Paper on Random by Rev. R. Holland Taylor

Occasional Papers from St. Augustine’s College, No. 209, 31 Dec. 1879, pp. 2–12


Brigus, Conception Bay,
Newfoundland ;
Sept. 8th, 1879.

My dear Sub-Warden,

I take the liberty of forwarding you a brief sketch of my rambles at Random. If you think they will not be to prosy to read in Hall and two [sic: too] lengthy for the narrow limits of an O.P. you can use them in either or both capacities.

The casual observer of the map of Newfoundland will not fail to notice how the coast line is everywhere intersected by arms of the sea, and especially on the south-east. Trinity Bay on the east runs up almost 100 miles until it well-nigh meets Placentia Bay from the south. A narrow isthmus of scarcely more than two miles connects the peninsula of Avalon with the main land of the huge island of Newfoundland. On the north shore of Trinity Bay lies the small island of Random, closely embraced on all sides, save one, by the great island its mother, which seems jealous of allowing it to escape from its maternal control. Random Island and its arms of the sea which surround it and adjoin it have attracted a number of settlers from various parts of Trinity Bay and Conception Bay.

In former times the grand object of ambition with the Newfoundland fisherman was the possession of a portion of the barren coast nearest the fishing-ground as it is called, but of late years failing fisheries and want of fuel have been convincing them that, after all, the kindly fruits of the earth are a great help in providing for the necessities of a family, while “a cottage near the woods,” where firing can be easily obtained is preferable to a home by the deep heaving sea. So during the last few years the tide of emigration has been setting in the direction of the fertile hills of Random Island and Smith’s and Random Sounds, until a population of considerably over 1000 people is to be found there. The greater part of these are professedly members of the Church of England, for the supply of whose spiritual wants no permanent provision has alas! been made. They have never been favoured with more than an annual visit from a clergyman, and can it be wondered that others are endeavouring to supply our lack of service? This summer, at the request of the Bishop, two clergymen from the adjoining deanery of Conception Bay determined to leave their own missions for a few days, at all events, to carry the ministrations of the Church to these poor neglected children of ours, to convince them that they were not forgotten, but that many prayers were going up on their behalf, and that their Bishop and clergy were only too anxious to give them whatever aid was possible.

On Tuesday, 5th August, we left Harbor Grace for Heart’s Content, here hoping to find a boat that would convey us across Trinity Bay to some part of our mission field. After spending some hours in vainly endeavouring to find a suitable boat, we were compelled to abandon the attempt from Heart’s Content; all the fishermen who own large boats go away on Monday morning and do not return until Saturday. We learnt that the Packet comes across Trinity Bay from the adjoining settlement of New Perlican, so on Wednesday morning we started for New Perlican, found that the packet was expected, waited all day, had service at night, did not go to bed until nearly one o’clock, at three we found the packet was in, so got up and went on board. She weighed anchor between four and five, but it was very moderate until about nine, when a gale sprang up and we tossed about until 11 o’clock, when we managed to reach Ireland’s Eye, an island rather to the north of Random, and an appanage of the Mission of Trinity. Here we were most courteously received by the chief man of the island, a fine old Churchman, whose portly and courtly bearing would do honour to Government House. Governor Toope, as he is called, exercises the powers of an unlimited monarchy, and would that all governors of islands were as solicitous of the welfare of Church and State as James Toope. The word was passed round for service at 3 p.m, and at 7 p.m.; and as in the meantime the wind had abated, we had considerable congregations in the school-room, which does duty for a church. After the last service our good friend collected the male members of the congregation on their way home, and solicited volunteers to carry the two clergymen to this special locality, in Smith’s Sound. His boat would be ready and he himself intended to go, and who could resist such a captain ? so four stalwart young fellows were soon enlisted. We retired to rest early, as we were to be up at dawn of day; our quarters were small but clean.

At four we were up, and after breakfast we embarked for Burgoyne’s Cove in Smith’s Sound. Broken slumbers, followed by early rising, succeeded by occasional showers of rain, accompanied by a thick mist, do not combine to make a five hours’ journey in a boat pleasant; we, however, sped on our way and could not but be cheerful at the intelligence displayed by our captain and crew. We left the rough waters of Trinity Bay and gradually worked our way up the Sound, obtaining glimpses rich and rare of the land by which we were now surrounded on each side. It was nearly 10 a.m., when we arrived at Burgoyne’s Cove, so named we were informed by no less an individual than Captain Cook.

Mr. Toope conveyed us to the house where the minister usually puts up, and it was known by every person in Burgoyne’s Cove that two clergymen would hold service in the largest room we could obtain, viz., an unfinished dwelling house. Here alas! we found traces of the Church’s neglect. Some families avowed themselves members of the Congregational Society—even our host himself—his father had waited and laboured and fought for the Church for 30 years, and had died without seeing an answer to his prayers, and the son had joined himself to those who had come to offer to teach them. What could we say? We could hardly blame him, though we reasoned with him and soon toned down the bitterness of his feelings. He willingly attended our services, conducted us from place to place and I believe we left him the best of our friends.

