Evil of having but one Pursuit

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER IX (6) start of chapter

Perhaps the great evil of the colony is the almost exclusive devotion of its inhabitants to the one engrossing pursuit. So long as the fisheries are prosperous the evil is not so manifest; but should this grand resource of the island prove less productive than usual, intense distress is the immediate consequence, there being little else to fall back upon. What agriculture is to Ireland, the fisheries are to Newfoundland; and while Ireland requires the extension of manufacturing industry on a large scale, not only as a means of constant employment, but as a resource in case of failure of crops, Newfoundland has equal need of the cultivation of its soil as a certain source of prosperity, as well as a means of compensating for the casual falling off in the staple industry of the colony. The number exclusively engaged in agriculture is small, and is principally confined to residents in the neighbourhood of St. John's; not that the land in that vicinity is better than elsewhere, but that a valuable market is at hand for the consumption of every kind of animal and vegetable produce. It is found that a judicious combination of fishing with the cultivation of the soil best rewards the labourer; and efforts are now being made to induce the people to give more attention to the latter pursuit. A whole family can seldom find full employment in connection with the fishery, and one of the advantages of the other mode of occupation is that it provides employment for labour that would otherwise be waste.

The importance of cultivating the soil was never fully estimated until in 1847 the mysterious potato disease appeared in Newfoundland, as it did in so many regions of the earth. The distress caused by this event showed how valuable had been that fruitful crop, for which the nature of the soil seems peculiarly adapted. So virulent was the disease in the year mentioned that it appears to have left its sting ever since; for blight, or partial failure, has been of frequent occurrence since then, and even as late as the season of 1866 it assumed a marked character. Good oats and barley are raised in the island, but they are not cultivated to the extent they might be. In fact, farming in Newfoundland is still in a primitive state, few persons being regularly devoted to it as a profession, it being regarded rather as a useful auxiliary to the great staple industry of the inhabitants, than as a valuable source of general wealth. The Government fully appreciate the importance of encouraging the people to adopt the cultivation of the land as a fixed and settled pursuit. In former times it was difficult to obtain a licence from the Governor of the day to till any portion of the soil; but in 1866 an Act was passed offering to the poor cultivator a bonus of eight dollars for every acre up to six acres cleared and fitted for crops, besides a free grant of the land itself. As thousands of acres, suited for cultivation, may be had in various parts of the island, it is to be hoped that the liberal policy of the Colonial Government may be crowned with success. Fisheries, however bountiful, or even inexhaustible, are, from natural causes altogether beyond the control of man, necessarily more or less precarious; and it is wise statesmanship as well as true patriotism to try and lay the foundation of a great branch of industry which, while adding to the wealth of the community, may form the best resource against unexpected calamity.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

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