The Prince, the merchant and the Pegasus at Little St. Lawrence

In 2006 a heritage inventory survey was conducted on the Burin Peninsula. Prior to this project just 19 archaeological sites had been registered on the peninsula and only four archaeologists had conducted work there. The heritage inventory survey added another 11 registered sites to the total for the Peninsula.

The heritage inventory was conducted over a 6 week period in 19 Burin Peninsula communities. More than 1200 local individuals and heritage groups were interviewed by the project archaeologist and five local students were hired as assistants. Based on the recommendations contained in the 2006 heritage inventory report five Burin Peninsula areas were seen as having elevated archaeological potential. Three of the areas were in Little St. Lawrence, one was in Burin and one in Little Mortier Bay. In 2007 a colleague and I conducted a small survey following up on some of the higher potential areas as indicated by the heritage inventory survey. This post focuses on a portion of Little St. Lawrence.

Little St. Lawrence was likely used by Basques fisherman as early as 1597 and is a known site of an early French fishing station from 1640:
Went to Little St. Lawrence which is a good harbour; and good for Codfishing, but no Salmon, there is very little woods in those parts… There ffishes one planter, who hath not taken the Oath, he caught the last year about 280 Quintls of ffish p boat, there are Two ffishg Roomes. for Ships, which is all fflakes (Taverner 1718:230v). (Penney 2011)

Part of our focus in Little St. Lawrence was on the eastern shoreline of the harbour and a small island connected to the mainland via a tombolo beach. According to the 2006 heritage inventory survey this area contained the remains of both a fortification and a historic whaling facility. While we found no evidence of either of those structures, this island does contain an extensive European occupation including what we believed were several cellar pits and the outline of several buildings along the shoreline.

A view of the area we focused on in Little St. Lawrence
A view of the area we focused on in Little St. Lawrence (Barnable)

We did a small amount of testing in and around some of the features and found a few artifacts confirming the European occupation.

We were pleased with what this site revealed and believed it had research potential. In 2009 we got a much better picture of the research potential when Gerald Penney Associates Limited conducted an historic resources impact assessment for a mining company on the Burin Peninsula. In searching through the history of the area they came to the conclusion that our Little St. Lawrence site was a trading premises built by Newman and Company, an England/St. John’s-based fishery and supply firm, in 1784. The company operated in the area until 1810. During their research for the area’s history they found out that the HMS Pegasus visited the area in 1786. J.S. Meres, a member of the Pegasus crew, made several sketches of the area, one of which was titled “A view of Little St. Lawrence Harbour”. The perspective of the Meres painting appears to be looking directly at the Newman and Company trading premises. We can easily line up several of the features we found with several of the buildings in the paintings.

Turpins Is 1786
‘A view of Little St. Lawrence Harbour’ by J.S. Meres

The Meres painting was preserved in the HMS Pegasus log book. During the summer of 1786, the 28-gun frigate visited Trepassey, Great and Little St. Lawrence, Placentia, and St. John’s. J.S. Meres was her navigator and keeper of the log book. This 1786 voyage was the first for Prince William Henry, the future King William IV of England, as a ship’s captain. He was appointed to the position by his father King George III. Upon his appointment the Prince wrote to his brother:
I have just received information of the plan proposed for me. I am to spend this summer on the Newfoundland station, the winter in the West Indies, to windward: the following summer in Nova Scotia & Canada, & then proceed to Jamaica for the next winter, & the remainder of the three years is to be spent on the different West Indian Stations.

Prince William Henry
Prince William Henry

The Prince spent four days in July of 1786 in Little St. Lawrence, which, in a letter to the King, he judged “as far more preferable to that [country] we left to the eastward.” “The Guernsey and Jersey people”, he writes, “are settled in these parts & are peaceable & well behaved.” On 17 July he left for the 19 miles distant Placentia. (Rollman)

The town may be called Little St. Lawrence but it certainly has a big history.

BARNABLE, Stuart 2006 Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory.

PENNEY, Gerald 2009 Report HRIA (Stage 1) Canada Fluorspar Inc. St. Lawrence, NL.

PENNEY, Gerald 2011 Burin Peninsula – Indicated Historic Resource Potential.

ROLLMAN, Hans Prince William Henry In Newfoundland.


