As mentioned in the introduction to Newfoundland Court Records, The documents prepared for the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, whether for its central trial division in St. John’s or its circuit courts in the Southern District (Ferryland) and Northern District (Bonavista), have wound up being separated in two archival collections nowadays. Some are found at the Registry of Deeds (ROD) and some are found at the Provincial Archives of The Rooms. There is a certain amount of logic to this division, with land related documents tending to me more prevalent amongst the holdings at the ROD. But that is not a universal rule. Similarly, many of the earliest documents, especially for the district courts, are to be found at the ROD. But that is not always the case either. Therefore, when searching for a document or case file it is often necessary to visit both the ROD and The Rooms to view their collections. This duplication is aggravated by the lack of an online index to these holdings in either location.
An attempt was made some years ago by the late Ray Curran to rectify the problem of a lack of an easily accessible index to the documents pertaining to the Southern District Court holdings. He reviewed all of the volumes of court files pertaining to this region only, whether from the Surrogate Court or the Supreme Court, Southern District sessions, and created a table with a brief description of each document including the names of the principals involved and the date of the recording of the document. This index is currently only available online on the website of the Newfoundland’s Grand Banks (NGB) genealogy group:
Since Ray’s tragic early passing, his summary table has been slightly modified and corrected by the volunteers in the NGB group, and Kevin Reddigan has supplemented it with more detailed information on cases pertaining to the residents of Caplin Bay/Calvert. But for all intents and purposes these have been the only attempts made to provide an online index to any of the early Newfoundland Court documents.
The documents below were found in the summer of 2016 during a fairly through search of one box of court documents held at The Rooms. As my focus broadens and more individuals who took part in the affairs of the Colony in the early days become associated with my area of research additional documents will no doubt take on new meaning and will be included here.
GN 5-2-C-1 Supreme Court – Southern District records, Box 163-166 (1825-1905)
I am presenting these documents in chronological order, as I did for the documents of the Central District, as there is no “theme” or other order suggested by the contents of the files and an alphabetical listing would have to list the documents at least twice, once by the name of the Plaintiff and once by the name of the Defendant, and more than twice in the instance of multiple Plaintiffs and Defendants. The page can of course be searched by name to find documents of interest to a specific family or person.
Many of the files presented here are of no relevance other than to indicate that a familiar name appeared on the list of petty or grand jury members in a particular sitting of the Court. Other files are simply summary tables to the cases heard during that session or circuit of the court, focusing for my purposes on the sessions that took place in Ferryland rather than elsewhere in the Southern District.
All of these files were photographed, not scanned, and, where there were multiple pages in a case file, each page is presented as a separate photograph. Later I may assemble these into PDFs to reduce the number of files presented here.
GN-5-1-C-1 Southern Circuit Summary of Writs
As noted above, some of the pages in these court registers were devoted to summarising the cases being heard in the sessions of a particular period in time, sometimes in one year, sometimes in multiple years. This is the closest thing to an index that exists for the contents of these registers and unfortunately they have never been digitised by The Rooms and made available as such. I have only photographed the pages pertaining to the Ferryland Circuit Sessions and unfortunately many of the photos are not good, verging on illegible. Some day, hopefully, The Rooms, or some researcher or volunteer will actually index these pages and make them available for searching.
Above are two multiple year summaries. Individual year summaries appear below chronologically.
At the commencement of the proceedings of each circuit session of the Surrogate Court certain housekeeping matters such as the swearing in of jury members and the naming of the officers of the court in attendance was necessary and these details were recorded for posterity. In this instance, Robert Carter was the Deputy Sheriff, William Carter was the Magistrate, and Richard Sullivan and Michael Devereaux and a person named Sisk whose forename was omitted were amongst the petty jurors. Meanwhile a list of those required to attend as members of grand juror but who did not attend (most likely occupied in the fishery) was given and each was threatened with a fine £2-10 Shillings, should they not appear during the session, a hefty price to pay for a weeks absence from the fishery. Their excuses were heard and some were absolved while others were made to pay.
