By David Clarke | Sep 18, 2008
One of the older settlements on Newfoundland’s Northeast Coast, Moreton’s Harbour is immortalized – along with Fogo and Twillingate – in the popular Newfoundland tune, “I’se the Bye”(All Around the Circle). Located on the northwest extremity of New World Island, Moreton’s Harbour is made up of three principal parts. The main town is found at the bottom of the harbour, connected with “Taylor’s Side” to the east and “Small’s Side”(“Sligo Shore”) to the west. The community might have been named for an early settler named Moreton, though it was called “Morden’s Harbour” in the 1836 census. This name could come from a town called Morden in Dorset, England, especially since many settlers in the area came from Dorset. The spelling may have been changed to Moreton in tribute to a pair of early missionaries, the brothers John and Julian Moreton.
The fishery was always the economic bedrock of Moreton’s Harbour. Cod was fished locally, along with herring, plus some salmon and lobster. In the late 1800s the settlement became a centre of the Labrador fishery, sending nine schooners north in 1874. By 1921 six fish merchants operated out of the area, including the Osmonds and Bretts. As early as 1787 six families living near the modern community were supplied by the Slade merchant company. The Slades established their own storehouse at Moreton’s Harbour around 1830. Acting as agent for John Colbourne of Poole, John Bartlett set up shop in 1832. The company’s premises were taken over by Joseph Bain Osmond in the 1890s. Having its own large wharves, storehouses and a cooperage, the business was run by several owners over the years, the last being Bud Osmond. Around 1900 Joseph Knight started a merchant house at Moreton’s Harbour, located at Knight’s Side, Riverhead.
Spurred by the prosperous fishery, a shipbuilding industry started at Moreton’s Harbour around 1850. At least one schooner was constructed in the community every year from 1865-80. In the period from 1883-8 sixteen vessels were built at Moreton’s Harbour, eleven of these by master builder Mark Osmond; the French and Taylor families were also noted shipbuilders. By 1890 local shipbuilding was in decline as nearby sources of good timber were used up. The last schooner constructed at Moreton’s Harbour was the thirty-ton Fisherette, built by George Taylor at Taylor’s Room in 1926. While it lasted the shipbuilding trade generated its own spin off, a small seasonal lumber industry.
Though they were no longer made locally, Moreton’s Harbour merchants used sailing schooners (some with auxiliary engines) to carry freight from St. John’s until around 1960. General cargo schooners were sometimes hired to bring in a wide variety of goods. A few of these craft, like the coal schooner from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, carried only a single commodity.
Though residents have mainly relied on the fishery, plus shipbuilding and lumbering, for their livelihoods, Moreton’s Harbour was briefly a mining centre. In 1876 residents found what was thought to be lead ore (galena). Reports of the find reached George Hodder, who met up with another potential developer, Baron Francis von Ellerhausen. Ellerhausen soon realized the discovery was not galena, but an even more rare mineral, antimony, which had little practical value in those days. Ellerhausen gave up on the project, but without dissuading Hodder from his own interest in the site. Hodder and two partners staked a claim to the area in the early 1880s. The trio made three very small shipments of antimony, being joined in the venture by William Lethbridge and A.O. Hayward. Lethbridge was English and spread inflated tales of the find’s worth in his homeland. Through his efforts the New World Island Mining Syndicate, Ltd. was formed in 1892. Buying the Moreton’s Harbour claim for around $75,000.00, the directors expected a good return on their investment, but were disappointed. The syndicate was soon swamped with debt and could not pay Hodder and the other original owners the full purchase price. Hodder and his associates retook control of the mine for only $500.00 when it came up for public auction in 1897. In 1905 the Newfoundland Antimony Company of New York agreed to purchase the mine for $50,000.00. The New York company was also unable to make full payment. Once again, Hodder and his partners assumed control of the deposit. They soon lost interest in a site that only produced 140 tons of ore over twenty-three years of operation, and in 1916 the site was abandoned for good.
Little Harbour, on the eastern side of Moreton’s Harbour, contained its own mineral wealth, an arsenic deposit. This was found in 1896 by John R. Stewart of Little Bay. Stewart hired four men and in 1896 sank a shaft into the deposit. In 1897 125 tons of ore were mined from this deposit and shipped to Nova Scotia. Sadly for Stewart and his employees, their buyer went out of business, and they were never paid for the arsenic. That seems to have been the end of this mining venture. Neither the arsenic nor the antimony deposits made a long-term impact on the economy of Moreton’s Harbour. That being said, something might yet come of the industry. The ore from both mines reputedly contained more than half an ounce of gold per ton maybe an incentive for future prospectors on New World Island.
Mining proved a short-lived feature of life in Moreton’s Harbour, but other institutions had more permanence. In terms of their religion, the population of Moreton’s Harbour was mainly Protestant. Twelve Roman Catholics were recorded as living there in 1836, but they were gone by 1891. The first settlers were mainly Methodist, with some Anglicans. The Salvation Army arrived in 1891, and the Pentecostal Church came in 1935. An Anglican church was built in 1823 close to the shore in Bartlett’s Cove. A Methodist church followed in 1836, with the present United (Methodist) church being erected in 1897. This structure was designed by Joseph Blaine Osmond, who created most of its fancy woodwork. Thomas French added its bell tower in 1903, and a new parsonage was constructed around 1940.
The first school at Moreton’s Harbour was established by Joseph Bartlett around the year 1840. By 1845 fifteen students were attending school at Moreton’s Harbour. Education standards in Moreton’s Harbour were always high, and there was never a problem in providing a teacher. At least two of these teachers gained outside notoriety. E.J. Pratt taught in Morton’s Harbour from 1902-4. A successor, David Pitt, was also Pratt’s biographer. These were not the only famous community residents. Memorial University College’s first President, A.G. Hatcher, and a world leader of the Salvation Army, General C.D. Wiseman, both hailed from the community.
Though Moreton’s Harbour produced citizens of national renown, it suffered from a problem common to many of Newfoundland’s small settlements – isolation. In the late nineteenth century this situation was partly remedied when the community received its own post office. Its first post master was Mark Osmond. In 1908 the Newfoundland Postal Service established a telegraph station at Moreton’s Harbour. The town’s first telegraph office was in a small frame building not far from the Church of England Cemetery. The station was later run out of local the post office, remaining in service until about 1965. The Moreton’s Harbour office was a repeating station for all of New World Island. Telegrams would be copied by morse code and passed on to eight other offices on the island. A limited telephone system arrived in 1920, established by the postal service to connect its local office to Osmond’s store and a number of important residences.
As of 1998 Morteon’s Harbour’s population was around 228. With its economy largely based on a faltering fishery, Moreton’s Harbour has seen a steady population decline. Tourism is now becoming a major pillar of the Moreton’s Harbour economy. There are a number of bed and breakfasts in operation, and the community is home to a local museum founded by Moreton’s Harbour’s Women’s Institute branch.