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Towards a History of the Book in Newfoundland

In this paper we sketch out what is currently available concerning the culture of the book in Newfoundland and Labrador, and make some suggestions about what more could be done with this subject, based on the resources known to us.

We begin with a brief history, divided into two main divisions. The first considers the long period that extends from the late 16th century before continuous settlement, up to the time of the first known printing in the colony in the early 19th century. The second goes from the first decade of the 19th century, in which there was a remarkable growth of journalism and other written forms, up to the time of Confederation, a period of activity for the propagation of reading and literature in middle- and upper-class milieus, and the growing spread of literacy in the working classes. Though both periods may seem to be overly extended for meaningful discussion, it seems as though there may be a continuity in each.

Finally, there is a third period, not discussed here. From Confederation (1949) onwards, there is expansion of other media but at the same time a rapidly and vastly developed book-based school system including the university, now extended to all social groups, and another attempt (remarkably similar in some ways to that of the late 19th century, but now marked by a social scientific and educational impulse, less by a genteel curiosity) to define the culture in its own terms, to preserve and to rewrite the history, and to publish works that are oriented specifically towards the local culture. There is also, finally, local book manufacture, itself strongly oriented to local culture. This local book business is still very active: Newfoundland must be one of the few places in North America in which even the major drugstore chains stock books from local publishers on history and literature. Late on a Monday night, you can dash out and pick up a history of the Newfoundland pony or a biography of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, to go along with your beta blockers and bag of chips.

The periods we mark out are not precise, and indeed may be subject to some change. But they do represent important shifts in the cultural as well as the political history of Newfoundland and Labrador - three transformations of the public sphere that provide a thematic analysis for those interested in the history of the book.

Though one is able to spot very general trends, it must be admitted from the outset that resources for a history of the book in Newfoundland and Labrador are in some areas minuscule. There are few publishers’ and booksellers’ records, the collections of private owners were hardly ever catalogued, and there is almost no consistent record of the importation of books, perhaps the most important resource one would like to have for the earlier periods. But there are some significant bodies of material: local publications, newspapers, and journals all contain interesting and voluminous evidence towards a history. Resources in education and religion are also considerable. And for more recent periods there are the untapped memories of many readers and writers, people employed in the book trades, libraries and so on. So it is our belief that there are adequate resources for such a history, even if only in outline, and that a principal resource may be the books themselves. But in comparison with what is available for other places, this history will seem thin. In part this is because there is not much of a recorded history (though our history of books is old, Breakwater Books, founded in 1973, is the first publisher in Newfoundland to sustain a long-term business devoted to books).

The problem is further exacerbated by the paucity of previous research. There is a sprinkling of articles, some of them in the popularly written Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador (ENL), and there is a comprehensive Bibliography of Newfoundland (O’Dea and Alexander), the latter of especial help. A record of the printing history of Newfoundland is also found in the bibliographies of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. But there is nothing previous to the present entirely provisional article that you are now reading that attempts to make scholarly sense of the data available for a possible history of the book. The only synoptic treatment of the history of printing is the 1993 article by Jean Graham in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador [ENL 4:452-60). Newfoundland rates three references in George Parker’s Beginnings of the Book Trade in Canada (7-8, 34-5, 115).

Probably the most learned person ever on the subject of Newfoundland printing history was Dr George Story, who died in 1994 at the age of 66. Story was trained at Oxford in the New Bibliography and was an aggressive and serious collector (among other things, 19th-century British booksale catalogues; his library has been catalogued; a description is being prepared by Sandra Hannaford). Story had also written on the history of printing and of book collecting (for instance, a delightful article on Richard Heber, the early 19th-century British bibliomaniac). Finally, he had, together with William Kirwin and J.D.A. Widdowson for the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, examined just about every scrap ever printed in Newfoundland and Labrador up to about 1989 (the DNE appeared in 1982, revised edition 1990). A couple of years before his death, one of us mentioned to him the possibility of writing on the history of the book in this province. He was quite sceptical, and suggested there might be enough out there for an article, or maybe, as he put it, “a very slim volume.” Unfortunately George is not around to guide this research, but his ghost is warning us not to assume too much. We believe there is a great deal of material that could be used towards a still-to-be-written history of print - the folklorists have already done much with the nexus of orality and print - but for the book as a medium, there is very little.

We tend, for whatever reasons, to privilege the book as a communicative medium, to endow it with a prestige. And it does seem that as a medium for meditation on and sustained experience of the Written, the book is exceptional. Nevertheless, the book must be seen as part of a continuum of communication. The history of the book in Newfoundland really makes that plain. There is much evidence for a history of reading and writing. Yet the book, we must admit, is not at the centre of much of the cultural life, but at the margin.

The First Period - Heterogeneous Cultural Sphere

In the logbook of the HMS Pegasus, for the year 1786, there is a watercolour (PAC/C2522; Neary & O’Flaherty 48) that depicts the seven islands in the harbour of Placentia, in the foreground a boat manned by four oarsmen, and in the distance two sea- going vessels. On the hillside, overlooking the well-treed islands of this harbour are seated two figures. One is sketching the scene, and the other is reading. The man’s book from its size is an octavo or small quarto, and the reader holds it up about 12 inches from his face, clearly concentrating on the text. The outdoors is seen as a place in which reading - real reading - can be done. There is the possibility of a focussed leisure, even in the unpopulated landscape of the New World.

