire northeast coast. The result for Greenspond was a gradual, but significant decline in its importance as a commercial hub.

V. Magistrates and the Day to Day Administration of Justice

Because most communities along the northeast coast were visited by the Circuit Court only once annually, the day to day administration of justice was in the hands of the magistrates, justices of the peace, sheriffs, police constables and other ‘on the ground’ justice personnel. Recognition of this reality was longstanding; the Chief Justice and Assistant Judges of the Supreme Court adverted to it in their 1831 Report to the Governor on the Judicature Act. Though government did not, as noted above, move to implement the system of Courts in the judicial districts as recommended in the Report, it did enact structural and procedural reforms that would make the delivery of justice on Circuit more efficient. In the Court of Quarter Sessions, where speedy justice was likewise a concern, government also moved to streamline practice before the Court. We may take as an example the 1858 Act to Facilitate the Recovery of Small Debts and Claims, and the Hearing and Determining of Summary Proceedings on Conviction78. The stated intent of the Act was to expedite the enforcement of judgments on small claims, not exceeding £ 5, to the benefit of ‘poor suitors and others’. It provided that any Stipendiary Magistrate on the Island shall “…have, possess and exercise all such and the same authority and jurisdiction in the hearing, trying and determining of all actions for the recovery of any sum of money, as the Courts of Quarter Sessions now have or can exercise…and any Court of Quarter Session may be held by any one [emphasis added] Stipendiary Justice, for the transaction of civil business, but not further or otherwise”.79 For the purpose of hearing summary proceedings on convictions and execution and enforcement thereon, a single Stipendiary was also given the same jurisdiction as “…any two or more of Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace” and had as well “…the same power and authority to require and compel the attendance of witnesses as two Magistrates may now exercise in criminal cases”.80 Further initiatives to enhance access to justice and to assist in the expeditious resolution of civil disputes followed. In 1869 an Act to Establish a District Court in the Central District81 (St. John’s) was passed; two years later An Act to Establish a District Court in Harbour Grace82 laid the foundation for a similar Court in that community. The jurisdiction of both of these courts was to be “…exercised summarily, and in like manner as the jurisdiction of the Court of Sessions of the Peace now is—provided that it shall in addition to the present jurisdiction of Sessions Court, have jurisdiction, with all the powers and authorities incident thereto, in all Civil Causes whatsoever, to the amount of Forty Dollars,”83 subject to certain listed exceptions, many of which interestingly continue to be carried forward into the present Small Claims Court Act.84 The 1892 consolidation of the statutes shows the money jurisdiction of the Courts as at $50 and includes the requirement that the Judges of the two Courts be “…Barristers of five years standing”.85 A full discussion of the scope of these District Court Acts and their impact is beyond the purview of this paper. Suffice it for present purposes to say that both evidence the volume of civil work in both districts, speak to the commercial importance of both centres and of government’s desire to improve access to justice in both.

The first comprehensive, free-standing legislative regime in Newfoundland directed to the institution of the magistracy was the 1872 Act entitled Of the Courts of Session, Stipendiary Magistrates and Justices of the Peace.86 The Act consolidated the previous diverse provisions dealing with these related subject matters and brought them under a single statutory umbrella. We may attribute to the Act a certain symbolic importance in doing so; it also provided a framework that might serve as a focal point for future reform efforts. The principal provisions of the 1872 Act were carried forward into the 1892 and the 1916 statute consolidations. Significantly however, in 1889 amending legislation was prepared and passed, but not enacted into force, which abolished the Courts of Quarter Sessions in Newfoundland.87 Section 2 of that Act provided further that “where, by any law now or hereafter in force in the colony, any authority to hear and determine with a jury, or any appeal, or any proceeding in the nature of an appeal….would be vested in…Courts of General Quarter Sessions, and provision is not otherwise made for such cases, the jurisdiction shall vest in and be exercised by the Supreme Court, either in St. John’s or on Circuit.”88 What is evident in these provisions is the development of a home-grown ‘Magistrate’s Court’ and the delineation of its jurisdictional boundaries within the overall system of judicature in Newfoundland.

The 1889 amending Act is reflected as in force in the provisions enacted in Chapter 86 of the 1916 consolidated statute, Of Stipendiary Magistrates and Justices of the Peace.89 Tracing the history of the development of the ‘Magistrate’s Court’ in Newfoundland is a task that has not, as yet, received adequate scholarly attention. It is a task for another day. For current purposes what is noteworthy is that in the later half of the 19th century the magistracy as an institution was not static but underwent considerable change, all in an effort ostensibly to deliver more effective justice services throughout the island. This sometimes meant new roles and the assumption of new duties by magistrates. The 1872 statute consolidation, for example, mandated the conduct of fire and death inquiries in specific instances.90 This was in addition to other judicial functions and to the administrative and other government roles otherwise assigned.