The congregation was not large owing to the shortness of notice, as nobody but people from Burgoyne’s Cove attended. We therefore gave notice that at five o’clock we would have evening service at Rocky Brook, about two miles further up Smith’s Sound; so as soon as dinner was over we walked to Rocky Brook, our host being our guide, and visited all the families here and at the neighbouring coves, and had almost more people than our house could accommodate. Over 40 persons were present and two children were christened. The people at this place are building a school chapel on strictly Church lines, the land and building being conveyed to the Synod for the use of the Church of England only.

It was quite dark when we reached Burgoyne’s Cove where we intended to spend the night. Hoping to get a little rest of which we both stood in need, we retired early to our small bedroom. Just as the clock was upon the eve of striking midnight I was awoke by a cry of alarm from my companion, and on opening my eyes I was horrified at discovering that one of his eyes was swollen out of all ordinary shape and quite disfigured, and his bald head—maugre the protection of a night-cap—was covered with an eruption of lumps. We were fallen among vermin. The place was swarming with them, we could see them everywhere, and Mr. Godden suffered most acutely from their bites. Our slumbers were thus ruthlessly dissipated, and from midnight until the day dawned we endeavoured to rest our weary bones on a chair. The next morning, being Saturday, we separated so as to cover the greatest extent of ground on the Sunday, I going to a place called White Rock, about seven miles further up Smith’s Sound, and Mr. Godden crossing the Sound to Brittannia Cove on Random Island, where there is a considerable population, and where the Congregationalists have established their head quarters, and the Wesleyans have built a meeting house.

Mr. Corberry and a man from Trinity rowed me up the magnificent sheet of water known as Smith’s Sound, here between two and three miles wide. It reminded me very much of Windermere, for to-day the mist was all gone and we could see it in its length and breadth. If the Langdale Pikes and Coniston Old Man, and Scawfell were near, it would be an infinitely grander sheet of water than Windermere, for it is nearly three times the width. The land rises to a considerable altitude, but there are no towering mountains to give the varied outline and animation of the Lake district. But we are missionaries, and neither Dr. Syntax nor Don Quixote, nor yet tourists in search of picturesque. About one o’clock we reached White Rock, where a schoolmaster is located, who acts as lay-reader and keeps up the form and, I trust and believe, the spirit of the Church so far as a layman can do so. He was delighted at the unexpected appearance of a clergyman, and as soon as I had partaken of the inevitable cup of tea at the fisherman’s house, where he resides, we made off to the most distant Church family we could visit, at the farthest extremity of Smith’s Sound, and so worked our way back towards the school-room, where we intended to have evensong. It was a warm, close afternoon, and by day we experienced the plague of mosquitoes, which sometimes are very troublesome. There is a frame of a Church in course of erection to serve for the numerous families that are settled along the coast, and there is a good Church feeling exhibited everywhere in this portion of the district.

The men were all away with the exception of two, who are too old to go to the fishery.  On Saturday night I preached specially about the Holy Communion, which I found had never been administered here at any time; and it was with feelings solemnised by the weight of the responsibility of the occasion that on Sunday morning I gave to seven persons the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood. May the good Lord hasten the time when the memorial of the Sacrifice of His Death and Passion may be frequently set forth until He come again, to the great and endless comfort of faithful souls! Three services that day, attendance at the Sunday School, some christenings and the Holy Communion, made it a happy day for me and, I trust, a day of blessing for these poor scattered sheep in the wilderness.

On Monday I visited the few families I had not yet called upon in the neighbourhood of White Rock; then with Mr. Pitman, who had given holiday in honour of the joyful event of the presence of a clergyman, I crossed the Sound to Snooks’ Harbour and visited the three families located here. Then I returned, and a crew of women kindly rowed me along shore to several little coves where a few families were living, so that I succeeded in visiting every family from Burgoyne’s Coves to Foster Point, or all on the north arm of Smith’s Sound. At five o’clock I returned and found my companion, Mr. Godden, had arrived, and he spoke in rapturous terms of his Sunday at Brittania Cove:—how the people had received him most kindly: how the Congregational meeting-house had been placed at his disposal; and had been filled night and morning with a congregation of over 100, who had joined very heartily in the Church Service : how he had crossed to Burgoyne’s Cove in the afternoon and had another service there. We finished this happy day by a joyful Evensong at the school at White Rock, and the next morning were rowed to Britannia Cove, visiting here and there and holding service in the Congregational building, it being the only suitable building available, and having been built by our people, they seem to think it only right that we should have the use of it.

