Name Lore Bay Roberts to Harbour Main

This is a transcription of Article XIX. 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 – Bay Roberts, Coley’s Point, Clarks Beach, Port de Grave, Bareneed, Sea Forest, South River, Cupids, Brigus, Gallows Cove, Turk’s Gut, Colliers, Salmon Cove (Avondale), Cat’s Cove (Conception Harbour), Harbour Main, Chapel (sic) Cove, Gastries, (sic).

Centre for Newfoundland Studies – Periodicals The Newfoundland Quarterly, volume 07 (1907-08)
Newfoundland Quarterly Vol. 7 No. 2; October 1907, pg 5 – 6
Newfoundland Name-Lore.
By Most Rev. M. F. Howley, D.D.

Bay Robert’s is no doubt called from a family of that name. It is an old English family name (though Lord Roberts is of Irish origin). The name still survives in Newfoundland under the corrupt or modernized form of “Rabbits.” the name of Bay Robert’s is found on very early maps. The earliest mention I find of it is on Thornton’s map, dated 1689. On T. Cour Lotter’s map, 1720, it is given as R. Robert, the name being transferred to the River. On the Royal French map, 1780, it appears as B. Rober, and the French map, 1792, has Baye de Robert. Thus we see the name boasts of a considerable antiquity. Bay Roberts is divided into two harbours by a peninsula called COLEY’S POINT.


Mr. Shortis, of G.P.O., to whom I am indebted for a great deal of information concerning these localities, informs me that this point was originally called “Coldest Point.” That the first settlers were Daveys and Snows! (a very appropriate place for these latter). In the “Sailing Directions” it is called Cold East Point. There is still a place there called Davey’s Head. The present member of the Assembly for Burin is a descendant of this family.


The next large arm of the sea to the south of Bay Robert’s is named PORT-DE-GRAVE, that is to say, the Port of Harbour of the Beach. The ordinary French word for a beach is greve, pronounced broadly as the English word grave. It is also sometimes so spelt in French, and is pronounced by the fishermen still broader as “a” in the English word “to Halve.” The name, is of course, given on account of the splendid beach which spreads across the bottom of the harbour, into which flow the two beautiful streams known respectively as the North and South Rivers. The modern English name of CLARKE’S BEACH is no doubt derived from the name of one of the early settlers, most probably a relative of (if not the same person) Adam Clerke or Clarke mentioned in the last article (XVIII.) as the pioneer of Adam’s Cove.


When going to Harbour Grace by train, a few years ago, I noticed a remarkable looking bald round head rising from the point of land which forms the northern side of Port-de-Grave Bay. Monsignor Walsh, who was on the train, informed me it was BARENEED.

I was struck with the peculiar manner in which he pronounced it, viz: Baren-ead making three syllables of it, and so it is pronounced by all the people of the place. This pronunciation, together with the remarkable formation of the knoll or tolt, caused me immediately to seize upon the idea that the name was a corruption or rather a Devonshire pronunciation of “Barren Head” which would be a most appropriate name. Sometime afterwards I received a letter from Mr. W. J. Carroll, of the Registrar’s Office, in which he informed me that Mr. Adams, Dep. Registrar, had come across a Deed referring to Bareneed, “in which the name is given as “Bearing Head.”

Mr. Adams kindly sent me an extract of the Deed, which is worth reproducing here. It is as follows:–
John Snow to Hunter & Co:
A Deed of Mortgage registered in 1807, referring to property situate in what is now known as Bareneed, Port de Grave Conception Bay. This property was bequeathed to the morgageor (sic) in 1787 by his father Jacob Snow and the place is referred to and called “Bearing Head.” … The particulars may be found in Vol. 4, of the Miscellaneous Registry, pp. 48 & 49.”
Geo. J. Adams,
D. Reg. Sup. Court.

I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Adams for the interesting information. I think it bears out my conjecture. There would be no meaning in the word “Bearing” Head. But barren is quite intelligible, and the short a in such words as barren is very often lengthened by West-Country men’s dialect. I have often heard the word “halve” pronounced as the a in shave. I may hear mention that there is a hill between Renewse and Fermeuse named Bald Head.


At the south-west corner of Clarke’s Beach the SOUTH RIVER flows in. At the mouth of this river was situated the Colony of John Guy, or rather the farm belonging to that colony. This farm or settlement was called SEA FOREST, as we learn from the patent giving the Boundaries of Lord Baltimore’s Colony of Avalon. Prowse says in his History (p. 98) that early in this (XIX) Century the remains of Guy’s building, mills &c. were found, together with millstones, coins, &c. The principal centre, however, of Guy’s colony was the snug little harbour now known as CUPIDS.

This place was well chosen as offering excellent harbourage. It is thus in the British Pilot, 1755, “Cupids Cove is a good place for a ship or two to ride in; 4, 5, or 6, fathoms, and are not above a point open.”

It is now certain that Cupids was the principal place of John Guy’s settlement, though as remarked in No. XVIII, he may also have had a branch settlement at Mosquito. Prowse says (p. 98) “at Cupids Guy built three houses besides his wharves, stores, and fishing establishment. It was not, however, at first known by the name of Cupids, which is only a modern variant. It was originally called COOPER’S COVE probably after the name of the first agent, manager, or Governor of the Colony.

Like many other names we find a great variety of spellings. Thus on Mason’s Map, 1625, we have Cupert’s Cove. On Dudley’s map, 1647, Cuetes, which must be a mistake of the cartographers. On Seller’s map, 1671, “Coper’s Cove”, while the Governor of the Colony, John Slaney, in his letters to his Chief, spells it Cuper’s Cove. The name has been corrupted, or rather in this case improved into Cupid’s, as early as 1630, for it is called by Sir William Alexander, the founder of Nova Scotia, at that early date.