Surgeon-magistrate John Edgar served as resident magistrate in Greenspond until his death in 1837. Following Edgar’s death there was an interregnum from 1838 – 1864 when it would appear that Stipendiary Magistrate William Sweetland, aided by justices of the peace resident in the community, managed judicial affairs from his seat at Bonavista. We have noted above that Justices of the Peace John Winter, Thomas Wills and Lorenzo Moore were active throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s at Greenspond hearing cases and making representations to the Legislative Assembly requesting improvements to justice infrastructure there. Sweetland was a native of Ferryland and had connections with the Carter ‘judicial dynasty’ in that community.91 He was the son of magistrate Henry Sweetland and the brother of Benjamin, who was magistrate at Trinity. His father’s second wife was Ann Carter, daughter of surrogate Robert Carter of Ferryland and sister to vice-Admiralty Judge William Carter. William’s legal career began in 1834 when he was appointed Clerk of the Peace in Ferryland, where all the other leading legal luminaries were his relatives. For the Carters, justice was truly a family affair.William was appointed stipendiary at Bonavista in 1838 and served in that post for 26 years. During that time, he was witness to periods of growth alternating with intervals of stagnation and outright misery. Philip Tocque, in his account of Newfoundland: As It Was and As It Is in 1877, wrote: “There is not part of Newfoundland where I have seen so much poverty as in Bonavista in 1841 and 1842…the potato disease was a terrible calamity to the poor…”92 And as late as spring 1856 Reverend Julian Moreton, in his quarterly Report to Bishop Field, noted:

Shortly after my return from my voyage to the islands up the bay, 35 barrels of seed potatoes we consigned to my care by government for distribution among the poor. The magistrate was absent from Greenspond, and there was no one else to whom care of these potatoes could be deputed, so I was obliged to take care of them and disperse them…”93

However, by the end of 1850 significant economic growth and renewed prosperity were evident. Cluett notes that during this period …the two chief changes which influenced economic as well as sociological patterns in Greenspond [were] the growth of the Labrador fishery, and changes in the prosecution of the seal hunt. It was one of the earliest centres for the transient Labrador fishery. The Greenspond business firms supplied many fishermen and many of the vessels going to Labrador from the north side of Bonavista Bay came there to clear customs.94

Sweetland’s extra-judicial duties included an appointment as Preventative Officer for the ports of Bonavista and Catalina in 1848.95 He was also Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands and a Roads Commissioner. These offices afforded him additional annual stipends to augment his magistrate’s salary of £150. He was also active as an author. Both Tocque96 and Prowse97 refer to his (now very rare) three volume History of Newfoundland. Two of these volumes, the first and the third, were reportedly sold to an unknown private purchaser in 1952. The second volume was purchased by N. C. Crewe and donated to the Archives in 1964; Crewe was apparently outbid on the first and the third volumes.98 Sweetland also kept an “Occurrence Book” at Bonavista for the years 1838 – 1840. This volume is now at the Rooms, Provincial Archives. Sweetland died on February 20, 1864 ‘in a fit of apoplexy’, the 19th century term for a stroke and an alternative to the even more descriptive ‘visitation of God’.

Sweetland’s immediate successors as stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond were: Dr. George Skelton (1873 – 1874)99; John Thorne Oakley (1875 – 1878)100; and Richard Pigeon Rice (1886 – 1897)101. All three had stints as politicians. Skelton, the son of the first resident doctor at Bonavista, was named for his uncle who served as magistrate and surgeon at Trinity in the 1820’s. Dr. Skelton Jr. set up practice at Greenspond and was appointed magistrate there in 1873. He retired from the post in 1874 when he ran for and was elected to the House of Assembly as the member for Bonavista Bay. He was elected to a second successful term but was defeated in 1885. He was appointed five years later to the Legislative Council where he served for almost 35 years until his death at age 94 in 1920.

