Posted by: alexhickey | April 14, 2020

First Report upon the Inspection of Schools in Newfoundland 1845: St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove Region

In 1844 Newfoundland’s first external inspection of schools took place. John V. Nugent, an Irishman from Waterford, driven by strong convictions and passionate about his causes, was hired by the government to travel around the country and inspect both Catholic and Protestant schools.  He had been a Member of the House of Assembly and was considered one of the foremost orators in the house.  In private life it was said that he was quite friendly and conscientious. Just eight years earlier the Government of Newfoundland had passed legislation creating a non-denominational system of education.  The move was supported by all at the time; however, cracks soon appeared, largely over denominational rights, funding, resources and the composition of school boards. By 1841 new legislation eliminated these boards and there was a return to separate schools.

John V. Nugent, School Inspector, NL, 1844-45

Nugent was fitted out with a ship and embarked to the District of Fortune Bay first.  At that time the Fortune Bay District encompassed most of the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Port-aux-Basques. He visited forty-four schools overall around the island. Bad weather, school closures, and teacher absences meant he wasn’t able to visit some schools.  When he arrived in Hr. Breton, “He found the members of the Protestant Board scattered and unable to meet, and its few members unaware of his appointment.  On calling at the school, kept on the premises of Newman’s, the local merchant house, he was immediately prevented from entering by the teacher, Mrs. Trude, wife of the storekeeper; she stated she would allow him to enter only by sanction of the Board or the local members thereof, both of whom declined to act. Nugent had no option but to leave the school unexamined” (McCann, 213, Inspectorship Controversy).

Throughout the country, he “found most schools in poor condition; many classes, in fact, were held in tilts, shacks, lofts or rooms in houses. In general, however, the inhabitants of the settlements had built, or were quite willing to build, a schoolhouse.  Teachers were conscientious but often unqualified for the task, and all were underpaid, the annual salaries hovering around the £15-20 range. Most schools taught reading and writing, some added arithmetic.  Attendance was usually about from one-half to two-thirds of enrollment, though in every district there were almost as many children without access to schooling as those on the books” (McCann, 213m, Inspectorship Controversy).

Nugent makes reference to Society schools.  He is referring to schools established by the Newfoundland School Society, an independent missionary styled organization, initially supported by the British government from 1823 to 1832. After that, it was funded by a combination of supporters in Newfoundland and Britain.

The following is an excerpt from Nugent’s report.  I have selected only that portion of his report pertaining to the North side of Fortune Bay.  The report was submitted to the House of Assembly in 1845. You will note there are spellings of some words and names of communities which differ from how we spell them today. Those spellings of community names may be idiosyncratic to Nugent, for other references to those communities around that time spell them more conventionally.  The original text, which can be read here, suffers from unique and convoluted punctuation making it challenging to read.  I have taken the liberty of simplifying sentence structures to make it more legible to the reader. I have made every attempt to remain accurate to the original text.  If my version departs from its intent it is not intentional. After reading thus version feel free to read the original, found  at the end of this page.

On Tuesday, September 3rd, Mr. Burke of St. Jacques kindly obliged me with a good punt, in which we rowed to Belleoram, three miles away.  Where we arrived there at 1. P.M., we found that during the absence of the teacher, Mr. Polding who was then at St. John’s, his school was kept open only in the morning.  This is also one of the Society’s Schools.  The schoolhouse is a commodious building. It, and the adjoining church, was built principally by donations from the residents of Belleoram. Catholics as well as the Protestants contributed towards the erection of the school-house.

We returned in the evening to St. Jacques. The next day, wanting to see the new road connecting the two Harbours, Mr. Burke accompanied me to point out the way. The distance by land is also three miles. The site of this road appears to be judiciously chosen. When completed, it will greatly promote the comfort and improvement of the inhabitants of both places.

The population in the harbours along the shore appear to have increased considerably since the Census was taken in 1836. Belleoram is represented in the 1836 Census as having under 150 residents, whereas it is now little short of that number. In St. Jacques, in like manner, we find an increase. The long line of Coves and Harbours between Belleoram and Harbour Britain are all within about three miles of each other. This includes St. Jacques, English Harbour, Mozambrose, Boxy, Blanchard, Coomb’s Cove, Rock Harbour, Miller’s Passage, and Jerseyman’s Harbour. The entire list covers a land distance of about fifteen miles. The growing number of inhabitants have no possibility of obtaining Medical advice in any emergency, except from Harbour Britain, where two Medical Gentlemen are located.  It is near impossible to make the passage by sea during a great part of the year, even though the distance is only about eight leagues.  If these places were connected by good roads, a messenger could pass from one extremity of the line to the other, in the worst weather, in a day.  While this would provide some medical advantage, at the same time, another important one would be acquired incidentally.  The children of two Harbours could then easily attend a school established at a central Harbour between them. Thus the Educational interests of the entire region would be greatly promoted. I should hope the Legislature will take the subject into consideration.

I reached Belleoram again at Noon. Though the morning was fine, the weather broke, and it rained heavily. The school is two years old. I found everything very orderly. The children were provided with seats and desks, and the school was superintended by Miss Hester Cluett, one of the oldest of Mr. Polding’s pupils. I should think she was no more that sixteen or seventeen years old.

This school had fifty-six children in daily attendance, including seven or eight Catholics. Even in the fishing season twenty-eight boys and as many Girls attend regularly.  I found twenty-five writing, with most of them writing a very fair small hand. Twenty-seven were learning Arithmetic, of whom, thirteen entered their sums in books, and fourteen only worked on slates.  The greater number of Arithmeticians had advanced over the Elementary Rules and were going over the several Compound Rules. The readers showed that much attention was paid them. Upon the whole, although I regretted not having seen Mr. Polding, I was much pleased with the improvement of Children given that they’d only had the advantage of a School for two years.