The next settlement coming south from Cupids is BRIGUS. This name has given rise to a good deal of controversy. It may be here stated that there is another small harbour near Cape Broyle which bears the same name, and for distinction’s sake it is called Brigus South or Brigus by South, while the one under consideration is called Brigus By North.

Mr. Shortis maintains that the name is a corruption of Bridge House or Brig House, from a small village near Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, whence the first settlers of Brigus came. He has an ancient hymn book bearing in gilt letters on the cover the the name of “Brighouse.” This book formerly belonged to one of the old families of Brigus. There is also an old Bible bearing the same name on its covers. It was originally the property of the Rev. Mr. Piercy, the first Methodist Minister, who was a native of the country; the date of the book is 1787. This book Mr. S. informs me is still in the possession of Mr. W. A. Munn, whose family was related to the Piercys. The Lancashire and Yorkshire people, like the Scotch pronounce Bridge as Brig–and Brighouse would certainly be pronounced “Brigus”. Nevertheless, I am still of opinion that the name is derived from Brig a ship, and means BRIG HARBOUR.

This place is called by Abbe Baudouin, Army Chaplain to D’Ibberville in 1697,–Brigue. There is a harbour on the N.W. Coast near Flower’s Cove, Straits of Belle Isle, called Brig Bay and the French call it Brique precisely as they call this harbour of Brigus. The British Pilot of 1755, an entirely English Book, spells it Brigues


There is in Brigus Bay or Harbour a cove called Gallows Cove. Mr. Shortis derives it from the Gallowes the name by which the fishermen, generally designate a pair of men’s braces or suspenders, the arms of the cove being shaped like a fork and bearing some resemblance to the form of these braces when crossed over the back. But considering that there is scarcely a harbour or settlement in the Island, including St. John’s itself, which does not rejoice in the gruesome adjunct of a gallows-cove, or gibbet hill, &c., I think we are justified in believing that this name represents the place where capital punishment used to be inflicted, and is a painful reminder of the days of stern naval and military rule. The days of the Surrogates and Fishing Admirals.


Coming southwards from Brigus we meet with TURKS GUT. It has already been mentioned (Art VII) that the coast of Newfoundland was infested with pirates. Some of these came from Barbary, and were called generally by our fishermen “Turks.” Hence the name of this and other such harbours around our coast. (See Prowse p. 146, and articles VIII. and XVII. of this series.)


Next we come to COLLIERS. This place is probably called from a family name. The name is still of frequent occurrence among out people. A French map (Bellin, 1744) gives the name as Baye du Charbonniere, i.e. Bay of the Charcoal Burner, but I think there is no ground for the name, and that this is just a translation of the English Colliers. I have heard that indications of coal have been found in the place, but this, I think is geologically impossible.


Next we come to SALMON COVE, a name of such frequent occurrence that it has been found necessary to change it in many places. The present one has been recently renamed AVONDALE.


One of the harbours in this bay was formerly named Cat’s Cove which name has recently been changed to Conception, both these names have already been fully discussed (Art XVI.-XVII.).

Vol 6 No 2, October 1906
Article XVI.
pg 10

CAT’S COVE named after the wild cat, locally known as the wood cat. “My firm belief is,” continues Canon Smith, “that every place in Newfoundland known as Cat’s Cove has been so named after the wood-martin. That little animal was far more common on the sea-coast, and that up to quite recent times within my own memory, than many suppose. When I was a boy the wood cats were frequently trapped in Smith’s Sound in Trinity Bay. …”


The settlement on the coast of the peninsula, which forms the northern side of this harbour, is called CATCHUSES, or Kitchuses, a name the origin of which is unknown. It has been suggested that it is a corruption of Kit Hughes’s, for Christopher Hughes’s, but this seems far-fetched, and I am not aware that any person of such name ever lived there.


The next harbour is HARBOUR MAIN. The meaning of this name has been explained in Art. VI. It is called from St. Men.

Vol 2 No 4, March 1903
Article VI. (Begins on page 1)
pg 2
Extracted from a description of … HARBOUR OF ST. MEEN, or Men, or Mein.

This is a also a Breton name, being the name of a small town near St. Malo, with a Seminary and Abbey. St. Men was an Irish Saint, who like many other missionaries from “The Isle of Saints,” preached the Gospel and founded churches and schools in many parts of Europe. The proper spelling of the name is Meen and it is pronounced by the Bretons Mahn, broad like aun in the English word haunt. The Province and River Maine, in France, are derived from the same name. It is to be found in various parts of Newfoundland under the different corrupt forms. Thus Ming’s Bight, celebrated for its gold deposits. Also, Harbour Maine (sic) the capital of the Electoral District in Conception Bay. This latter harbour is distinctly called Harbour Men by Abbe Baudouin, as far back as 1696. The festival of the Saint occurs on January 15th.


Between Harbour Main and Holy Rood there is a small cove called Chapel Cove,(sic) the origin of the name has been referred to in Art. XVI.

Vol 6 No 2 (see Cat’s Cove)
Article XVI. pg 9 – 10
Rev. Howley says:

This name is found repeated in different parts of the Island. It probably has some connection with Lieutenant Chappel who in 1813 made a cruise of the shores in H.M.S. Rosamond.

Eileen’s note: I haven’t read all of Rev. Howley’s Name Lore articles yet, so perhaps at a later time he revised his opinion on the origins of Chapel’s Cove, in Conception Bay. I do know that this community was listed in the 1805 Plantation List, which predated Lieutenant Chappel’s visit by eight years.


On the point or peninsula between Salmon Cove and Harbour Main is the settlement of Gastries, (sic) the origin of which name is also alluded to in No. XVII.
M. F. H.

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