Brigus and the Labrador fishery : an anthropological and historical study

Lewis, Robert Munro (1988) Brigus and the Labrador fishery : an anthropological and historical study. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The Labrador fishery carried out from Brigus, which was to a great extent, representative of the Conception Bay Labrador fishery as a whole, was both an extension and successor of the resident Newfoundland fishery. The resident fishery, in turn, was at first an extension and then a successor of the British migratory fishery at Newfoundland. The socio-economic relations of the Brigus Labrador fishery were, as its predecessors had been, essentially capitalist in nature and remained so through to, at least, the beginning of the Second World War. -- The British fishery at Newfoundland was initially a migratory fishery organized along capitalist lines. Under the conditions of the migratory fishery the economic relations which existed between capitalists and between capitalists and workers were governed by British maritime law, in particular the different applications of the concept of maritime lien. After 1610 the fishery at Newfoundland took on an increasingly settled character. In the seventeenth century the production of dried cod was increasingly carried out by inhabitants or planters and bye boat keepers, while the trade in fish at Newfoundland (i.e. export),.was conducted by Sack ships, fishing ships, traders from the American colonies of Britain, along with a growing population of resident merchants; the suppliers of the trade were merchants in England, fishing ships operating as migratory merchants, and resident merchants. By the first quarter of the eighteenth century the traditional ship fishery had virtually died out. -- Conception Bay and Brigus were the site of the earliest English settlement at Newfoundland and their pattern of settlement and growth are nearly synonymous with the English settlement at Newfoundland. The period from 1750 to 1870 was one marked by growth and prosperity for Newfoundland and Conception Bay. In this period the resident fishery came to dominate the fishery while the cod and seal fisheries were the central and predominant activities for virtually all of the island. For much of the period, in particular from 1750 to 1830, Conception Bay was the centre of the island's economic growth and in the early part of the nineteenth century it even surpassed St. John's in economic importance and population. The steady rise in population around Conception Bay, which continued past the mid-point of the nineteenth century, began in five years from 1750 to 1755. The initial resource base upon which this growth was based was the cod fishery on the French Shore latter to be supplanted by the migratory Labrador fishery. At the end of the eighteenth century a spring seal fishery developed around Conception Bay. The seal fishery complemented the Labrador fishery and by the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century had risen to at least equal importance to the cod fishery. -- The growth in population involved a continuing shift from a migratory to year-round use of the island's resources by merchants and labourers and a general rise in the number, power, and importance of the planters. One cause of the growth in the resident fishery was an increase in the availability and a decrease in the price of supplies supplied from south-west of Ireland and, especially, from New England. These new sources of provisions, combined with famine and economic recession in Ireland, the prime source of labourers since the seventeenth century, made it easier for the planters to obtain labour and made Newfoundland a more attractive place for permanent settlement. The increasing number of resident labourers also allowed the planters to extend their fishery beyond that of the migratory fishers and to expand their activities into the spring seal fishery. The shift to residency was made easier because the difference between resident and migratory fisheries had always been one of different economic strategies within essentially capitalist relations of production and not an essential change in those relations. The legal framework regulating the relations of production in the fishery continued to be derived from maritime custom and law, virtually unchanged from those which had prevailed in the previous century. -- The three classes which dominated the resident Newfoundland fishery economy, at least during this period, were merchants, labourers, and planters. Most of those fishing were labourers, workers owning little more in the production process than their personal effects. The merchants were merchant capitalists involved primarily in trade in supplies and fish rather than being capitalists directly involved in producing dried cod. Planters, it is the argument of this thesis, are best classified as small capitalist. -- This fishery, commonly referred to as the planter fishery, was essentially capitalist has been accepted as being the dominant set of relations of production up through the first third of the nineteenth century. A number of authorities have argued, however, that the planter fishery disappeared from Newfoundland around the year 1840. It is the argument of this thesis that such was not the case and that the planters' fishery remained the dominant fishery, at least around Conception Bay, throughput the period until, at least, the Second World War. -- Brigus was involved in the Labrador and spring seal fishery from those fisheries beginnings and those fisheries were the economic bases for the growth in Brigus in the nineteenth century. The social and economic character of Brigus was that of a relatively prosperous community, dominated by a class of independent planters and with considerable competition among merchants. These characteristics were shared with a number of other communities of similar size around Conception Bay. The period from about 1820 to about 1860 was the height of Brigus's prosperity with the community being probably the most important sealing port in Conception Bay if not in all of Newfoundland. The period from 1880 to 1945 was marked by a decline in the population, economic activity, and prosperity of Brigus. The direct cause of this fall in population was the rapid collapse of the seal fishery in Brigus.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7994
Item ID: 7994
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 229-241.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Anthropology
Date: 1988
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador; Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Avalon Peninsula--Conception Bay
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--Conception Bay--History; Fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador--History; Brigus (N.L.)--History; Brigus (N.L.)--Social conditions

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