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Burgeo, Newfoundland

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A town on the south coast of Newfoundland about 95 km (60 mi) east from Port aux Basques. It is situated on an island about 30 m (100 ft) from the mainland, to which it is connected by a causeway[1].

The origins of the name "Burgeo" are inconclusive in it's origin. It is possibly Portuguese, given that the Burgeo Islands were first discovered in 1520 by a Portuguese explorer, Joaz Fagundez. A Portuguese map refers to our area as the "Virgio Islands", later changed to "Birgio", and since then changed to "Burgeo". Some say the name originates from the French. It may have been derived from the French term "Bras de Jean" or "Les Bonregeous" meaning "the Buds". Ramea was "Les Rameaux" which means "the Branches"[2].

On November 16, 1847 at Rencontre Island, one of the Burgeo Islands, just south of hunt's Island, the skeletal remains of an Indian were found buried among the hollows of a high cliff. Buried next to the bones were glass beads, iron hatchet heads, spearheads, pieces of ivory, and a quantity of red ochre. This was not typical of the Mic Mac people who lived in the vicinity for many years. The remains likely belonged to the Red Ochre People, or the Beothuk. The Beothuk were normally found in central Newfoundland, but the people of the south coast had never before benn heard of or seen in the area.


From the late 1700's to the mid-1900's Burgeo's population was divided into two main parts, with people scattered on the neighbouring islands as well. The two main sections were Lower Burgeo and Upper Burgeo Island and the Western Sandbanks. Lower Burgeo (also called Grandy Island) is the currently inhabited section. Upper Burgeo Island and the Western Sandbanks, are uninhabited, and the only signs of previous habitation are the headstones on the Western Sandbanks.

Most of the citizens of Burgeo can find their roots from across Newfoundland. Most of the settlers of Upper Burgeo came from LaPoile, Newfoundland; the settlers at Lower Burgeo came from up and down the coast of Newfoundland[2].

The first merchant was John B. Cox in 1835. Before this time business was conducted by trading vessels from Jersey Harbour and La Poile. In 1840 Nicolle and Company of Lapoile came to Burgeo and shortly afterwards the firm of Newman (of London) came from Harbour Breton. Newman Company built four large stores, a shop, an office and two cookrooms and employed forty-four people in 1859. By 1865 Nicolle and Company had failed and Newman Company had moved to Gaultois. They were succeeded by De Gruchy, Renouf, Clement and Company. A Co-operative store was started by Joseph Dicks in 1878[1].

In 1839, Rev. William Marshall, a Methodist minister, visited Burgeo and on August 18th he preached and read prayers to a fairly large congregation at Upper Burgeo for the entire area[2]. He was the first clergy of any kind to visit Burgeo. The first United Church was built in 1841 in the present spot as the new one which was built in the 1930's. Rev. Martin Blackmore arrived in 1842 and was the first Anglican minister to the area. He had churches built at Lower Burgeo and Upper Burgeo Island. The first church at Lower Burgeo faced east to west and was closer to the road than the present day church but it was in the same approximate location. In 1850, the second Anglican church at Lower Burgeo was erected at Lower Burgeo by Rev. John Cunningham. In 1854 it was blown down by a heavy gale. It was built again on a reduced scale and was finished in 1856.

In addition to having the first Anglican churches built, in 1842 Rev. Blackmore also had schools built. The first doctor in the Burgeo area was Dr. Morris from St. John's. He arrived sometime in the 1850's and left in 1860. He was succeeded by Dr. George Quinton Hunt from 1861 to 1886. In 1874, Mr. John Jordan, Burgeo's first school teacher, was appointed the first Magistrate to the area.

Other business establishments of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries included the trading business of McCourt and Matthews, later known as Matthews and Samways and the business established by Robert Moulton in the 1890s which later became known as Burgeo & Lapoile Export Company[1].

It was the fishery which brought the first people to Burgeo and was responsible (directly or indirectly) for the businesses that were set up there. The cod fishery was slow in developing in the Eighteenth Century but in the Nineteenth it expanded rapidly, reaching a peak in 1857 when about 3 556 224 kg (70,000 qtl) were produced.