On Wednesday morning we crossed the Island, walking to Hickman’s Harbour, whence we hoped to embark for the south-west arm of Random, another great estuary running nearly twenty miles into the mainland of Newfoundland. We found here, as elsewhere, that the command: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,” was acted upon with a promptitude that would shame many who consider themselves highly civilised people. Our bodily wants were attended to, a boat was prepared at some considerable trouble, and two men set forth to convey us over a stormy sea, for we were now open to the ocean again. We occupied their time from twelve at noon until eleven or twelve at night, for it must have been nearly midnight when they reached home again ; and yet, though one was very poor, they refused to accept any remuneration, at least money, and we could only give them tracts and books for their kindness. At about five o’clock, after tossing about on a rough sea, we reached the house of Mr. George Vardy, of Clay Pits, an Englishman, of humble attainments, who yet has done a vast amount of good among the considerable population scattered abroad in the various nooks and coves and harbours that regard the settlement of Heart’s Ease as their rallying-point. For twenty years Mr. Vardy acted in capacity of schoolmaster and lay-reader, conducting Service on Sunday, baptizing children, burying the dead. He is also doctor and lawyer, though he humbly repudiates any knowledge of medicine, and acquaintance with the intricacies of law, but, as he says, they bring the sick to him, or come for advice and medicine, and he prescribes to the best of his judgment. We found him most willing to forward our work in every way. It was hay-making time, for they make hay here, and fine crops too : but George Vardy cheerfully gave up haymaking and put himself at our service with an alacrity which did credit to his zeal as a Churchman.

It was late when we reached his home on Wednesday, so we had to be content with a service in his kitchen, as the old building at Heart’s Ease was fully three miles off, and the road what some people would call “a caution.” In the exuberance of their good nature the females of Mr. Vardy’s establishment had made up a huge fire in the stove, and as it was haymaking season, and warm withal, and the kitchen was crowded, the heat may be better imagined than described. Nothing daunted by this combination of circumstances, Mr. Godden, my companion, whose turn it was to preach, was so wrapt up in his desire to benefit his hearers that he gave us a sermon of over forty minutes In length. There happened to be a clock in the kitchen by which I could time my friend. Before going to bed we arranged that on the morrow we would start for Northern Bight, the extremity of the south-west arm of Random Sound, where I should remain for Sunday Service, and work my way down, Mr. Godden to go with me, but to return with Mr. Vardy on leaving me safe and sound at Northern Bight; so on Thursday our good friend Vardy and another Gaius, who cheerfully gave up his haymaking and thankfully offered his services, rowed us along the picturesque shores of south-west arm of Random Sound. A row of over two hours brought us to a most romantic-looking place, rejoicing in the unromantic and most prosaic name of Hodge’s Hole. Here thirteen families are settled, having migrated from Conception Bay. They were loud in their complaints; nobody to teach their children, and no clergyman to visit them. There had been no service from a minister since the Bishop was in the neighbourhood last October. We gave notice of service at two p.m., and went round to the various families. There were several children to be christened, but most of the men were away, so we had to defer this duty. A building has been proceeded with, and we had our service in it, and I promised that I would visit them again on Sunday, if the weather permitted, and would stay all night and administer to any one who might be disposed the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ early on Monday morning.

The wind which had been ahead all day, had now increased so considerably that we could not row against it, so we were compelled to wait until six o’clock, when it somewhat moderated, and having strengthened our crew by the addition of two young women, who were recommended as excellent rowers, we put out for Northern Bight. It was a long, tedious row, and we enlivened the time by singing hymns, but night overtook us as we were toiling in rowing, and it was after ten o’clock when we crossed the “arm” under a strong breeze of wind, and were very thankful when we reached the house of Mr. Benson, though we found “all hands” gone to bed. Very unceremoniously we disturbed their slumbers, and they quickly aroused themselves to prepare for the invasion of six hungry people, and to provide lodgings withal for them. Next morning revealed to us that Northern Bight was no mean place. On looking out we saw two buildings with spires, one the church, the other the meeting-house. The Church certainly reflects the greatest credit upon the nine families of Churchmen who have erected it. Without direction or advice they are reproducing the design of a church at Grates Cove, in the Mission of Bay de Verde, from which settlement they have migrated. The building is so far finished that we had service in it. It consists of nave, chancel, and tower; the frame of a spire is up, and Mr. Benson, the guiding spirit, assured us that it would be finished next winter, and they intended adding a vestry. It was a grief to us to think that poor people who showed so strong attachment to the Church as to make such willing sacrifices as these, should so seldom see a clergyman, that they might almost say, “No man cared for their soul.” One of Mr. Benson’s sons acts as lay-reader when he is home from the fishery, but during the long summer season there is no service. The Methodists have a preacher stationed here. After morning service Mr. Godden sailed away with a fair breeze of wind, so that our friends were relieved from handling the oars. I set to work visiting the families, and had Evensong, giving notice of Holy Communion on Sunday morning.

