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About Elliston - General History



Bird Island Cove to Elliston

Elliston is a small community located on the east coast of Newfoundland in Trinity Bay. This settlement was originally known by the somewhat commonplace name of Bird Island Cove. This particular designation and variations of the same, were quite familiar to the seventeenth century migratory fishermen who frequented our fishing grounds. The name was quite appropriate due to the presence of two small islands, North and South Bird Island, which lie just off its coast and the thousands of seabirds, including puffins, that inhabit them. There is also a third island known as McCarthy’s or Carty’s Island, which is little more than baron rock. The community retained this descriptive name until the early twentieth century. Rev. Charles Lench campaigned to rename it Elliston, to honour Methodist Minister William Ellis, the first Methodist Minister to preach in the community.

Once Elliston was a busy fishing settlement but now is a quiet tourist destination with an approximate population of 300 people, although that number increases during the summer months. The town contains many attractions but some of the highlights include the beautiful beach at Sandy Cove, puffin viewing site, hiking/walking trails, root cellars, sealers’ interpretation centre/statue and WWI trench reconstruction.


The community is believed to have been permanently settled in the early 1800's and by 1829 a church and schoolhouse had been constructed. The aforementioned schoolhouse was replaced in 1878 and site was later used for a Memorial School built a few years after the end of the First World War. Unfortunately, the former owners allowed this historic building to deteriorate to the point it could not be saved. Now a new modern Sealers Interpretation Centre is located on this very historic site.


A Church of England School also operated out of nearby Maberly, now part of Elliston. Elliston had an Orange Hall which was active in 1909 as well as a local of the Fisherman's Protective Union, established at Elliston on 2 April 1910, with William Tucker elected as chair of the local. This community has remained almost totally dependent on the local inshore cod fishery. Until the 1950's the catch was salted and sold to local merchants, the Bonavista agents, or the Fisherman's Union Trading Company based in Port Union. During the Second World War fish was trucked over the peninsula for export to European markets but this was only temporary phenomenon. In 1960 three-wholesale fish merchants, a building materials store and a number of grocery and general merchandise stores were in operation. Elliston also had United, Anglican, Salvation Army (now in Bonavista), and Pentecostal (now also in Bonavista) Churches and several schools serving Elliston and Maberly.


Various parts of Elliston area are known by different names. On the Northern section of town, one can find places such as Northern Cove (Norder Cove), Mark's Path, North Side and Bonavista Road. On the South Side of Elliston, you can walk down such interesting places as Trickem's Lane or Point Road. At Sandy Cove you can enjoy a swim in the beautiful waters or relax on the sandy beach. In Maberly, previously known as Muddy Brook, you can experience some of the area's best examples of traditional Newfoundland root cellars.



Our Town & Population


The town of Elliston was incorporated on June 15th, 1965 but has been permanently settled since 1806. The first town council was composed of the following: Gerald Tilley, Mayor; Richard Hobbs, Deputy Mayor; Arthur W. Coles, Roy Tilley, Samuel White, William J. Goodland, and Douglas Tilley, Councillors.


Elliston's Population Trend


Population (2021): 315

Population (2016): 308

Population (2011): 337

Population (2006): 306

Population (2001): 360

Population (1996): 461

Population (1991): 533

Population (1981): 527

Population (1976): 540

Population (1971): 551

Population (1966): 691

Population (1961): 678

Population (1956): 699

Population (1951): 574

Population (1945): 591

Population (1935): 863

Population (1921): 933

Population (1911): 907

Population (1901): 941

Population (1891): 951 (Population Apex)

Population (1884): 870

Population (1874): 722

Population (1869): 677

Population (1857): 523

Population (1845): 336

Population (1838): 329

Population (1836): 388

Population (1825): 200



Encyclopedia of NL - Elliston Entry

ELLISTON (inc. 1965; pop. 1976, 540).

An incorporated fishing settlement located south of Cape Bonavista qv. The modern community of Elliston is composed of several distinct communities, some named in early census returns; these included North Side, Northern Cove (Norder Cove), Elliston Centre, including Elliston Point, (Porter's Point), Sandy Cove, The Neck, Maberly (formerly Muddy Brook) and Northern Bight, which was occupied a short time before 1900 (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). Elliston, formerly called Bird Island Cove, was renamed in the early 1900s through the efforts of Rev. Charles Lench* qv to honour the first Methodist Missionary to Bird Island Cove, Rev. William Ellis qv. The name of Bird Islands or Bird Island Cove was common in the 1600s when migratory West Country fishermen first frequented northern Trinity Bay. The name is taken from two small islands, North and South Bird Island, which lie .4 km (.25 mi) off the southerly entrance to the wide, unprotected cove, which is close to some of the most superb fishing grounds in Newfoundland. This cove was noted in The English Pilot The Fourth Book 1689 (1967) with the following description: "Within the said Bird-Islands is a large Bay, and one Arm within the South point of Land runs up W.S.W. a good distance, where Ships may ride: There is another Arm that runs up within some Rocks which are above Water; but I went not into that Arm, for the Bay runs to Cape Largan, Bird-Islands abound with Willcocks, Gannets, Pigeons, Gulls & c. which breed there in the Summer."