We know that this book in this picture was not printed in Newfoundland, for printing did not begin in the country until 1807. The book was imported from England. And in this way, it is typical of all books in Newfoundland until a later time. From the late 16th century onwards, there were a range of visitors and colonists. Some of them brought books. But most, it must be emphasized, whether they came in the early years, before continuous settlement, or as part of the first hesitant plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries, or even later, were poor, working-class, and probably illiterate or barely literate (the vexed term “literate” we define here as “unable to read books”), despite their great skills for living in the New World.

I have known a Man, who could not read a Letter in a Book, go into the Wood, and cut down Timber, bring the same with the Help of a Servant, and build a Boat, rig it, and afterwards go out to Sea with the same Boat. (Coughlan 19)

Some few would have known how to read, but the reading, especially Protestant reading, would have been limited to the Bible or the reading of simple texts. Most of the highly fluctuating population of just a few thousand (Matthews 84; see also Handcock) was temporary, and most of these people were indentured or fisheries servants and working-men, brought over by a small number of committed planters. Only a minority of the settlers were educated. They would have brought with them the books for reading on hillsides.

The first book of poetry known to have been written in Newfoundland and, for that matter, what is now Canada is Robert Hayman’s Quodlibets (1628), written while Hayman was governor of the colony in Harbour Grace. Hayman would have had at least one book with him when he arrived - John Owen’s Epigrammata, for the second half of Hayman’s book is a translation of Owen’s neo-Latin epigrams. So books for amusement - and one should remember that other bags packed just before travel might contain some choices equally as odd as Hayman’s copy of Owen’s popular volume of Latin verse.

But also books for instruction. William Vaughan’s Newlanders Cure (1630) and other books that pretended to offer advice to travellers, especially regarding medicine or practical aspects of building, may have been taken to the new world by the anxious traveller. No matter that Vaughan never came to the New-found-land. An educated reader would take comfort in such a book, even if many of the cures are doubtful. Some of the other books from the early 17th century - such as the books by Whitbourne, who had actually been here, and the anonymous T.C. in Dublin (1623), who hadn’t - are similarly an odd mix of fact and fiction. In his Discourse (1620) Whitbourne gives accurate depictions of local flora and fauna - and then describes the mermaid he saw in St John’s Harbour. One must remember that books written about Newfoundland in the early 17th century are not about Newfoundland as such - they are about the need in Great Britain to raise capital and stimulate investors in the project of colonization. But we would argue that the advice contained within them, however unrelated to the experience on arrival, must be counted as part of a general history of the book in Newfoundland, if only because there is a constant reference back to these texts as providing a shaping mythology of discovery and colonization. They show that in the European culture one of the responses to new experiences was to place these in a book.

Yet the founding written culture was primarily commercial and bureaucratic. The earliest documents to do with Newfoundland are mostly all manuscript materials - ships’ logs and rosters, maps, commercial paper, ledgers, various landgrants and commissions, and the like (the kind of material in Colonial Office 194 [Newfoundland]). None of this voluminous material moved into print.

It was only with permanent settlement and a growth in population in the later mid-18th century that a culture of the book begins to find a foothold in the life of the inhabitants. Education and religion, not to be separated, were the prime motivators. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent out a number of ministers in certain areas of the island. William Coughlan and William Thoresby are two significant figures. Both wrote memoirs of their work (An Account of the Work of God [1776] and A Narrative of God’s Love [1799], respectively). In Coughlan’s memoir of his few years in Carbonear and Harbour Grace from 1766 to 1773, it’s clear that there were readers of Scripture. John and Jane Noseworthy, for instance, fell under the spell of Coughlan, and John says “When I first heard you preach, I went and searched the Scriptures, to find if these Things were so; and I found, that your Preaching and the Word of God agreed ...” (87). But the interesting thing about this testimony is that it had to be written down by someone else, because apparently John Noseworthy did not write (87, 94). Coughlan’s book was published in London several years after his controversial departure. It includes at the end a letter from a former parishioner, a woman with the initials D.O.:

Dear Sir, remember my kind Love to all my Brethren unknown; tell them, that I am poor, and beg them to send me over one Book for my daily Use. I have three of my little Children still with me. I am ashamed, that I have Nothing more to send, but please to accept of my little Fish and Berries, which I am sure you will. I remain, Your unworthy Child in the Lord,
                                       D-- O--
P.S. Sir, I thank you for the good Books you sent us. (Coughlan 168)

When one notes on the title page that Coughlan’s book was to be “Sold at Cumberland-Street Chapel” (A1r), Coughlan’s new parish, the cynic wonders if this pathetic request for books has not been especially written for the London readers and Coughlan’s own fund-raising, and may not reflect the actual needs of D.O. and the others back in Harbour Grace or Carbonear.

Reading, so important to the Protestant faith, was brought to the Labrador coast by the Moravians at a slightly later time. In his Account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of the Unitas Fratrum or United Brethren Preach the Gospel (trans. London: For the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel, 1788), the Rev. August Gottlieb Spangenberg notes “The brethren likewise take pains to make the heathen acquainted with the holy scriptures” (81) following the old tradition of the church that “an ignorant heathen be first taught to read, and afterwards instructed in all the points of Christian doctrine” (74). They introduce the congregation to passages in the Scriptures in the oral homilies, and by that way draw them into the literate culture. This is the same condition of literacy via orality that is very old in the European tradition, and is described in Natalie Davis’ well-known article “Printing and the People,” where she shows how the illiterate in 16th-century France would have been made familiar with the written culture through oral reading. The Moravians also taught reading to children and even to adults, but always with one aim in mind - “that they may learn to read the holy scriptures” (81).