September 5th was too rough to row to English Harbour, a distance of three miles to the Westward of St. Jacques, therefore I set sail for (from) St. Jacques. The wind was fair, thus reached English Harbour in exactly half an hour. I proceeded to the school, arriving there at half past 1 o’clock PM.

This is one of the schools established by the Board. It is taught by an old fisherman, Robert Max.  The services of this poor man are divided between English Harbour and St. Jacques. In each of them he alternates every two weeks, but in winter he is required to spend two weeks in rotation at Blue Pinion.  It is there several inhabitants of both Harbours retire at that season, for the convenience of fuel. With such interruptions we cannot expect too much from the students.  It is regrettable that better teachers cannot be had for the small salaries available.

This is a new school.  It opened in January of this year. All of the children have begun their letters.  I found only nine students in the school. The oldest of these was only seven years old.  Of these nine, six had come from Mozambrose, a little Cove a mile and a half to the Westward.  Among the six was one, a fine little boy, three years and five months old. I was told he walked the distance barefooted through a miserable wood path every day this summer!  Surely then, when poor creatures like these (parents) are so determined to acquire even the rudest elements of Education for their Children, they merit the encouragement and support of the Legislature.  At least they deserve that the thorns be plucked from the pathway of their little ones, while they tread the mazes of the forest in pursuit of the culture of their infant minds.  Blue Pinion is also but one and a half miles distant from English Harbour. If a road ran from English Harbour to St. Jacques, and from English Harbour to Boxy, a distance altogether of six miles, the Children of St. Jacques, Blue Pinion, Mozambrose and Boxy, could avail themselves of a school at English Harbour. By combining these schools a better Teacher may then be hired.

The School-house here is only temporary. It is the only house on that side of the Harbour, and to attend the school all children are obliged to go around the Harbour. Mr. May told me seven of the Children were learning to write, but at the school on this day, there was only one Boy who wrote in a promising round hand. He was beginning addition as well. He was the only child at school who could read.  There is a foundation of a school-house laid here by the inhabitants at the Western side (the inhabited part), and they intend getting it up this Autumn.  There is but one Catholic family here.

At St. Jacques I found by examining Mr. May’s list that the number of children was twenty-one, including three Catholics. These students appear to be as backward as those of English Harbour.  They are beginning the laying of a foundation for a School-house too, (on the western side) but they are likely to choose a site justly objectionable to the inhabitants of the Eastern side. If it were built somewhere at the bottom of the Harbour, between both sides, it would greatly convenience the people of the Eastern side and not incommode those of the Western side.  It is nearly a mile round this Harbour, measuring from the Southernmost house to the most Southwestern. A good path could be made here for fifty or sixty pounds. That would eliminate the potential for disagreement which I have referenced, and at the same time, be of great assistance and convenience to the Fishery.

All five Teachers under the Board, in this District, received forty pounds Salary. The same amount is reserved for the Teacher at Hermitage Cove, when he can be procured.  Ten pounds is granted to the people of Push-Through to help them furnish their School-house. Furby’s Cove is granted eight pounds for the same purpose. Harbour-Britain receives sixteen pounds and St. Jacques, eight pounds.  The sum of twelve pounds is granted to Belleoram each year to teach the female Children to learn how to sew.

Immediately after the inspection of this school, at 4. P.M. I sailed for Burin. By 6. PM we were compelled to turn back and head for the shelter of St. Jacques due to bad weather. On the next morning I once more set sail and reached St. Peter’s (Ste. Pierre et Miquelon) at 5. P.M.

I would not have carried out my duty towards the poor people of the Fortune Bay District if did I not call the attention of the Legislature to the numerous localities where a considerable number of Children are left abandoned without a possibility of obtaining the rudest elements of Education. In Great Jarvis, where there are twelve children of school age. Other places that the government should consider for the funding of education are listed below. In making this list I have included only those Settlements where the number of Children neglected was not less than twelve.

Place/Number of Children

Harbour Mille/16

Head of Fortune Bay/17

Lady Island/12

Long Island/12

Coomb’s Cove/14

Rack Cove/15

Little Bay/18



Jerseyman’s Harbour/15

Pass Island/15

This list omits those small communities where 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11 Children reside.  Many of these could be provided for by the establishment of Schools by, at least, extending to them occasionally a small portion of the road grant.

Nugent, a Roman Catholic, held this position for only one year.  In the second year a Protestant school Inspector was appointed.


McCann, Phillip. “Class, Gender and Religion in Newfoundland Education: 1836-1901,” Historical Studies in Education 1, no. 2 (Fall 1989): 189-200

McCann, Phillip. “Sir John Harvey, J.V. Nugent and the School Inspectorship Controversy in the 1840s”. Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Vol. 11, no. 2, Jan. 1995,

McCann, Phillip. “The No-Popery Crusade and the Newfoundland School System, 1836-1843.” CCHA Historical Studies 58 (1991): 79-97,

Nugent, J.V. Inspection of Schools in the Southern Districts of Newfoundland – District of Fortune Bay.  The Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1845. Newfoundland. House of Assembly, St. John’s (N.L.) 1845, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Libraries. Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

Wells, Elizabeth A. “Nugent, John Valentin”.  Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 10, 1972. 




  1. Looking for information on Teacher Tom Farrell from Baie du nord,

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: