Name Lore Kitchuses to Topsail

This is a transcription of Article XX. in a series called ‘Newfoundland Name-Lore’ written by Rev. Michael Francis Howley. This series which was quite popular began in the second edition of the Newfoundland Quarterly in October 1901, and continued until Rev. Howley’s death in Oct 1914.

Communities covered – Gallows Cove, Kitchuses, Colliers, Holyrood, the South Shore, the Southern Shore, The West’ard, Kelligrews, Manuels, Topsail, Kelly’s Island, Bell Island.

Centre for Newfoundland Studies – Periodicals The Newfoundland Quarterly, volume 07 (1907-08)
Newfoundland Quarterly Vol. 7 No. 3; December 1907, pg 2
Newfoundland Name-Lore.
By Most Rev. M. F. Howley, D.D.

I am glad to see that these articles on our Newfoundland Nomenclature are exciting considerable attention. Many persons belonging to our literary circles have personally informed me that they read them with great interest. I have also had letters from various parts of the Island, showing a widespread appreciation of them, but not only from our own country but from places far distant outside our shores. Thus the following is an extract from a letter received by me some time ago from Professor Ganong, of Northhampton University, Mass.

“I have been greatly interested in your article on Nomenclature. But do not trouble to send me any future numbers, for I shall subscribe instanter to THE NEWFOUNDLAND QUARTERLY – wish I had done so years ago.”


Since the appearance of the last number, I have had a letter from V. Rev. W. Canon Smith, in which he calls in question the derivation given by me, as well as that suggested by Mr. Shortis for the name GALLOWS COVE.

The Canon thinks the name is derived from a sort of erection which was, until recent years, to be seen in many settlements, and which was known as a “SEINE GALLOWS.” It was a sort of “horse” or trestle made of rough rails or starrigans and was used for drying nets on. I have seen those erections myself, but never heard the name gallows applied to them, neither did Mr. Shortis. Canon Smith doubts if there be any authentic record of “hanging” by the Surrogate Magistrates or “Fishing Admirals.” That they whipped and placed men in the stocks, is certain. Hence in many harbours, stocks and whipping posts were erected, but we have no record of gallowses, except “Gibbet Hill” in St John’s.

Against Canon Smith’s suggestion of seine gallowses, is the fact, as Mr. Shortis tells me, that the Gallows Cove of Brigus is, and always has been, uninhabited, and from my own knowledge I can say the same of the Gallows Cove in Torbay, hence it would not be a place for drying nets. and again, as these “seine gallowses” were erected in almost every harbour, there would be no reason why the name should be applied to a few particular places. All settlements might as justly be called “Gallows Cove,” &c.


Doctor Jones writes me from Avondale concerning the name of Kitchuses. I suggested, though with doubt, that it might be derived from a family of the name of Hughes. He says no family of that name ever lived there. “In olden times, however,” he says, “there was a favourite meeting place, at the house of one Gushue, whose wife’s name was Kate. Here young people used to gather of a Sunday evening for a gossip, a dance, or perhaps ‘a drop!’ Hence the name KIT GUSHUE’S which might very naturally in the course of time become changed to Kitchuses.” This explanation seems very plausible and I willingly accept it. The name Gushue is quite common along that shore.


As to Colliers, Dr. Jones tells me that “about two-thirds of the inhabitants of that settlement are Coles! Possibly the name of Colliers may have been applied to them by way of a joke or a pun. “The head of this Bay,” the Doctor continues, “has many coves, heads, points, ponds, etc., bearing names that have either entirely died out, or are forgotten by the present generation, such as Pike’s Cove,” Mugford’s Harbour, &c. He suggests that people from out the Bay may have come down and settled in those coves for the winter–cutting wood, building boats, etc.


Proceeding now on our course, we come to HOLY ROOD.

This is a very interesting name, and the origin of it has been a subject of controversy; that is to say the question as to how, when, and why, the name was given. The meaning of the name is of course well known; it is the old English name for “Holy Cross,” from the ancient Anglo-Saxon word Rod, a staff or cross. That this is the true meaning in the present case is clear from the French maps which give the name (as far back as 1784 on the Royal map) as STE. CROIX.

The earliest mention I find of the name is on Fitzhugh’s map, 1693, where it is given as Holly Rode. But I have no doubt but it is one of the oldest names upon our charts. The name was a very popular one with the early navigators. We have already remarked that these hardy old pioneers were filled with a chivalrous enthusiasm. Hence all their place-names breathe a high sense of religious fervour and faith. We know that Columbus gave the name to one of the Islands discovered by him Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).