In our first period book reading in Newfoundland was oriented mainly to religious practice. This was to change with the rise of settled habitation and the rise of a middle class at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The Second Period - the Homogeneous Cultural Sphere

Background In the period shortly after 1800, Newfoundland was now a place with a settled and growing population. For most of the inhabitants, however, it was a grim life. There were few servants for each planter, and there was an increasing difference in prosperity between the small outports and the larger centres, such as St John’s, Placentia, Harbour Grace or even Trinity. Over the next decades, with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, there was a sudden shift in prosperity, as Newfoundland became the principal supplier of fish to much of Europe. Moreover, there was also development of the seal hunt. The year-round population grew swiftly to 40,000 (Matthews 145). With the growth of a middle class, there was also a development in education, literary societies, and the like. With these changes, the story becomes much more complicated, because it is no longer the story of individuals, but of groups too. The rest of the century shows an increasingly established and growing population. St John’s is a small but busy capital; some of the other towns maintain their prosperity; outside of the main centres, however, the local settlements are not well off, though there are schools founded through local charity or by religious groups (see for instance Anthony Hamilton’s 1827 report, Account of the State of Schools).The literacy rate grows substantially during the century, though it never gets substantially over 50% (ENL, “Literacy”), and the completion rate for schools is extremely low. The pressure is always there that family members contribute to the work in the fishing economy.

Early printing The first printing in St John’s was undertaken by John Ryan (Devereux). By then the city was established as the capital, and the business of government had for some time required the appointment of a King’s Printer. Ryan, who had been King’s Printer in New Brunswick, was given the job. The Royal Gazette was first printed August 27, 1807. Though there were attempts to discourage other printing, a second newspaper, The Newfoundland Mercantile Journal, began publishing in 1814. Soon other newspapers started up operation - The Public Ledger and Newfoundland General Advertiser (1822), The Newfoundland (1827), The Newfoundland Patriot (1833). And by 1830 there were also papers in Harbour Grace and Carbonear, two very flourishing centres in Conception Bay. (For all these papers, see Ellison.)

Where there are newspapers, there is also an interest in books and other printed matter. The newspapers themselves offer evidence of this interest. One early example. The Star and Conception Bay Journal was published by D.E. Gilmour. In issues from 1834, we see advertisements of school books for sale (“Murray’s Grammar, Guy’s Orthographical Exercises, Entick’s Dictionary, Carpenter’s Spelling”), and in another advertisement, more advanced texts (“... History of Greece, History of Rome, Chemistry, Latin Grammar, Navigation, The Charter House [sic] Latin Grammar, School Prize Books (handsomely bound), Sturm’s Reflections of the Works of God ...”). All this for sale at the office of the newspaper itself. In another ad, immediately nearby, we read that the Carbonear Academy, run by Mr. Gilmour will soon open. And just below, “Mrs. Gilmour begs to intimate to her friends and the public that her Seminary for YOUNG LADIES, will re-open, after the Christmas Recess, on Monday, January 13, 1834.” It’s clear that the Gilmours were, all at once, booksellers, stationers, newspaper publishers, and school teachers. The books they offer for sale do not seem to go beyond those necessary for school teaching.

But of even more interest is a public announcement in the same newspaper, dated Carbonear, Jan. 1, 1834: “The Gentlemen who have subscribed to the establishment of a PUBLIC READING ROOM, in Carbonear, are requested to attend at the House of Mr. GAMBLE, on SATURDAY Evening next, at 7 o’Clock”. This very early public library is the association described in his journal by Philip Henry Gosse (father of the well-known Victorian writer Edmund Gosse). Gosse lived in Carbonear from 1827 to 1835 as a clerk to a fish merchant. He describes in considerable detail the reading he did at the time (novels of Walter Scott, books of natural philosophy, and so on). It is clearly enough of a going concern that another announcement of March 10 requests the return of the first volume of the Scottish Chiefs to the Carbonear Book Society, “to which Society the BOOK belongs.” Libraries were established in a number of communities about this time. In the early 19th century there are now societies and activities organized around the book as a cultural object.

Book Societies The largest and most active of these organizations appears to have been the Athenaeum in St John’s. The movement to establish a cultural club, with library and public reading room, was found all over the English speaking world in the early to mid-19th century. Louise Whiteway’s 1971 article in The Dalhousie Review gives a valuable broad sketch of the movement and many particulars of the Athenaeum in St John’s (though, frustratingly, this article has no footnotes or other references). Briefly, after a false start in 1851, the organization was established ten years later in 1861, fairly late for a foundation of this kind (the Boston Athenaeum was founded in 1807; the Halifax Athenaeum in 1834; the Toronto Athenaeum in 1843). Usually the Athenaeum was a gentlemen’s club. The St John’s Athenaeum was founded by inter alia R.J. Pinsent, Robert Kent, Daniel Prowse, the Rev. Moses Harvey, Adam Scott, Thomas McConnan (a bookseller), James Seaton, John Bowring. Some of these names, especially Pinsent, Prowse, Bowring and Harvey, are very well known in Newfoundland political and cultural history.

