British Empire Books

Come From Away

AuthorDavid Macfarlane
First Published1991
This Edition1992

"It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valor, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further."

This is a book that traces the history of Newfoundland through looking at the ups and downs of a family history. Newfoundland was actually the oldest colony in Imperial history; stretching back to the Sixteenth Century. However, it was never one of the more successful outposts of empire. The only industries of any size were the fishing and lumber industries. Otherwise, the rocky, craggy colony had a hard time supporting the local population. The colony was even declared bankrupt in 1934 and had to be ruled directly from Britain. All of this information and more is given in the form of anecdotes and asides as David Macfarlane weaves the history of his family and their lore with that of the colony.

The author describes the ambitious plans of Lord Northcliffe in building a company town to supply his London publishing business with the paper to be printed upon. Himself an avowed imperialist, as his papers regularly attested to, he revelled in stimulating the loyal imperial outpost with his business. The closeness of the imperial fabric is demonstrated when the people of this colony read Northcliffe's papers and joined in with the scenes of riotous uproar for the relief of Mafeking in 1900, despite the relief being weeks before. Macfarlane relates the successes and failures of this industry with his own family and how it managed to convert his family from a long line of fishermen into lumber and construction men and drag them into the interior of the island.

Perhaps the most moving parts of the book are when the author describes the effects of the Great War on his family. He tells how, at the outbreak of the war, the colony was proud to raise its own regiment and dispatch its sons of in patriotic fervour. Fiercely loyal to the crown, the regiment resented being mistaken for Canadians and on one occasion as a British band struck up O! Canada! on their behalf, they replied instantly by breaking into Rule Britannia. However, as the war dragged on and as the casualties mounted, pain and disillusionment set in. The financial and humanitarian costs for this small colony began to be increasingly difficult to meet. His own family lost three brothers to the senseless fields of slaughter in Europe. The future difficulties of both his own family and of the colony are all traced back to the ruinous effect of this war. The effect on his family was detailed as: It was a different family after the war. Something was gone from the heart of it... Somehow the wrong combination survided. Fights erupted in the absence of the dead brothers. A balance would never be regained. And for Newfoundland: Of the 5,482 men who went overseas, two thirds were killed or wounded - the largest proportion of casualies suffered by an overseas contingent of the imperial forces. And the debt that Newfoundland undertook to prove its loyalty to the Empire and to demonstrate its own national pride proved to be as uncontrollable in the years after the war as casualties had been during it... Newfoundland's role in the Great War led inexorably to bankruptcy, to an unelected government, to the colony's abondonment by England, and finally, to confederation with Canada.

This eventual confederation with Canada is also described within the bounds of the family history. How one brother was for joining with Canada, another to remain loyal to Britain and the third to join with the States. It's surprising that 47% of the colony wished to remain loyal to Britain, despite Britain actively campaining for Newfoundland's confederation with Canada. Many of the older Newfoundlanders would lament the passing of this distinctive colony and of being bound up with the larger Canadian federation. They were particularly aggrieved when it was realised that Canada Day fell on the same day as the Newfoundland remembrance day; the anniversary of The battle of the Somme, July 1st. The ambivalence of whether to celebrate or commemorate this day has afflicted Newfoundlanders ever since and has left a permanent guilty feeling at being Canadians.

The book is a joy to read, being written in a distinctive and innovative style. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in one of the more remote areas of imperial scholarship.

Buy this book at: Amazon

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by Stephen Luscombe