Reading & Talk: William Thoresby and the Families of Harbour Grace, 1796-8, by Alan Cass
Date: Thursday, May 2, 2019
Location: War Memorial Public Library, Harbour Grace, NL
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Reading & Talk: William Thoresby and the Families of Harbour Grace, 1796-8, by Alan Cass
Date: Thursday, May 2, 2019
Location: War Memorial Public Library, Harbour Grace, NL
Time: 7:30 p.m.
1 Apr. 1888: St. Paul’s Hall opens on Harvey St, at the head of LeMarchant St.
7 Apr. 1913: SS Kyle completed in Newcastle, England.
7 Apr. 1806: Dr. John Stirling dies at Harbour Grace, aged 32. Dr. William Archibald Stirling, possibly his cousin or brother, replaces him in 1808-10.
7 Apr. 1877: Harbor Grace Standard advertisement: “A large quantity of ice, in Arthur Thomey’s ice-house at Mosquito. Also, from this date until the end of September, bait of different kinds is easily obtainable at Mosquito. The opportunity is a good one for masters of Bankers, both of Newfoundland and American, to obtain a good supply of these two indispensable articles for successfully prosecuting the Bank fishery.”
12 Apr. 1908: First service at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Harbour Grace South.
12 Apr. 1858: A fire breaks out in Harbour Grace, often considered the second “great fire” in the town. The principal downtown trading quarter, between LeMarchant St and Victoria St, is reduced to ashes, and some 50 families are deprived of their trade or business, most of them being shopkeepers, tradesmen, or planters. Several persons have some small portion of their stock insured, but many are not able to pay their debts. More info: Toussaint’s Fire, 1858.
14 April 1858: Meeting held at the Temperance Hall to petition the House of Asssembly to aid the sufferers of the calamitous Toussaint’s Fire of April 1858.
17 Apr. 1912: Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd and the Reid Newfoundland Company sign an agreement, which foresees the construction of the SS Kyle.
17 Apr. 1913: SS Kyle launches; leaves Newcastle.
22 Apr. 1770: Birth of Rev. Lewis Amadeus Anspach in Geneva, Switzerland, son of Jean-Louis Anspach and Jeanne-Marie Audibert.
25 Apr. 1766: Laurence Coughlan is made deacon.
25 Apr. 1855: Sir Henry Pynn dies in London, England. A former man of property in Harbour Grace, Pynn fought in the 1798 Irish Rebellion with the South Devon Militia and afterwards in the Peninsular War (Napoleonic Wars). Pynn was present at the Battle of Roliça, the Battle of Vimeiro, the Battle of Buçaco, and the seige of Badajoz, where he held a Portuguese regiment under Lord Hill. Pynn also engaged in various battles in the Pyrenees, where he was wounded. He was knighted in 1815, the first native-born Newfoundlander to receive the honour. In later years he invested heavily in the railway on the European continent.
26 Apr. 1766: Laurence Coughlan is “licensed to perform the ministerial office in the province of Newfoundland” under the auspices of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel.
27 Apr. 1766: Laurence Coughlan is ordained a priest.
28 Apr. 1845: Ridley & Sons open a dry goods store on Water St. The store features a large stock of British manufactured goods.
29 Apr. 1834: Hundreds of sealers cut down Peter Downing (Downey) from Gibbet Hill, Harbour Grace. The men bring Downing’s remains to Dr. William Stirling, the local magistrate. A note is attached to the corpse:
Dr. S. This is your man you were the cause of bringing him here take and bury him or Look Out should you be the cause of allowing him to be put up again we will mark you for it, so do your duty and get him out of sight.
Truly a friend,
Stirling orders the body buried on the grounds of the courthouse. More info: Gibbet Hill: Unfinished Justice by Patrick J. Collins.
Born in 1881, Althelstan Lockyer Collis lost his father at a young age and moved back to Trouty, Trinity Bay, with his mother’s family, the Lockyers. Despite his severe tunnel vision—the condition was “like looking down a lead pencil,” in the words of his grandson Alastair—Althelstan went to Montreal for five years to study voice, piano and organ as young man. “He was a baritone, like [Luciano] Pavarotti,” says Alastair.
In 1910 he moved to Harbour Grace, where he repaired and tuned pianos out of his home on LeMarchant Street. Owning to Harbour Grace’s public infrastructure—the town had water and sewer 50 years before the capital—Althelstan felt Harbour Grace was the place to establish his music business. Athelstan was mobile, though, travelling around the island repairing pianos for extended periods each year.
