Posted by: alexhickey | September 27, 2018

International Dispute in St. Jacques, 1891©

Much of our history has been passed on to us through storytelling around kitchen tables, in fishing stages or through small groups of people congregated in their workplace. Oral history isn’t simply someone recalling a series of facts for an avid listener anticipating the listener will remember and tell others. Rather it is spoken memories, stories, and song whose function is to share and communicate knowledge through time. Often one of these stories begins with, ‘Do you know…’ or “I was told by so-and-so about the time…’  From there a story unfolds. I am reminded of an occasion when a very dear friend, Maurice Burke (now deceased) asked me the following question.  He said, “Do you know there was a shot fired across the bow of Americans schooner during the Bait Dispute here in St. Jacques?”

Immediately he had my interest and he proceeded to tell me the story of the incident.  This post isn’t about that that incident but a related one. It was Maurice’s story that piqued my interest in this International dispute between world powers of Great Britain, the United States, France and Canada that carried on for decades in one form or another during the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth  centuries. Given St. Jacques’s position as a major port of call in Fortune Bay, related to the Herring Fishery during those years, a great deal of the dispute played out in and around St. Jacques harbour.

Recently I was looking through a digital copy of the Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892 and read in Appendix A of that book the following article from the April 4th, 1891 edition of the Halifax-based Morning Herald newspaper.  It describes one particular incident between Captain Wrayton of the Canadian schooner Ocean Belle and the Customs Officials of Newfoundland.  In this instance Newfoundland would not permit Canadian vessels to purchase Herring for bait.  This was tied to the ongoing international disputes referenced earlier.

The text of the article is reproduced verbatim below.

Section 1: Halifax Morning Herald Story on Bait Dispute in Fortune Bay, 1891

Is it Retaliation? Outrageous Treatment of a Halifax Captain by Newfoundland Customs Officials – They refuse to allow him to obtain a Cargo of Herring – No Bait in Newfoundland Waters for Canadian Vessels.
Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892, [Enclosure 2, in No. 72.] APPENDIX “A.”, The Morning Herald, Saturday, 4 April, 1891

The schooner Ocean Belle, Captain Wrayton, arrived yesterday from St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, Nfld., after a passage of 55 hours, 8 of which were consumed in passing through ice. He relates a remarkable experience of the tyrannical conduct of Newfoundland government officials. A Herald reporter called upon Captain Wrayton last night to ascertain the facts. He has, for the past two or three years, gone to Fortune

Bay to purchase fish for disposal in this market. He had always conformed to the local requirements and had never been molested. The Ocean Belle reached Fortune Bay on March 17th, and between that time and the 24th, had secured 300 barrels of herring.

On the 25th, he had concluded a bargain with Captain Patrick Farrell for the purchase of 250 barrels more, which would have completed his cargo, when the government boat Greyhound with Customs Collector Hubert appeared on the scene. Captain Wrayton was sent for and informed that he would be allowed to take no more fish. This was in consequence, the officers said, of instructions from St. Johns. Everybody was prohibited from selling herring. Policemen were put on board Farrell’s vessel, which lay alongside the Greyhound, to see that these orders were carried out.

The next day Collector Hubert ordered Farrell’s fish to be thrown overboard, to make sure that it should not be sold to Wrayton, and alleging that it was illegal to have it in his possession. The arbitrary measures were enforced, the officials said, in accordance with instructions from headquarters, though they did not furnish any documents. Captain Wrayton asked for a written statement from the officials that they had refused to allow him to prosecute his business, but they were careful not to give anything of the kind.

They would assign no reason for their action, but merely reiterated the order that under no circumstance could he obtain the fish. This, in view of the fact that he had furnished the required bond for SI, 000 that the fish he purchased would not lie disposed of in St. Pierre.

Captain Wrayton could not believe that those officers were acting legally, and left Belloram for East Bay to endeavor to get his cargo tilled up. Soon after his arrival there Commissioner Sullivan came after him in the steamer Fiona and boarded the Ocean Belle, asking the captain what he was after. He told him that he had secured 300 barrels of frozen herring for Halifax and that he needed 250 more to complete his cargo.

Commissioner Sullivan’s word is law in those regions. He acts as though he were both government and court, and he positively refused to allow him to obtain a single barrel. He was doubtful, indeed, he said, whether he would allow him to retain what he had already secured.

Sullivan put a force of police on the Ocean Belle to guard the schooner, while he went to Bay L’Argent to communicate with the government, telling Captain Wrayton that he would inform him of the decision. He was kept waiting for three days and then could get no satisfaction. Nothing was said, however, of confiscating the 300 barrels he had in the hold. Farrell feels as deeply aggrieved as does Captain Wrayton. It was a clear loss to him of 250 barrels for which he had a willing purchaser. It looks a little as if Sullivan had found that he was going too fast in his conduct. It is evidently simply a case of retaliation against Canadian vessels.

