The general belief of most who know anything about the historic development of Newfoundland as a colony of Britain is that it was originally thought of as a “fishing station” which was, initially at least, the domain of “West Country Merchants”. These merchants from the counties of Devon and Dorset for the most part (though many had ties to London), attempted to exclude other interests that might pose competition to their monopoly. And whilst there is much truth to this conventional wisdom, it of course neglects completely the presence in major parts of Newfoundland in the early days of French interests. That anomaly has yet to be properly addressed by historians.
But there was another group of Europeans who, for a short while at least in the 18th century, attempted to stake a claim to this territory, and more importantly for them, its lucrative fishery resources. This was the Scots. And they too have been all but forgotten by historians. Their attempts to “horn in” on the West Country Merchants’ monopoly took place in the early 1700s and were essentially abandoned before the end of that century for a variety of reasons.
The Voyage of the Christian, 1726-27
Some light has been shed upon this little known aspect of Newfoundland’s history through the efforts of Dr. Olaf Janzen, a professor of historical studies at Grenfell College, now retired. Here is his bio:
Dr. Janzen teaches North Atlantic, Military, and Newfoundland history. His research specialty is eighteenth-century Newfoundland, working on settlement history, piracy, privateering, and the defence of Newfoundland during that period. He is currently investigating the peace-time activities and role of the Royal Navy in Newfoundland waters between 1763 and 1775.
In the course of his research, he discovered that there were documents pertaining to Scottish interest in the Newfoundland fish trade in the 18th Century found in what was then known as the Scottish Record Office. In particular, his efforts focussed on one isolated endeavour, the Voyage of the Christian out of Greenock in 1726/27. This caught his attention not only because of the fact that it was almost unique in being an early attempt by Scottish interests to find a place in the trade dominated by the West Country Merchants, but also because that one voyage was extremely well documented in Journals and Letters belonging to the ship’s supercargo, a young man from Edinburgh named Edward Burd, Jr.
Early in his career, Dr. Janzen travelled to Scotland and spent a great deal of time searching through the Scottish National Archives for documents pertaining to this voyage. Having found and tabulated them, he meticulously transcribed the entire Journal and all of the Letters pertaining to the voyage that he could find.
Here is a complete inventory of the documents accessed and transcribed by Dr. Janzen:
finding aid – scottish record office documents pertaining to the voyage of the christian (1726-1727)
Unfortunately, this wonderful resource has yet to be published and is not yet accessible online, though copies of his work have been sent to the Provincial Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s and can be accessed there. Copies of all the transcribed files and the index were also shared with Scotland’s People, the public face for most archival material in Scotland today. Scotland’s People and the National Records of Scotland grew out of the merger of the Scottish Record Office and General Register Office for Scotland in 2011.
I will be working on Dr. Janzen to encourage him to make this body of work available on Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative and will volunteer my time and my experience with that wonderful resource to assist in any way that I can.
Scottish National Archive Microfilm
In the course of my discussions with Dr. Janzen concerning this body of work, it came to my attention that there existed at The Provincial Archives in The Rooms a microfilm of documents pertaining to Scottish interests in Newfoundland, mostly from the 18th Century, which had been compiled from records held by the Scottish Record Office prior to the merger mentioned above. Dr. Janzen believed that it was most likely a copy of the same microfilm he had that he used as the source of his research on the voyage of the Christian. Nevertheless, I contacted Melanie Tucker at The Rooms and had her track it down for me so that I could view it on my next visit to determine if it contained anything new, that is to say, anything that Dr. Janzen had not already transcribed.
In September 2021, I was able to get to Newfoundland despite COVID travel restrictions and spent several days at the Provincial Archives reading room exploring various documents, mostly on microfilm, pertaining to my family history interests. During the course of that work, I accessed the microfilm that Melanie Tucker had found for me (MG 642 – PANL Reel #343). I made copies of every page on the microfilm to take home with me for later detailed analysis. But one thing was immediately obvious: this microfilm and its contents did not exactly match the one in the possession of Dr. Janzen. While it did contain the Journal of Edward Burd Jr. and some (but far from all) of the letters pertaining to the voyage of the Christian, it also contained other unrelated documents covering the entire 18th century and into the 19th century. The one thing that these documents held in common was that they pertained to Scottish interests in Newfoundland, primarily, but not exclusively, related to the fishery.
Here is a listing of the contents of this microfilm cross-referenced to the documents transcribed by Dr. Janzen and showing the new discoveries unrelated to the voyage of the Christian. The items highlighted in yellow are the same as documents found in Dr. Janzen’s collection. All the others are “new”.
From time to time, as the opportunity presents itself, I will transcribe selected files from this microfilm that are of special interest and post them here. I will also share certain of them which are of broader interest to Newfoundland history related Facebook pages.
Here is the first of these documents. I present it as a PDF of the actual pages of the document and a Word file which is a transcript of those pages adhering as accurately as possible to the spelling and layout of the original document.
This first document pertains to the trials and tribulations of James Cameron, a Scottish Merchant based in London, who lost a fortune in several raids by the French between 1702 and 1710; raids which also cost the life of his Factor and several of his fishermen and the freedom of his brother and agent, Colin Campbell, who was twice captured by the French and held in prison for ransom, on one occasion an imprisonment of four years from 1705 to 1709. Campbell Appealed to the Queen for financial remuneration and was on the verge of success when the Queen died and a new Lord High Treasurer was appointed who evidently did not look with favour on this application. The end result is not revealed in the documents on this microfilm.