Special to the Nor’Wester
It is 12 midnight on Friday, June 13th, 1884 in the town of Little Bay. “The SS Tinto arrived here today from England, this being the first copper steamer this season. Constable Meany served the following summonses on my complaint, viz., Robert Dwyer and John St. Clare for being drunk and fighting on the streets the night of the 10th inst.; and, Arthur Morrison for being drunk and resisting the police in the billiard room of John Lamb on the night of the 10th inst. The Constable discharged the said duty and - returned to barracks after our usual rounds. 12 Midnight, ‘All Quiet’ on the streets.”
Those words were taken directly from the diaries of Thomas E. Wells, a sergeant with the Newfoundland Constabulary posted in Little Bay in 1883. Sergeant Wells was a very important figure in the history of Little Bay. During his 52 years in this small out port community he was a policeman (1883 – 1898), Magistrate (1906 – 1920), relieving officer (ca. 1900 – 1930), a prospector and a minor (1883 – 1935), as well as a writer. Sergeant Wells, for whatever reason, decided when he arrived in Little Bay, to keep a running journal. Apparently he was a man with orderly habits and remarkably, he kept up his daily journal entries for 52 years, until he died 1935. His writings of his daily accounts always ended with “All Quiet” on the streets, or “All Quiet” at the mines, or sometimes just “All Quiet.”
All those words so carefully written by him so long ago, using only a fountain pen, now appear in modern day print, thanks to his great grandson, E. Doyle Wells. His book simply called “All Quiet” which was just released this fall was a labor of love for Doyle. The title couldn’t be more appropriate and it was probably the easiest part of putting the book together. For this particular book he edited the diaries from 1883 to 1889, which covers the first seven years that Sergeant Wells spent in Little Bay. The reading and editing was a very long and challenging process according to Doyle. In total, his great-grandfather’s journals and correspondence comprised of more than 7000 pages, written over a period of 52 years. The diaries are very detailed and paint a clear picture of life in Little Bay during its boom years, from the vantage point of the man responsible for maintaining law and order on the streets.
Thomas Wells was Sergeant during a time when Little Bay was often referred to as the “El Dorado” of Newfoundland or the “Wild Wild West”. During The late 1880’s and early 1890’s Little Bay housed the workers of the largest copper mine along the Northeast Coast. Copper was discovered in the area in the late 1870’s. A mine emerged and prospered and the population grew. By 1891, 2100 people lived in Little Bay. A thriving industry, a highly populated area and money makes for a lethal mix and unfortunately brings with it an increase in drinking and crime. Sergeant Wells talks about all of it, the problems caused by alcohol, from bootlegging to drunkenness and fighting, petty theft and prostitution.
Doyle just spent a few days here in Little Bay and Springdale, in part to promote his book but more importantly he felt the need to return to his ancestral home and share this piece of history with the residents of Little Bay and surrounding area. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Doyle while he toured and reminisced. Doyle made his first appearance at the Springdale Public Library for a book signing and reception hosted by Librarian Judy Hamilton. He had the audience captivated during his readings from the book which was followed by many questions from the audience afterwards. He found himself reminiscing with some of the elders of the community who knew some of descendants of his great-grandfather. The people who attended also had the opportunity to have a look at some of the original journals. Judy was very instrumental in planning this entire book tour and still likes to tell the story how it all came about. A Springdale resident came in to the library asking if the new book called “All Quiet” by Doyle Wells was available. Two hours later the phone rang at the library and it was Doyle Wells expressing an interest in a book signing. I guess it was meant to be according to Judy.
Doyle retraced his great-grandfather’s footsteps the following day during his visit to Little Bay. He went back to the original home dwelling of his great-grandfather which still stands in Little Bay. He pointed out to me where the barracks, jail house and courthouse once stood during that time period and he even went to the graveyard to visit the grave of his grandfather Edward Doyle Wells (his namesake).While visiting the Well’s family homestead, Doyle was welcomed by Phyllis Simms, Mayor of Little Bay during which time Doyle presented one of his books to the town.
Doyle’s trip wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the Notre Dame Lodge which now stands in Springdale. On August 2, 1954 there was a formal tribute to the Wells family dedicating the Wells Memorial Free Mason’s Hall (Notre Dame Lodge) in memory of Thomas E. Wells and his other family members. Thomas E. Wells and many of his descendants played an important role in keeping the lodge running while it stood in Little Bay. Thomas was also Master of the lodge nine times between the years 1897 and 1931. Several current members of the lodge were there to welcome Doyle and they had many stories to share with him about times they spent at the lodge when it was still in Little Bay. Doyle was presented with one of the original invitations to the ceremony in which the lodge was dedicated in his family’s name. Hanging on the wall of the Notre Dame Lodge is a large picture of Thomas E. Wells dressed in his ceremonial lodge uniform. Doyle presented a book to the lodge in memory of his great-grandfather. Job Parsons, a current lodge member, expressed how wonderful it was that Doyle was there. He said, this is a very important day for the Notre Dame Lodge and will be an important day in history.
Doyle’s trip here finished up in fine style with a reception at the Little Bay Fire Hall. Residents in and around Little Bay came out to hear Doyle share a little piece of Little Bay history and to get a signed copy of his book. He shared stories and mingled with the crowd. The town of Little Bay was very proud to have Doyle visit and to show their appreciation, he was presented with a symbolic key to the town by the Mayor and Town Council members. Doyle was overwhelmed by the warm welcome and the outpouring of support for his book.
Doyle was born in Baie Verte in 1945 and currently resides in St. John’s with his wife Deborah who is originally from Pilley’s Island. Doyle is actively working on Book II which will cover the diaries of his Great Grandfather during his time as Magistrate in Little Bay. It will cover the time period of 1910 to 1920 during which time WWI took place and was in the forefront of everyone’s mind. His journals at that time involved court cases and WWI daily updates sent by telegraph. He’s hoping this book will be ready for release by the end of 2013 or early in 2014.
Doyle has provided us with a way to step back in time and learn about the day-to-day authoritative happenings of a prosperous and relatively large out port community in the 1880’s. According to retired Deputy Chief of Police of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, “never before has such a revealing personal account, the diaries of a police sergeant, been opened for public consumption in Newfoundland”. He also said it’s “A ‘must read’ for all those interested in history”.