The Newfoundlanders profess to think that Canadian influence destroyed Bond’s alleged chances for negotiating his reciprocity treaty with the United States; Canadians are accordingly put on the same level with the French; they are to be equally harassed and closely watched. Commissioner Sullivan said that bait was to be given to Canadians on no condition. He had, he told Captain Wrayton, received telegraphic orders to that effect from St. Johns, and they would certainly be carried out. The injustice of this is the greater when Americans are freely allowed to take all the bait they desire.

An instance of this is the case of Parker, Eakins & Co.’s. Yarmouth schooner. Her captain was informed by the officials that no vessels belonging to the dominion could obtain bait under any circumstances, though the Yankees were given all the facilities they desired, to do so.

Captain Wrayton intends this morning presenting his case to T. E. Kenny, M.P. He thinks he has a good claim against the Newfoundland government for damages, and intends to push his claim.

Section 2:  Newfoundland Government Proclamation, 1891 – Instructions for Magistrates, Customs Officers, &C, in relation to enforcement of “Bait Act, 1889.”

Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892, APPENDIX C. Cape Ann Advertiser, Friday, 10th April, 1891

Under proclamation of the Governor, no exportation, or side, or purchase, or taking of bait fishes of any sort, is to be permitted without a license.

Licenses of three sorts will be granted: Free of charge to vessels belonging to Newfoundland prosecuting the deep sea fishery to purchase, haul or take bait fishes; one to Newfoundland punt fishermen, free of charge to catch bait for sale to foreign vessels or otherwise ; and one free of charge to American vessels to purchase bait.

In all cases of application for licenses (except Newfoundland punt fishermen who catch for sale), the party applying must make an affidavit setting forth all the particulars required to be stated in the license. (See Bait Act, 1889,) This affidavit may be made either by the master of the vessel for which the license is applied for, or by the owner, the agent of the owner, or on behalf of the master. Blank forms of these affidavits of each sort are furnished. The affidavits may be made before a magistrate or a Customs Officer.

You will notice that the licenses have been signed by the colonial secretary, and they must be also signed by the person issuing the licenses, either a customs officer or magistrate. No license shall be granted except to Newfoundland and United States fishing vessels, and before granting such license the customs officer or magistrate shall require to have produced to him the ship’s register in the case of Newfoundland vessels, and in the case of United States vessels the clearance papers from the American customs.

All vessels shall be restricted to eight barrels of herring per dory; to ten barrels of caplin per dory, and to four barrels of squid per dory, and shall be compelled to take out a new license upon each entry into any port in this colony. A second license to purchase or take herring bait shall not be granted within eighteen days from the date of the previous license, and a second license to purchase or take caplin or squid bait shall not be granted within fourteen days from the date of the previous license.

Upon granting a license to an American vessel, you shall notify the customs officers at all the other ports of entry, by telegram or letter that you granted such license, stating date of issue, so as to prevent such vessel from obtaining a second license within the period stated above.

In the case of a vessel taking bait at your port, you will see that only the quantity named in license is taken aboard.

If a vessel is found supplying bait in contravention of the’ provisions of this act, the license of said vessel shall be forfeited forthwith.

No American vessel is to be permitted to leave the port where she has baited unless the bait purchased has been iced down.

R. BOND, Secretary’s Office, 20th March, 1891. Colonial Secretary.

Section 3:  Affidavit Sworn By Captain Wrayton of the Ocean Belle, Halifax 1891

Upon return to Halifax Captain Wrayton swore an affidavit as the events of his trip in preparation for court action against the Newfoundland government.  Below is the text of that statement describing his experience.

Statement of Michael B. Wrayton, master of the British schooner “Ocean Belle,” of 68 tons burthen, owned by John Allen & Sons, of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Left Halifax, N.S., 21st January, 1891, for Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, to pro cure a cargo of frozen herring; arrived at St. Jacques on the 29th following. Entered vessel at custom house, paid duties and received coastwise clearance from Collector Clinton. Asked him for instructions and if any further papers were necessary for me to procure herring. He answered me, “There is nothing to prevent you securing your load of frozen herring; you can do so, as far as I am concerned. I have no instructions to the contrary.”

Left St. Jacques on the 4th of February, sailed to Belloram and other places about the bay in search of herring but secured none until the 16th of March, when we took on board one hundred and seventy-five barrels. On the 20th of March took another lot of sixty barrels. At midnight on the 23rd of March we returned to Belloram.

On the 25th purchased from one Patrick Farrell two hundred and sixty barrels of fresh herring. Just as the purchase was concluded, the steamer “Greyhound,” employed by the government of Newfoundland, steamed into Belloram with Philip Hubert, Collector of Customs at Harbor Breton, on board, who at once sent a policeman on board my vessel and demanded the removal of the hatches. I protested against disturbing the hatches, the weather being soft, but finally had to comply with his demand. I was then asked to go on board the “Greyhound,” when Collector Hubert informed me I could take no more herring, at the same time forbidding Farrell delivering me any of the lot I had secured from him, and placed a policeman on board to prevent his doing so.