The Athenaeum grew out of earlier institutions. As early as 1810 there is reference to a library in St John’s (Royal Gazette, 15 November). By 1827 the St John’s Library Society was founded, which in 1842 became the St John’s Reading Room and Library. On 9 June 1846 there was a great fire in St John’s, destroying Mechanics Hall, the Reading Room and Library, and McMurdo’s Circulating Library (Royal Gazette 15 June 1846; Colonial Office Papers series 194 Nfld 125, fol 297v; reference from John Fitzgerald). Apparently a number of these institutions regrouped, and by 1849 the Reading Room and Library had absorbed a Mechanics’ Institute founded some time earlier than 1849 (ENL, “Libraries” some of this contradictory history may need to be re-examined). But it did not take in the Young Men’s Literary and Scientific Institute, which Moses Harvey had started just a few years before in 1858. The Athenaeum managed to raise the funds for a building on Duckworth Street - this held the Institute, the Library and Reading Room, and an auditorium for a thousand. The famous Pindikowsky, a Polish refugee who as part of a jail term was required to paint the ceiling in the old House of Assembly, and is still known today for this unexpectedly grand work, painted the ceiling of the Athenaeum auditorium. The Library had about 2500 books (the St John’s Library Society had about 2400 in 1855). By 1891, the library had grown to “over 6000 well-selected volumes of History, Science, Art, Travel, Fiction, General Literature and Books of Reference” (546). There was according to Whiteway a General Catalogue published in 1877; this we have not seen (not listed in O’Dea); it would serve as an excellent guide to the reading tastes of the time. In 1892 there was another great downtown fire, and the Athenaeum was destroyed. But the organization was intact and they rebuilt, though on not so nearly grand a scale. A thousand volumes were gathered quickly by donation, and just a few years later, there were 1800 volumes in the library. But the Athenaeum was not to last. The organization was founded on public lectures (a number were published in pamphlet form: see for instance Stabb 1865 or Harvey 1878), and the fashion for these had fallen off by the 1890s. Other organizations supplied the public with different kinds of cultural activities. The Athenaeum shut down in 1898. Though founded as a kind of general cultural institution, in which lectures, music, scientific inquiry as well as books all played a part, it also had great importance as a library, as an institution organized around the book (we still need to know who belonged, who borrowed books, and so on). After the Athenaeum, there was to be no public library in St John’s until 1936.

The Athenaeum was one kind of literary institution of the time. In St John’s there were scores of societies, many of which promoted culture and reading, such as the St. John’s Literary Society and Bible Class Library (book list issued 1884) and the Ladies’ Reading Room and Current Events Club, started c. 1898 (later the Old Colony Club). There were also many library and other organizations for reading in communities around the country, especially in the more prosperous area of Carbonear and Harbour Grace. One of these, an odd one, is the Heart’s Content Literary Society. Many of the books for this society are still in a collection in Heart’s Content, and have recently been listed by Sandra Hannaford. What makes the Society odd is that it was established as a library for the families who had earlier been connected with the trans-Atlantic cable, which started up as a permanent installation in 1866. The facilities for the workers at the station had been built in 1873, and by 1884 the local minister, Rev. Henry Lewis, mentioned “a literary institute and also a hall for concerts and other entertainments, with a well furnished library” (Evening Mercury, July- December 1884; article found in the Heart’s Content Community file at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies). In fact, the locals were not allowed to use many of the facilities of the station, not even the Literary Society. The books, many of which have tickets from Gilbert and Fields, a London bookseller, and only one of which came from Samuel Garland, the St John’s bookseller, provide an interesting glimpse into light reading c1890-1920: Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Marie Corelli, J.S. Fletcher, Rider Haggard, William LeQueux, Jack London, Talbot Baines Reed, Edgar Wallace, Florence Warden, and scores of other names, mostly forgotten but in their time popular novelists.

There are other such reading organizations that preceded the modern public library but that undertook something of the same service. This is an area that can be much more carefully researched.

Collectors A closely related phenomenon is the private collector, who has undertaken to build a library. The record for many of these collections is lost (eg, Bishop Fleming’s library, burned in the fire of 1846). But some records survive. A number of these collections laid the basis for public collections on the death of the collector. We may cite as specific examples for an earlier period Bishop John Thomas Mullock (d 1869), much of whose library laid the basis for the Episcopal Library in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John’s, and towards the end of the period W.G. Gosling (d 1930), upon whose books was formed the Reference collection of the Provincial Library. This phenomenon is carried on well into this century: J.R. Smallwood was a passionate collector, with some 18,000 volumes in his library (Pitt); many of his books have moved to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

Mullock’s library is fascinating (Gushue). He signed his books and often dated them. Though there is no record of any purchases during his early years at a Franciscan seminary in Spain, by the time he returned to Ireland for 14 years as a parish priest he had begun to purchase books in earnest. The earliest books are dated by him 1833. He continued to buy books even after his arrival in St John’s in 1848. Interestingly, the largest number of dated purchases are in 1850, the year he was installed as Bishop of St John’s. About 290 separate works are still extant, some of them however in many volumes. Mullock’s sets of the Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca run to hundreds of volumes (these books, unlike all the others, are now in the Library of Memorial University and are not included in Gushue’s list). Mullock was an eclectic and broad-minded collector who had almost as many books in each of French, Spanish, and Latin as in English. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the surprising breadth of Mullock’s reading: in addition to the obvious and not so obvious works of theology, there are books by Byron, Machiavelli, Pierre Bayle, and other well-known heretics. Indeed, the oldest book seems to be an edition of the Paraphrase of Mark by Erasmus - hardly normal fare for a Catholic bishop; though the copy lacks the title page, the print seems pretty clearly that of Basel or some other northern town, c1520-1530, and there are some 16 other books dating from later in the same century. When one looks through these books, one can see the impulse for liberal education that drove Mullock to found St Bonaventure’s College, for a long time the flagship Catholic boys’ school in Newfoundland.

