Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador; Containing Many Interesting Particulars, Both of the Country and Its Inhabitants, Not Hitherto Known

Townsend took six voyages to Labrador over sixteen years and this is his personal account of his experiences. Throughout the journal are many references to reading prayers to his family, sometimes twice a day.

Volume I:

p. viii: On my arrival in Labrador , being secluded from society, I had time to gain acquaintance with myself: and I could not help blushing when I perceived, how shamefully I had misemployed my time. The little improvement I have since made, has been entirely owing to writing my Journal , and to reading a small collection of books which I took out with me; but it was too late in life, for me to receive much benefit from those helps.

It was suggested to me, that I ought to have put the manu- fcript into abler hands, who would render it less unworthy of the Public eye; but as it appeared to me, that by so doing I should arrogate to myself an honour to which I was not entitled; and also pay such a price as would swallow up the greater part, if not the whole, of the profit arising from the sale of my books, I did not approve of the one, nor could I afford the other.

The only merit to which I have any pretensions, is that of a faithful Journalist, who prefers the simplicity of plain language and downright truth, to all the specious ornaments of modern style and description. I humbly trust, that this apology will satisfy my friends, and serve to extenuate those errors, which must be too obvious to be overlooked by critical examination.

p. 104: after a bout of snow-blindness: I was able to read much to-day. Ned was better; and the marine capable of doing his duty. Last Spring, the same man was blind for a month, and several others were so for a long time; few recovering their sight in less than ten days. The consumption of fuel in this house is very great, and yet it is intolerably cold.

Volume II:

p. 442, digging up dirt in Labrador: One of my servants having informed me on Thursday last, that a criminal connexion had been carried on between Mrs. Selby and Mr. Daubeny, and as he had discovered me this morning in an attempt to get ocular demonstration of it, I tried the affair publicly. The fact being clearly proved by two witnesses, and by very strong corroborating circumstances related by feven others, together with her own confession, I declared as formal a divorce between us as ever was pronounced in Doctors Commons. Upon reading the depositions to Daubeny, and asking him what he had to say in his defence, he positively denied the whole; accused her of being in a combination with the other people against him, offered to take his most solemn oath to the truth of his assertions, and repeatedly pressed me to administer an oath to him; but I did not chuse that he should add perjury to the crimes he had already committed. Mrs. Selby then refusing to take her oath that the child, of which she was lately delivered, was mine (the time of its birth answering to the twenty fifth of July had, at which time she was in the same house with him on Great Island, and I was absent from the morning of the eighteenth to the morning of the twenty-ninth) and the child being very like him in many respects, and in none like me, I disowned it, and resolved never to make any provision for it, unless I should hereafter be compelled so to do by a judicial sentence.

p. 467: In the afternoon John MacCarthy having behaved very ill, and, as I was going to give him a stroke with a stick, he raised a hatchet at me, and took an oath upon a book (which I believe was a prayer-book) that he would cleave me or any other man down, who should offer to go near him. He made several efforts to chop at me, and some of my servants, who attempted to take him, and then ran off to the other end of the island. At night he went into the cook-room, where one of the people took the hatchet from him, but he absconded again.

Volume III:

p. 128: After breakfast we sent four hands to perform the last ceremony over the corps of Alexander Thompson; which they did by cutting a hole through the ice in North Harbour, reading the funeral service, and plunging the body into the water: for it would be as difficult to make a grave in the earth at this time of the year, as it would be to dig one in a freeftone quarry.

[p. 248], the first stanza of Townsend’s poem on Labrador, which covers fifteen pages:



WELL may you, Charles, astonishment express
To see my letter in poetic dress.
How can he, you will say, in Nature’s spight.
Who ne’er found time to read, attempt to write?
Write verses too! and words to measure cut!
Unskilled in cutting, save at Loin or Butt.
No matter how; a project’s in my head.
To write more verses, than I’ve ever read.
The whim has feiz’d me: now you know my scheme;
And my lov’d Labrador shall be my Theme.

Family prayers, which are absent from Volume II, return in this volume. For example: I read prayers to my little family this morning, and wrote letters all the rest of the day.

A fine day (p. 73).

p. 37: Any one of your friends could have told you the experience of Upper Canada, that the absence of a proper common school system, and of British or provincial schoolmasters and school books, had introduced American teachers and American school books into the province to an alarming extent, prior to 1837; and that, in fact, the baneful influence of these had been a main instrument in exciting in the country a spirit of rebellion against every thing British.

So much was this the case, that even the late Executive did not dare to propose by their School bill, that Americans should be eligible, according to law, as teachers, after January, 1846; yet the Banner must needs take upon itself to object to the exclusion of American teachers!

Let me tell you. Sir, that an interested and intelligent public will judge you by your acts, and not by your words; and that if you, in such a way as I have stated, or by unprincipled opposition to Sir Charles Metcalfe, for your own personal objects, with the members of an extreme political faction, or if in any other way you can be shown to be practically promoting Republican views, among the Presbyterian population of Canada, your well written tirades against speculative Republicanism, as you found it in the neighbouriug Republic (although from that country you will persist in still borrowing so many of your views), will fall as idly on the public ear, as did Mr. Baldwin’s professions of devotion to the cause of “the connexion with England” (see his speech, at two different parts, at the Toronto demonstration).

[This is a letter to George Brown from [Townsend?, Entitled “Mr. Buchanan and the Banner,” Jan. 27, 1844. It is included here merely as a good example of Canadian political invective, with its analogies across the 21st-century border.]