Newfoundland Days

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At some point in the early 1840s, Owen Stentiford left his home in Torquay and set sail for Newfoundland. He was a carpenter and like many a young man at this time, he must have seen the place as a fine opportunity - a chance to have a better life than ever could be his in Devon. His parents kept what was then called a "beer house" - not a pub, just their own cottage where by purchasing a simple licence they were allowed to sell any surplus beer that they brewed themselves.

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The river Fleete still ran above ground in Torquay then and along its banks were rows of cottages in what is called Pimlico, where fishermen and their families lived. Here, in the evenings, they must have talked about one of the most important topics of the time - the Newfoundland fishing trade.

Close to Torquay were a number of small ports which to a large extent were totally dependent on a seasonal visit across the Atlantic to fish for cod off the coast of Newfoundland. Each Spring, the fishermen of Kingswear, Dartmouth, Shaldon and Teignmouth sailed off in flotillas of small wooden boats to the ice-bound waters off Newfoundland in search of that most prized catch - cod.

 

Newfoundland Fishermen

Newfoundland Fishermen

 

Fishing stations were established on shore and the men stayed out there throughout the summer, catching all they could. The fish was gutted, split and salted before being left on wooden racks in the clear cold air of Newfoundland to dry out. In the early days of Autumn, the tiny vessels made the return trip to England loaded with dried salt cod - a most welcome addition to the winter dinner tables.

 

Carpenters were highly prized at the fishing stations - if things went smoothly there, the boats could land their catch and get back to the fishing grounds in as short a time as possible. Owen's job would have been to provide and maintain a constant supply of wooden drying racks as the season progressed.

At first, he probably returned with the boats each Autumn but in 1845 he married Harriet Hiscock in Newfoundland and put down roots. Not a good catch so Harriet's family thought, and, family gossip has it, they promptly disowned her. Five of their six children were born there before the family returned to England in 1861.

Cod drying  out Cod drying  out

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005