Another interesting collector, though of a later period, was W.G. Gosling, a one-time mayor of St John’s, a man extremely active (from the 1890s onwards) in both cultural and political life. In 1935 a Public Libraries Act was finally passed (the effort to create such an institution had been underway for thirty years; ENL, “Libraries”); the first public collection was the Gosling Memorial Library. Gosling’s widow donated 1800 volumes to lay the basis for this new library (the works are catalogued in an Accession List, now in the Provincial Library; Baker and Story 87). Much of the Gosling donation is now in the Reference Library in the Arts and Culture Centre in St John’s. It shows literary interests typical of his time, but with special concentration in works on Newfoundland and Labrador, and an interesting number of books on books, including Dibdin’s Bibliomania and Burton’s The Book Hunter. Gosling was an important figure for setting a standard for private collecting. There were other collectors before him: one would like to know the contents of the libraries of P.K. Devine, Moses Harvey, Michael J. Howley, and D.W. Prowse, and other late-19th-century writers. Did their books end up in public collections too? For the relation between private collector and public institution is long-standing.

Book Buying and Selling Collectors must have had a difficult time of it in St John’s. Mullock’s books were all shipped from overseas or purchased on trips abroad. Gosling did however buy some of his books locally. There was a small but thriving book business in St John’s and the immediate area. The evidence for this trade is given in the newspaper advertisements for the time. We have already noted the information in the 1834 issues of The Star and Conception Bay Journal. We believe this kind of information is abundant in the newspapers for the period. A number of years ago, one of the authors of this paper, Sandra Hannaford, prepared an undergraduate honours essay surveying the book advertisements in the Evening Telegram for just one year, 1890. Local booksellers, principally Samuel Garland and Dicks and Company, regularly listed recent books that had come into their stores. Just for 1890, for this one St John’s newspaper, there are hundreds of books named; carefully analysed, they provide an index of the reading interests of the time. There are of course a few dangers in using this kind of data: the publishers are trying to sell books and they may be advertising to dump overstock. But we believe that some kind of market condition would have required them to attend to the interests of consumers. The list for 1890 includes a great deal of popular fiction, but even more non-fiction. The leading book for the year was Henry Stanley’s account of his meeting with Livingstone in Africa - a book whose interest would have been generated by American and British publishers. The significance of the book was also promoted in the news section of the paper, as one often finds today.

The history of the book dealers and stationers of St John’s and the major outports has still to be written. There were a number of companies but their records haven’t survived. The principal names in the late 19th century are Dicks and Co. (founded in the early 19th century and still active, though no longer in the book trade) and Samuel Garland. Where they obtained their books is not known, though custom records list general book imports in weight and value, and sometimes give origins.

Newspapers and serial publications as a source for book history We have noted in the preceding commentary the importance of newspapers as a source for book history. Newspapers are also another very interesting source for a relationship that no longer really exists between newspapers and books: the newspaper as a place for serialization of books or as a place for essays, poems, and other materials that are to be gathered later into a book. The newspapers are the testing grounds for fledgling writers. And they are also the place where pieces by well-established writers are also found. In one issue of a newspaper, one might find a local poet and, two columns over, a short poem, lifted from an English or American poet, even someone quite famous like Tennyson or Browning. The relationship between books and newspapers goes further: the newspaper firm also served as the printer and publisher of most 19th and early 20th-century books. The relationship is found as early as 1851, with the publication of the first book of poetry actually printed in Newfoundland, George Webber’s The Last of the Aborigines: A Poem Founded upon Facts. In Four Cantos, which came from the office of The Morning Post. The literary importance of the 19th century newspaper in Newfoundland has never been explored, though the folklorists have carefully combed the newspapers for any evidence for oral material (ballads and the like) in printed form and Maudie Whelan, a student in Memorial’s Department of History, is working on a PhD thesis on Newfoundland newspapers. The newspaper then as now had the reviewing function, but for a source of new literary and even scientific publication, the newspaper also was of paramount importance. To understand book publishing in Newfoundland, one must also first understand the operation of the newspaper, its machinery, its personnel and organization, its political and religious affiliations, its cultural affiliations, how the office of the newspaper fits into the social relations of the time.

A similar and absolutely crucial source of evidence for the literary life in the country from 1880 onwards is serial publication, most notably the Christmas annuals. These were analysed and catalogued by Peter Churchill and Jeff Monk in 1989. Like the newspapers, they are a gathering place for highly heterogeneous material - short historical essays, reminiscences, stories, poems, dialect sketches, photography, drawing, accounts of dramatic productions, and so on. All very civilized, and clearly a product of genteel classes, in these journals temporarily insulated from the more rough and tumble world of the newspaper. They mediate between the timeliness of the newspaper and the timelessness of the book. Yet they are so grounded in the literary activity of the community that they serve as a very important index of taste.

The Newfoundland Quarterly, founded in 1901, was another important expression of the new fascination with local culture. A mix of reviews, reports, fiction, and informed local history, the Quarterly is still a significant source for cultural life. The Quarterly has been indexed in the Newfoundland Periodical Article Bibliography project, directed by Joan Ritcey of Memorial’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

19th-century Book Publication So far, much of what we have talked about for book history in 19th and early 20th century Newfoundland is not quite what one would talk about if one were addressing the topic for London or Boston. Where, one must ask, are the Newfoundland books themselves? Who are the writers? the editors? publishers? Here we suddenly encounter a remarkable silence. There are, so far as we know, no publishers’ records from the 19th century. So we must turn to the books themselves. Most of the books and pamphlets have been listed in the chronological section of the O’Dea bibliography.

