Robert Carter (1790-1852) was a merchant and magistrate who was born in Dartmouth, Devon, England on October 12th 1790. Although his family had resided in Ferryland on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland for three generations at this time, it was not uncommon for many family members to maintain dual residency, keeping one foot in England and one in Newfoundland, as it were. Such was the case for his father, also named Robert Carter, and his mother, Elizabeth Harris Howe. Indeed it is believed that his mother may never have come to Newfoundland, though his father certainly resided there, as did his grandparents, the first Robert Carter in this line and his wife Ann Wylly.
Robert Carter was a 1st cousin of my 3rd great grandmother, Anne Sanders.
Through multiple generations, this family was involved in the commerce of the fishing and shipping trades. But also, they served in various legal and governmental capacities, as was common for the merchants in Newfoundland outports in those days.
It was therefore the case that this particular Robert Carter was appointed as a Stipendiary Magistrate, Justice of the Peace and “Keeper of the Rolls”, amongst many related governmental appointments, for the Ferryland district. And, as was the custom for such figures, Robert Carter maintained a diary or occurrence book for the period between 1832 and 1852, until a few days before his early death on October 7th, 1852.
These diaries, or those of them that remain, were recorded in Twenty-three small, hardcover record books of the kind that might have been used for the financial records of a fish merchant, such as he was. The three missing volumes were lost at some point over the intervening 150 years. At that time, Jean Carter Stirling, Robert’s second great granddaughter, took an interest in the diaries, which had been rediscovered in the attic of a cousin of hers. She borrowed them and began the painstaking task of transcribing every volume still available. When the task was completed, along with a friend and distant Carter relative, Ida White Michael, she prepared two indices, one covering the names of every person mentioned in the diaries and one doing likewise for all of the shipping and fishing vessels mentioned. Finally, to make the product as complete as possible, she also extracted and commented upon the entries from the Daily News in 1928 which excerpted selections from these diaries considered timely or interesting, and which were composed under the nom de plume, of Viator, who was widely believed to be the publisher of the Daily News, the Honourable J. A. Robinson.
Having completed this monumental task, Jean Carter Stirling chose the Centre for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) as the most appropriate institution to entrust with maintaining her Magnum Opus. CNS retains the original typescript. Recognizing that a way of searching the body of work by electronic means was vital for researchers, in 2021, I used modern scanning and optical character recognition software to make page by page text files for each page in Jean Carter Stirling’s three volume transcript.
The original Robert Carter diaries have been donated by the family to the Provincial Archives Division of The Rooms Corporation, as has a photocopy of the Jean Carter Stirling transcript. In 2014 and 2015, three members of the S.S. Daisy Legal History Committee of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador (Gerald Barnable, Christopher Curran and Melvin Baker) re-transcribed the diaries and published them in two volumes as A Ferryland Merchant – Magistrate : The Journal and Cases of Robert Carter, Esq. J.P., Parts I and II. This treatment gave greater attention to the legal aspects of the diaries.
Jean Carter Stirling’s transcript and my parallel text versions of each page were published on the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Digital Archives Initiative on July 26, 2021, with the able assistance of the DAI administrator, Don Walsh and the support of Colleen Field, Division Head of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. The link to this collection is given here:
To facilitate even more the browsing of these journals, here are my complete Word file text transcripts of each of Jean Carter Stirling’s work: