The History of Newfoundland Publishing


A Brief History of Newfoundland

Literature Review

Early Publications

First Newfoundland Publishers

Reading in Newfoundland

Cultural Revival


Early Publishing about Newfoundland

The literature discussing the island of Newfoundland can be traced as far back as the Viking or Greenland Saga written in approximately 1200 (Ingstad 1987, 150). Writing about the island re-emerged in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as European travellers visited the island for the first time. Patrick O’Flaherty notes that the first literature produced about Newfoundland came in sailor’s letters and other related documents produced in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, with one of the very first known examples coming from John Day who discussed the Cabot expedition in a letter to Columbus (O’Flaherty 1979, 3). In 1527, we see the first surviving English text from the period discussing the island written by British explorer John Rut, in reference to his search for a northwest passage.

By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, western discovery was entering into the highest literature of the period including the works of Sir Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare (O’Flaherty 1979, 10). The literature of this period shifted towards propaganda, searching for settlers to move to the island to maintain British sovereignty. Publications by British authors such as John Mason’s Briefe Discourse of the New-found-land (O’Flaherty 1979, 11) and Richard Whitbourne’s Discourse and Discovery of New-found-land, (Major 2001, 89) both published in 1620, were written with the intention of promoting the colonization and settlement of the island . With the eighteenth century came an increase in such publications. These propagandist texts include: William Carson’s Reasons for Colonizing the Island of Newfoundland, in a letter to the inhabitants (O’Dea 1986, 73 number 316) and George Cartwright’s Labrador, a poetical epistle published in 1785(O’Dea 1986, 55 number 225a and 225b).

In this century Newfoundland literature also discussed the important political and cultural events of the period. Most of these publications were produced by the British about Newfoundland and were published in London or in other North American colonies (Devereux 1960, 57). Written primarily by British travellers, colonist or lawmakers, the main purpose of these publications was to notify the public about changing laws and statues and to promote the settlement and colonization of a new country. At this period in history it is clear that publications about Newfoundland were written by outsiders and a local writing and publishing industry had not yet developed on the island.

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This website was created by Sara House and is based on a paper written for Publishing LIS 519 at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.
Last updated July 31, 2010

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