*Rev. Charles Lench


Although Bird Island Cove was located near magnificent fishing grounds, its growth as a permanent fishing station, like that of the Town of Bonavista, was retarded by its physical limitations: the land about is barren heath with very limited forests and is dominated by conspicuous rocky ridges called Burnt Ridge and Green Ridge. The Cover has a sandy bottom and is unsheltered with a very bad approach from the sea. Because of the backwash, vessels may ride safely even during easterly winds; however, the construction of shore facilities often involved elaborate and complicated ramps and slipways.   . . . landing facilities, especially wharf improvement, has remained a persistent problem for resident fishermen. To the first fishermen recorded at Bird Island Cove in the first decade of the 1800s these heavy seas, especially in autumn, were familiar problems. The sound of heavy seas may explain, in part, a phenomenon described by the *Rev. Philip Tocque who was stationed in Bird Island Cove in the 1830s. In his book Wandering Thoughts and Solitary Hours (1846) he wrote:


   About fifteen years ago [c. 1831] . . . a very singular
   and most extraordinary sound was heard in the
   neighbourhood of Bonavista and of Bird-Island Cove.
   It commenced about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and
   lasted until the next day about Noon.  The men of
   Bird-Island Cove were going about nearly all night,
   some with loaded guns - some with hatchets - and
   others with whatever they could command.  The sound
   is described as resembling distant thunder. . . . 
   Several females thought a bear had got into their
   bedrooms and ran terrified from their dwellings. . . .
   The sound is termed by the inhabitants of Bonavista
   and Bird-Island Cove, "the thunder growl."

*Rev. Philip Tocque


According to H.E.L. Murray (1972) Bird-Island Cove was mentioned in a petition (dated Oct. 7, 1774) written by Bonavista merchants, justices of the peace and others, and sent to Governor Shuldham complaining of a number of "masterless" Irishmen (runaway or abandoned fishing servants) who had gone to live in a "secluded Cove called Bird Islands and were there building fishing rooms." Local history maintains that two Irish "youngsters" named Peter Hackett and Michael Meaney were fishing at Norder (Northern) Cove when John Chaulk, reputedly the first settler, moved there (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). It is probable that the first permanent settlers of Bird Island were youngsters brought mainly from Devon and Dorset with large merchant concerns of Trinity and Bonavista. By the early 1800s the Slade Company were on their way to establishing a post at Catalina and were aware of the potential of Bird Island Cove: as Slade agent William Kelson wrote of the cove in Trinity June 25, 1813, "I wish it were not such a 'wild' place for craft to ride in, but I think it will answer very well if only we can get a store built at Catalina." [Click Here for expanded version of this letter.] According to E.R. Seary (1976) James Porter was a resident of Bird Island Cove in 1811: George Crewe of Dorset, and a resident of Bonavista in 1808, was a resident of the Cove in 1814 and James Hill of Bonavista in 1808 was also a Bird Island Cove resident in 1814.


Charles Pearce reputedly drowned at Bird Island Cove in 1812; it is not known, however, whether he was a resident at this time. Family tradition maintains that Thomas Clouter was a resident in 1814 (Seary: 1976). It appears that most of these early settlers dealt with Bonavista merchants but their fishing potential made them a shuttlecock in the merchants "game" between rivals in Bonavista and Trinity. Slade agent Kelson noted . . . with some satisfaction that "Bonavista and Bird Islands are allowed to be the best places on the whole coast to fish. . . . The greater part of the Bird Island planters now deal with me instead of going to St. John's or Bonavista." The Bird Island Cove accounts, which were transferred to Catalina when a store was built there (by 1814), indicated that Hill, Crew, Brown, Tucker, Burt, Cole, Chard, Trass (Trask), and Fielding (Felden) dealt with Slade in Catalina from 1814 (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). According to Seary, James Hill, reported in Bonavista in 1808, was a resident of Bird Island Cove in 1826 had migrated from County Kilkenny to Bird Island Cove in 1820 and a Mark Chard of Dorset was a school-teacher at Bird Island Cove in 1815. Other early families listed by Seary included those of Charles Sanger (in 1820), John Steeds (1821), Thomas Flinn (Flynn) (1822), Richard Cole (1832), William Baher (1823), John Hobbs (1823), Richard Cole (1823), George Olford (1824), Joseph Martin (c. 1825). William Minty (1825), John? Gough (Goff) from Devon (1825) and Patrick Casey (1823). When the rapidly growing settlement was reported in the Census, 1836, for the first time, it numbered 228 inhabitants - seventeen families with numerous fishing servants, who prosecuted the inshore cod fishery. According to H.E.L. Murray (1972) the Slade Company continued to supply Bird Island Cove until the mid 1800s at which time local merchants such as Robert Tilley [Click Here for more information on Robert Tilley.] (c. 1824-1872), who moved from Bonavista and settled at Bird Island Cove about 1853, established firms. Agents for all the principal merchants at Bonavista also operated at Elliston, whose commercial ties remained close with that large town. Other families who were reported in Bird Island Cove from 1840 to 1870 included Rendell, Goodland, Wade, Way and White (Seary: 1976). The settlement had its first missionary, from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, stationed at Bird Island Cove in 1826, this after a number of converts had been made to Methodism following the early attempts of Ellis in 1814 (H.C. Murray: 1879). By 1829 a church had been clapboarded and a schoolhouse built; the first communion set used in this church, which was rebuilt in 1898, was still in use in Elliston in 1981 (Newfoundland Historical Society: Elliston). The schoolhouse was replaced in 1878; this building in turn was replaced by the Memorial School, erected at the end of World War I. A Church of England school-chapel operated at Maberly. The settlement had an Orange Hall and the Fishermen's Protective Union was active in Elliston in 1909.* [Actually Coaker established a local at Elliston on 2 April 1910 with William Tucker elected chair of the local.]


Despite excursions to the Labrador seal hunt from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s (in 1948 Tilley's reportedly sent six schooners to Labrador; in 1952 only one crew went: Fishing Communities of Newfoundland: Vol. 5, 1952), Elliston has remained almost totally dependent on the local inshore cod fishery prosecuted mainly by family crews. Until the 1950s the catch was salted and sold to local merchants, the Bonavista agents or the Fishermen's Union Trading Company based in Catalina. During the Second World War some fish was trucked from all over the Peninsula for expert to European markets but this trade was only temporary. A small U.S. military base of the "listening post" variety was also established at "Mark's Path" at this time: this was taken over and operated by Canadians near the end of the war. In the 1960s three wholesale fish merchants, a building-materials store . . . and a number of grocery and general merchandise stores were also in operation. Elliston also had United, Anglican, Salvation Army and Pentecostal churches and several schools serving Elliston, Elliston North and Maberly. By the 1960s however, the number of full-time fishermen had declined. In 1979 there were approximately twelve to fifteen full-time fishermen in the community, whose population fell from 863 in 1921 to 699 in 1956 and 676 in 1966. The fishery was prosecuted from five trap skiffs and approximately three 5.5 to 6 m (18-20 ft.) speed boats, and the catch was trucked to fish plants on the Bonavista Peninsula qv. The community was governed by a community council. In 1979, Elliston's municipal services included garbage collection, road maintenance, snow clearing, water and sewerage and a small recreation park (DA:Mar. 1979). In 1981 the community had a government wharf and a slipway adjacent to the wharf. H.C. Murray (1979) H.E.L. Murray (1972), E.R. Seary (1976), Phillip Tocque (1846), Census (1836-1976), DA (Mar., 1979), The English Pilot The Fourth Book 1689 (1967), Hutchinson's Newfoundland Directory for 1864-1865 (1864), Lovell's Newfoundland Directory (1871), Sailing Directions Newfoundland (1980).


Source Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador



There have been a number of noteworthy individuals in Elliston’s past that that have had an impact ranging from a community contribution to the will to survive. Unfortunately, it is impossible to include everyone but additions as always an option. These people and their stories are in no particular order.










Newfoundland Strongman Jimmy Chant


The exploits of the legendary strongman Jimmy Chant (1886-1924) are known throughout Elliston and beyond. There are numerous stories of Jimmy performing great feats of strength. One such story follows:


Jimmy was a strong man. He had big hands. He was quiet and had a strong deep voice. Jimmy died in 1924 . . . Jimmy always liked to do chores for other people. He use to take a boat up in under his arm and carry it to dry land. I remember one time, Jimmy carried a waterloo stove from Bonavista to Elliston, and on his way down he had to turn around and go back to Bonavista because he forgot something.


Another tale revolves around how Jimmy was seated at a table and for some reason a person on the inside wanted to leave. Instead of getting out of the way, he simply picked up the person, with one arm, and set him down on the outside. Another story involved Abram Kean of the infamous Newfoundland Disaster. Jimmy Chant signed aboard a sealing vessel captained by Kean. The Captain was fascinated when he heard that there was a man aboard who had the strength to bend nails into staples using only his bare hands. Kean didn’t really believe it was true but wanted to see for himself so he arranged for a bag of nails to be delivered to his cabin and then sent for Jimmy Chant. Jimmy arrived at the Captain’s cabin and Kean placed an amount of money in front of him equal to several weeks pay. Kean then tells Jimmy it is all his if he can bend the whole bag of nails into staples. These were heavy nails of six to eight inches in length but Jimmy made short work of them to Kean’s amazement and walked away with the cash in hand.


Another tale that focuses on Jimmy’s strength involved the construction of the railway between Clarenville and Bonavista. A special harness had been made for Jimmy so he could attach himself to a tree stump and haul it from the ground. Also, the railway workers had to remove large rocks by smashing them to pieces with sledge hammers. Apparently, several men were working on a boulder for three days with no success. So Jimmy was asked to have a go at it. They found him the largest mall they could and, with three massive blows, he demolished it. Other feats of strength included having a man sit in each of Jimmy’s hands and he would pick both up at the same time. Also, he carried a bundle of shoe leather on his back, weighing several hundred pounds, from the Ryan’s store at Bonavista to Elliston because the road was in too poor a condition to use a horse and cart.


In addition to Jimmy’s strength and endurance, he had a great tolerance for pain. At Christmas time, a shopkeeper dared Jimmy to pick up some apples he had placed atop a hot stove. He offered him some money to pick them up using only his mouth. This seems simple enough but the tip of his nose would touch the hot surface each time he tried. This did not deter Jimmy because he was able to get a grip on the apple and a monetary reward was at stake. Despite this discomfort, he continued until all the apples were removed but the smell of burn flesh was all throughout the shop.


These great feats of strength and endurance obviously took their toll. Jimmy Chant died at the relatively young age of thirty-eight and is buried at the Methodist (now United) cemetery in Elliston. Some people suspect he over exerted himself and this eventually led to heart failure.