In the early part of the 19th century, the first separate publications were either broadsheets or pamphlets put out by the King’s Printer. This continues throughout the century. Most of the little there was (an average of three or four items a year, sometimes rising to a dozen) consisted of laws, reports of commissions and proceedings, and the like. The other main area of separate publication was sermons. There was virtually no other local publication. The little that is out there is therefore of some interest. There is W.C. St. John’s History, published in 1835 (O’Dea 422a). We have already noted George Webber’s poem, The Last of the Aborigines, published in 40 pages in 1851 (O’Dea 560). Cormack’s journal was published here in 1856 (O’Dea 358a). Joseph Noad’s Lecture on the Aborigines of Newfoundland, Delivered before the Mechanics Institute, at St John’s, was a typical short pamphlet, reprinted no doubt from the Newfoundland Patriot (whose office published it); this came out in 1859 (O’Dea 640). Henry Hunt Stabb’s pamphlet Aspects of Life of 1865 had a similar genesis (O’Dea 706). There were a couple of scientific pamphlets, likewise also probably lectures: T.A. Verkruzen’s Mollusca Dredged and Collected in 1876 in the Neighbourhood of St John’s, 1877 (O’Dea 864), and James P. Howley’s The Origin Derivation and Composition of Soils, 8 pages published at the office of the Daily Colonist in 1889 (O’Dea 999). The Sporting Notes of Captain W. R. Kennedy, RN, were published by the Queen’s Printer, J.C. Withers (O’Dea 903); these were letters written for the British journal The Field; after their republication in St John’s in 1881, they again appeared, in 1885, from Blackwood’s in Edinburgh. This kind of shared publication (which we have not had a chance to investigate, but should be followed up) is also found in Moses Harvey’s Newfoundland As It Is in 1894. A Handbook and Tourists’ Guide; it was co-published here by J.C. Withers, Queen’s Printer, and in London by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner in 1894 (O’Dea 1122). There is no proper outlet for works of significant length: D.W. Prowse’s delightful and still highly readable History was published in London by Macmillan in 1895. The first novelist really to attempt local publication was Anastasia English (Only a Fisherman’s Daughter [1899], Faithless: A Newfoundland Romance [1901], “The Queen of Fairy Dell” and Other Tales [1912]; O’Dea 1209, 1248, 1536). Two of English’s novels (Faithless, Queen), following the old pattern for local production, were published by newspaper firms in St John’s.

During the period 1900-1930, there is a great increase of writing about Newfoundland and Labrador, often from a touristic or frontier adventure point of view (Dillon Wallace, Grenfell, Millais, Mina Hubbard, and so on), but all of this was published in New York and London. Even local writers continued to publish abroad. Like Prowse’s history, W.G. Gosling’s Labrador (1910) and Life of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1911), were published in London. Robert Gear MacDonald’s From the Isle of Avalon (1908) contains many poems published locally in the Christmas annuals and the newspapers, but it seems that to have the work properly “finished”, publication must be sought abroad. One subject that remained local, however, was the songbook - there are collections by Johnny Burke, James Murphy, and Gerald S. Doyle that attest to a local interest in local culture - the kind of thing that is also treated by P.K. Devine and others in articles in the annuals and the newspapers.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there was no sustained publishing industry for books, though there was publishing, mostly of government tracts, reports, commissions, and pamphlets. Some writers, such as James P. Howley, the naturalist, were able to publish many works locally, though few books (his Geography of Newfoundland. For the Use of Schools, was published by Edward Stanford in London in 1877). Now and then books do get published, such as the various directories by the King’s Printers. This situation stands unti l some time after Confederation. The interesting question is how did the publishers and printers learn to produce books, which require a different technology, financing, and system of distribution than a newspaper. We believe that a thorough bibliographical examination of copies of books (paper, type, binding, and layout) will give us information to answer in part some of these questions.

Education This area has still to be examined by us, even in a preliminary way. Though the literacy rate has been estimated as 25% in the early 19th century, and over 50% about 1900 - in other words, fairly low - there were growing numbers of schools, requiring regular supplies of textbooks (ENL, “Literacy” Rowe). The schools were all denominational (despite attempts in the 1830s for a non-denominational schooling, the Education Acts of 1874 and 1876 set the direction for the education system today), and some denominations, like the Catholics and Methodists, got an early start, though others, like the Anglicans, were slower (as Bishop Feild asked in 1866, “Of our Schools I might almost ask where are they” [21]).

The textbooks were not produced locally, even though by the end of the century there would have been active sales in certain texts, though apparently not enough to sustain a local business. Importing was easier. This even applies to books on local history for schools: Moses Harvey wrote a textbook Short History of Newfoundland (1885, 1890, 1890; O’Dea 945a, 945b, 945c) -all the editions were published in London. It is only in recent times that textbooks have been locally manufactured. Nonetheless, a study of imported textbooks would give useful information for a history of reading and literacy.

The Third Period - Autonomous Culture

We do not continue this all too brief account after Confederation. In 1949, there are a number of significant shifts. Memorial College was refounded as a University, and it has played an important role in encouraging local history and its preservation. The Institute for Social and Economic Research, founded in 1966, had from very early on a mandate to publish books, and today ISER is a small though active house. Though the school system and library system were well established, the government took an increasingly greater role in the promotion of the culture, and all branches of these activities grew remarkably. J.R. Smallwood, not only a formidable collector, but an editor and a publisher too, was a strong force for change. Government subsidies to support publication have allowed various publishers, such as Jesperson Press, Harry Cuff, Creative, and Breakwater Books to operate during recent times. It is only in this later period that there really is a semi-autonomous culture of the book. The history of this period is also still recoverable.

