Profile: Bennett’s Lane Roman Catholic Cemetery

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The Bennett’s Lane Cemetery is the oldest Roman Catholic graveyard in Harbour Grace.

The oldest known gravestone can be traced to 1802, though there were burials here in the late eighteenth century.

Most notably, Father Patrick Phelan is buried at Bennett’s Lane Cemetery, Harbour Grace. Phelan, a Franciscan or Friar Minor, headed the Harbour Grace mission under Bishop James O’Donel (O’Donnell), travelling around Conception Bay to deliver mass to its Catholics. Although the date of his arrival is unknown, Phelan was in Harbour Grace by 1794, making two visitations to his parish annually. In September 1799, Phelan drowned off Grates Cove, his boat capsizing along with its crew. Phelan’s body was recovered and interned at the only Catholic graveyard in Harbour Grace. Rev. Thomas Ewer (Yore), who oversaw the construction of Harbour Grace’s first church – a wooden structure with a 100-foot steeple – was also said to be buried at Bennett’s Lane Cemetery in 1833. By 1856, the graveyard was no longer used.

On January 10, 2006, the Bennett’s Lane Roman Catholic Cemetery was designated a Municipal Heritage Site by the Town of Harbour Grace.

With headstones almost completely eroded by time and weather, this ancient burial ground still commands respect and an air of reverence. Huge markers reveal weathered, elaborate homages to those interred in the cemetery grounds, but today they stand precariously among the uneven ground. The size of the headstones and their shapes and designs reveal the importance placed on this cemetery by the Roman Catholic community of nineteenth century.


In recent years, this graveyard has garnered interest, due to mysterious skull-and-crossbones iconography on a tom

bstone. In 2013 the Knights of Columbus Dalton Council No. 1448 rediscovered this grave during a cleanup of the site. Though there are many theories about its origins, nothing has been proven conclusively. In all likelihood, the grave holds a young child, possibly a cholera victim. The lamb iconography probably symbolizes a young victim, the skull-and-crossbones signifying some form of infectious hazard.

The most popular, contentious theory is that the gravesite is a “pirate’s grave,” the final resting place of nineteenth-century pirate John Keating, of Harbour Grace. Local historian Jack Fitzgerald popularized this story his books Treasure Island Revisited (2005) and Remarkable Stories of Newfoundland (2010). A Telegram article details Fitzgerald’s theory:

The identity of the remains in a grave at Harbour Grace displaying the pirate’s skull and crossbones might never be known, but there is a possibility that it’s the resting place of Capt. John Keating.

He is the most internationally famous of all Newfoundland pirates.

Keating was born in Harbour Grace in 1808 and died at St. John’s in 1882.

While two sons of Harbour Grace are mentioned in the many books on “The Lost Treasure of Lima” — also known as “The Cocos Island Treasure” — Keating is the one who found the treasure in 1841 and again in 1845.

The treasure was originally pirated in 1821 by Capt. William Thompson from the port of Callao, Peru, and buried on Cocos Island.

The second person was Capt. Nick Fitzgerald from Riverhead, Harbour Grace.

He was given the map by Keating (about 25 years later), and after Keating’s death, made a deal with adventurer Herve Montmorency to give him the map in return for five per cent of the treasure.

At today’s value, the treasure is estimated to be worth $350 million.

Of the two Harbour Grace natives, the one most likely to have a grave marked with the sign of a pirate is Keating.

After finding the treasure and returning to St. John’s — twice — with parts of the hidden Lima treasure, Keating bragged about his success so much that towns-people nick-named him “Keating of the Cocos.”

When he first met Fitzgerald, he boasted, “I am known in St. John’s as Keating of the Cocos.”

In fact, Rupert Furneaux, author of “The Great Treasure Hunt,” claimed, “From John Keating has descended the fundamental Cocos Legend which is accepted by all modern Treasure Hunters.”

It was Keating’s successful expedition in 1841 that set off a treasure hunt craze that continues to this day. Nobody goes in search of that treasure without researching Keating.

In 2012, German filmmaker Dr. Ina Knobloch — with whom I worked on earlier documentaries on this treasure — teamed up with a British industrialist on a treasure-hunting expedition.  

The Montmorency Expedition failed and Fitzgerald died in 1905.

I located Fitzgerald’s grave, but had no success in making an absolute finding of Keating’s grave.

Up till now I believed that he was buried with his first wife and child in the family grave at Belvedere in St. John’s. Yet, his name is not on the tombstone, so I cannot be certain he is buried there.

Montmorency published a book on his expedition. It created a sensation here due to the Newfoundland connections.

The Lima treasure was originally stolen by British-born Capt. William Thompson and, after burying it on Cocos Island, he returned several times to retrieve portions of it.