Early Families

The earliest reference to any population for Burgeo is dated 1764. At that time the entire population for Burgeo, Port Aux Basques, and Harbour Le Cou consisted of a total of 34 people[2]. In 1798, there was one family living at Lower Burgeo. John Currie and his family had moved to Burgeo from Rose Blanche sometime between 1760 and 1790. Two families of Andersons lived at the Western Sandbanks. The Anderson family name is the oldest and the most common family name at Burgeo even today. John Matthews and his wife Sarah, formerly Sarah Bagg, was the next family to move to the Burgeo area. He and his family came from Cape Lu Hune and settled on Slade's Island in 1796; the Island's name has since changed to Small's Island. In 1802 the total population of Burgeo was 23 people. In 1822, there were only 5 or 6 families. This was recorded by William Epps Cormack who visited Burgeo after crossing Newfoundland from east to west. He wrote: "In the vicinity there are five or six residing families."

There is a lengthy text, transcribed online, The "Diary of Burgeo, Newfoundland". Written in 1925 by Joseph Small[3], that describes a number of families in Burgeo "as far back as 1796". It is not written in a very clear manner, at all. But, from this description we can get some of the earliest names in the town. He notes that "In 1860 there were only 62 families living here." and "that Colliers and Vatchers [may have been in Burgeo] before Mr. Matthews came in 1796 or 1800."

"Uncle John Matthews [may have been] the first man to settle here with the exception of Mr. Currie. John came in about 1795 as near as can be ascertained...with his family and settled on Smalls Island known up to 1860 as Slades Island. The wife of this man (Sarah Bagg) was a Bagg a daughter of old Mr. Bagg. How many of his family was born here no one knows but only one or two. The sons were Thomas, Hugh, John & William...There was in 1860 another family of Matthews but do not seem to be of this family... The daughters of the [Uncle John Matthews] were Ann, Frances, Maria, Elizabeth, Susan, Ellen and one other..." John Windsor "an Englishman" came out, and married the daughter Susan.

Prior to the arrival of Uncle John Matthews, there were a family of Andersons in Upper Burgeo. This family or families maybe came from Burin---there were two brothers, and their great grandsons (in 1860) said they were of Scotch descent.

There was also an "Old Mr. Parsons" who with his family settled on Vatcher's Island "and was dead long time before 1860 ... His wife died somewhere about 1862". The youngest son Richard ... married Ellen Matthews daughter of Thomas one of the sons of the first settler. Other members of the Parsons family who came from Jersey Harbor with the old man were John and Henry and a daughter May, death recorded and two boys: William, died 1844, 18 yrs. George died 1846, one month old."

Old Mr. Charles Collier came to Burgeo from Lamaline, probably as early as 1820, and the family was likely all born at Lamaline. Mrs. Collier died in 1862 a very old person. She was a Bagg one of the old stock of Cape LaHune that moved from Burin in about 1800---Charles who died in say 1897 and his wife a few years before.

James and Michael Carroll were in Burgeo by 1845. They married sisters, Matilda and Catherine Wells. George James was here in 1840. He Came from England to Jersey Harbor married Susannah James. William Bobbett from Htg. Bay married twice in Burgeo. To a Charlotte Matthews in 1845, and Grace Matthews [not clear if it was the father, or son John who married Grace]. Emmanuel Vatcher married to Susan Matthews in 1850, daughter of Old Uncle John. Walter Ford, an Englishman, married first Harriet, daughter of Uncle John Matthews, then Susannah Picks of West Burgeo.

William Stewart came from Fortune Bay and was here with his family before 1860. His wife was a Ridgley. They had a large family of girls and two sons. Mr. Payne, an Englishman,was in Burgeo as early as 1850 Sept. 16th when he married widow Dinah Knott. Mrs. P. had two former husbands one Ingraham and Knott. Mr. Payne was a widower with three children grown up before 1860. Denis Kinslow came from Belloram before 1860, his wife was a Kelly, sister of Mrs. Geo. Hare of the Point. John Guy married Sarah Kendall of Long Island, Htg. Bay, who was in the Fifties a servant to Mrs. Cunningham. They were married in 1855 and had William, Aggie, Evellena, John. Joseph Matthews, son of old Uncle John, married a Northcotte, who came to Burgeo with her brothers on the 18th Sept., 1849, and had W. Henry, Joseph, Elizabeth, George and Fanny.