Source: Neal Tucker - A Measure of Success: The Story of Elliston 1806-2006.



William Pearce


William Pearce’s Ordeal


The Off Beat History column printed in The Evening Telegram, May 28, 1964:


A long swim.


This column has recorded remarkable feats of endurance. None is more remarkable than the feat of a man named William Pearce of Elliston, Trinity Bay. This incident occurred at least twenty-five years ago, but probably much longer than that.

Pearce was a member of the crew of a banking vessel hailing from Catalina. Crossing Trinity Bay one stormy night Pearce was knocked overboard by a swinging boom. He was not missed at first in the darkness and confusion; when his friends realized he was gone, they gave him up for lost.


When Pearce saw the schooner was going away without him, he kicked off his sea boots and started to swim, or rather concentrated on staying afloat. The water was cold and he did not expect to last too long. Yet he lasted all night and was still swimming when another vessel picked him up just after daylight, SEVEN hours later!


And the following note for the Evening Telegram, June 2, 1064.




In Off Beat History in your issue of 28th May there is recounted the experience of William Pearce of Elliston, Trinity Bay. I never saw him, but I recall his death there, which occurred in the year 1906 at the age of sixty-four.


He used to say, in reference to his all-night swim and struggle for life, that he had been “in the valley of the shadow of death”.


The last banker to hail from Catalina went out on her last trip from that port in or about the year 1912. I should date Mr. Pearce’s ordeal about 1890.


N.C. Crewe 29 May 1964


Source: Doug Cole - Elliston, The Story of a NEWFOUNDLAND OUTPORT



Israel Hill


Israel Hill saw the light at Elliston, Nfld., on the 23rd of Feb., 1825. His parents, James and Jane Hill, were humble and respectable fisherfolk. When about three years of age, from some cause unknown to the writer, all the use departed from his legs; his limbs remained ever after in a paralyzed and useless condition. When old enough, Israel was carried to and from the day school, and acquired the simple rudiments of reading, writing , and arithmetic. These simple acquirements were a great advantage in fighting the battles of life. As he grew to manhood's years he took the common-sense view of life. He knew he could not always depend upon his parents for his sustenance. "Heaven helps those who help themselves" and Israel proved the truthfulness of this Heavenly maxim. He constructed a conveyance with four wheels and with the aid of a stick in either hand, he propelled himself from place to place. He became quite an expert in the manipulation of his vehicle. He would think nothing of journeying to Bonavista or Catalina, and occasionally visited the Capital and taking his wagon with him would traverse Water Street to the great surprise of the people of St. John's. He made quite a number of friends among the St. John's merchants. In his quiet home-village he could get around with an alacrity that would almost put to shame his more fortunate neighbours. The late Mr. Tilley, then the leading merchant in Elliston, gave our hero a position in his store, and for some years he supplied the customers with flour, pork, molasses and other commodities required for the fishing population. They surely thought that the strength of Israel's legs somehow had been transferred to his arms. Amongst other feats, none could climb to a masthead as quickly as he could accomplish the feat.


For some time our hero followed the avocation of his neighbours and went in the fishing boat to catch the cod. He had mastered the art of fishing by practical experience. There is a curious story told in connection with Israel's fishing exploits. One day, as he and his comrade in the fishing boat were getting their catch up and over the stage head, something of a humorous nature happened. According as the tub was filled and the signal to haul was given, two women pulled it up be means of block and tackle. The last load was Israel himself. The innocent women didn't know but they were hauling another load of fish. When our hero's head appeared in sight, the startled women screamed, loosened the rope and ran. Israel descended more quickly to the starting place than he ascended...

By dint of industry and stringent economy, this indefatigable hustler decided to put part of his savings with a similar amount of W.F. and speculate in a codtrap for the fishing industry. This proved to be a lucrative enterprise and they made considerable profits while they held together. For some reason the partnership was dissolved. In the subsequent development of this interesting career our hero's next adventure was as a shop keeper. He took his cash and went to Bonavista to purchase his stock in trade. One of the merchants significantly shock his head, and strongly advised him to hold on to his cash, but it was all in vain. Israel meant business and he opened his shop. He, however, lived long enough, and did business sufficient, and made as many bad debts, as to convince him that he had better to have taken good advice. It proved at length that, instead of the shop keeping Israel it was a case of Israel keeping the shop. He retired from business honourably...


When nearing forty years of age, our honourable friend elected to join the noble army of benedicts. He made a common-sense choice by marrying a widow with a young family. From that day forward, Israel never wanted for a friend. Some, musing in the affair, wondered if Rev C.C. was perfectly justified in performing the ceremony. The rev gentleman never performed a more praiseworthy action. In a few years his step-son, Israel, was able to administer to his wants- he would carry him from his cosy corner and deposit him in his vehicle. At the church door he would carry him to his pew. At the close of the service he would carry him again to his vehicle. It was in the highest sense a happy marriage, and for more than thirty years the happy couple were spared to each other and raised a respectable family...

The Minister could always pass an interesting and profitable hour in Israel Hill's company...Our honoured friend had cultivated a taste for reading, but he was above all a "man of one book". He had thumb-marked the sacred volume from Genesis to Revelation. He was at home in a spiritual conversation and was able to converse intelligently upon things in general- at a certain gentleman's assertion, "Mr. Hill, you ought to be a good man, with so much time on your hands for reading and meditation." There came the reply, "You are wrong, Mr. , the best and happiest time in my life was when I could get around and attend to my daily duties." A very sensible answer. He was then in his 74th year...


