About Elliston - General Community 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.



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


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