Skelton was replaced as stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond by John Thorne Oakley. Oakley had served as a justice of the peace at Greenspond for 20 years before he received the  appointment as stipendiary magistrate in 1874. He was a self made man and had risen from a position as an employee of Garland & Co. at Greenspond in the 1820’s to being a merchant and vessel owner in his own right in the 1840’s. He ran and was elected as a Conservative in the Bonavista District in 1865 and served until 1869. His term as magistrate was relatively short; he died on April 13, 1878. There followed a short gap when Greenspond was likely managed from Bonavista. The next stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond was Richard Pigeon Rice, who was appointed in 1886. Rice, who had been a merchant at Twillingate was elected as a member of the House of Assembly for Twillingate and Fogo in 1878 and re-elected in 1882. The Twillingate Sun Northern Weekly Advertiser, quoting the St. John’s Evening Mercury, wrote of his re-election: “Mr. R. P. Rice’s faithful services, as the former representative, have not been forgotten and the esteem, which is felt for him, is sufficiently attested by this renewal of the people’s confidence.”

Rice had been successful by a margin of more than two to one in the District. However, the first day of the 1883 session opened with bitter and divisive debate on the Harbour Grace Riot. Rice sided with Reform Party leader Robert Thorburn on the issue, and against Sir William Whiteway. He did not run in the election which followed but “…let it be known that he would appreciate any post he had qualifications to fill…”103

Shortly after the election he was appointed as stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond by Thorburn and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1897 at the age of 73. He died at his home in Twillingate on January 27, 1905.

Alfred Henry Seymour was appointed to the Greenspond vacancy on Rice’s retirement in 1897. Seymour began his career as a retail businessman in St. John’s; he went on to a varied career in the justice system.104 In 1882 he was made Customs Officer at Harbour Grace and in 1891 was appointed Sheriff of the Northern Circuit, which was administered out of that community. In 1895 he became Judge of the Harbour Grace District Court and in 1897 stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond. He was likely the first magistrate to preside in the new courthouse at Greenspond. He returned to the Bench at Harbour Grace in 1900 where he remained until he stepped down in 1908 to try his hand at political life. He was elected in 1909 as the member for Harbour Grace district and died in office on May 11, 1912.

Seymour was succeeded as stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond by Issac James Mifflin105. Mifflin was the first of the Greenspond magistrates we might call a career government employee or civil servant. He was born at Bonavista in 1865 and by age 25, having already worked for the Customs Branch, was made preventative officer at Catalina. Other offices followed:  surveyor of shipping and commissioner of wrecks. He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1893 and a magistrate in 1898, serving first at Channel. He was transferred to Greenspond in 1900 where he was the resident stipendiary magistrate for most of the next 20 years.

Turn of the century Greenspond was a community at its zenith. Trade and commerce were good and the population was at its peak. The community was largely law abiding, but the work of the ‘Magistrates Court’ was steady. A series of disorderly conduct cases before Magistrate Mifflin in the spring of 1906 was typical of the workload: Constable Sheppard v. Louis Barrow 15; Constable Sheppard v. Daniel Barrow 17; Constable Sheppard v. James Cheater 16; and Constable Sheppard v. John S. Burry 40. All four cases arose out of an incidentthat occurred at the Lecture Hall on the night of April 18, 1906 during some ‘entertainment’. The doorkeeper noticed ten or twelve boys and young men congregating in the porch of the building. They were told they must either come in or go out. When they refused to do either they were ordered out. They went out but proceeded to make ‘a racket’, tearing down posters along the road way. One of the accused tore the constable’s tunic when he attempted to guide him away from the Hall. After hearing from Constable Sheppard and a number of eye witnesses, the magistrate dismissed one of the cases but convicted the others and ordered that they serve up to 14 days in the Greenspond goal or pay a fine of either $5 or $10, depending on their respective conduct. Such cases, mostly of a petty nature, were the daily fare at Magistrates’ Court. Mifflin served at Greenspond until 1920 when he was transferred to Twillingate. In 1925 he stepped down from the Bench, moved to St. John’s and accepted an appointment as Newfoundland’s first Chair of the Board of Liquor Control.

With Mifflin’s transfer to Twillingate in 1920, there followed another short interval in which the magistrate at Bonavista, in this instance John J. Roper, managed judicial affairs at Greenspond from his seat in that neighbouring community. This lasted until Roper’s death in 1921, when J. W. Janes, stipendiary magistrate at Bonne Bay, was transferred to Greenspond. Janes was a business man, born at Hants Harbour, where he commenced his career as a clerk for Ellis and James Westen. He later became manager of the same business premises for Job Bros. & Co. and subsequently for Alan Goodridge & Sons, conducting an extensive fishery supply business. Janes served as Stipendiary magistrate at Greenspond from 1921 until his death in 1931. His obituary on November 19, 1931 in the Daily News noted:  “His business career was marked by honest straightforward and charitable dealings and his magisterial by his fine sense of justice, administered at all times without fear or favour, but always in the spirit of kindliness which he could scarcely hide in his most severe moments.”106

