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Twillingate author’s latest book focuses on early 20th century police work in Fogo

Seeing history unfold

FOGO ISLAND, NL – Twillingate author and historian David J. Clarke’s newest work focuses on a period in Newfoundland history rarely detailed – the final decades of constabulary police work on Fogo Island.

Clarke says the book is an insightful look into not only the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s often-forgotten role in policing Newfoundland’s outports, but also a glimpse into this unique time in the province’s history.

“It details some very interesting times in Newfoundland history, from becoming a Dominion, to the Great Depression coming in with the collapse of fish prices and people’s hardships driving us to Confederation,” said Clarke.

“There’s little pieces of Newfoundland history unfolding in the diaries that really show up.”

The book, On Duty in the Place: The Diary of an Outport Constable, transcribes the official journals of three RNC officers stationed in Fogo from 1904 to 1938.

The first years of the journal, noted by officer William Shave, take place from 1904 to 1913. The journal picks up again in 1926 with George Sheppard, and ends with John Harvey – the last constabulary officer posted in the area before the Newfoundland Rangers took over.

Notes by Clarke with additional context are also given throughout the work.

He says several fascinating anecdotes and stories came through as he transcribed the journals. In 1936, Sheppard noted a plane had crash landed in a bog near Musgrave Harbour. The plane was originally destined for New York. Clarke details more specifics around that story is his additional notes on the diary entry.

The Great Depression was also a common theme for this period of the journal. Clarke says relief work and helping people in need of food or assistance was an increasingly common theme.

“People desperate for extra food, people not capable of making ends meet – how much of a dramatic impact this had in the community comes up over and over again,” Clarke said. “You see direct orders to help out relief officers, and the force itself being strapped for cash and asked to save money by sending letters instead of telegraphs.”

Attitudes about mental health were also much different in those days.

“Some of the things we think of as not being crimes today were looked on then,” said Clarke. “There’s rafts of stories of people certified as being insane, arrested and taken to what they called ‘the lunatic asylum’ in St. John’s.

“It’s interesting to me how much our attitudes have changed – just 80 years ago they were doing things like this.”

Due to the sensitive nature of some of these cases, Clarke kept certain names out of the book.

Clarke came in contact with the diaries when former Fogo mayor Andrew Shea loaned him the journals to have them transcribed and published.

This is Clarke’s eighth book, and because so much of this work focused on transcribing, he says it was not as time consuming as some of his other projects.

Through all his work thus far, Clarke has kept a sharp focus on the Notre Dame Isles and its extensive history. What keeps him absorbed and engaged in his own home is the thrill of discovering just how much history there is in one small area.

“Even though we’re such a small piece of the world, we’ve got such a rich and varied history,” said Clarke. “There’s always things to learn, always new stories for me, and that always keeps me interested.

“It’s really worth our while to know as much about it as we can.”

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