One of the pleasant pastimes of our genial friend was the violin. On this instrument he was able to amuse himself as well as delight his family. He played sacred music generally. Elliston people were noted for their musical talent...


Source: Evening Advocate, June, 1920, an article by Charles Lynch entitled "Israel Hill- a lesson in self help"



Legend of Kitty Casey


Elliston and Maberly, like many other small Newfoundland communities, have their share of unique tales surrounding various events in their combined history. One such story is the legend of Kitty Casey, a headless woman, who is said to roam the Sandy Cove area. This particular case actually can be traced back to a court case recorded in The Day Book, St. John’s on the 26th of September in 1862:


Nearly the whole of to-day has been spent in the case of The Queen vs. Patrick Casey, the prisoner being found guilty. Several civil issues have also been disposed of:


During the course of the above trial, a messenger came from Bird Island Cove (where the prisoner resided) to say that his wife had just cut her throat and was in a dying state. She has since been visited by a Doctor who says she cut herself in five places, and that there is no hope of her recovery. She is now dead. The prisoner, Patrick Casey, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment.


N. C. Crewe commented:


. . . Casey, who was a tanner by trade, was either an Irishman or a native of Hr. Grace. I think he came to Bird Island Cove as a shareman fisherman with my great-grandfather, Richard Cole. He came to be a planter on his own account, his stage being in what is still known as Casey’s Gulch. He lived nearby, on the point. His sister lived with him, and they had an incestuous child who married one Tom Sullivan, who lived for years as a fisherman there and later moved to St. John’s . . . in old age . . . [Casey] died at B. Is. Cove and is buried in Bonavista, in R. C. Cemetery. . . .


The late Hon. J. V. O’Dea told me in 1958 that when he was a young bookkeeper at Ryans, in Bonavista, old Paddy Casey used to come in there selling poems he had made up. . . . this was about 1892.


Nobody knows who Paddy’s wife was, but her name was Kitty Casey, and I have heard it said when a boy that raisins she attempted to eat came out though the cuts in her throat. She was buried in a droke in Sandy Cove.


. . . Kitty suicided from grief because of Paddy’s conduct.


Kitty Casey was buried near Sandy Cove instead of in a cemetery because, at this time, it was believed that anyone who committed suicide should not be buried in holy ground.


Source: Neal Tucker - A Measure of Success: The Story of Elliston 1806-2006.



Rev. William Ellis

Rev. William Ellis


ELLIS. REV. WILLIAM (1780-1837).

Missionary. Perhaps the most memorable, certainly the most indefatigable, of all the early Methodist missionaries to Newfoundland, Ellis, like many others of his calling in those days, was an Irishman, born in County Down. There as a youth he witnessed some of the battles of the uprisings of 1797-98, on one occasion barely escaping with his life when his family in hiding was discovered by the enemy. The timely arrival of friendly troops saved his life, a circumstance that Ellis ascribed to the intervention of Divine Providence, which, he believed, had saved him for a purpose. Shortly thereafter he offered himself as a Methodist Class Leader and Local Preacher. The date of his ordination is uncertain, but in 1808 as an ordained minister he was sent to Newfoundland, where he was to spend his entire ministry of twenty-nine years and become the first British Methodist missionary to die and be buried on the Island. He also had the distinction of being in 1816-17 the first Chairman of the newly-created Methodist District of Newfoundland (under the British Methodist Conference). His circuits in Newfoundland included most of the major ones in the District: Bonavista (during three separate terms, in 1812-15, 1820-21, and 1832-35), Blackhead, Brigus-Cupids, Port de Grave (which then also included Bay Roberts and Clark's Beach), and Harbour Grace. His posting in 1816 to Trinity, Trinity Bay, where several earlier attempts to establish a mission had failed, met with no greater success, though at a later time a substantial Methodist circuit was constituted at Trinity. He was, however, instrumental in laying the groundwork for at least two new missions that soon grew into substantial circuits: at Catalina, and at Bird Island Cove, where he is believed to have preached the first sermon to its Protestant residents and which some eighty years later was renamed Elliston in his memory. He died and was buried at Harbour Grace in 1837.


Source: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador



Biography of Rev. William Ellis


Mr. Ellis was born in County Down, in the North of Ireland, in 1780; and was converted to God in the sixteenth year of his age. When about eighteen, the Irish Rebellion broke out, and to some of its fearful scenes he was an eye-witness. At the battle of Ballynahinch, his parents, with all the family, had to leave their house, and hide themselves in the field as best they could, where the crying of one of the children exposed their concealment, and, but for the timely arrival of the troops, they would have been massacred. The providence of God preserved him in the midst of danger. He afterwards filled several important positions in his native land, - in particular, those of class leader, and a local preacher. He came to Newfoundland as a missionary, in 1808, where he spent all of his remaining life, which was twenty-nine years, in preaching the word of God and salvation. He was a kind and amiable man, of good natural abilities, and very eloquent as a speaker; he was faithful, laborious, and successful in his work, and continued to labor until within a few months of his decease. He died in peace, at Harbour Grace, Sept. 21st, 1837.


Source: Rev. William Wilson (Newfoundland and its Missionaries, by Rev. William Wilson, MUN CNS BX 8356 N4W5.



