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Image of a fishery past

(January 27, 2000, Gazette)

By Bert Riggs

The illustration accompanying this article is an Italian version of an engraving depicting the operation of the Newfoundland fishery in the early 18th century. There are also English and French versions. The engraving provides a pictorial, probably first-hand, account of the various duties and responsibilities inherent in the production of salted cod fish between the time it was caught and the time it was ready for transport to the European market.

This engraving was part of a larger body of material donated to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies by the estate of former Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood in July 1992. There is no indication as to how or from whom Smallwood acquired this copy. Written in pencil on the top right margin are the words “Goz Americano” and “Newfoundland” and the date “1763.” It is also marked “5-” which may indicate a selling price of five shillings.

It measures 18.2 x 24.6 cm.

According to Charles P. deVolpi in Newfoundland: A Pictorial Record (Longman Canada Limited, 1972, Plate 8), “The origin of this print has not been located, but a similar cartouche appeared on the Herman Moll map of North America, 1710.” In his book, deVolpi uses a reproduction of the Italian engraving with English translation of the caption text at the bottom, in addition to the Italian caption at the top. The reproduction on Moll’s map is similar in style and content to the Italian one but there are noticeable differences: one is that the Moll version is facing in the opposite direction; there is also an English title and caption. D. W. Prowse in A History of Newfoundland (London: MacMillan & Co., 1895, p. 22) uses a reproduction of the Moll version. Charles de la Morandiere in Histoire de la Peche Francaise de la Morue Dans l’Amerique Septentrionale (Paris: G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1962, V.II, Planche XVIII) uses a very different version of the scene. Other variations probably exist.

While the English version is known to date from at least 1710, the exact date or place of creation is unknown. Does the Italian version predate the English version? Does the French version predate them both? Is the French version a simpler prototype which led to the more elaborate English or Italian versions?

What is known is that this is an artist’s interpretation of the conduct of the Newfoundland cod fishery in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It provides a pictorial account of the various players who would have been involved in a typical cod fishing enterprise and their functions. These range from the offshore fishing vessel showing how the fish was caught and brought ashore to the people who gutted, cleaned, salted and placed the fish for drying. It also shows how the oil was extracted from the fish livers. Prominent in the foreground is a man, standing, modelling the typical garb of a fisherman and the type of line and hook he might use.

The engraving has appeared many times in reproduction since the 18th century. It is a particularly well known scene, readily identifiable as a early depiction of the Newfoundland cod fishery.

“Veduta d’un palco, e della maniera colla quale si pesca acconcia e secca il Baccala in Terra nuova” (Italian) - “View from a platform [stage], and of the manner in which salt cod is fished, prepared, and dried in Newfoundland”
A. Abito del pescatore /Fisherman’s suit; B. La corda con l’amo /The rope with the fish-hook; C. Maniera di pescare /The manner of fishing; D. Uomini che preparano il pesce / Men who are preparing the fish; E. Truogolo doue gettano il pesce quando e accomodato /Trough where they throw the fish when it is ready; F. Casse di salamoja /Case of brine; G. Maniera di portarlo /Manner of carrying it; H. Maniera di pulirlo /Manner of cleaning it; I. Strettojo per estrar l’Olio dai Baccalari /Press to extract the oil from the cod livers; K. Botte che ricevel’acqua e il sanguedei pesci /Barrel that receives the water and the blood of the livers; L. Altra Bottw che ricevel l’Olio / Other barrel that receives the oil; M. Maniera di seccareil pesce /Manner of drying the fish