On one of the very earliest maps of the Western or New World, that of Majollo, 1527, we find the name twice repeated on that part of the map which represents Newfoundland. First in the vicinity of Cape Race, as P. de Cruz, i.e. punto de Cruz, point, or Head of the Cross; and again, A Baia de Cruz, “The Bay of the Cross.” After Columbus had discovered the Island which he called Santa Crusz, he came to an immense group of Islands, which he called, St. Ursula and her Eleven Thousand Virgins. Now it is remarkable that on Majollo’s map, quite near the Point de Cruz, in the neighbourhood of Cape Race, which he gives as Rasso, we find an archipelago and the name Vese mil-Virgines. But if we study the earliest maps of the Newfoundland Coast in juxtaposition with those of the West Indies, we will find nearly all of Columbus’s names repeated, and in the same order as described by Columbus. This shows that these early Cartographers, confounded the discoveries of the Cabots with those of Columbus.

The French Navigators were equally partial to the name of Holy Cross, and so we find the river St. John (N.B.) called La Riviere Ste. Croix, by Verazzano. Professor Ganong, (formerly of Harvard University, now of Northampton College, Mass.) in his “Cartography of New Brunswick,” reproduces the earliest map of the French Missionary, Pere Jumeau. It shows several Crosses in the neighbourhood of Miramichi River. He calls the country the “Nation de la Croix, and the River La Riviere de Ste. Croix.”

There is another settlement in Newfoundland bearing this name(*Holyrood). It is situated in St. Mary’s Bay about twelve miles South of St. Mary’s. It is situated at the mouth of the large salt-water pond bearing the same name. This pond is practically an arm of the sea, but it is separated from the bay by a belt of beach, sometimes at spring tides a gut is burst open through this beach, but never sufficiently wide and deep to give entrance to boats. There are still living here, and also at St. Mary’s, families of old French extraction bearing the name of Sancroix. It is quite possible that their ancestors may have given the name, which afterwards became translated into English.

The name has, as usual, undergone a variety of changes as to spelling. I have already mentioned Holly Road on Fitzhughe’s map, 1693. The British Pilot (1755) gives Holly Rode, and the fishermen call it Hollow-wood.


Proceeding out the Bay, from Holy Rood towards Cape St Francis, it may be remarked that this line of coast is known throughout the country as “THE SOUTH SHORE” without any definitive description, so that when we hear people speaking of the “South Shore” one immediately understands that the South Shore of Conception Bay is meant, and especially the portion extending from Topsail to Holy Rood.


On the other hand if we hear “THE SOUTHERN SHORE” mentioned, we understand at once that the line of shore spoken of is that which lies to the southward of St. John’s as far as Cape Race. Anywhere beyond that is spoken of by our old fishermen as ““The West’ard.” Returning to the consideration of the South Shore, it may be remarked that the conformation of this coast is very unusual, and quite different from the general contour of the land on the eastern part of the Island. Throughout the whole stretch of the thirty miles from Holy Rood to Cape St. Francis, there is not one harbour where anchorage might be found for schooners. There are only a few small coves such as Horse Cove, Broad Cove, Portugal Cove, and Bauline. The other settlements are merely bights or coves, such as Upper Gullies, Middle Bight, Seal Cove, Kelligrews, Long Pond, Manuels, Chamberlain, Topsail, &c., all so open as not to afford mooring ground even for punts.

The first name that attracts our attention after leaving Holy Rood is “KELLIGREWS,” or Killigrews, as the people pronounce it. The origin of this name is uncertain. It may be derived from some person of the name, it being a well-known family name among us; but I have never heard of anyone of the name living there. Again it is supposed to have some connection with the name of the little island opposite to it in the Bay, called KELLY’S ISLAND.


Some persons have suggested that is is a corruption of Kelly’s Grove. The first mention I find of it on the maps is on the Royal French map of the date of 1792. This map is compiled or edited (dresse) from the older map of Cooke and Lane (1755) by order of the French King. The naming on the map is generally in French, but when they come to an untranslatable word like this they give it as it is. I shall have occasion immediately to notice a very remarkable instance of this treatment.

The other names which I have mentioned above have nothing worthy of note attaching to them. The name of FOXTRAP no doubt may have a history connected with it, but I know nothing of it.


The name of MANUELS is derived from an old man-o’-war sailor, who deserted his ship in past times, and took refuge in this locality where he lived for many years.