This is an object lesson in accepting the role of a trustee in an insolvency case. Matthew Morry Jr. was owed rent for a fishing room that he owned in Aquaforte (this is news to me). The two men using the fishing room were Matthew Ryan and George Doran but they had subsequently been declared insolvent. The trustee handling their affairs promised Matthew £15 out of the £16 he was owed but then recanted and said there were insufficient funds available to pay even 20 Shillings on the Pound. A jury was chosen to adjudicate and found in favour of Morry.
A simple action to recover a debt of £22-12 Shillings-0 Pence. The defendants admitted and paid the debt, leaving one to wonder why they did not do so before going to the trouble and expense of a hearing before the court. It is of interest nevertheless because it shows how closely allied in business Benjamin Sweetland and Matthew Morry (Junior) were at this time.
GN-5-1-C-1 Richard Mockler vs Arthur H. Carter; and Benjamin Sweetland & Matthew Morry vs Patrick Evoy ca Oct 1826
On this one page two cases are presented. Actually in this court record book there were often multiple cases presented in extremely synoptic form on each page. The first case was withdrawn and settled out of court, again begging the question why these things even appeared in court in the first place. The second case is similar in that the Plaintiffs charged they had supplied the Defendant and his servants bait worth £10-10 Shillings, the Defendant admitted the debt and was ordered to pay the full amount.
This summary only lists four writs served in Ferryland in 1827. Obviously, from the cases presented below, which do not appear in this list, it was incomplete. Perhaps a second list pertaining to a separate session was missed by me during my review of the record books.
For the second session of the Surrogate Court in 1827 William Carter was the Magistrate with Richard Sullivan acting as one of two Constables. Grand Jurors included, amongst others, James H. Carter (see more on him below; this was a pure conflict of interest), Matthew Morry (assumed Junior), John Morry, N. Stabb, P. Winser, E. Stabb, N. Clift, and B. Sweetland.
This is an extremely important case for my family history research because it pertains to proven charge of rape against one of my ancestors. It is even more notable because of the light treatment this pillar of society received when found guilty by a jury of his peers, including amongst others Benjamin Sweetland as foreman and Nicholas Stabb, Matthew Morry (junior one assumes), Peter Winser, Ewen Stabb, and Noah Clift, all men with whom Carter was related either through marriage or business or both. Another unusual aspect of the case is that the charge was being laid not as a criminal offence but rather as a civil case seeking compensation by the mother of the girl raped to cover the loss of her services whilst pregnant and later whilst caring for her child. No criminal charges were evidently laid in the case and the judge and jury, though finding Carter liable, restricted that liability to £30 instead of the £100 sought in the action. We know from information found in other sources on the case that the girl who was raped, Ellen Delahunty, was forced by public censure to leave the village but we do not know what became of her or her child, except that Carter never admitted any responsibility for their care. As far as is known, the incident did not cause anything more than a little public embarrassment to Carter and possibly not even that. His business and his marriage carried on as usual.
This case has been written up in several legal journals because of the lengthy explanation offered by the trial judge on a matter that, at least on the face of it, seemed simple and presumably one that would not take much of the court’s time. Only a lawyer could possibly be interested in the intricacies of the precedents quoted and the reasoning followed by the trial judge. All that lesser mortals need to know about this case is that Ewen Stabb carried fish for Peter Winser to England and that upon arrival the fish weighed much less than when shipped because of the condition of the fish when shipped (it had not been properly dried before being shipped). Winser refused to pay the full freight claiming a mistake had been made in the weighing of the cargo and that he should only have paid freight on the amount received, not the amount shipped. But the judge determined that this was not the case according to legal precedent and that Stabb was indeed entitled to receive the full price agreed in advance for his shipping the fish and ought not to be forced to return any part of that commission to Winser.
Curiously, this page contains two lists of writs for Ferryland, the first undated but containing some of the cases mentioned above under 1827, but also many more not found in the register, and a second list said to be for 1828 which does not contain the cases heard below. The former issue can be explained because of many cases being withdrawn due to a settlement out of court. But the inaccuracies pertaining to listings by year which do not contain cases found in the register is perplexing. I find these summary tables to be less useful than I initially thought that they would be in terms of location cases of interest.
Amongst the Officers of the Court in this session, William Carter is named as a “Justice of the Peace” and not a “Magistrate”, as was customarily the case. It isn’t clear if this had any meaning in law at the time. Ewen Stabb was the Deputy Sheriff and Richard Sullivan the Constable. Amongst the members of the Jury selected were Benjamin Sweetland, as Foreman, and Robert Carter, S. Carter, A. Carter, and N. Clift as members.
The Robert Carter Esq. in this case, of whom there were at least three alive at this time, was Robert Carter RN. The case against John Kearny had been dismissed by the Grand Jury but the found the case against Patrick Fennely to be a true bill and the judge pronounced judgement against him and fined him in the amount of £5.
There were two cases of interest on this page. In the first case, Robert and James Carter, who were business partners as well as brothers, were attempting to recover a debt from Matthew Ryan but, as we learned above, he and his partner, Doran had been declared insolvent, hence the jury left it to Judge to determine how to deal with the situation and no conclusion is recorded. In the second case, the jury found for the Plaintiff and awarded him a little less than the full amount of his complaint, £34 – 0 – 0 and 6 Farthings (the full amount claimed being £39). There is no explanation for the awarding of a lesser amount.
As in the case above where the table was ostensibly for 1828 but appeared to cover cases heard in 1827, this table is clearly meant to be the table for 1828 and not 1829 as it includes the two cases summarised above. It appears therefore that the tables are out of place in the court records leading to a misunderstanding as to which year they apply, since not every page in the summaries is dated.
The same Officers of the Court in this session were chosen as in 1828, with William Carter named once again as a “Justice of the Peace” and not a “Magistrate”. Ewen Stabb was the Deputy Sheriff and Richard Sullivan was one of two Constables. The names of the Grand Jury are not given suggesting there was no need for a jury in this session. And indeed I found not cases of interest to my research in this session.
This summary may or may not be for 1830 since it does not contain the cases outlined below. It may in fact be the summary table for 1829 during which year no cases were found to be of interest to my research.
The same Officers of the Court in this session were chosen as in 1829, with one notable exception — William Carter was not named as magistrate; his nephew, Robert Carter was not appointed to this position. This seems odd until one reads the Grand Jury presentment below, in which William Carter is chastised for creating a nuisance with the placement of his new house. Obviously it was necessary to recuse him from receiving this report. Ewen Stabb was the Deputy Sheriff and Richard Sullivan was one of two Constables. The names of the Grand Jury are again not given suggesting there was no need for a jury in this session. And indeed I found not cases of interest to my research in this session.
These “presentments” were in large measure complaints about the inadequacies of the Court facilities in Ferryland (insufficient space for jury deliberations, lack of a privy for prisoners in detention, inadequate secure storage for court documents, etc.). They also express concern that cases of a petty nature that could be handled in another venue are taking them from their normal work for days on end. Then they go after Magistrate William Carter, not sitting in this session for obvious reasons, for erecting an obstruction in the public road. I presume this is the new house we hear of in the Journal of Robert Carter. They are concerned that the Public Coroner must travel great distances in his capacity as Clerk of the Circuit Court and hence be absent when needed in Ferryland. Finally they conclude that the Clerk of the Peace should be on salary and not receive fees for his services when acting as Clerk of the Circuit Court and that the Clerk of the Peace not be obliged to serve in this capacity in any event as it too results in lengthy absences from his duties in Ferryland.
GN-5-1-C-1 Michael Devereaux Petty Jury Foreman Oct 1830
This is only singled out or attention for the benefit of the descendants of Michael Devereaux, including the Morry family of Seattle, Washington. Michael was not a merchant and it was some measure of the esteem in which he was held, nevertheless, that he was named as the foreman of a jury.
Although he pleaded guilty and was found so by the Judge, strangely the Prosecutor intervened on his behalf and thus he was only fined 1 Shilling. One supposes that Henry Coryear may have shared some part of the blame for the assault on his person.
It seems that Michael Costello systematically took the salmon out of everyone’s nets moored to Ferryland Head, not just those of Robert and James H. Carter. He was found guilty by the Grand Jury but the sentence is not given in the report.