Will of Rev. William Ellis


I William Ellis being of sound mind and memory for which I think God do make this my last will and testament.

First, I give and bequeath to Charlotte my beloved wife two hundred pounds Curry. one hundred pounds of which is on interest in the Wesleyan Chapel at St. John's, Fifty pounds on interest in the Wesleyan Chapel Harbor Grace and Fifty pounds on interest in the Wesleyan Chapel Carbonear, the whole of the above to be at the disposal of my executors for the benefit of my children but should the children be brought up to their majority without drawing on the above two hundred pounds then as they come of age each of the four eldest to receive fifty pounds and the youngest to receive a similar sum from the sale of my books, and should it so happen that any of the children should die before they become of age their share to be divided equally among the surviving children. I further give to my wife all my household furniture except as hereinafter mentioned to be at the disposal of my executors for the use of her and my children.

Secondly I give and bequeath to my son Robert after the death of my wife or when my executors may think fit Dr. Clark's Commentary on the Bible my best watch and a feather bed.

Thirdly I give and bequeath to my son John Dr. Cake's Commentary on the Bible and my inferior watch.

Fourthly, I give and bequeath to my daughter Elen her bed and beding but should it so happen that my executors would be obliged to draw any part of the above named two hundred pounds then the remainder to be divided equally between my four eldest children. And it is my will and desire that Richard Anderson and Mrs. Ellis be the executors of this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof I hereunto put my hand and seal at Harbor Grace in the Island of Newfoundland this 12th day of September 1837. Wm. Ellis (LS) Witness present, Thos. Ridley. John Stevenson. Richd Anderson.

Certified Correct,

D. M. Browning



Source: Newfoundland will books volume 1 page 275 probate year 1838.



Philip Tocque


TOCQUE, PHILIP, teacher, author, office holder, and Church of England clergyman; b. 14 Jan. 1814 in Carbonear, Nfld, son of Philip Tocque and Ann Howell; m. 11 Dec. 1838 Eliza Touzou Chauncey of St John’s, and they had six sons and four daughters; d. 22 Oct. 1899 in Toronto.


Philip Tocque’s father was a merchant and shipowner in the firm of Tocque and Levi at Carbonear, and the boy grew up in relative comfort. He was educated in what were termed private schools, that is, schools run by masters in their own homes, where he was taught mathematics, navigation, and English grammar. At the age of 16, in the same year his father died, Tocque left the Church of England to join the Methodist Society in Carbonear. There he learned to preach and met the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse*. In 1831 he went to Bristol, England, probably on business for Tocque and Levi, and heard sermons by Jonathan Edmondson, a former president of the Wesleyan conference. Three years later he stowed away on one of Tocque and Levi’s ships to get a firsthand view of the Newfoundland seal hunt. He became convinced that the slaughter was immoral and had a coarsening effect on those who took part in it. Late in life, however, he would have a more sympathetic view of the sealers.


In 1835 Tocque became a clerk in the mercantile establishment of Slade, Elson and Company, where Gosse and William Charles St John (like Tocque an early Newfoundland-born literary figure) also worked. John Elson, an agent in the firm, was president of the Carbonear Book Club, and together the clerks and agent formed a literary circle. In 1836–37 Tocque published three articles in Conception Bay newspapers.


Tocque wrote to the Methodist Missionary Society in London, England, in 1840 asking to be considered a candidate for the ministry. Nothing resulted from this application. The following year he became a schoolmaster in Port de Grave, an outport in Conception Bay, and the year after that he went to Bird Island Cove (Elliston), Trinity Bay, where he is said to have kept a pedlar’s shop. During his two years in Bird Island Cove he wrote his first book, Wandering thoughts, or solitary hours (London, 1846), a collection of entertaining, rambling essays designed in part to introduce younger readers to the wonders of science. Woven into the essays are the threads of an amateur historian, a naturalist, and a patriot. The writing is sometimes awkward and florid, yet it is impressive.


After his stay in Bird Island Cove, Tocque taught school again, this time at Broad Cove (St Phillips) near St John’s, where he stayed one year. Throughout the 1840s he was searching for suitable employment in Newfoundland and trying his hand at an assortment of skills. In 1845 he gave his first public lecture at a meeting of the Natives’ Society of Carbonear. The difficulties facing native Newfoundlanders who were trying to get ahead in their own country would be one of his persistent themes. He now also became interested in geology, and he is said to have been the first Newfoundlander to lecture on scientific subjects. In 1845, too, he published pieces on astronomy and natural history in the St John’s Public Ledger and corresponded with the British Museum about supplying specimens of rocks, minerals, birds, and insects for its collections.


In July that year Tocque secured an appointment as clerk of the peace in Harbour Breton, Fortune Bay, at a modest salary of £35 per annum. While carrying out the duties of this office, he continued to publish on scientific subjects and for the first time commented on political and economic issues. His articles, which appeared in the Public Ledger, brought the remote and neglected south coast of Newfoundland to public attention. He pointed to the agricultural potential of the area, not always realistically. In other pieces he criticized the system of education in the island and the power of the merchants, and made unfavourable comparisons between Newfoundland and the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to which he had travelled to promote his book. He also wrote about responsible government, which he appeared to support, though he stated, “I have no faith in parties.” His views were noted, not altogether favourably, by the government in St John’s, and when Tocque asked for an increase in salary to £60 in 1848, it was not forthcoming. In December he described himself in a letter to the colonial secretary as “bordering on a state of starvation.” The following year, having been denied other appointments, he decided to leave Newfoundland for good. “I have no doubt,” he wrote, “I shall be able to push my way in any other colony.” During his years in Harbour Breton he published three almanacs.


