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REF NO.: 163

SUBJECT: Archaeologists strike gold: Ferryland find identified as seals belonging to the conqueror of Canada, Sir David Kirke

DATE: Jan. 25

Good things come in small, shiny packages or so archaeologists from Memorial University of Newfoundland found while excavating the Colony of Avalon site in Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador. Dr. James Tuck, head of the Archaeology Unit at Memorial's Department of Anthropology and archaeologist Barry Gaulton announced today that a set of three enameled gold seals discovered in the summer of 2003 were the personal property of Sir David Kirke, conqueror of French Canada and Governor of Newfoundland from 1637 until 1651.

Kirke was commissioned by King Charles I to attack the French in Canadain 1627 when war broke out. He made two successful expeditions, resulting in the surrender of Quebec in 1629. Later, he moved to Newfoundland and took up residence at Ferryland with his wife, Sara, and their family from 1638 until 1651 when he was recalled to London to account for his activities during the early years of the Commonwealth. He died in London in 1654, but Sara remained an active entrepreneur at Ferryland until the early 1680s. His surviving sons died as a result of imprisonment by the French at Placentia during the winter of 1696-97.

Confirmation of the provenance came when one of the seals was identified by William Hunt, Windsor Herald, College of Arms, London as the coat of arms of Sir David Kirke. Dr. Tuck’s team received funding from Memorial University’s J. R. Smallwood Foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies to determine the ownership of the seals. The seals were used as the personal imprint signature of Kirke and were pressed into wax or resin and then impressed on documents. Dr. Tuck said that the seals measure slightly greater than two centimeters in height and were held together by a mechanism and were probably hung on a chain, worn by Sir David Kirke.

Gaulton and Tuck agreed that, “Archaeologists don’t often get to connect something directly with an individual, particularly one who was the governor of Newfoundland and who captured Quebec from Champlain. It is a very rare find.”

One of the seals bears the Kirke coat of arms which were ratified by Richard St. George, Clarencieux King of Arms on Dec. 1, 1631. At the same time an augmentation, or addition, to the arms was also granted in commemoration of Kirke’s victory over the French fleet in 1628 and his capture of Quebec from Samuel de Champlain in the following year. The addition consists of a “canton” or rectangle in the upper left of the arms which bears the arms of the French Admiral Claude de Roquemont whose navy Kirke and his four brothers defeated in 1628. The image is that of de Roquemont’s lion portrayed “Couchant [lying down] and collered with a chaine ... as enthralled and prostratinge himself to the mercy of his vanquisher.”

On Jan.1, 1638, the same time he was granted the Island of Newfoundland and appointed its governor, Kirke was given a more elaborate coat of arms that eventually became that of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Kirkes occupied Quebec for three years, but French possessions were returned to France following the Treaty of Susa and after Louis XIII paid the dowry of his sister Henrietta Maria, who married England’s Charles I.

The other two seals bear a trophy of arms and a winged and flaming heart. The trophy of arms, which commemorates a military victory, depicts a shield, helmet, banner, pole arms and a sword. The winged and flaming heart is a religious icon, but its significance to the Kirke family remains unknown.

The seals will be displayed at the Colony of Avalon site in Ferryland which opens for the season on May 24, 2005.

Note to editors: a photo of the seals is available at

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For more information, please contact, DeborahInkpen, communications co-ordinator (research), MemorialUniversity, at 737-4073 or


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