While trying to evade authorities, he crossed over Mexico and ended up in Metanzas, Cuba, where he met Keating. Thompson jumped at the opportunity to join Keating as a crewman on his return to Newfoundland.

In St. John’s, Thompson boarded with Keating’s mother two doors east of Prescott Street. Keating and the pirate soon became friends.

They turned to Capt. Billy Boig, whose residence was on George Street, to plan a major expedition to retrieve all the treasure. This expedition ran into problems, Thompson died and Boig was murdered. Keating found the treasure, did not tell the crew, and took as much as he could carry back to Newfoundland.

Keating displayed during his lifetime the kind of ego that would prompt him to immortalize his connection to one of the world’s greatest pirate stories with a skull and crossbones marking his grave.

After Fitzgerald’s article and the cleanup, interest in the graveyard spiked for locals and tourists alike.

From 1993-95, a group of students recorded the 42 graves for posterity. The listing can be viewed here. Alternatively, Newfoundland Grand Banks has an active database of the Bennett’s Lane Cemetery records.

— Republished from

Harbour Grace Notebook: July


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1 July 1851: First Presentation Sisters arrive in Harbour Grace.

1 July 1867: Cornerstone laid on Masonic Lodge by A.W. McKay. Still standing, the Lodge is the oldest in Newfoundland and the oldest wooden Masonic Lodge in Canada. More info: Heritage Foundation of NL.

4 July 1840: Bishop Aubrey Spencer officially consecrates St. Paul’s Church. More info: St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

4 July 1919: Handley Page Atlantic leaves Harbour Grace. More info: “Great Atlantic Air Race: Admiral Kerr in Harbour Grace,” by Dr. Lisa M. Daly.

5 July 1932: Century of Progress aircraft, piloted by Jimmy Matern and Bennett Griffin, arrives in Harbour Grace; leaves for Berlin, Germany, the same day

5 July 1919: Handley Page Atlantic forced to crash land at Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, after leaving Harbour Grace; the crew repaired the plane over the summer. “Great Atlantic Air Race: Admiral Kerr in Harbour Grace,” by Dr. Lisa M. Daly.

Handley Page Atlantic crashes at Parsboro, NS

Handley Page Atlantic crashes at Parrsboro, NS

6 July 1829: Governor Sir Thomas Cochrane visits Harbour Grace to select a site for the new courthouse. He chooses the site where the courthouse is today. There is some suggestion that the courthouse should be built further west on Harvey St. More info: Harbour Grace Courthouse.

7 July 1860: Harbour Grace Volunteer Regiment forms. To approve the volunteer militia, a letter is sent to Magistrate Robert John Pinsent and signed by Captain John Hayward; Lieut. Henry T. Moore, and Robert Stewart Munn. The Regiment drilled at the Parade Grounds, near Military Rd, when weather permits, or at the Barracks. Rifle practice took place west of Target Hill, near Lady Lake.

9 July 1837: St. Paul’s Church officially opens its doors. More info: St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

9 July 1860: Magistrate Robert John Pinsent sends letter allowing the formation of the Regiment and use of the Barracks. Sergeant Lucas Fallon, chief of police, is tasked with drilling the regiment.

Sergeant Lucas Fallon

Sergeant Lucas Fallon, 1817-1879

11 July 1883: Robert Crocker Bray, Samuel Comer Bray, and Ellen Coombs murdered at the Bray residence, near Church Path/Church Hill (Cochrane St). Bray’s plantation labourers, Peter Downing and Patrick Malone, are arrested for the killings. More info: Archival MomentsGibbet Hill: Unfinished Justice by Patrick J. Collins.

13 July 1863: John March, future Bishop of Harbour Grace Diocese, born in Northern Bay. More info: Newfoundland Grand Banks.

13 July 1931: Justice for Hungary aircraft, piloted by Gyorgy Endresz and Alex Magyar, arrives in Harbour Grace.

14 July 1883: Funerals held for Robert Crocker Bray, Samuel Comer Bray and Ellen Coombs. More info: Archival MomentsGibbet Hill: Unfinished Justice by Patrick J. Collins.

15 July 1931: Justice for Hungary aircraft leaves for Budapest, Hungary

16 July 1826: King grants Sir Henry Pynn his royal license and permission to wear the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Royal Portuguese Army.