The next three stipendiary magistrates at Greenspond, the last, were Job Brenton Wornell107 (1932-1935); Bernard Vincent Andrews108 (1935 –1940); and C. Max Lane109 (1940 – 1943). Sherry Chafe relates that Job Wornell’s great grandfather, Charles, came out to Greenspond  from Somersetshire, England, in 1840 via Trinity. Like many of the early settlers in Bonavista Bay before him, he came to Newfoundland in search of economic opportunity and prospered. Job Wornell was born at Greenspond, to Charles’ son, John and Catherine Wornell. Job was active in the Fishermen’s Protective Union commencing in 1911 and managed the Fishermen’s Protective Union Trading Store at Greenspond from 1913 to 1932. His brother Edmund John had been appointed magistrate for Labrador in 1919 and served as well at Twillingate. Job was appointed Magistrate at Greenspond in 1932 where he sat until 1935 when he appears to have been transferred to Clarenville. Wornell was succeeded in the Greenspond posting by Bernard Vincent Andrews. Bernard Andrews was born at Port de Grave in 1913, the son of the local merchant. He excelled in school and was a graduate of Memorial College and Dalhousie University where he attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1935. He returned to Newfoundland on graduation and was approached by Commission of Government to study law with John B. McEvoy for six months. On finishing his stint with McEvoy he was appointed to the Greenspond vacancy in 1935 as one of the youngest magistrates in the Empire. Andrews reputedly had a strong social conscience and was incensed by what he perceived as the unjust treatment of the fishermen by the wealthy business class during the depression years. As magistrate he was of the view that some laws, especially those legislating minor offences, like using nets with small mesh or catching undersized lobsters, were sometimes used by the merchants to keep poor fishermen ‘in line’. He was a great story teller and raconteur. One of his favourites, likely apocryphal, is related by John Andrews his brief account of his (great uncle’s ???) life which appeared in the Greenspond Letter:

One warm sunny Sunday afternoon in 1939, in Greenspond, the coastal boat arrived from Fogo and a small wooden crate was offloaded and delivered to Magistrate Andrew’s house. The young man who delivered the package advised the Magistrate that it was from a merchant in Fogo and as the telegraph office was closed on Sundays, a telegram would arrive the following day to explain the package. Magistrate Andrews opened the crate and found ten undersized lobsters and knew exactly what was going on. He immediately asked his wife, Mae, to “put on the pot” and they boiled the lobsters and sat down and ate the works. The following day a telegram arrived stating “I have forwarded to you via M/V Clyde, ten undersized lobsters, sold to me by fisherman John Doe. When you proceed with the prosecution, please be advised that I am available as a witness for the prosecution.” Magistrate Andrews swiftly sent back a telegram stating: Cannot proceed with case as wife and I ate evidence for supper last night.111

Andrews was highly regarded during his five years at Greenspond. He was transferred to Springdale in 1940 and was replaced in the Greenspond seat by C. Max Lane. Lane is best known as a union organizer and activist with the Newfoundland Federation of Fishermen and the Newfoundland Brotherhood of Woodworkers in the 1950’s and as a politician and Cabinet Minister in the Smallwood administration in the 1960’s. The period following the 1920’s was not kind to Greenspond. The ascendancy of St. John’s as a commercial centre, the waning of the Labrador fishery and the depression all took their toll. The population statistics112 for the community speak volumes. Magistrate Lane’s tenure at Greenspond as resident stipendiary magistrate was short. His was the last such appointment. Lane’s transfer to Clarenville three years later marked the end of the practice of having a resident magistrate in that community. The population trend evident in Greenspond was typical of the trend along the entire northeast coast. Greenspond survived the resettlement frenzy of the 1950’s. In terms of magistrates’ services, however, Bonavista, Trinity and Greenspond were all eventually folded into Clarenville and Twillingate and Fogo into Gander.


[1] John Feltham, The Islands of Bonavista Bay, Harry Cuff Publications Limited: St. John’s, 1986 at p 5f; see also, the Reverend Garland Burton, The Greenspond Saga, NQ LXIII, Spring 1964, 15f. Residents sometimes refer to Greenspond affectionately as the “Old Rock”, Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga, NQ LXIII, Fall 1964, p 26.

[2] Alan G. Macpherson, “A Modal Sequence in the Peopling of Central Bonavista Bay,” in John J. Manion, (ed.), The Peopling of Newfoundland: Essays in Historical Geography, ISER, Social and Economic Papers No. 8, MUN, 1977, at p. 107; W. H. Whitely, “James Cook and British Policy in the Newfoundland Fisheries, 1763-7,” CHR, 54, 3 (1973):257; Patrick O’Flaherty, Old Newfoundland: A History to 1843, Long Beach Press: St. John’s, 1999 at p. 46.

