The Journals of Robert Carter

Robert Carter (1790-1852) was a merchant and magistrate who was born in Dartmouth, Devon, England on October 12th 1790. Although his family had resided in Ferryland on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland for three generations at this time, it was not uncommon for many family members to maintain dual residency, keeping one foot in England and one in Newfoundland, as it were. Such was the case for his father, also named Robert Carter, and his mother, Elizabeth Harris Howe. Indeed it is believed that his mother may never have come to Newfoundland, though his father certainly resided there, as did his grandparents, the first Robert Carter in this line and his wife Ann Wylly.

Through multiple generations, this family was involved in the commerce of the fishing and shipping trades. But also, they served in various legal and governmental capacities, as was common for the merchants in Newfoundland outports in those days.

It was therefore the case that this particular Robert Carter was appointed as a Stipendiary Magistrate, Justice of the Peace and "Keeper of the Rolls", amongst many related governmental appointments, for the Ferryland district. And, as was the custom for such figures, Robert Carter maintained a diary or occurrence book for the period between 1832 and 1852, until a few days before his early death on October 7th, 1852.

These diaries, or those of them that remain, were recorded in Twenty-three small, hardcover record books of the kind that might have been used for the financial records of a fish merchant, such as he was. The three missing volumes were lost at some point over the intervening 150 years. At that time, Jean Carter Stirling, Robert's second great granddaughter, took an interest in the diaries, which had been rediscovered in the attic of a cousin of hers. She borrowed them and began the painstaking task of transcribing every volume still available. When the task was completed, along with a friend and distant Carter relative, Ida White Michael, she prepared two indices, one covering the names of every person mentioned in the diaries and one doing likewise for all of the shipping and fishing vessels mentioned. Finally, to make the product as complete as possible, she also extracted and commented upon the entries from the Daily News in 1928 which excerpted selections from these diaries considered timely or interesting, and which were composed under the nom de plume, of Viator, who was widely believed to be the publisher of the Daily News, the Honourable J. A. Robinson.

Having completed this monumental task, Jean Carter Stirling chose the Centre for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) as the most appropriate institution to entrust with maintaining her Magnum Opus. CNS retains the original typescript. Recognizing that a way of searching the body of work by electronic means was vital for researchers, in 2021, Christopher J. A. Morry (also a descendant of the Carter family) used modern scanning and optical character recognition software to make the files found here on the Digital Archives Initiative.

The original Robert Carter diaries have been donated by the family to the Provincial Archives Division of The Rooms Corporation, as has a photocopy of the Jean Carter Stirling transcript. In 2014 and 2015, three members of the S.S. Daisy Legal History Committee of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador (Gerald Barnable, Christopher Curran and Melvin Baker) re-transcribed the diaries and published them in two volumes as A Ferryland Merchant - Magistrate : The Journal and Cases of Robert Carter, Esq. J.P., Parts I and II. This treatment gave greater attention to the legal aspects of the diaries.

- Written by Christopher John Morry July 2021

View page text transcripts in PDF format for each volume
Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3

Christopher Morry is in the process of digitizing the microfilm of the actual diaries held at the Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Our thanks go to Provincial Archivist, Greg Walsh.
August 1832 - October 1833
October 1833 - March 1834
March 1834 - September 1835
September 1835 - July 1836
July 1836 - March 1837
March 1837 - December 1837
August 1839 - December 1840
April 1841 - August 1841
September 1841 - July 1942
July 1842 - February 1843
January 1844 - December 1844
December 1844 - July 1845
July 1845 - December 1845
January 1846 - July 1846
July 1846 - December 1846
January 1852 - October 1852