Tocque arrived in Boston in December 1849. He was one of thousands of Newfoundland emigrants leaving the island for America at this time. (Between 1846 and 1859 almost 3,000 Newfoundlanders arrived in Boston.) He responded with wide-eyed astonishment to the commercial and industrial life of New England and soon produced a book entitled A peep at Uncle Sam’s farm, workshop, fisheries, &c. (Boston, 1851) to acquaint Newfoundlanders with America, “a country which is destined to be the greatest upon which the sun ever shone.” He now became a pacifist and delivered an anti-war lecture, he attended what he said was the first woman’s rights convention ever held in America, and he took an interest in the movement against slavery. Any progressive cause struck a chord with him. In 1851 he enrolled in the theological department of Trinity College at Hartford, Conn., to train as an Episcopalian minister. He completed his studies in 1852 and was ordained to the diaconate by the coadjutor bishop of Connecticut, Dr John Williams. He then became assistant to Bishop Horatio Southgate at the Church of the Advent in Boston. During his stay in America he busied himself with preaching, and one of his sermons was published in 1853. A short introduction to oceanography, The mighty deep, had appeared the previous year in New York.


After more than four years in America, and with a family of seven children, Tocque left for Nova Scotia, where he was elevated to the Anglican priesthood by Bishop Hibbert Binney* in 1854. From then until 1877 Tocque’s life was that of a backwoods Anglican preacher in parishes in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario. His first mission was centred at Tusket, N.S., and covered 60 miles of coastline from Barrington in the southwest to Digby on the Bay of Fundy. At first he was a travelling missionary in this parish, but in 1856 he was given a regular appointment with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Another of his sermons was published at Yarmouth, N.S., in 1858. That year he received an honorary am from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis. In 1862 Tocque left Nova Scotia and moved to Sydenham, near Kingston, in the diocese of Ontario. A year later he departed for a new mission in Hope Town in the Gaspé district. From 1869 onwards he served in various parishes in Ontario, including Markham and the townships of Mulmur and Galway.


It was in these rural ministries that Tocque was destined to pass his priestly life, and his annual reports to the SPG show the nature of his work: incessant (and usually effective) fund-raising, the building of churches and parsonages, and preaching. It was typical of Tocque that while carrying out the duties of the priesthood with apparent enthusiasm, he should also be looking for jobs elsewhere. For example, in 1861 he wrote to the SPG to ask for an appointment as an emigrants’ chaplain in some Irish port. If that was not possible, he said, he would be willing to hold public meetings and collect money “in either of the three kingdoms.” He added, “I am healthy and able to undergo any physical labor.” Caught up in parish work, he may have longed for travel and adventure. His suggestion was not taken up.


During this period Tocque wrote articles for the Dominion Churchman(Toronto) and other journals, and prepared what is possibly his most important book, Newfoundland: as it was, and as it is in 1877 (London and Toronto, 1878). Essentially this work is a combination of history, gazetteer, and almanac. The first two chapters present an overview of the history of the island. Eleven others describe the colony’s districts, and four constitute a statistical almanac. In addition, there is an extensive chapter on natural history and a concluding one on the Beothuks. The book indulges every passion and interest of Tocque’s. It contains outspoken criticisms of Newfoundland’s system of government and its merchant class, memorably termed by him the “fishocracy.” The book is packed with information derived from other authors, but some of it is personal. “I have made this book out of myself, out of my life,” he says in his preface.


Tocque’s years in the active ministry of the Church of England ended in the late 1870s, and he settled in Toronto on a small pension. His retirement was an early one, perhaps because he had suffered a stroke, but he stayed busy. He became a chaplain to various institutions: the asylum for the mentally ill, reformatories, hospitals, prisons, and the immigration buildings. In 1890 he made his third and final visit home to Newfoundland, where he delivered a lecture and made contact with the St John’s Evening Telegram. Beginning in the spring of 1891, Tocque sent lengthy letters to the Telegram, which were usually given prominence in the paper. Ten of these comprised reminiscences “awakened by” his reading of Daniel Woodley Prowse*’s A history of Newfoundland from the English, colonial, and foreign records (London and New York, 1895). Others were promotional, “booming” letters exaggerating the potential of Newfoundland, which he said would in a hundred years be “the rendezvous where all the gay sports meet.” In all, about 125 letters appeared; some of them were reprinted in Kaleidoscope echoes . . . (Toronto, 1895). His visit home also inspired a touching piece in this volume, a book of essays somewhat resembling Wandering thoughts, though more poignant and stimulating. In one of the essays he writes gloomily of his feelings as he walks through the Carbonear graveyard; in another, entitled “He is nobody,” he ponders the futility of trying to achieve fame.


Philip Tocque has been called Newfoundland’s first man of letters. He produced ten separate publications, four of them substantial books, as well as numerous articles in newspapers and journals. His essays are varied in subject-matter, progressive in attitude, and engaging in tone. His independence of mind and his patriotism stand out against the colonial mentality of many other writers in 19th-century Newfoundland.