[3] CO 194/2 A1; Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga, NQ at. 22; see also Frank Cluett, Greenspond, Maritime History Group, MUN 1972

[4] It is clear that the early ‘planters’ came to Newfoundland in search of economic opportunity. O’Flaherty quotes Sir John Berry in 1675 to the effect that a labouring man could earn 20 pounds in summer and get his food free whereas in England he would not make 3 pounds. See O’Flaherty, Old Newfoundland, at 44. Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga, NQ at pp 24 -25 asks “…what sort of people settled Greenspond … they were poor, but not just ordinary poor people. They were endowed with both energy and ability to realize their hopes.”

[5] For a brief account of the ‘French Shore Question’, see, Olaf U. Janzen, “The French Shore Dispute,” in Barrels to Benches: the Foundations of English Law on Newfoundland’s West Coast, C. English, (ed.), Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador: Project Daisy 2010 at p. 1f.

[6] There is a wealth of archival material on the French migratory ship fishery experience in Greenspond, see Rooms, Provincial Archives Branch, Archives des Colonies C11F . As an example, Volume 4, November 18, 1772 at p. 97f which contains “Comments by Mr. Le Marie on harbours between Greenspond and St. John’s.”

[7] CO 194/2

[8] For a fuller discussion of these records, see Cluett, Greenspond, at p 3f.

[9] On William Keen generally, see Keith Matthews, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol III.

[10] See Macpherson in John Manion, The Peopling of Newfoundland. at 107f.

[11] C. F. Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the SPG: An Historical Account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701 – 1900. (London: Published at the Society’s Offices, 1901).

[12] See D. W. Prowse, A History of Newfoundland from the English, Colonial and Foreign Records, London: Macmillan and Co. 1895 at p. 301. The limits of the district are defined as “…Bonavista northward”.

[13] Reverend Julian Moreton, Life and Work in Newfoundland: Reminiscences of Thirteen Years Spent There, London, 1863 at Ch. p. 2.

[14] Cluett, Greenspond.

[15] Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga—In History, Song and Story, LVII NQ, Spring 1958 at p.18f.

[16] Prowse, History, at p. 419.

[17] Ibid., at p. 420

[18] Reverend Garland Burton, The Greenspond Saga LXIII NQ Spring 1964, at p. 17

[19]Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga, LXIV NQ Fall, 1965at p. 8; Robert Saunders, The Greenspond Saga, NQ at p. 31.

[20] Moreton, Life and Work in Newfoundland, at Ch. 2, p.2.

[21] Cluett, citing the Journal of the Chamber of Commerce in Greenspond, at 16.

[22] Naboth Winsor, Good Workmanship and Lasting Devotion: A History of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Greenspond, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland 1810 – 1925, Gander: BSC Printers (1982) Limited, 1982 at p. 23

[23] Cluett, Greenspond, at p. 16.

[24] See, The Judicature Act of 1824 and its Antecedents, in this anthology

[25] Governor’s Osborn’s Commission 1729, reproduced from C.O. 195 vol 7 pp 183 – 204

[26] Prowse, History at p. 495; O’Flaherty, Old Newfoundland, at p. 54.

[27] Cluett, Greenspond, and F. M. Buffett, “Henry M. Jones”, Volume III, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography (hereinafter DCB).

[28] Matthews, “William Keen”, Volume III, DCB.

[29] Keen had a long, drawn-out, legal dispute with his brother Benjamin over the administration of his father’s estate. See the correspondence between Governor Edwards and William Keen Jr. contained in the D,Alberti Papers at GN2/1/A Box No 3, Volume 9 (1780 – 1783 Orders and Proclamations.

[30] Charles Pedley, The History of Newfoundland from the Earliest Times to the Year 1860, London: Longman, Green…, 1863.

[31] J. Hamon, Extraordinary Journal of J. Hamon, Captain of the ship, the Marie Anne from Granville, Messrs. Bretel Brother, Ship owners, for the year 1770, Rooms, Provincial Archives Branch, microfilm 971-8F12; see also, Michael Wilkshire and Frances Wilkshire, Alliances and Conflicts on the French Shore: Captain Hamon’s Journal, Written in Greenspond in 1770, Newfoundland Studies 8, 2 (1992).Charles Pedley, The History of Newfoundland from the Earliest Times to the Year 1860, London: Longman, Green…, 1863.

[32] Captain Le Marie, Rooms, Provincial Archives Branch C11F Vol4, Nov. 18, 1772, at p. 97f.


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