Sir David Kirke

It seemed that the First Western Charter had decided the fate of settlers in Newfoundland forever. But the King had other friends besides the Western Adventurers. Some of these men now came forward to ask that Sir David Kirke be allowed to start a colony in Newfoundland.

Kirke was a brave and adventurous man. Some years earlier, when England and France had been at war, he had captured the city of Quebec from the French. At the time of the capture the two countries had already made peace, but Kirke had not known this because in those days it took news a long time to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. When the news had arrived, he had had no choice but- to give Quebec back to the French governor.

The King knew that Kirke was disappointed because he had been forced to return Quebec to the French. He agreed to reward Kirke now by allowing him to set up a colony in Newfoundland. Kirke was named governor of all Newfoundland and was given the coat of arms that is still used by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador today. The King knew that his grant to Kirke would anger the Western Adventurers. In order that they all be less angry, gave Kirke a charter stating that none of the settlers should should live by the coast.


The Coat of Arms of Newfoundland was granted to Sir David Kirke on January 1, 1637. The two lions and two unicorns in the centre are separated by the Cross of St. George, representing Newfoundland's ties with Great Britain. The caribou and the Indians represent Newfoundland.

However, Kirke knew that settlers in Newfoundland could not make a living if they could not fish. He also knew that the First Western Charter had said that all subjects of the King should be free to fish anywhere in Newfoundland. He therefore decided that he would obey only those parts of his own charter which pleased him. When he came to Newfoundland, he moved into Baltimore's Mansion House at Ferryland. He built forts at Ferryland, Bay Bulls, and St. John's. The settlers whom he brought also settled by the sea.

Very soon Kirke was governing a growing settlement. He sold fishing licences and rented fishing premises. He also sold licences to tavern keepers. He made all foreign fishermen pay him a tax of five fish for every one hundred and twenty they caught. He brought many fishermen out from England and paid them wages to catch fish for him. He worked hard to establish a prosperous colony at Ferryland. It seemed that at last Newfoundland was to be properly colonized and properly governed. Then certain events occurred in England which changed everything. The English Parliament believed that it, not the King, should rule the country. The supporters of Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, therefore went to war against the King's followers, who were called Royalists. In the end Parliament won the war and King Charles was beheaded. The new government under Cromwell was very cruel of all who had been Royalists.

Kirke had been a good friend of King Charles. West Country shipowners and merchants, who hated Kirke because his colony was successful, now went to Cromwell and said that Kirke was a Royalist. They also claimed that Kirke was collecting a fleet at Ferryland which would be used to chase Cromwell out of England and put a king back on the throne. These stories were not true, but Cromwell decided to bring Kirke back to England for trial and to send his own men to Newfoundland to manage the colony. The trial proved that the charges against Kirke were false. Before he could get back to Newfoundland, however, he was again arrested. This time Lord Baltimore charged that Kirke had taken his house at Ferryland without permission.

So ended the last attempt to develop a properly governed English colony in Newfoundland. Sir David Kirke had been a strong and intelligent man. Despite the West Country fishermen he had built a prosperous community at Ferryland. He might have given Newfoundland a strong government in its early days, but the war in England had interfered and his death brought an end to the plans he had made. Hardy fishermen continued to make Newfoundland their home, but for a long time they had no government except the cruel fishing admirals.