We now come to TOPSAIL, a very much disputed, and some think, much corrupted name. Persons whose authority is of much weight, say it is a corruption of TOP’S HILL This name of Top, or Tap, or Torp, or Thorp, as a family name is very frequent among out people, especially around Conception Bay. The present place, they say, is called from an old fisherman of the name, who in the beginning of the XIX. Century used to go out from St. John’s in winter to live in a tilt and cut hoops, staves, and “winter stuff.” He had his tilt on the side of this hill. Descendants of his are still living at Horse Cove and elsewhere. This pretty story is told on the authority of “The oldest Inhabitant” in Topsail, and must be taken with all the seriousness which such stories usually claim. Unfortunately, however, for its veracity, I find the name on a map much older than the beginning of the XIX. Century, Viz., the Royal French map quoted above of date 1792, but taken from the earlier one of Cooke, of 1755. There the name is clearly given as TOP-SAIL HEAD and that there may be no mistake about it, it is given in French as C. DE LA VOILE DU PERROQUET.

I think therefore we must conclude that it is so called on account of the very high head which stands out conspicuously to the view of vessels coming in the Bay. The sailors are accustomed to call high standing peaks of this kind by the name of Topsails. We have an example in the four Topsails, (gaff, mizzen, main and fore-topsails) which have become so well known since the Railway has been built across the country. These are high Tolts or Kopje, which rise out of the highest ridge of the Long Range Mountains, and seen at a distance across the vast plain of “Patrick’s Marsh,” they present a rude resemblance to the topmasts of a ship under sail and seen “Hull down” in the horizon.


I must not pass further without adding a few words to what I wrote in Article IV. of this series, concerning the name of the Queen of the Islands of Conception Bay, BELL ISLAND, I there endeavoured to show that the above form and not Belle Isle, is the true name of this really beautiful Island, and that it is so called from the large rock in the shape of a Bell standing off the western end of the Island. This rock is such a natural phenomenon that it could not escape the observant eye of the early navigators. To complete the idea, a smaller piece of rock detached from the main island and standing at some distance is called THE CLAPPER.

This is the common and very appropriate name used by our people for the tongue of a bell. I mentioned in Article IV. that nearly all the old maps give the name as Bell Island. It may be useful to quote a few of them:–

1625–Mason’s Map (English), gives Bell Isle.
1671–Seller’s Map do. gives Bal Isl (a typographical error no doubt).
1689–Thornton’s Map do. gives Bell I.
1693–Fitzhugh’s Map do. gives Bell I.
1720–Cour Lotter’s Map (French), gives Bell Isle.
1744–Belin’s Map do. gives I. de Belle Isle.
1755–Moll’s Map (English), gives Bell I.
1755-6–British Pilot, gives Bell Island. 1775–Cook (sic) and Lane’s Map (English), gives Bell Isle.
1792–The same map, translated into French by order of the King, gives Belle Isle.

From this summary it will be seen that all the English maps, and particularly the earlier ones, gives the English name of Bell Island. The French cartographers, not understanding the English word Bell, very naturally fell into the mistake of writing Belle, especially as there was already an Island on our shores bearing veritably the name of Belle Isle. I showed in Article IV. that the name of the island at the mouth of the well known Straits of Belle Isle was given by the Bretons, and I gave the reasons which induced them so to name it. It was not on account of any appropriateness of the name, as Belle Isle is only a bare forbidding looking rock, but it was in memory of the Island of the same name off their own coast.

On the other hand the name of the Island in Conception Bay was undoubtedly given by the English from the “Bell Rock”, and to show that the idea of the Bell was always uppermost in their minds we have the name of “The Clapper” near the Bell. This brings me to the remarkable instance to which I alluded a short time since when speaking of Kelligrews, of the French placing a name in English when they did not understand it and consequently could not translate it. I have shown that on the French reproduction of Cook’s map of 1775, made by order of the French king in 1792, they translated the name Bell Isle of Cook into Belle Isle. But finding the name of “The Clapper” on Cook’s map and not understanding the meaning of it. From this I conclude that the name of this Island was originally given by the English and that the French form of the name is only a mistranslation.

I am happy to find that the original name of Bell Island is being restored in recent times and is likely to prevail. It is important in the first place as a historical landmark, and also for more practical reasons, as was shown recently by the fact that a captain of a steamer, being sent to “Belle Isle” for a cargo of ore, and looking on his chart and finding that Island off the coast of Labrador, went there much to the loss of time and money of his employers. He was not to blame, but the error could not have occured, had the Iron Island retained its original name of Bell Island.


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