17 July 1799: George Gordon Cawley, a Newfoundland Regiment officer stationed in Harbour Grace, dies. His gravesite in St. Paul’s Anglican cemetery, Harbour Grace, is the oldest known gravesite of a Newfoundland Regiment officer. More info: St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

George Gordon Cawley

Gravesite of Lieut. George Gordon Cawley

20 July 1879: Tender posted in the Harbour Grace Standard: “The Building Committee of the Benevolent Irish Society will receive sealed tenders until Saturday, 28th instant, at noon, from persons wishing to contract for the erection of St. Patrick’s Hall. Plan and specifications can be seen on the application to the application to the Chairman. The Committee do not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any tender. Michael J. Jones, Chairman, Building Comittee.” St. Patrick’s Hall would be constructed near the bottom of Kingswell Lane, directly to the west.

“Movies were held at St. Patrick’s Hall in the town. Those were the days of the silents, in the early decades of the century. The feature pictures were usually western thrillers, but for many of the happy patrons, especially the youth, the main attraction was Charlie Chaplin. The admission was 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for other – and others tended to be legion!” – R.J. Connelly

22 July 1862: First Regatta held at Lady Lake (or Lady Pond), Harbour Grace.

25 July 1927: Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company, a 21-person committee, formed at the Town Hall.

25 July 1929: Bluenose aircraft, piloted by Vernon Darrell, arrives in Harbour Grace on a pleasure cruise.

27 July 1844: Dr. Edward Feild, lord bishop of the Church of England diocese, arrives at Harbour Grace in the packet Victoria. He preaches to a crowded congregation in St. Paul’s Church on the following morning (Sunday), and in the afternoon proceeds to Carbonear, returning to Harbour Grace for evening service. He raises 70 pounds for the Parsonage House soon to be erected in the parish.

27 July 1853: Work begins on the first public wharf in Harbour Grace, at the bottom of Victoria St.

27 July 1929: Bluenose leaves Harbour Grace for Sydney, Nova Scotia.

28 July 1904: Cornerstone laid for fourth Methodist church of Harbour Grace.

29 July 1933: “Bellanca aircraft,” piloted by George Pond, arrives in Harbour Grace.

29 July 1867: Letter in the Harbour Grace Standard: “I see by the ‘Supply’ Act of 1867 that the Legislature granted the sum of $6,000 for the erection of a Customs House in Harbour Grace. It is high time that the said building be commenced – even supposing a piece of land for the site thereof had to be purchased, the above handsome grant would be quite sufficient therefore, and for the erection of the building. If this not be done, we may well fear that the present contracted old crumbling apology for a Custom House will, before long, fall down…” More info: About Us: Customs House.

30 July 1934: “Pleasure cruise aircraft,” piloted by Paul Beso, arrives in Harbour Grace.

30 July 1846: Sir Thomas Roddick born at Harbour Grace, son of John Irving Roddick and Emma Jane Martin. More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Harbour Grace Notebook: June

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1 June 1854: Death of Thomas Danson, a leading merchant and senior police magistrate in Harbour Grace.

1 June 1865: Bishop John Dalton’s pastoral letter grants Roman Catholic fisherman to fish on August 15, the date of the Feast of the Assumption, provided they gave the proceeds of their day’s catch to the Church. This ruling is the first known example of this practice, which still survives in some Newfoundland communities. More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

2 June 1850: Work begins on widening Noad St, Victoria St, Bannerman St, LeMarchant St, Cochrane St, and Cathedral St.

3 June 1831: Public Ledger reports of a “riot” in Harbour Grace the previous May. Fisherman are owed shares and wages from the firm of Hugh William Danson, now declared insolvent. Fisherman “forcibly possess[] and roll[] upwards of a hundred casks of oil into the street” and threaten to destroy them. The men are eventually paid.

4 June 1614: Henry Mainwaring takes 10,000 pounds of fish from a French ship at Harbour Grace and “some company of many ships did run away unto them.” More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

5 June 1844: Another fire in Harbour Grace, started in the house of a man named Finn. Eight widows with orphan children are left penniless.

6 June 1880: John Shannon Munn born in Harbour Grace. More info: Profile: John Shannon Munn, 1880-1918.

6 June 1880: Father Diomede Falconio lays cornerstone for the Total Abstinence Hall.

7 June 1891: Bishop Ron McDonald confirms 72 people at Riverhead.

8 June 1878: Harbour Grace branch of British and Foreign Bible society formed in Harbour Grace.

12 June 1928: Columbia aircraft arrives in Harbour Grace, piloted by Oliver Colin LeBoutillier, Arthur Argles and Broadway socialite Mabel Boll. More info: “The Columbia N.X. 237 in Newfoundland,” by Dr. Lisa M. Daly.

13 June 1929: New school building opens in Riverhead.

17 June 1928: Amelia Earhart leaves Trepassey and arrives in Burry Point, Wales, as passenger in the aircraft Friendship. She becomes the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic.

17 June 1905: Sir Richard Squires marries Helena Emiline Strong at Little Bay Islands. More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

20 June 1928: Columbia aircraft leaves Harbour Grace for New York, USA.

22 June 1807: Agreement signed among Conception Bay merchant firms to finance the first Courthouse, a wooden building located just southwest of the present day stone building.

22 June 1931: Liberty aircraft, piloted by Holger Horiis and Otto Hillig, arrives in Harbour Grace.

23 June 1931: Winnie Mae aircraft, piloted by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty, leaves Harbour Grace for Berlin, Germany.

24 June 1931: Liberty aircraft leaves for Copenhagen, Denmark.

25 June 1850: Rev. William E. Stenstone lays cornerstone for the new Methodist church (third official Methodist chuch in Harbour Grace).

25 June 1930: Southern Cross aircraft arrives in Harbour Grace from Dublin, Ireland. The plane leaves at 5:30 p.m. for New York, USA.

27 June 1872: Star newspaper first published in Harbour Grace.

28 June 1934: Warsaw aircraft, piloted by the Adamowicz brothers, arrives in Harbour Grace.

29 June 1934: Warsaw aircraft leaves Harbour Grace for Warsaw, Poland.

Harbour Grace Notebook: December


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2 Dec. 1779: Rev. James Balfour, Anglican minister at Harbour Grace, writes to Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG): “A raging Famine, Nakedness, & Sickness in these parts. None can experience the heartfelt woe of Women & Children mourning for want of Food.” More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

2 Dec. 1904: Enrico Carafagnini dies in his hometown of Aversa, Italy, while visiting his nephew. More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

7 Dec. 1852: Rutherfords open a spacious new shop.

8 Dec. 1868: Immaculate Conception Cathedral dedicated.

16 Dec. 1868: British Hall on Victoria St opened.

17 Dec. 1894: Robert Stewart Munn dies at Harbour Grace. The death of Robert S. Munn marked the end of an era in the Newfoundland fishery. His estate was declared insolvent and John Munn and Co. went bankrupt in short order. In spring 1895, the firm’s sealing fleet was sold to pay off his creditors, ending the Conception Bay seal hunt. More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

19 Dec. 1766: Laurence Coughlan appears before the SPG and presents a petition from the people of Harbour Grace and vicinity, asking that he be appointed the Society’s missionary and given an annual stipend. By that date he had already resided “some time” among the people as “their Minister.” More info: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

22 Dec. 1858: The Annual Examination of the Harbour Grace Grammar School takes place. The following prizes are awarded: “For general Excellence Throughout the past year: First Prize to Douglas BROWN; Second prize to T.G. RODDICK; Third prize to Michael DWYER. For Writing: First prize to Douglas BROWN; Second prize to James FOLEY; Third prize to Philip BROWN; Fourth prize to Selby DOW. For Regular Attendance: First prize to Robt. LAWRENCE; Second prize to Michael DWYER; Third prize to William BADCOCK.” More info: Profile: Harbour Grace Grammar School 1845-1902.

26 Dec. 1883: A sectarian riot occurs between Orangemen of Courages Beach and the Roman Catholics of Riverhead. This riot later became known as “The Harbour Grace Affray.”

31 Dec. 1841: A meeting is held at Harbour Grace with John Munn as Chairman, making a strong effort to establish a Steamboat Packet between Harbour Grace and Carbonear, to make daily trips to Portugal Cove.

Photo of the Day: Greyhurst, ca. 1910


Pictured: The Greyhurst property, ca. 1910. The home of Dr. William Allan, the Greyhurst was located just directly east of Doctors Lane, a small route connecting Water St and Harvey St, next to the Aero Tennis Club – Newfoundland’s oldest. The lane was presumably named for its proximity to Allan’s home (or, alternatively, to the nearby property of Dr. William Archibald Stirling).

The Soper family purchased the home in the 1954, constructing a service station on Harvey St, directly behind the property. The house was torn down in 1955.

Photo courtesy MUN’s Digital Archives Initiative – Geography Collection.

Photo of the Day: Constructing Coughlan United, 1949


Pictured: The construction of Coughlan United Church on Water St East, Harbour Grace, 1949.  On August 17, 1944, its predecessor burned during the third ‘Great Fire’ of Harbour Grace. This new church would be the fifth Methodist institution in the town’s history. Rev. Walter H. Macabe opened and dedicated the present-day Coughlan United Church on August 29, 1950. More than 1,000 people, including visitors from St. John’s, attended the opening service.

The cemetery in the foreground holds the grave of Rev. William Ellis, the first British Methodist missionary to be buried in Newfoundland. The community of Elliston (formerly Bird Island Cove) takes its name from the Reverend. Nearby, rumours have it Easton buried men killed during a Basque raid in an unmarked mass grave.

Photo courtesy MUN Digitial Archives Initiative / Canada United Church.