Salmon fishing has a lure – for the fish and also for the person holding the rod. That lure brought several British naval officers to live in Bay St. George in the early 1900s. Near salmon brooks, of course.
This is a story about some of these men; a group of friends, and friends of friends. They spent time in Bay St. George and also England, Bermuda, South Africa and the Antarctic. They were World War veterans, explorers, sailors, farmers, and celebrities. Theirs were “the lives of a Canadian backwoodsman with that of a fashionable party-goer” as Wikipedia describes Major Frank Bickerton.
The article is likely from a west coast Newfoundland newspaper but it doesn’t say. Below is a transcription of it, and below that are some of the stories within the story that Google helped me find.
Naval Officers And The West Coast
Corner Brook, Nfld. May 1950
One of the outstanding aspects of the west coast is the influence on it of English Naval officers who visited or settled on it over a period of time that may have extended to a couple of hundred years.
We have them coming year after year on cruises just when the salmon are going up the brooks, then settling as Commander Carter did at Barachoix Brook, Captain Campbell at Black Duck, and Captain Neville at Dump Pool. Then they influenced officers from the other services to settle like Major Wise at Black Duck and Major Bickerton at Black Duck.
They all had one thing in common – love of the sport of salmon fishing – so we find them settling by the finest rivers and usually near the best pools, clearing virgin land with local labor and usually erecting the log cabins symbolic to the the Englishmen of Pioneer-land in North America. Some of these like Captain Campbell’s summer home at Black Duck were huge – that one measures sixty feet by forty.
Commander Carter of Barachoix Brook, who settled there before World War I and maintained, besides a fine home, a cabin up near a good salmon pool, was a well-known and respected figure in Bay St. George. A Justice of the Peace, host to the leading people of the Bay, yet he was oftener seen in shorts than the resplendent sports jacket and flannels. Bare armed and bare-legged, tattooed in true sailor style, a magnificent figure of a man, he was a sight to see with a salmon rod or handling his sailing boat. Up to his death at the age of seventy-two, he was a good friend and neighbour.
Captain Campbell of Black Duck, Bermuda and London (for he kept up residence in the three places simultaneously, besides a yacht in Humber Arm and a limousine in England) was a famous and wealthy (to our standards) man who preferred the summers in Newfoundland to any other part of the world.
Accompanying the Scott Expedition was one of the first adventures of this prince of men. He escaped Scott’s fate but carried effects of the exposure to his grave. World War I found him serving in some of the heavy naval battles in the North Sea and he won decorations there. His first cabin by Harry’s Brook was located on the eastern side of the river by the mouth of Trout Brook. He afterwards moved to the western side and had a beautiful home. The huge cabin had hardwood floors, its own lighting plant and the grounds were beautiful with the flowers and fruit trees that were the special care of Mrs. Campbell (who was formerly lady-in-waiting to Norway’s Queen). Captain Campbell moved in his latter years to Corner Brook where he died last year. He, like all these other settlers, left a legacy of gracious living in a country home that was desirable as the world could show.
Major Bickerton, a former Royal Air Force officer in World War I, settled on an especially fertile piece of land about a mile upstream from Captain Campbell’s place. The interval land when cleared grew crops of timothy that ran three tons to the acre against the usual one ton acre in this country. The major, a giant of a man with a war-scarred face and body, finally returned to England for personal reasons and the place was sold to Bowaters in 1939. They ran a farm on it for some years when it changed hands again and it is now held by Mr. Ray Doucette, genial host of Dhoon Lodge.
Major Wise, a hard-working Irishman, cleared a farm and had a home down-stream from Captain Campbell’s. This place occupied him in summer and he spent his winters in Africa where he had a huge farm.
Captain Neville, who settled a farm and had built the usual log cabin at Dump Pool, was heir to one of the greatest fortunes in England but Newfoundland kept him in its fascination.
All these officers paid Newfoundland the compliment of choosing it as “The Island I would best like to live in” and left a heritage of gracious almost baronial living at modest expense. Where else but this island could they have almost virgin salmon streams to themselves, fertile land for practically nothing, faithful and friendly retainer-like workers for modest salaries? And where else they build manor houses from free material?
These gentlemen left their mark on this coast in the homes and homesteads. Their memory will be always green to those who were privileged to know them. If next time, you are fishing one these pools, you see the shadowy form of a sportsman with the smart cut of the navy and catch a whisper of crisp English accent, move on – he has prior claim.
Stories behind the story
Commander Carter was Cornelius Edward Carter RN. Born in 1880 in Essex, England, he died in 1950 and is buried in St. George’s Anglican Cemetery. His wife’s name was Ida, born in 1891 in Lingan, Cape Breton. They had a daughter Marjorie born in 1913 (more about her in a later post). Their son Frederick was born in 1925. Frederick’s sons gave family land in Barachois Brook to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2018 as a wildlife refuge. J. R Smallwood’s Encyclopedia of Newfoundland (1981:1:128) says the community of Barachois Brook was settled “first by the Carter and Joe families (the latter Micmac guides who moved to Conne River)… The List of Electors (1928) lists only the Carter and Joe family names.”
Captain Campbell was Commander Victor Lindsay Arbuthnot Campbell. He was born in 1875 in Brighton, England and died in 1956 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. His second wife, mentioned in this article, was Marit Elisabeth Fabritious. Born in 1890 near Vågå in south-eastern Norway, she returned there after Campbell’s death. She died in 1975. She had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Maud until 1914. Wife of Norway’s King Haakon VII, Maud was the youngest daughter of British King Edward VII.
Major Frank Bickerton was born in 1889 in Oxfordshire and died in Wales in 1954. He was part of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1911 to 1914. He was planning to go with Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Endurance expedition but joined the British Army instead when World War I broke out and went to the Western Front. After the war, he lived in Newfoundland but left in 1928. He farmed in South Africa and spent time in California and England. His friend Vita Sackville-West modelled a main character on him in her 1930 novel The Edwardians. In 1937 he married Lady Joan Chetwynd-Talbot, daughter of Viscount Ingestre, and sister of the 21st Earl of Shrewsbury. She was born in 1911 and died in 1974.
I couldn’t find anything on Major Wise. But I did find a friend of Bickerton’s named Frank Wild. He too was a polar explorer and farmer in South Africa. Born in Yorkshire in 1873, he died in 1939 in South Africa. From 1901 to 1922, he was part of five Antarctica expeditions, with Scott, Shackleton and Mawson. He fought in WWI in the Royal Navy, and afterwards farmed in South Africa with Bickerton. I came across no references to Wild being in Newfoundland, but still I wonder if he is the Major Wise of the article.
Captain Ralph Neville was actually Commander Neville, having been promoted in 1922 near the end of his Royal Navy career. He was born in 1887 in Somerset, England, and died in 1936 in Corner Brook. He was the son of Admiral Sir George Neville and Fairlie Florence Lloyd-Jones. He was heir to Butleigh Court in Somerset owned by his uncle, Robert Neville-Grenville. He died shortly before his uncle did, so the estate passed to Ralph’s son, Richard Neville, born in 1922. I will tell Ralph’s story in another post (Officers and Gentlemen). It’s the stuff of movies.
Baronial living at modest expense
All these men lived the stuff of movies – with Bay St. George being a common thread. They hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and they enjoyed salmon fishing. The life of a colonial gentleman, to be sure.
You’ll see on the original of the article that someone – whoever had the clipping before me – marked a paragraph for emphasis. It is where the writer extols the luck of these men in finding “almost virgin salmon streams to themselves, fertile land for practically nothing, faithful and friendly retainer-like workers for modest salaries.” And “manor houses from free material”. Cringe-worthy or tongue in cheek? The author describes their houses as “the log cabins symbolic to the Englishmen of Pioneer-land in North America.” Then gives details of their grandeur. Juxtapose words like “baronial” with “modest salaries” and “free material” – maybe a little jab at the colonial mindset?