There have however been important forces operating against the local book business. Dicks and Company had its origins in the early 19th century. Just a few years ago its main store was on Water Street in St John’s. A sign, in the shape of a large book, hung over the doorway. When the sign came down, local observers sensed that this signalled an end. Dicks has now left its century-plus retail book business entirely, and has gone back to its origins as a supplier of stationery. Mainland book suppliers have made inroads; but even they have bowed to the imperative of the local culture, and most have excellent displays of local publication. Of course, most books sold in the Province today are textbooks and bestsellers produced on the mainland or in the U.S. or the U.K.

Areas and projects for further research

We conclude with a summary of areas for possible research. For the two periods we have outlined, the first is basically closed to us. There may be a few more scraps of information, but what there is cannot be developed into a proper narrative or even series of micro- narratives. We have dwelled on the 19th century in this account because it is to us an area with some possibilities. Though there is at first glance little obvious material, we feel that a careful reading of the newspapers and serial publications will yield interesting material for a history of reading and books in Newfoundland and Labrador. Obviously the post- Confederation period is the richest period for resources. Many of the persons involved in the small though developing book trade and many of the records are still extant for this most recent period. We list some topics that are possible to work on, and that could possibly be developed:

  • Studies of books and individual copies, for evidence of manufacture, editing, ownership, etc (for instance, Newfoundland printers adopted U.S. spellings, not British - were many of the printers trained in America? [W. Kirwin, in conversation])
  • Book club lists
  • Study of interrelations of newspapers and book publication
  • Study of personnel of printing industry, using city directories, union records, etc, where extant (the background and training is of great interest)
  • Book advertisements (mainly in newspapers)
  • Surviving diaries, autobiographical statements
  • Studies of individual authors and the condition of authorship
  • Interviews with surviving members of the book trade
  • Interviews with older readers from outports and the capital

We feel that thorough historical study of the newspaper will prove to be the most fruitful resource for the history of the book. This is an area currently being examined by Sandra Hannaford as part of her doctoral research. The interviews could also be interesting, because people in outport towns and communities especially can attest personally to a condition of readership unchanged in some regards from the 19th century - fragility of books, problems of reading, books ordered through advertisements, no libraries or tiny ones, heavy sharing of single copies in a community (even now, because of limited access to books for retail purchase, there is even in the university community greater personal borrowing than one might find in large urban centres, with consequently different “rules” for such personal borrowing).


In what we have outlined, we have set forth some of the resources for a history of the book in Newfoundland and Labrador, and have suggested possible approaches to the subject, given the fairly limited resources for such a history, at least prior to Confederation. Finally we have outlined some areas for possible research.

Of course, our chronological approach assumes there is some continuity in the history of the book in Newfoundland. That assumption is dangerous, except for the most recent past. Much of the history of the book proceeded through individual or small group interventions, not as a part of a broad general culture. Up to this century, most people could not read, and even of the ones who did, many were not caught up in a bookish culture. Life was very tough for most inhabitants here, and reading was a luxury. Nevertheless, there were in some areas active readers and writers of books, even communities of readers. To some extent, the culture of the book was determined sometimes by what was happening elsewhere (especially London), but there were continuous attempts to create books for a local readership from the late 19th century onwards.

Finally, in more general terms, what does it mean to write a history of the book for Newfoundland or even Canada? The political entities to which we grant a history are not stable. Newfoundland was not a consistent entity until the early 19th century. And before it was a province, Newfoundland was both colony and country; to many here it still has status as a place apart from Canada. Also, it was and is still an agglomeration of disparate communities, strongly aware of difference. As the above account shows, what looks like a history of the book in Newfoundland may become, if one is not careful, a history of the book in St. John’s.

This is even more true with the nation, or - perhaps we should say - notion of Canada. To pretend that the present political entity is somehow a whole seems strange from the Newfoundland perspective. The history of anything to do with Newfoundland culture must be written first from our own perspective, then that of Great Britain and the United States, and other trading partners. Canada was very late on the scene. It makes more sense to compare the sociocultural conditions of 19th-century Minnesota and Manitoba than those of Newfoundland and Alberta. For many aspects of the history of the book in many areas of the country, the real history is taking place elsewhere. For instance, in our example of the book advertisements in 1890, where the publishing interest in Livingstone was created in London, and exported, along with the books, to the colonies. (Even today, even in Canada generally, not just in Newfoundland, one is aware that “our” culture of the book is also to a great degree the culture of the book of the U.S. or Great Britain.)

Despite these problems, we believe there would be value in describing shared problematics in the history of the book. One example: to ask to what extent did reading represent leisure or even wasted time in communities burdened by hard labour on farms or in outports? Where did one find the time, the space, the light to read? Was reading a work of solitude, or were texts read aloud? Was there a community around the book? And what happened in smaller communities as the values of high literacy grew to displace the values of physical labour? Such a history, which begins in the late middle ages, is still being enacted in many places, and Newfoundland is one such place, though it is no longer an issue in urban middle-class North America. Such a history is further complicated by the mass media. Many of our students are drawn to the fantasies of wealth enacted on the television, but their chosen path to these non-book fantasies is, ironically, through two very bookish and old-fashioned institutions, the high school and the university. There is a history currently in the making. Can a history of the book in Canada make sense of some of these persisting themes, to enlighten our present condition?

Works Cited

Note: For some references, we are grateful to Dana Garrick of Toronto, who began work on Newfoundland printing history during a short time in St John’s. In St John’s we thank Joan Ritcey and Anne Hart. We are extremely grateful to Melvin Baker, John FitzGerald, and William Kirwin for reading this essay on quite short notice and for valuable corrections and additions. And, as always, there is the presence of the late George Story.