On the following morning (26th) Collector Clinton arrived from Bay L’Argent  (Telegraph Station) and I at once went with him on board the “Greyhound ” when a consultation was held to decide what to do with the herring I had already on board.

They decided to take a bond from me to land fish at Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the same time stating their instructions were to allow no Canadian vessel to secure fresh herring. I asked them to put their refusal in writing. This they refused to do.

During the 26th the wind changed to north north-east and the weather turned intensely cold. Tried to secure herring again from Farrell, but policeman prevented him handling them.

On the morning of the 27th (the steamer “Fiona,” also employed in the Newfoundland government service and having on board Commissioner Sullivan, not having arrived as expected) I sailed for the Bay, the East.

On the way down secured a lot of twenty-five (25) barrels of herring, spread them on ice for freezing and engaged two hundred and fifty (250) barrels more from one Jeremiah Petit ; had about one hundred (100) barrels in boats to spread on ice when steamer “Fiona” arrived and Commissioner

Sullivan boarded my vessel asking me what I was doing here. Told him I was trying to freeze balance of my cargo if allowed to do so. He then asked me if Collector Hubert had not forbidden me taking herring. I replied he had, but that he had refused to put his order in writing or give or show his authority for the course he was taking.

Commissioner Sullivan then demanded the hatches removed, looked at the fish and ordered the hatches replaced: at the same time forbidding me taking another fish. I then demanded of him a written notice that I should secure no herring. This he positively refused to give and was some time in doubt whether he would allow me to take what herring I had already on board.

Finally I was allowed to take vessel to St. Jacques with the first catch of herring. Before leaving, Mr. Sullivan ordered the men in charge of the one hundred (100) barrels of herring to throw them overboard, which was done in the presence of myself and crew.

The night following was intensely cold. I then had to go on board the “Fiona,” when I was compelled to take a most binding oath that the herring I had on board would not be used for bait in Nova Scotia.

We cleared from St. Jacques for Halifax, N. S. where I arrived on the third day of April and handed vessel and cargo over to her owners, John Allen & Sons, who took immediate charge.

Further, I wish to state that at the time the several lots of herring were secured by me or during the following few hours, the weather was exceptionally cold and I could have loaded the vessel to her utmost capacity which counted out amounts to three hundred and fifty thousand (350,000) herring, but was prevented doing so solely by the officials of the Newfoundland government, who threatened to use force against me should I persist in taking any fish against their instructions.

M. B. WRAYTON, Canada, Province of Nova Scotia, County of Halifax.

I, Michael B. Wrayton, of Halifax, in the county of Halifax, and province of Nova Scotia, master mariner, do hereby solemnly declare as follows:

1. That I am the Michael B. Wrayton referred to in the statements hereto annexed.

2. That the foregoing statements are just and true and contain in a condensed form the facts in connection with my voyage to Newfoundland in the schooner “Ocean Belle,” and the transactions in connection therewith.

3. That I have not in any way whatever endeavoured to overdraw the same, but have related them as they actually took place, and I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of an act passed for the suppression of voluntary and extra judicial oaths.


Solemnly declared at Halifax, in the county of Halifax, this 20th day of April, A.D. 1891,’before me.

J. L. Barnhill, A Commissioner of the Supreme and County Courts for the county of Halifax.

Section 4:  Explanatory Notes

The S. S. Greyhound served as a part mail packet, park tug boat throughout Fortune Bay in the late 1800’s. This was one of several small vessels contracted with the government to deliver mail and passengers in various bays around the island of Newfoundland.

The S. S. Fiona was a Colonial Cruiser. These vessels, owned by the Colonial Government of Newfoundland, patrolled areas where foreign fishermen were present to enforce regulations and collect duties where appropriate.  The Cruiser “Fiona” was sold by the government in 1918.

Phillip Hubert was Collector of Customs and one-time magistrate at Harbour Breton from 1866 until 1898 and again from 1907.  He was born in Jersey England.

Charles Clinton was a telegraph operator stationed in Bay de L’Argent, Fortune Bay.  He was born in St. Pierre and later moved to St. Jacques where he became Custom’s Officer and Commissioner of the Supreme Court.

Patrick Farrell was ship owner, trader and fish merchant operating out of St. Jacques.

Belloram – this spelling of Belleoram omits the “e” in the middle of the word.

The Ocean Belle was a banking schooner built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  She was frequently used by in the procurement of Bait in Fortune Bay for the Nova Scotia Bank Fishery

Section 5:  Links

The Cruise of the Ocean Belle  – Click to Download

Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: