As European shipping traffic increased along the coasts of North America, so too did efforts to chart and describe the region. Along with increasingly detailed nautical charts, written sailing directions, known as Pilot Books, also appeared with descriptions of the coast and each harbour. In Nova Scotia, one of the earliest examples of this genre of publication was written by surveyor Anthony Lockwood in 1818. Lockwood’s book, A Brief Description of Nova Scotia with Plates of the Principal Harbors, provides a snapshot of the state of settlement along the Eastern Shore in the summer and fall of 1815, when he and his survey team passed through the area.
Anthony Lockwood (1775–1855) entered the British naval service in 1791 and was stationed in a variety of locations including Curaçao and Barbados. He is perhaps best known in Canada as the Surveyor General of New Brunswick from 1819 to 1822, the conclusion of a successful career which unfortunately ended with the rapid deterioration of Lockwood’s mind and a diagnosis of madness. But between 1814 and 1818 Lockwood worked for the Surveyor General of Nova Scotia and was tasked with surveying the coasts of the province. Lockwood focused much of his attention on more heavily settled regions, but he also includes an overview of the Eastern Shore Islands area, providing a brief description of each harbour and often discussing the local population.
By 1815, when Lockwood was travelling along the Eastern Shore, the first English settler families had been living there for at least two generations. They were still few in number and even the most well-off were making only a modest living from a mix of farming, fishing, timber, and coastal trading. But the foundations were in place for many of the communities we know today.
Already the modern names for most harbours, islands, and headlands were apparent, even if their spelling was different. In fact, Lockwood made a special point of using what he called the “original” placenames, those known by the local settlers. Of course these placenames were hardly “original,” as they overwrote local Mi’kmaw naming. Instead what Lockwood was referring to was his effort to overturn the work of previous surveyors, notably JFW Des Barres, who assigned even newer names to many locations in an attempt to impress his patrons and superiors.
Des Barres’s Atlantic Neptune charts, based on surveys completed in the 1760s (available for view here), are otherwise considered to have been an extraordinary achievement for their time, but their value to navigators in Nova Scotia was somewhat diminished by the inclusion of these unknown placenames. As Lockwood observed, “Des Barres, in attaching to them the names of noblemen, or men in power, has made his charts of less value; and in one or two instances, has created serious blunders. Inquire of the people of Jedore for Port Egmont, or those of Sheet Harbor for Port North, they know them not, nor would they ever be induced to adopt them.”
Place-based settler community identities were forming along the Eastern Shore, and in each location that Lockwood visited he encountered small enclaves of men, women, and children working the land and sea. It was typical for books such as his to include a brief reference to the people settled in an area, as an indication of where a ship might find provisions of food, wood, or fresh water. There are very few early descriptions of the settlers on the Eastern Shore, so every source is welcome, even if it was originally intended as a sailing guide. Lockwood reports, for example, that at Marie Joseph in 1815 there were three families consisting of 15 people, with large stocks of cattle and two coasting vessels. In Necum Teuch (spelled Nicomquirque) salt marshes were harvested for winter hay by a small settlement of “sober, industrious people.”
Lockwood also observed that some of the islands had been settled at the time of his survey. At Ship Harbour there were “twenty families in the harbor and on the islands in its neighbourhood, who keep small stocks of cattle.” And he refers to Gerard Island and Phoenix Island in Popes Harbour collectively as “Gerard’s Islands, after those who settled them.”
More commonly, Lockwood referred to the islands as landmarks for navigation. He writes that Sheet Harbour “derives its name from a blank cliff, on a rocky island at the entrance, wearing the appearance of a sheet”—a description locals will recognize as Sheet Rock. The White Islands, among the outermost islands in the archipelago, are visible from a great distance along the coast and Lockwood identified them as a key landmark between Beaver Harbour and Liscomb Harbour. They “appear of a light stone colour, capt with ever-green. They are about sixty feet above the sea level, bold on the South side.” And Wedge Island, off the St. Mary’s River, was, according to Lockwood, “too remarkable to be missed” making it “an excellent guide to the harbors in its neighbourhood.” Wedge Island appears on Lockwood’s accompanying chart with the alias “Pierre-à-fusil” (Flint) and the notation “100 feet high.” It is no surprise that the government later chose to place a lighthouse on this island. This is the only chart Lockwood provides for the Eastern Shore Islands area.
In the book’s opening pages, Lockwood laments that this is not a work of literary description and that it does not do justice to the qualities of the province. Instead, he reminds his readers, the book is intended as a guide to safely navigating the coast and thus “plain truth must substitute decoration.” The reality is somewhere in between. For a work intended as a public resource—rather than, say, a personal memoir—Lockwood is often overly opinionated about the places and people he encountered. He particularly disdained the Mi’kmaq, who refused to submit to the assimilation efforts of the church and colonial government. Lockwood’s biographers describe the book as “a rambling, unfocussed series of jottings,” and “amateurish and without structure.” This is the challenge of working with all historical documents, which are seldom eloquent works of literature. Everything Lockwood writes must be taken with a grain of salt and cross-referenced with other contemporary sources. But the hints he provides to a little-known part of colonial history are compelling and worth pursuing.
Click here to read Anthony Lockwood’s A Brief Description of Nova Scotia with Plates of the Principal Harbors (1818) online. This link will open to the first page of the Eastern Shore Islands area, beginning at Jeddore and running to Wedge Island pp21–36.
For more information on Lockwood, read Peter Thomas and Nicholas Tracy’s Master & Madman: The Surprising Rise and Disastrous Fall of the Hon Anthony Lockwood RN (Goose Lane, 2012).