Alexander, David. “Literacy and Economic Develpment in Nineteenth-Century Newfoundland.” A paper presented at the University of New Brunswick in honour of W.S. McNutt and later published in Acadiensis 10.1 (1980. Typescript in Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University.

Baker, Melvin, and G.M. Story “Book Collectors in Newfoundland: The Case of W.G. Gosling” 83-92 in Eric L. Swanick, ed., “The Book Disease”: Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors. Halifax: Dalhousie University School of Library and Information Studies, 1996.

Cell, Gillian T. English Enterprise in Newfoundland 1577-1660. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.

--, ed. Newfoundland Discovered: English Attempts at Colonisation, 1620-1630. London: Hakluyt Society, 1982.

Churchill, Peter, and Jeff Monk. “Newfoundland Christmas Annuals: A Preliminary Index Guide.” Typescript (copies available from W. Barker and on deposit, Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Library of Memorial University of Newfoundland). St John’s, 1989.

Coughlan, Laurence. An Account of the Word of God in Newfoundland, North-America, in a Series of Letters, to which are Prefixed a Few Choice Experiences; Some of Which were Taken from the Lips of Persons, Who Died Triumphantly in the Faith ... . London: W. Gilbert, 1766. (Web edition:

Davis, Natalie Zemon. “Printing and the People” 189-226 in her Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975.

Devereux, E.J. “Early Printing in Newfoundland” Dalhousie Review 43 (1960) 57-66

Ellison, Suzanne. Historical Directory of Newfoundland and Labrador Newspapers 1807-1987. St John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, 1988.

ENL = Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ed. Joseph R. Smallwood, et al. 5 vols. St John’s: Newfoundland Book Publishers [and others] 1981- 1994. [“Libraries” by Ruth Konrad; “Literacy” by George Corbett; “Printing and Publishing” by Jean Graham]

Feild, Edward. A Charge Delivered to the Clergy of Newfoundland, 25 June, 1866. London: Rivington’s, 1867.

Gosse, Philip Henry. “Philip Henry Gosse’s Account of His Years in Newfoundland, 1827-35,” ed. Ronald Rompkey. Newfoundland Studies 6.2 (1990), 210-66.

Gushue, John. “The Personal Library of John Thomas Mullock, Bishop of Newfoundland: An Incomplete Short-Title List.” Typescript (personal copy of W. Barker). St John’s, 1988.

Handcock, W. Gordon. So Longe as There Comes Noe Women: Origins of English Settlement in Newfoundland. St John’s: Breakwater Books, 1989.

Hannaford, Sandra. “An Analysis of Books Offered for Sale in 1890, as Recorded in The Evening Telegram, St. John’s, Newfoundland.” Honours thesis, Department of English, Memorial University, 1990. (Copies in possession of W. Barker and S. Hannaford)

Harvey, Moses. This Newfoundland of Ours. St John’s: F.W. Bowden, 1878. (O’Dea 871)

Hiller, James, and Peter Neary, ed. Newfoundland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Essays in Interpretation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

Howley, James P. [Selected Reminiscences, ed. William Kirwin and Patrick O’Flaherty, to appear from the Champlain Society, later in 1997]

Matthews, Keith. Lectures on the History of Newfoundland 1500-1830. St John’s: Breakwater Books, 1988.

Neary, Peter, and Patrick O’Flaherty. Part of the Main: An Illustrated History of Newfoundland and Labrador. St John’s: Breakwater Books, 1983.

O’Dea, Agnes, and Anne Alexander. Bibliography of Newfoundland. 2 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1986.

O’Flaherty, Patrick. The Rock Observed: Studies in the Literature of Newfoundland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

Parker, George L. The Beginnings of the Book Trade in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

Pitt, Robert W. “A Politician and His Hobby” 93-8 in Eric L. Swanick, ed., “The Book Disease”: Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors. Halifax: Dalhousie University School of Library and Information Studies, 1996.

Prowse, D.W. A History of Newfoundland, from the English, Colonial, and Foreign Records. London: Macmillan & Co., 1895. [With an interesting bibliography indicating the author’s background reading.]

Rollmann, Hans, and Bonita Power “’Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water’: The First School in Newfoundland” Bulletin of the Humanities Research Association of Canada 17.1 (April 1989) 27-33

Rowe, F.W. A History of Newfoundland and Labrador. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1980.

Rowe, F.W. The Development of Education in Newfoundland. Toronto: Ryerson, 1964.

Spangenberg, Rev. August Gottlieb. An Account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of the Unitas Fratrum or United Brethren Preach the Gospel and carry on their Missions among the Heathen. [Trans. from the German.] London: H. Trapp, for the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel, 1788. (Web edition:

Stabb, Henry Hunt. Apsects of Life, European and Colonial: A Lecture Delivered before the St John’s Athenaeum, March 6, 1865. St John’s: J.W. M’Coubrey, 1865 (O’Dea 706)

Story, G.M., W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. 2nd ed, 1990.

Webber, George. The Last of the Aborigines. A Poem Founded on Facts. In Four Cantos. St John’s: Printed at the Office of the Morning Post, 1851 [One copy, NYPL; O’Dea 560]

Whiteway, Louise. “The Athenaeum Movement: St John’s Athenaeum (1861-1898)” Dalhousie Review 50 (1970-1) 534-9

Williams, Susan. “Images of Newfoundland in Promotional Literature, 1890-1914.” MA, McGill U, 1980.

Woodford, Paul “We Love the Place, O Lord”: A History of the Written Musical Tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador to 1949. St John’s 1988.

William Barker and Sandra Hannaford
Department of English
Memorial University of Newfoundland