There was a family of Dicks, four brothers. Henry, George, Christopher and Joseph that came from Lamaline. They had a mother "dear old Granny who was a Caines and died about 1868", and a sister Frances Dicks who married John Matthews [I think son of 'Uncle John Matthews']. Henry Dicks married Susan Anderson.

"Granny Vatcher was "a dear soul ... Was Midwife for many years and brought 400 children into the world and never lost a woman." She was born Caines, and came to Burgeo with her husband, an Englishman, from Lamaline. and I think her family were all born there perhaps except Phoebe and Joseph. Mr. Vatcher seems to have died before 1840, perhaps. They had George, Emmanuel, Richard and Joseph who was the youngest son. The daughters were Martha, Phoebe, Deborah, and Mary. Richard died single man before 1860, and there may have been a Stephen, the oldest son or next to George.

Charles Bungay came from Sagona and married Mary Hare, sister of the Firby's Hr. families in 1846. They had Maria, Thomas, John, George and Edward. "Old Uncle William Matthews" first married Mary Vatcher and then Susan Dicks before 1860. They had two children Hugh and Susannah. James Rose came from Grand Bank and married Deborah, daughter of Grandmother Vatcher. Charles LeRoux was from Fortune Bay married [in?] Bungay before coming to Burgeo in 1840. He had as family two sons John and Charles and three daughters Grace, Dolly, and Sarah. Samuel Prosser lived in Burgeo with his family until he was drowned come time before 1860. Old Captain Benjamin Buffett had three sons Samuel, William, Benjamin.

Benjamin Harris and his brother John came from Grold, not before 1848. Benjamin Green came from New Hr, James Green also from New Harbour. John Hann, Englishman married a Crewe (Sept. 13th, 1848) from Dawson's Cove who came to Burgeo with her brothers John, Martin or William. John Rose came to Brugeo from Htg. Bay, and married Edith Porter Sept.10, 1846. She was a daughter of old Samuel Porter and sister to Jas. Sr. Grandfather Samuel Porter an Englishman, who kept a little school for the children and died in the early 1860s, living with his son James. He had several daughters, one named Elizabeth. William Crewe came with his wife from Dawsons Cove, and had a son William born prior to Burgeo, and the next son, Martin, baptised in Burgeo in 1847.

"Uncle Geo. Hare" and his brothers and father lived in "Firby's Point". He was a "very old man" and lived there with his brother-in-law, Matthew Gore and John Caswell an Englishman. This family of Hare's came from Belloram in about 1843. George took the Point from where [in 1925] Samuel Hare's southern boundary is. He was a neat builder of punt and later skiffs. Mrs. Hare was a Kelly I believe. John was the oldest son of this family, then Mary , James, George, Thomas and Robert. Mr. Hare and his wife died long before 1925. Robert and family lived at Sydney up to 1910 but I believe dead at this date.

Lambert Forward came from Grand Bank, 1840 and his wife was Hannah, daughter of old Mr. Cox father of the large family that came to Upper Burgeo, in the 1830s and John Mrs. Forward, brother of the first one to open business in or near Burgeo. Old Mr. Cox was the son of a soldier stationed at St. John's and all the family were born there. John, Frederick, George and Samuel came to to Burgeo in the late 1830s and settled on the Sandbanks. Augustus Chevalier was a Frenchman born at Arachat, N.S., moved to St. Pierre. "Do not know when or how he got to Upper B." He married Susan Anderson, a sister of William and Edward John and George and (maybe) Thomas of West Point. They had four daughters Harriet, Pricilla, Ellen and Valentia.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1994 volume 1 (Extract: letter B). Entry for Burgeo, p. 287. Memorial University of Newfoundland Website. Accessed 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dion Dicks, 1997 The History of Burgeo. Accessed 2018
  3. Diary of Burgeo, Newfoundland. Written in 1925 by Joseph Small.

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