In addition to the works cited in the text, Philip Tocque’s publications include two sermons, The voice of the sea: a sermon, preached on Sunday evening, Oct. 2, 1853, in St. Mary’s Church, Richmond Street, Boston . . . (Boston, 1853) and “If I say the truth,why do ye not believe me?” A sermon, preached on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 21st, 1858, in St. Stephen’s Church, Tusket, Nova Scotia (Yarmouth, N. S., 1858), and three issues ofThe Newfoundland almanac . . . (St John’s), which he compiled for the years 1848–50. A second edition of A peep at Uncle Sam’s farm . . . appeared in Boston in 1858. His volume of essays, Kaleidoscope echoes: being historical, philosophical, scientific, and theological sketches, from the miscellaneous writings of the Rev. Philip Tocque, A.M. (Toronto, 1895), was edited by his daughter, Annie S. W. Tocque.


Tocque also made a number of contributions to periodicals and especially newspapers, including the Carbonear Sentinel and Conception Bay Advertiser (Carbonear, Nfld.), 1837; the Weekly Herald and Conception-Bay General Advertiser (Harbour Grace, Nfld.), 1845; the St John’s Morning Courier and Public Ledger, 1845–51, and Evening Telegram, 1890–99; the Dominion Churchman (Toronto), 1875–89, and its successor, the Canadian Churchman, 1890–99.


There are letters from Tocque to the colonial secretary of Newfoundland in PANL, GN 2/2, 1847: f.442; 1848: ff.669–72, 746–48, 976; January–June 1849: ff.172–75, 393–94; July–December 1850: ff.79, 87. Microfilm (and some transcript) copies of his SPG correspondence are available at NA, MG 17, B1. These records include Tocque’s letters from Tusket, N. S. (C/N. S., box I/11, folder 134; D.27/N.S.), Hopetown, Que. (D/Que., 1860–67: 615–16 (transcripts)), and various parishes in Ontario (D/Ont., 1862–67: 828 (transcript); D.40/Tor. & Alg. (mfm.); D.44/Ont.: 114; D/Tor., 1879: 413; D.54/Tor.: 131–34 (transcripts)), as well as his mission reports from Tusket and Hopetown (in E/N. S., 1857–61 and E/Que., 1853–68 respectively). His letter of 11 Jan. 1840 to the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society is in the society’s records at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library, Univ. of London, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., corr., North America, box 11: f.258 (mfm. at NA); and there are two letters, dated 5 Jan. and 15 Nov. 1846, in the British Museum (London).


Carbonear United Church, List of tombstones; Reg. of burials for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1820–60 (copies at PANL). Private arch., E.-V. Chafe (St John’s), Geneal. file on Tocque. PRO, CO 199/40–45 (mfm. at PANL). York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.13726 (mfm. at AO). Canadian Churchman, 2 Nov. 1899. Evening Telegram, 3 Nov. 1899. Globe, 24 Oct. 1899. Canadian men and women of the time(Morgan; 1898). E.-V. Chafe, “A new life on Uncle Sam’s farm: Newfoundlanders in Massachusetts, 1846–1859” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., St John’s, 1984). Marjorie Doyle, “A biography of Philip Tocque (1814–1899)” (MA thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., 1986). Patrick O’Flaherty, The Rock observed: studies in the literature of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1979).


Source: Canadian Biography



Nimshi Crewe


Nimshi Crewe, from Elliston, was a public accountant based in St. John's-based and avid collector of Newfoundland material. He collected a great deal of material and there is even a “Nimshi Crewe” file at the provincial achieve. Below is some material written by him concerning the codfish aristocracy.


Letter written by Nimshi Crewe.


Dear Sir:


For many years I have been using in speech the above three-word reference as a title for an economic class in our little Newfoundland society, as indicating the better-off planter fisherman. But it occurred to me the other day that I had never seen the term in print and, further, that I did not know what I myself meant by it. On consulting two of my historically-minded friends, they proved never to have heard the term. I am therefore left with the impression that I invented the term myself. Should it apply so as to include not only better-off planter fishermen but merchants whose main suit of extractive industrial business, as distinct from trading as such, had to do with producing and/or purchasing fish?..


For example, there was my ancestor Thomas Cole, an illiterate small boat fisherman, born at Bonavista in 1768 and married there in 1794, who moved to settle in nearby Elliston about 1808. There he prospered, so that when he died in 1840 he bequeathed about six hundred pounds in money, plus a house and fishing room and outfit. The furniture of his house included a mahogany grandfather clock, sic beech chairs, a dozen silver spoons, etc. plus his own silver seal and watch chain. I would count him as a codfish aristocrat.


Two generations afterwards, a grandson of Cole's wife named Robert Tilly was sent to school at Bonavista by his illiterate fisherfolk parents sufficiently long to qualify him as a schoolmaster. When he received a hundred pound bequest from his grandmother in 1853, he left school teaching and set up as a small merchant in Elliston. At his death in 1872 there, he was the only merchant in the place and everybody dealt with him; he left a house, lots of land and a business premises and a stock in trade. At church, people used to wait until he and his wife and family walked out at the service's end before venturing to do so themselves, standing up till he had gone through the door, all quite in the manner of a village squire in England. Would he be counted as a codfish aristocrat, for his commercial existence depended on the fish that was caught in the place all of which he bought and resold to Job Brothers in St. John's?


Source: Daily News, October 25, 1967




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