Around the year 1550, English Fishermen approaching the east coast of Newfoundland spotted a high rocky headland. As they sailed past the towering rocks, the men found themselves in a broad bay almost three miles accross. High, rocky cliffs and steep, tree-covered hills skirted the shoreline. At the southern end of the bay, two small coves could be seen, but the captain of the ship decided to sail into the bottom of the bay where they found a good beach, and a small cove to moor their boats. It was a beautiful bay and would make an ideal summer fishing station. Because it reminded the men of the bay on the west coast of England they had left four weeks earlier, they named it Torbay.
These early visitors to Torbay lost no time in setting to work. Although it was early April, much had to be done before the fishing began in June. First, the small ship had to be securely morred for they found Torbay was not a good harbour, being open to winds and rough seas in spite of the high land which surrounded it.
In the snow and cold all the men went into the woods to cut timber. Out of the wood, cook rooms, huts, a stage and flakes had to be constructed. Once the shore equipment was in order, the fishing boats, which had been brought from England on the ship, were made ready. Now it was time to catch bait, first squid and later the plentiful caplin.
By mid-June, the busy fishing season had begun. Each morning before dawn the five small fishing boats, with three men to a boat, set out for the fishing grounds just outside the bay. Using only handlines with large baited hooks at the end they spent the day pulling codfish into the boats. In the evening the men returned to shore, threw the fish up to the stage and began the work of cleaning, splitting and salting the cod, being careful to save the cod livers, which were thrown into a vat where they rendered into valuable cod oil. The younger, less experienced crew members had remained on shore during the day washing the salted fish, carrying it to the flakes in barrows, and spreading it to dry. All summer the work continued, the only breaks coming from the occasional stormy day.
By mid-August, preparations began for returning home. The ship's hold was carefully lined with boughs to protect the piles of dried cod from dampness on the long journey. The stage, huts and flakes were broken up for firewood or left for next year's crew. The fish were loaded into the ship and the boats pulled on board. Finally, the sails were set and the crew happily left for their homes in England.
Whether the hardworking fishermen who gave Torbay its name returned to the bay in later years we do not know, but Torbay continued to be used as a summer fishing station by English and Irish fishing crews for over two hundred years.
During the 1600's, two or three ships arrived in the bay each year in the early spring and as many as one hundred and fifty men caught and dried fish there. Occassionally, Torbay was visited by French fishing ships, however, it was men from the west of England and southern Ireland who returned each year to fish, and who provided Torbay with its first settlers during the sixteen and seventeen hundreds.
Rock archway which existed on the South Shore of Torbay Harbour which has now be washed away to the sea.
It was in the year 1794 that Torbay was visited by its first tourist, Aaron Thomas, a seaman on a British war ship which had tied up in St. John's. Thomas was an adventurous fellow and decided to pass his time in port by sight-seeing. He and a young companion set out early one July morning to walk to Torbay, a short seven miles away. In a journal which he kept of all his visits to Newfoundland, Thomas describes their nerve-wrecking journey, in pouring rain along a narrow foot path which led the two men through thick woods and over marshy bogs. Thomas and his friend arrived in Torbay late in the evening, exhausted and soaked to the skin. Thomas' spirits, however, were not dampened by his difficult walk, for he approached the first person he saw in the settlement and told her that he and his friend had been shipwreched off Torbay and had just made it to the shore. As the unsuspecting woman ran to get help for the other unfortunate victims of the shipwreck, Thomas made off qickly for the nearest inn. Although Thomas wrote a great deal about his expendition to Torbay, his only comment on the settlement is the following brief description:
"Torbay is a small wild bay only used by small boats. Here are some noble rocks and a small waterfall. There is about thirty houses or huts scattered on each side of the bay."
Aaron Thomas would not have recognized the town of Torbay had he been able to return to it one hundred years after his first visit. The 1800's saw a rapid increase in the settlement's population and several events took place which greatly improved life for the town's inhabitants.
Before 1775, the majority of Torbay's settlers had come from the west coast of England, but in the late 1700's and the early 1800's, religious persecution and extreme poverty in their homeland prompted many Irishmen to journey to new homes in Newfoundland and other parts of North America. Some of these Irish families found their way to Torbay and decided to settle there. By the end of the 1800's, Torbay's population had grown tremendously and the majority of the town's residents were now Irish.
In 1826, Thomas Cochrane, one of Newfoundland's best governors, announced that a road would be built between Torbay and St. John's. This was welcome news to the residents of Torbay for up until this time, the only link between the two communities was the narrow trail through woods and bog which Aaron Thomas had described in his journal. Rev. Charles Pedley, who wrote a history of Newfoundland in 1860, commented on the bulding of this new road:
"Between (Torbay and St. John's) there existed only a miserable apology for a road... Yet the interventing country had many points of attraction, and partly to afford the means of a pleasant walk or drive, and still more to promote a work of public (usefulness), the governor caused a road to be laid out which runs through one of the most interesting suburbs of the chief town and now has many pretty and productive farms."
The new road was expecially important to Torbay's farmers, for it allowed them to carry their product into St. John's by horse-drawn cart. All resident of Torbay used the road to bring supplies from St. John's, since the town had no merchant extablishments and it was close to 1900 before the community had a store.
The great depression of the 1930's brought hardtimes to Torbay and all Newfoundland. The older residents of the town still remember when 125lbs of fish would bring only 75 cents. Many people were forced to live on relief from the government which paid a mere six cents more a day. The people of Torbay were luckier than some for they could at least feed their families from their farms and the fish they caught.
In spite of all the changes which have occurred in Torbay, many reminders of the past can still be seen in the town. A visitor to the town would find that almost all the town's streets have been named after the first family to live on it, for example Dunphy's Lane, Dodd's Lane, Gosse's Lane and Martin's Lane. There is also a hill named Manning's Hill and a small cove on Torbay's north side, where the boats are anchored, which was first known as Green Cove but when an English family by the name of Tapper settled around it, the cove became known as Tapper's Cove.
Newfoundland School Broadcasts: 1978-1979
Torbay: A Community History
By: Linda Cook
The O'Brien house, built in1870
The only type of it's kind still standing
Joe and Mary O'Brien, owners
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