His near-blindness didn’t hamper his work, however. In the Harbour Grace issue of Decks Awash (1982), Alastair recounts a story Athelstan’s friend Max King often told:
Max was a boy when grandfather arrived in Trouty, Trinity Bay. Max’s mother told him to ‘bring Mr. Collis to the church,’ where Max left him to repair the organ. Later, after supper, Max returned, but the church was in darkness. Groping his way up the aisle, he saw in the moonlight the organ in pieces all over the floor. Grandfather told Max to come back in two hours. Max rushed home and reported, ‘Mother, that man can’t see. He’s up there and there’s no lights on. I don’t know what’s going on!’ However, when Max did return the organ was back together and grandfather was happily playing it—still in the dark.
Athelstan married Mary Parsons, of Harbour Grace, and the pair had three children. Born in 1918, their son James Leslie followed in his father’s footsteps, cultivating a love of music at an early age. At four, he began music lessons under the tutelage of Flora Parsons, a student of Sister Loretta Croake. Croake was a strong supporter of Leslie’s musical gifts and influenced his career pursuit of music. In his teens, Leslie sat the exams for Junior, Senior and Higher Local at Trinity College and won first place at both the Junior and Higher Local levels.
For years, the father and son duo travelled Newfoundland tuning and repairing pianos. Time appears to have little meaning: If they finished in one town late Thursday, then they stayed until Sunday, just so that Athelstan could sing in the church choir while Leslie played the organ. According to Alistair, the family owed this sense of ease to Athelstan: “Once, when Leslie was concerned least they miss the next boat, grandfather Collis commented, ‘Don’t worry, son, if we miss it, there’s another in two weeks.'”
Athelstan died in 1940 and Leslie inherited the travelling business. However, Leslie almost met his own end in 1942, when he was badly burned in a fire and required 45 skin grafts on his legs. Fearing he might not walk again, Leslie convalesced in a St. John’s ward for three months. Returning to Harbour Grace, he found his house burnt. Even his girlfriend had deserted him. Undeterred, Leslie began his slow recovery, learning to use his hands and legs again. He began dating Lillian Martin, a nursing trainee whom he met at the hospital in St. John’s. Lillian came from Coley’s Point, in nearby Bay Roberts. The two were married in 1943.
Soon after, Leslie embarked on an ambitious plan to expand the family piano business. He acquired an old, three-story Water Street property, which luckily had survived the great Harbour Grace fire of 1944. The building housed a piano showroom on the ground floor and a repair and finishing shop above. Later, an extension was built behind the original structure; the building even featured a small railway to transport pianos around the shop.
In 1954 Leslie and Lillian moved to St. John’s, where the expanded operations. In 1962 a new showroom and workshop opened on 556 Topsail Rd, where the business is still based today. Eventually, A.L. Collis had seven stores across the island.
Despite his new workshops, Leslie continued his tuning and travelling, now with a new companion, his son Alastair, who joined the business in 1976. “‘Collis’—he always called me ‘Collis’—‘no matter what it is, if it’s one piano in Fogo or Burgeo, whatever it is, you’ve gotta go do it.’ That was the key to business really,” his son recalls in a Telegram profile. His love of music continued, too. He played for Tony Bennett and Celine Dion, and even tuned Bob Hope’s piano in Botwood in 1943.
Leslie died in March 1982, when Alistair was in Japan. Alistair continues to operate the business on 556 Topsail Rd. While A.L Collis and Son’s Harbour Grace piano factory closed in 2001, the building remains, a memory of the town’s tall and narrow downtown architecture before the 1944 fire. No longer building the pianos, due to competition from the Asian market, A.L. Collis and Son focuses on their earlier trade, tuning and repair.
One interesting, recent restoration is the Wurlitzer Baby Grand piano formerly housed at the U.S. Naval base in Argentia. In 1943 A.L. Collis and Son built 17 pianos—five grand, six baby grand and six upright models—for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army at their Harbour Grace location. Though the Wurlitzer had deteriorated severely, Alastair repaired the piano because of its sentimentality and heritage value. Today, the piano is located at the CFS St. John’s. According to the Telegram, “no piano in this province has gotten more play in its day,” with such luminaries as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, Vera Lynn and Jayne Mansfield playing its keys.
“Carrying on in the Collis Tradition.” Decks Awash, vol. 11, no. 2, November-December 1982, pp. 22-24.
MacEachern, Daniel. “Piano man.” The Telegram [St. John’s], 6 August 2013. https://www.thetelegram.com/business/piano-man-133069/. Accessed 22 April 2019.
Whiffen, Glen. “Baby grand once played by celebrities visiting Argentia now has a new home at CFS St. John’s.” The Telegram [St. John’s], 3 October 2017. https://www.cbncompass.ca/news/local/baby-grand-once-played-by-celebrities-visiting-argentia-has-new-home-at-cfs-st-johns-153607/.
“James Leslie Collis.” Kiwanis Music Festival of St. John’s. https://www.kiwanismusicfestivalsj.org/hall_collis.html. Accessed 22 April 2019.
For years this coat of arms hung above the magistrate’s desk at the Harbour Grace Courthouse, before the building closed in 2015. Much of what we know of its history comes from W.W. French, a former jailer.
According to French, James Clancy (or John Alexander Clance) painted the coat of arms in 1850. A writer, painter and musician, Clancy was said to have escaped some trouble in Ireland. What “trouble” is unknown, for the reticent Clancy “brooked no question as to his condition.” However, one can speculate about his well educated origins and “gentlemanly bearing”: rumours were that Clancy had left a great European university, where he mastered various languages, namely Latin and Greek. Clancy was an imposing figure, often walking around town with a black frock coat, beaver hat, and a high, stiff collar with a large tie. For years he was keeper of Rogerson’s Farm, on the south side of Lady Lake, and lived in poverty; despite his condition, he accepted no charity.
Clancy out his later years in relative obscurity. On January 20, 1865, he was found dead in the eastern house of the range, commonly known as the Great Eastern, at the southeast corner of Harvey St and Kerry Lane, Harbour Grace.
The coat of arms is the standard iconography of the United Kingdom and its monarchy. The French script around the Royal Coat of Arms is the motto of the chivalric Order of the Garter: “Honor soit qui mal y pense”–“May he be shamed who thinks badly of it.” To the left is the English lion; to the right, the Scottish unicorn. The coat of arms is quartered: in the first and fourth quarters are the three guardian lions of England; in the second, the rampant lion of Scotland; and in the third, a celtic harp for Ireland.
“Early Institutions.” Decks Awash, vol. 11, no. 2, November-December 1982, p. 10.
Connelly, R.J. The Story of Harbor Grace, 1981.
William Carson, a Harbour Grace contractor, constructed this building on Bannerman St around the turn of the last century, at a cost of $8,000. First slated to be built on Water St, this new public building housed the offices of various civic organizations and government departments. The fire brigade used the right tower to hang and dry hoses.
The structure was practically torn down in 1943, and the remaining materials were recycled to construct the present-day Firemen’s Social Building on the same foundation.
Do you have to any information on the old Fire Hall & Public Building on Bannerman St, Harbour Grace? Contact us!
On April 12, 1858, a fire broke out in Harbour Grace, often considered the second “great fire” in the town. The principal downtown trading quarter, between LeMarchant St and Victoria St, was reduced to ashes, and some 50 families were deprived of their trade or business, most of them being shopkeepers, tradesmen, or planters. Several persons had some small portion of their stock insured, but many were not able to pay their debts.
The fire started at Toussaint’s Hotel about 9 p.m. The fire burned both sides of the street, ending at Punton & Munn’s at midnight. Only three houses survived on the north side of the street: Pike’s, Lynch’s and Jillard’s. One of the three that survived was occupied by Captain Neddy Pike. The house belonged to Sandy Campbell, one time foreman of the firm Danson. Situated at the east corner of Victoria St and Water St, the property outlived the three “great fires” fires of 1832, 1858 and 1944. Later, in the second half of the twentieth century, the old building was taken down to build Sinyard’s Drug Store. In the early twentieth century, the house was known as Dinn Shea’s.
Among the premises notably destroyed in 1858 were Walker’s, Rutherford’s, Ridley’s, Green’s, Allan’s and Drysdale’s. The following list of victims appeared in the press of St. John’s:
South Side of Water Street: Dr. [William] Allan; N. & J. Jillard; Punton & Munn; John Fisher; Captain Munn; Capt. Taylor; James Hippesley; Capt. Drysdale; Rachael Green; Doyle & Hunt; Ridley & Sons; Rutherford Brothers; Capt. John Stevenson; Charles Walker.
North Side of Water Street: Thomas Wolfrey; Richard Lahey; Patrick French; Robert Walsh; James Drysdale ; Mrs. Dixon; Garrett Condon; Matthias O’Neill; Mrs. Gushue; Mrs. Maddox ; Thomas Walsh; Patrick Strapp; John Mullaly; Mrs. Mulloy; John Byrne; T.C. Toussaint; The Misses Prendergast; William Burke; Pierce Maher; Catherine Degan; William Fitzgerald; Mrs. Cooney; Peter Murphy; Mr. Dillon; Mrs. Ronan; Mrs. Finn.
Rear of Water Street: Michael Power; Thomas Candler; William Grubert; Mrs. Brien; Patrick Scanlan ; Mr. Green; Thomas Griffin; Peter Murphy; Mrs. Lahey.
The next day, April 13, at the Temperance Hall, a group assembled to petition the House of Asssembly to aid the sufferers. Names on the roll included William H. Ridley, Henry T. Moores, W. Donnelly, Thomas Higgins, John Richards, Patrick Devereux [sic], James Hippesley [sic], William Grubert, W. Howlett, Joseph Godden, and J.L. Pendergast, the local MHA.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Ferryland native Michael Condon Kearney was in high demand. A genius, self-taught shipbuilder, Kearney had a shipbuilding yard on the south side of St. John’s, where he built many vessels.
In 1848 Kearney came to Harbour Grace and built the Arabella Tarbet for foreign service. John Munn subsequently had Kearney build another ship, the Naomi, after his wife Naomi Munden.
At the foot of Victoria Street in 1851, Kearney constructed the Rothesay, a 313-tonne clipper barque considered his supreme production. The ship took its name from John Munn’s hometown in Scotland. As one poet noted:
“She was a splendid form indeed,
Built for freight and yet for speed,
A beautiful and gallant craft,
Broad in the beam and sloping aft.”
According to W.A. Munn, the Rothesay was “often challenged…but always won.” One such race took place when the Rothesay met Holmwood’s Tasso at Demerara. The Tasso was considered the fastest sailing vessel out of St. John’s. They left Demerara side by side, but soon lost sight of each other; they only caught sight of one another again at Cape Race. The Rothesay was the first to pass Cape Spear on her way to Harbour Grace with flags flying.
Sir William Whiteway even selected the miniature model on which Kearney built the Rothesay for the Newfoundland Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851. Michael Kearney had given it finishing touches with gold and silver that had been mined in Newfoundland for the fastenings of her rudder and hawse pipes. A holiday took place at Harbour Grace when she was launched, and local poets sang the ship’s praises in the papers. Such extracts included:
“The blocks were placed upon the slip,
The keel was laid for a noble ship.”
“He knew the chart of the sailor’s heart,
You see her feel—the thrill is in her keel.”
“Spurning with one foot the ground
With one exalted joyous bound,
She leaped into the ocean’s arms
With all her youth, and all her charms.”
During Michael Kearney’s stay at Harbour Grace, he was superintendent of building four different vessels at one time. John Rorke had the largest sealer: a 260-ton behemoth built at Carbonear, which he christened Thomas Ridley after his old friend and relative. Ridley & Sons had the Brothers built at the Beach premises. William Donnelly had the brig Saint Fillian built at Spaniard’s Bay. Capt. Azariah Munden had the Four Brothers constructed at Brigus.
During this period, over 100 men found constant employment at the Beach premises.
Also, Michael Kearney famously built the wooden ‘beacon light’ in Harbour Grace in 1850.
Near where Peter Easton established fortifications at Harbour Grace, John Guy landed salt on a beach for the pirate admiral. Guy called this beach Colston’s Cove, after his brother-in-law, William Colston, who maintained his plantation at Cuper’s Cove (Cupids) in summer 1611. Guy recorded this encounter in an October journal entry:
That night by sailing and rowing we came to Harbour Grace as far in as the Pirate’s Fort, where the bank ship [the Endeavour] was ready and where we remained until the 7th day of the said month [October] and in time did bring the bank ship ashore and land the salt upon the highest part of the ground and there put it in a round heap and burned it to preserve it. The old junks we left upon the beach; the quantity of salt was about fifteen tons. [Note: Excerpt edited by the author for clarity.]
After Guy, Bristol merchants established a plantation near this same site, under the auspices of Robert Hayman, author of Quodlibets, the first book of English creative writing written in the New World.
In later years, Isaac Bradbury had a fishing stage on Colston’s Cove beach, and the site became known as Bradbury’s Cove. William A. Munn recounts the history of the beach in his seminal “History of Harbour Grace” (1933-39):
We now come to where Isaac Bradbury had his fishing stage, right in front of where we now find the Methodist Church stands at the present time. This property was purchased from the Garland family. The Bradbury family had aristocratic connections in the Old Country, and have always held a high name in Harbour Grace. Bradbury’s Cove is still known by that name, although the fishing stages have vanished long ago. Tradition says that this was originally Colston’s Cove, and this name dates back to 1610 when William Colston was right hand man with our first Governor John Guy…and where the salt was landed in 1612.
