Possibly the single event that affected the evolution of Newfoundland society, including politics, was education. No where else did an education begin and thrive in the homes of ordinary people. For years children were taught at home, or in the homes of interested others. From this beginning evolved a denominational education system that was like no other at the time, and this system affected all else, including municipal government.
The development of the unique system of state and church control of education in Newfoundland has generally been seen to be related to various historical factors; that is, to the economic, racial, geographic, religious, and social factors which have made governing "Britain's oldest colony of Canada's newest province" extremely difficult (Barnes 1917; Rowe 1956; Bruce 1963; Parsons 1964; Cooper 1972; Holloway 1987).
From the earliest days of English control, settlement in Newfoundland was discouraged. Despite the sanctioning of several unsuccessful attempts at colonization of the island, e.g., by Guy in 1610, Whitbourne in 1615, Calvert in 1623, and Kirke in 1638, the early policies of the English government severely restricted the growth of permanent settlement. In 1633, the Star Chamber Regulations forbade settlement within six miles of the shoreline and forbade the transport by trading ships of any persons not of the ship's company or whose intent it was to plant or settle on the island. Those regulations, confirmed and extended in the 1670s and 1690s, instituted the rule of the Fishing Admirals, a rule which led to perennial conflict between those who wanted to preserve the island as a fishing station anchored in the North Atlantic, and those who chose to defy the law and "squat" in the hope of securing an independent way of life. Thus, through their influence in the British parliament, West Country Merchants who dominated the lucrative seasonal fishery off the Newfoundland coast, were for some two hundred years, successful in persuading the Imperial Government that settlement in Newfoundland would not be in the best interests of Britain.
Rowe (1953:130) maintains that this repressive British policy hindered normal growth by forcing those who did defy the law to settle in a scattered pattern in the most remote bays and coves so as to avoid the crude justice of the British Fishing Admirals. He states:
Despite the repressive measures of the English government and the cruel justice often levied by Fishing Admirals, at no time was settlement completely abandoned. Barnes (1917:3) notes that from the time of the first birth of a child of European parents in the island in 1613, the number of settlers grew slowly but steadily and by the year 1654, at least two thousand inhabitants had settled in no less than fifteen harbors along the coastline. Oppenheimer (1983:52) estimates the population figures for the 1730s at 3 500, for the 1750s at 7 300, and for the 1780s at 12 000.
Oppenheimer (1983) concludes that the early settlement patterns "were extremely significant as it established the population patterns and cultural heritage that remain to this day" (p. 130). She claims, however, that the scattering of people to small settlements along the coastline had more to do with the cod fishery than with attempts to avoid British naval officers and the migratory Fishing Admirals. Economic circumstances, not the political influence of the West Country Merchants, was, she argues, the dominant factor in determining settlement patterns of the island.
Regardless of whether it was economic or political factors, or, more likely, a combination of the two, which determined the settlement pattern, the fact remains that by the time the British government officially permitted persons to settle on the island in the early nineteenth century, settlement was "fail accompli." It was not only the pattern of settlement which was to have far-reaching effects on the development of the province but also the racial and religious composition of many of the settlements themselves. At the time representative government was granted to Newfoundland (in 1832), the population of between 60 000 and 70 000 was composed almost equally of English and Irish settlers, differing considerably along racial (i.e., ethnic and cultural), economic, social and religious lines. Both retained for many years the racial and religious animosities that divided their native lands. The English Protestants, in the dominant economic position, resented the influx of poor Irish immigrants and did not hesitate to attempt to prohibit the practice of their Catholic religion. Rowe (1952) describes the relations between the two groups:
Consequently, the two groups tended to segregate geographically. This pattern of segregation along religious and racial lines remains apparent to this day if one examines the demography of the province outside the industrial towns of the twentieth century, a factor Oppenheimer (1983) fails to address in her purely economic explanation of settlement patterns.
This is not, however, meant to deny either the importance of the economy as a factor in determining the pattern of settlement or the very real sense of isolation and poverty among much of Newfoundland society prior to the advent of modern technology, transportation and communication system. The salt fish industry, the mainstay of the economy until the introduction of cold storage technology following World War II, was dependent solely on the whims of nature. Furthermore, prosecution of the fishery demanded ample space for construction of individual wharves, stages, and flakes in close proximity to the sea. This consequently resulted in the habitation of almost every cove and outlet accessible to the sea. Phillips (1957:216) notes that:
Furthermore, most of these communities had a population of less than fifty families.
No less significant is the fact that by the nineteenth century the control of the fragile fishing economy had shifted from the West Country Merchants of England to the "Water Street Merchants" of St. John's. The latter because the favored few were affluent in the midst of poverty. The sense of servitude of the fishermen to the merchants in the spring of each year provided the fishermen with the supplies needed for the season's fishery as well as basic commodities of life, i.e., food, clothing, etc. There were no cash transactions. In the fall the fishermen repaid the merchants in "kind" or fish and at the same time obtained supplies to see them through the winter. The fishermen's stock of salt cod was frequently insufficient to repay the merchant in full in a given year and debts were carried over to the next year. Thus, the fishermen and their families remained in constant debt and obligation to the merchants for their very survival. The influence of the merchants on the lives of the fishermen was matched only by that of the church.
In the absence of any form of local or municipal government in most communities outside the larger centers, the church existed as the only organized social institution. The local clergymen were often virtually the only persons with any education or interest in education. It is not surprising then, that the clergy and charitable organizations sponsored by the various churches played such a prominent role in the early development of education in Newfoundland and that the clergy sought to maintain their influence even after the state assumed some responsibility for the provision of education. As Barnes (1917) remarks, . . . the clergy of the different denominations, many of whom possessed no educational vision or policy, became chairman of the school boards (p. 163). He also notes that
In keeping with educational practices in England at the time, the earliest efforts to provide public education in Newfoundland were made by charitable societies. Thus the first educational legislation, the Education Act of 1836, recognized the work of four volunteer organizations. These organizations were either controlled by the affiliation with a particular church and, as the number of charity schools increased, their enrolments became more and more religiously homogeneous. While it may not have been the intent of the legislators in 1936 to establish a purely denominational system of education, the existing social and economic conditions, together with the segregation of Catholics and Protestants, impeded any form of non-secretarian education. It is not surprising, then, that in 1843 the grant for education was divided between Catholic and Protestants. For as Rowe(1952) maintains, " . . . an embryonic denominational system already existed" (p. 114) and, as Parsons (1964) states, " . . . by 1833 it was obvious that racial considerations, religious differences, and geographical factors would give us a dual system under state control" (p. 22). What the government did not anticipate at the time of the 1843 Act, however, was the further subdivision of the Protestant Grant.
According to Parsons (1964:6), in 1765 the Reverend Lawrence Coughlin, one of John Wesley's first Irish converts, established at Harbour Grace the first Methodist Society in what is now Canada. As a Church of England missionary, Coughlin spread Wesleyanism throughout the North Shore of Conception Bay. As with the established churches, the efforts of the Methodists were not confined solely to church affairs. Rowe (1952: 69) states that the Methodists started a school in Old Perlican in 1774 and that its efforts spread to Bonavista and Notre Dame Bays as well as the Burin Peninsula. These schools received funding from the Methodist Missionary Society. Under the Education Act of 1843, however, they received government funding as part of the Protestant grant. The Methodist supported this dual system of Catholic and Protestant education; Anglicans