On Saturday my host, Mr. Benson, kindly offered to put me to Long Beach, a settlement midway between Hodge’s Hole and Northern Bight, where there are seven families, all Church people. It being a fine day Mrs. Benson and their daughter-in-law accompanied us. Mrs. Benson had not been to Long Beach for five years. The bonnets and other finery of the ladies were stowed away in a large cheese-box to preserve them from the salt water, for there was a strong breeze of north-west wind blowing. We reached Long Beach at 10.30, the cheese box was carefully Opened and the contents most carefully exhumed, and thus arrayed we landed quite bravely, and I ought to have observed that we carried the Church flag—St. George’s cross—in the stern of the boat, so that Long Beach was quite en fete.

There is no building for public worship; one of the inhabitants reads prayers in his house when he is at home, and there we arranged for service after I had gone through the little settlement. I recommended them to get up a Sunday School, and told them to urge the men to set to work and erect a school-chapel. We had service; and the wind still continuing high, and there being no immediate prospect of cessation, I employed the time in hearing the children say the Catechism, then in singing hymns, &c. At four o’clock we put out and did not reach home until 7.30, too late to have Evensong in Church, as there are no suitable lights. At ten on Sunday morning we had Mattins, Christening, Holy Communion—seven communicants—then after dinner I bade adieu to my kind host and hostess with feelings of regret; and a crew of women, but one man for steersman, put me to Long Beach, where another crew of four women were to row me to Hodge’s Hole. It seems my exhortations yesterday were not fruitless, for the women told me they had been talking the matter over, and had determined to clear a piece of ground for the site of a school-chapel, and would press the building of it upon the men when they returned in the Fall. One of them, who could write, promised to send me aa account of the progress they might make, and I promised to encourage them in every way I could. So we reached Hodge’s Hole, where we had evening service; and at ten next morning had morning service, and administered Holy Communion to nine people, starting at once, as soon as service was over, for Mr. Vardy’s residence at Clay Pits. Here I found that Mr. Godden was holding service at Fox Harbour, two miles further, and as Mr. Vardy told me he had not been well on the Sunday, I hurried off in a punt and reached Fox Harbour in time for service and to find that Mr. Godden was himself again. He reported large congregations at Heart’s Ease at his yesterday’s service— the little church crowded to its utmost capacity—and over one hundred people must have been present. After the service at Fox Harbour we walked to Gooseberry Cove, to Mr. Sword’s, where Mr. Godden was now staying.

Tuesday.—Morning service at Heart’s Ease, with administration of Holy Communion; a very considerable congregation of reverent and attentive people, and twenty-two persons received the Holy Eucharist. After dinner I set off with Mr. Vardy to walk to a harbour about two miles beyond his house to visit a sick man and five families of Church people, while Mr. Godden remained to finish the visitation of Heart’s Ease. At 6.30 we had what we expected would be our own last service on this Mission tour, at the School House, midway between Heart’s Ease, Fox Harbour, and Gooseberry Cove. But man proposes while God disposes; and though Mr. Sword, our host, had provided a boat to convey us across Trinity Bay next day, we were wind bound, and had to remain at Gooseberry Cove, holding another service at the schoolchapel, which proved to be our last. Two places were left unvisited, viz., Deer Harbour, where there are four families of Church people, nine miles from Heart’s Ease, to the north, and St. John’s Without, about the same distance to the south, where there are three or four families of Church people also. These places are both difficult of access, and as our time was very limited we were reluctantly compelled to pass them by. We held thirty-four services during our tour, and, we hope, have comforted the hearts of some of our brethren in their toils. May those who are blessed with all spiritual privileges remember in their prayers their brethern [sic] scattered abroad in many places, of which Random Island is only, alas! one instance, and pray the Good Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into this harvest.

On Thursday morning we were up at 5 a.m., and before seven o’clock we were slowly heading for Heart’s Content. The sea was very ” lumpy,” as the sailors term it, and I soon got sea-sick, for we made little progress, and did not teach Heart’s Content until after two o’clock, and should not have arrived there so soon if Mr. Godden had not vigorously plied the oar, while I, inglorious, spent but did not enjoy my otium sine dignitate. We had Evensong at Heart’s Content, and the next morning I was en route for Brigus before seven o’clock, while Mr. Godden remained at Heart’s Content, which has for some time been deprived of the services of a resident clergyman. His object was to hold service in the chief settlements, and to administer the Sacraments, hoping and intending to reach his home on Monday. I was so far favoured that I arrived at Brigus about eight o’clock at night, having been absent almost three weeks.