25 thoughts on “The Prince, the merchant and the Pegasus at Little St. Lawrence

  1. You may want to check out the account of Master Mariner Richard Clarke of his shipwreck at Little St. Lawrenc in 1584.
    St. Lawrence was named by his group of shipwrecked sailors who came to the New Found Land in 1583 with Sir Humphrey Gilbert. During the expedition their vessel, “HMS Delight”, sank off Sable Island. Sixteen of her crew drifted in a lifeboat for 7 days before coming ashore on the South Coast. Clarke does mention that there were Basques fishing in the area but he does not mention any “settlement” by Basques whatsoever. Such settlement is extremely unlikely; given the British attitude toward non-British people at the time; that continued until the 1800’s.

    1. Yes, thank-you. I saw two signs while in the area that each told that story but with different numbers. Shamefully, I will admit, that I dismissed the signs as locals trying to make something of old stories. I am happy I was wrong that there is some truth to them. Do you have a particular reference for the Clarke story?

      1. “Richard Clarke’s Account of the Casting Away of the Delight”(1584) In David B.Quinn ed The Voyages and Colonising Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Vol1. London Hakluyt Society, 1940,423-26

  2. I am also skeptical about the Prince’s alleged assertion that the “locals” were from the Channel Islands. I took the liberty of checking the database in both places and not one surname in the Channel Islands matched surnames from the Burin Peninsula area. Unless the population changed drastically since 1786; this is a rather inaccurate statement. Perhaps he encountered one person from the Channel Islands; but I even have my doubts about that. The population in the Burin Peninsula area like the population of the remainder of the island of Newfoundland is mainly from England (the majority of the English are from the West Country) and Ireland.
    A database of local Burin Peninsula surnames can be found at
    As for the veracity of the testimony of locals in the area it is my experience that Newfoundlanders tend to minimize their achievements (to their detriment); not exaggerate them.

    1. You might have the “researcher” for the above article check out the Newman “merchant” records for the company whose premises you are excavating and evaluate the origin of the surnames in the area. it is certainly not the Channel Islands!

      Newman Reference Books, Messrs. Hunt, Rooper Etc, London. Photographed by Booker 4/8/54. Kodak Ltd Recordek Division London Robert Newman Co, Dartmouth, Journal 24 St.Laurence, Newfoundland , Goods Supplied 1788-1789 Copy made on behalf of the Public Archives of Canada,

      Newman Reference Books, Messrs. Hunt, Rooper Etc, London. Photographed by Booker 4/8/54. Kodak Ltd Recordek Division London Robert Newman Co, Dartmouth, St. Laurence, Newfoundland , Cashbook 1800-1801 Microfilm #57A Copy made on behalf of the Public Archives of Canada.

      He or she may want to check this out as well.

  3. Just looked at your sources and guess that the Prince must have been misquoted. Perhaps he was referring to the nearby islands of St.Pierre and Miquelon which had just been given to the French or to Canada which had just come under British control after being under French control.

  4. The British authorities did not even want British settlement in Newfoundland; let alone foreign settlement. If you read some of the sources (the colonial records for instance) you will get a very clear message that the fishery was meant to be reserved for the exclusive use of the British ship fishery (the seasonal fishery from England). Sir Hugh Pallisar, (Governor and Commander-in- Chief at Newfoundland from 1764-1768 was a great enforcer of this policy.

  5. The British were not interested in having their nationals settle in Newfoundland as they wanted to reserve the lucrative Newfoundland Grand Banks fishery for the exclusive use of the ship fishery run by located in the West Country of England. They did not want competition from Newfoundlanders. However many British (English and later also Irish) people settled in Newfoundland despite the British discouragement of any such settlement. Settlers were motivated by a drastic raise in their standard of living. Progress is always a powerful draw.

  6. For Newfoundlanders searching for the roots of their surnames the Keith Matthews Name Files 1500-1850 ( research into Newfoundland names) is available at Memorial University’s Maritime History Department in St.John’s. Matthews is one of the established authorities on Newfoundland names. It is better to get our information from our authoritative sources rather than to rely on foreign interpretations that frequently don’t seem to be very accurate,

  7. As a history major I can read this material for hours without coming up for air. Thanks for arousing my curiousity about this period of our history. Just found and read a paper by Professor Keith Matthews that asserts that British authorities were not against the settlement of Newfoundland as much as was thought; other than during the period exemplified by Governor Hugh Pallisar. Gotta “love” the man!,d.d24

    Sorry for the long address but a download of Professor Matthew’s paper “Historical Fence Building: A Critique of the Historigraphy of Newfoundland” is available at the website address.

  8. You are welcome.Found the link in the Newfoundland Grand Banks Heritage website when I was looking for something else (as usual). should read “People wanting to follow up”…..

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