Newfoundland in transition : the Newfoundland trade and Robert Newman and Company, 1780-1805

Chang, Margaret Ann (1974) Newfoundland in transition : the Newfoundland trade and Robert Newman and Company, 1780-1805. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

Between 1775 and 1805, the Newfoundland fishery changed from being primarily "migratory" - carried on by transients from Britain - to being almost completely "sedentary" - carried on by permanent residents of the island. Such a fundamental change called for extensive adaptations on the part of the merchants and traders involved, and indeed, many of them failed to survive. However, the oldest established family in the trade, the Newmans of Dartmouth, not only survived but actually expanded. By 1806 their operation was larger than it had been in 1776 and they controlled a larger share of the entire trade. -- Before the outbreak of the American War in 1775 the larger merchants had performed many functions, supplying the local planters, the by-boat men, and the smaller merchants, but concentrating mainly on the operation of fishing vessels and crews on their own account. To a large degree, the changing structure of the fishery can be attributed to the specific conditions of the American War for by ending the traditional drain of population to America during unfavorable periods, the population of the island became more and more permanent. With the operations of the migratory fishery interrupted by the hostilities, the sedentary fishery expanded to fill the gap. The merchants reacted by concentrating on the supply trade to these resident fishermen, and focused more and more on trading with them for fish rather than fishing for themselves. -- The boom that occurred after the end of the American War helped revive both branches of the fishery, and to the casual on-looker, the migratory fishery seemed to have again become dominant. The crash and depression of the late 1780's and early 1790's, however, made it clear that those who resided on the island (the sedentary fishermen) were now a permanent feature of the Newfoundland fishery. If there was to be any reduction in production, it had to be at the expense of the migratory fishery, for there were enough fishermen resident on the island to catch what could be sold and aided by their families they were able to produce it more cheaply. Any incipient revival of the migratory fishery at the end of the depression was nipped in the bud by the outbreak, in 1793, of war with France. By 1800 the structural changes in the fishery had begun to solidify, and the migratory fishery, as it had existed for centuries, had almost totally disappeared. -- These fundamental changes in the structure of the British fishery in Newfoundland waters were beyond the control of the merchant firms, which were the major organizing forces for the yearly execution of the fishery. Robert Newman and Company had for many years operated in much the same way as the rest, sending out ships, men and supplies enough to conduct the fishery for the current season, and disposing of their fish at market at the end of the season, before returning to England. During the American War, the firm found its migratory operations hampered by the hostilities and they turned more heavily to trading with those fishermen who were still on the island. At the end of the war, while resuming fishing for themselves, they maintained their interest in the supply trade. To actively promote this, they set up a new establishment at St. Lawrence on the South Coast where there was a rapidly expanding sedentary fishery. After this early attempt at expansion, the firm was forced to solidify their position, at a time when many of the other merchants were expanding considerably, many of them fatally. As the depression was coming to a close, Newman's were again in a position to expand and again it was on the South Coast among the resident fishermen. This was to remain their style of operation for the next century, and the commitment to the sedentary fishery that they made after the end of the war with America was reinforced. -- Besides making the decision to become more involved with the sedentary fishery and the supply trade, the firm was obliged to make internal changes in its operations. -- Their growing commitment to the supply trade obliged the firm to make adjustments in their internal operations. The number of their premises for dealing in the barter trade was increased, as were the numbers of their employees concerned with trading, rather than with direct fishing on the firm's behalf. Since their whole operations were trans-Atlantic, considerable changes had to be made in their fleet. The number of fishing vessels decreased in favor of cargo carrying vessels, and the size of the fleet had to be increased to cope with the growing volume of goods and fish to be transported. The crews of their ships became less and less likely to be also fishermen, and their ships were put to much more intensive usage. The range of ports between which they plied became wider, and over the years they varied as the firm sought newer and cheaper sources of supplies for their Newfoundland operations.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7465
Item ID: 7465
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [234]-238.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1974
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Newman & Company, N.L; Fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--History; Merchants, British--Newfoundland and Labrador; Newfoundland and Labrador--Commerce

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