The Missing Parish Registers of English Harbour

English Harbour is a small Newfoundland outport on the northern shore of Trinity Bay. It was settled as early as the 1600's, and at its height in the 1800's may have had a population of up to 1000.

Today there are two churches in the community. One is Anglican, the other United. Parish registers for both appear to be missing.

With respect to the United Church, the first Methodist missionaries to visit English Harbour did so in the 1810's, when a missionary was stationed nearby in Trinity... from this point forward the population of English Harbour was roughly split 50-50 between the Methodist and Anglican faiths.

I have been to the United Church archives in Toronto and have read letters by some of these early missionaries. From them, it is evident that baptisms and burials were being performed. But the earliest Methodist parish registers that I know can be found for English Harbour only go back to about 1850.

So where then are the records that should have been kept for these early ceremonies? I don't know... they aren't in any archives, and the ministers who have overseen the English Harbour congregation in recent years do not know their whereabouts either.

Considering the Anglican records, there is an entry among the baptisms done in 1844 in the parish registers of Trinity stating that a separate register was being kept for births, marriages, and burials performed at English Harbour. It was William J. Lockyer, an Anglican minister residing in Trinity, who made this entry in addendum in the 1900's.

Rev. Lockyer also was in the habit of writing a usually-weekly column in The Evening Telegram, a newspaper published in St. John's. The edition for 19 February 1924 contains the following article by Rev. Lockyer (I found this purely by accident while looking for info on the schooner President Coaker).


For some time I had been at a loss to know why certain Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths of people in the Eastern part of St. Paul's Parish (English Harbor, Salmon Cove, etc.) were not to be found in the old registers of St. Paul's Church, Trinity. Those books have been so well kept, and the entries have been so faithfully attended to since 1753, that it was always a humiliation to me, as well as a disappointment, when, after careful search for an entry, I had to admit that it was not there. It was doubly so because I had taken it for granted that the books in possession of the Parish Church, Trinity, were the only books used for such Registrations of the official work done by the Clergy of the Parish. I became aware of the fact that the entries I could not find were between the years 1840 and 1880. Not very long ago I heard (for the first time) of an old register in possession of the Church Wardens of English Harbor. I did not get very deeply interested in it, because I was under the impression that all the Registrations were in the old books at Trinity, and hence the book at English Harbor could not be of any great value. Recently, however the Church Warden of English Harbor kindly allowed me to examine the book, and I am glad to find it contains entries of Baptisms and Burials at St. Silas' Church there from 1843 to 1879, and of marriages from 1843 to 1862; and burials from 1843 to 1879. These are the entries that I could not find the old books at Trinity.

The Church at Trinity and the Church at English Harbor were the only churches at that time in the Eastern part of the Parish; hence the register at English Harbor. It is evident from the entries of Services, etc., that one of the Clergy of Trinity officiated at English Harbor once a month at least, for Sunday Services; and all Baptisms were administered by him at those Sunday Services.

There are only eight marriages recorded as having been solemnized there during those years, as the majority of the people still came to Trinity to be married. Those eight marriages were: Joseph Batson and Mahalla Penny; George J. Ford, and Catherine Long; Henry Mate and Maria Reid; William Miller and Elizabeth Janes; George Eastman and Mary Wells; Robert Nurse and Susannah Batsone; Thomas Oates and Mary Ballett. Whilst the Sunday Services, and Marriages, and Baptisms were performed by one of the Clergy; the greater number of Burial Services were conducted by a Licensed Lay Reader (chiefly by James R. Moore). The clergy who officiated at the Services were: Revs. David Martin, H. FitzGerald, Todd Jones, Thomas M. Wood, Benjamin Smith, and W. G. Crouch; whilst the Services on Sept. 10th 1843 were conducted by "the Bishop"; and at this time Mary, child of William and Catherine Penny was baptized. Again, the Services on Sunday, March 12th, 1871, were conducted by Rev. A. M. Bayly, Rural Dean of Bonavista Bay; and Elizabeth, child of Charles and Mary Ann Freeman, was baptized.

Up to this time the Church people at Ship Cove, and Salmon Cove, attended the Services at English Harbor; and those at the North Side of Trinity came to St. Paul's, Trinity. Then a Church was built on the hill that was the dividing line between Ship Cove and the North Side. That part of the old Parish of St. Paul - From Freshwater to Green Bay Cove - including the North Side of Trinity; Ship Cove; Salmon Cove East and West; and English Harbor, was set off as a separate Mission, with Rev. Benjamin Smith as its first Incumbent. Then followed the erection of a Church at Salmon Cove West, by Rev. H. Smith; and one at Salmon Cove East, by Rev. John Godden. Later, at the request of the people, the Salmon Coves (then known as Champneys) and English Harbor, were set off as the Mission of Champneys, under Rev. James J. White, who died there. The forming of this Mission, however, was an error in judgment, and it is now again associated with the Parish of Trinity East; and under the able leadership of Rev. E. P. Law, the Spiritual life of the people is being despened [sic], and their interest in Civic and Social questions (as parts of their religious life) is being developed. As the descendants of a fine class of men who came to those shores from Dorset, Devon, Hants, and Somerset, England; the younger men of to-day are intelligent beyond the ordinary, and in proportion as this intelligence is sanctified, and used to the causes of Christ and His Church, a Christian manhood is being built up that some day will be the best asset of the Community. With a return of the old time prosperity, such as will enable them to provide the means necessary for the equipment of every department of religious (soul and body, Spiritual and temporal) and that will make Emigration to the other lands unnecessary; a highly creditable future is assured to the Parish. I offer no apology for so frequently referring to the doings and the history of the Church in our midst; for, directly and indirectly we are indebted to it for the moulding of that life and character such as I have referred to, and such as we are proud of to-day. No one realizes the fact more fully than I do to-day, that we are not what we should be as Christian citizens, in proportion to the helps that God's Church has provided for us; but I should not wish to realize that we would be to-day without that Church and its helps during the past two centuries of life in Trinity Bight.

Unfortunately, since Rev. Lockyer's enlightenment in 1924 about the existence of these parish registers, they have gone astray. In 1924, they were in Port Rexton, but where they are today I do not know.

In 1963, J. Allan Penny, a resident of English Harbour wrote a brief history in which he makes reference to 1843 records made by Rev. David Martin, whose "writing is very copperplate and distinctly clear"... this quote leaves the very strong impression that Mr. Penny had recently seen the now missing Anglican registers. This reference I have placed online here.

Given that a great deal of my ancestry on my maternal grandmother's side is concentrated in English Harbour, the fact that parish registers for both religious denominations are missing does not do much to assist in my efforts of constructing family trees.

But by spreading the word that at least one of the registers is known to have at least actually existed, and was accounted for as recently as the 1960's, I hope that I'll eventually run across somebody who can tell me just where they have been all these years.

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