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Land grants and postage stamps

A portion of a Newfoundland Free Land Grant document drawn up 148 years ago. It offers a family in Musgravetown, “Goose Bay,” Bonavista Bay, the right to own land provided they can show that a portion of it has been used for agriculture.
A portion of a Newfoundland Free Land Grant document drawn up 148 years ago. It offers a family in Musgravetown, “Goose Bay,” Bonavista Bay, the right to own land provided they can show that a portion of it has been used for agriculture. - Contributed

A distant relative (way over there in the state of New York) sent me a yellowed, old document several weeks ago and wondered if I could possibly throw some light on it. It was drawn up 148 years ago and concerns property in which his paternal grandfather had some interest. The land was (is) located at Musgravetown, Bonavista Bay.

With great dignity (Victoria was the reigning monarch at the time) and with stamps and signatures and classically beautiful handwriting, the document exudes importance. My relative was not anticipating El Dorado or even ownership of a piece of outport Newfoundland; the document had lain in his late father's basement among other keepsakes for decades and he wondered what it might have to “say.”

For that, I was glad that I could place it in the hands of lawyer Gus Lilly. Here is part of what I learned from his examination:
This is a Free Land Grant issued under the authority of the Disposal and Sale of Ungranted and Unoccupied Crown Lands Act, 1860.

“These Grants were made to encourage agriculture among persons engaged in the fishery, and so we see the Grantees described as Farmers and Fishermen. There is a brief mention of such Grants in an article by Dr. Sean Cadigan of the MUN History Department which you will find on the Heritage NL website.

“Free Land Grants were initially issued as a Licence of Occupation to persons desirous of permanently settling on and cultivating the land in question. The maximum amount of land which could be granted to a settler was 50 acres. Here we see that the Grant was just over 23 acres. Once the Licensee had occupied and settled on the land for a period of five years after the date of the licence, and had cultivated two acres of the land within that five-year period, the Licensee was eligible to apply for a Grant in Fee Simple (freehold) of the land, upon paying a charge of $1.00.

“However, before such a Grant could be issued the Licensee was required to file a petition with the Surveyor General setting out the quantity of land occupied and cultivated, a description of the land, and the general uses to which the Licensee intended to apply the land. Then the land had to be surveyed by an official surveyor at the expense of the Licensee. Once all that was done, the Free Land Grant could be issued.

“In this case, we see from the Grant that the Licence of Occupation was applied for on 6 October 1871 and the Grant states that the Licensees satisfied Government that they had fulfilled the conditions upon which the Licence was issued. The Grant itself is dated 10 June 1876, just short of five years after the initial application.”

The motive was to encourage agriculture; too many of us at the time were wholly dependent upon the fishery, a resource that was unpredictable at best, and for most fishermen the focus was fully on one species. The days of shrimp millionaires were well in the future.

Interestingly, the document is signed by governor John Hawley Glover (after whom Glovertown is named) and Frederick B.T. Carter, attorney general and prime minister.

Too many postage stamps?

The Evening Telegram editor suspected a little philatelic skulduggery back some 80 years ago shortly after there had been an over-printing of a Newfoundland postage stamp. The Post Office indicated that the surcharging was a temporary measure to handle a shortage of required denominations and asked customers to buy only what they needed of those stamps then and there.

But stamp collectors have a way of sniffing out potential rarities. Here is the editor's comment from the newspaper dated Dec. 20, 1939:

“A few weeks ago when it was found necessary to surcharge a certain stamp to be used instead of the two- and four-cent issues, the supply of which was exhausted, it was strongly urged that the public should not purchase more of the over-printed stamps than was necessary for normal requirements.

“In view of the restraint which collectors and dealers were requested to exercise, it comes as a surprise to find a Montreal firm featuring the sale of these provisional stamps of Newfoundland in an advertisement in The Montreal Star, the set of two being offered for 15 cents. They were stated to be 'scarce at this price' but the fact that they were given considerable advertising space would suggest that the supply was not small. The question is how the stamps reached an outside dealer in sufficient quantity to repay such publicity.”

Was the editorialist suggesting the dealer in Montreal was in collusion with someone at our post office?

The earliest mail communication in Newfoundland was overland by couriers. Thus, in an advertisement in The Royal Gazette in January 1839, William Caldwell of Harbour Grace stated he proposed to travel around Conception Bay carrying letters. He planned on leaving St. John's every Monday at the same hour. In 1847 James Hodge announced that he proposed to run a four-sail boat between Kelligrews, Brigus and Port de Grave, carrying letters. - Source, H.H. Mosdell's “When Was That,” compiled 1922.

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail:

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