1 Mar. 1832: The striking sealers of Harbour Grace and Carbonear post their final notice: the merchants have until March 3 to settle their agreements. More info: Perseverance: The Sealers’ Strike in Harbour Grace & Carbonear, 1832.
3 Mar. 1832: Between 500-600 sealers gathered at William Innott’s pier, on Harbour Grace wharf. The magistrates, with police and specials in tow, could do little to quell the gathering. He reported to the governor that “the noise, uproar, and numbers made any attempt to stop them futile.” The sealers then paraded through the streets, halting in front of each merchant house to call out their agreement. Each merchant agreed to the terms in turn; each agreement was saluted with a cheer and the men moved on. More info: Perseverance: The Sealers’ Strike in Harbour Grace & Carbonear (1832).
4 Mar. 1878: Ernest Sheppard, ferryman and cooper, born in Harbour Grace to John Coryer Sheppard and Janet (Courage) Sheppard. He would later serve with distinction in the South African War as part of Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the South African Constabulary, a British paramilitary. More info: Artifact Profile No. 2: Portrait & Military Discharge Papers of Ernest Sheppard (1878-1955).
4 Mar. 1955: Ernest Sheppard dies at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, St. John’s. He is buried at St. Paul’s Anglican Cemetery, Harbour Grace, with his wife Anne Beatrice (Smith) Sheppard. More info: Artifact Profile No. 2: Portrait & Military Discharge Papers of Ernest Sheppard (1878-1955).
6 Mar. 1852: The St. John’s-Carbonear telegraph line goes into service. To celebrate the inauguration of the line, Frederick Gisborne gives a public lecture to the Mechanics’ Institute at the Old Factory, St. John’s. Many public officials and dignitaries attend the discussion. The telegraph office is situated at the Commercial Building, Duckworth St, and connects to the system linking Harbour Grace and Brigus.
8 Mar. 1810: Charles Davis Garland, planter and judge, dies at Harbour Grace, aged 79. More info: Profile: Charles Davis Garland (1730-1810)
11 Mar. 1852: The Thursday edition of the Newfoundlander discusses the excitement surrounding the new St. John’s-Carbonear telegraph line: “The Electric Telegraph between St. John’s and Conception Bay was put into operation for the first time on last Saturday, and has transmitted several messages from Brigus and Harbour Grace each day this week. Yesterday particularly, the Telegraph Office was the scene of a general attraction throughout the day.”
14 Mar. 1832: The sealers and merchants of Harbour Grace and Carbonear establish peace, their (dis)agreements settled. The fleet leaves for the ice. More info: Perseverance: The Sealers’ Strike in Harbour Grace & Carbonear, 1832.
17 Mar. 1814: First feast of the newly inaugurated Benevolent Irish Society (BIS), Conception Bay Branch, the non-denominational, but largely Roman Catholic, fraternal, charitable organization, held at Harbour Grace. Dr. William Stirling, chairperson–and notably, a Protestant–presides over the occasion. At this same annual dinner in 1832, the St. John’s Evening Telegram reports, “He [Stirling] presided over a lavish dinner that began at 6 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day and lasted until 3 a.m. the following morning. Forty members attended and there were forty-one toasts proposed–one for each member and one extra.”
17 Mar. 1864: Businessman William J. Donnelly dies at Harbour Grace. He is buried in a crypt under the former Cathedral at Harbour Grace along with his wife and three of his children. He is recognized as contributing large sums of money to build and furnish the original Cathedral, as well as a Roman Catholic chapel and school at Spaniard’s Bay. His obituary states: “His career was one of strict integrity, and he left a handsome fortune, the result of a life of steady toil and frugality.” (Note: Donnelly’s body, and the bodies of his family members, were moved in fall 2018 and interned at Harbour Grace’s Roman Catholic Cemetery on Hipsley Rd.)
22 Mar. 1904: Thomas Harrison Ridley dies in London, England.
23 Mar. 1823: Enrico Carfagnini born in Aversa, Italy, to Liborio Carfagnini and Ascenza Ciancarelli.
26 Mar. 1940: Sir Richard A. Squires dies in St. John’s. Born at Harbour Grace in 1880, the only child of Alexander Squires and Sidney Jane Anderson, Squires became two-time Prime Minister of Newfoundland (1919-23; 1928-1932) and possibly its most controversial political figure. More info: Facebook.
29 Mar. 1968: Old Riverhead Post Office shuts its doors; new Post Office opens. More info: Profile: Old Riverhead Post Office, 1916-1968.
30 Mar. 1853: People of Harbour Grace send a petition to the Legislature to construct a sewer on Water Street.
31 Mar. 1984: Harbour Grace Railway Station officially closes.