I'm so excited to start this new weekly blog. Each week I'll feature a historical fiction author or historian (if I can convince them to come play with us) to share some historical tidbits.
In case you didn't know, I have an honours BA in History with a minor in Newfoundland Studies. I'm also one thesis away from a Master's degree in History, specifically 19th century gender history with a focus on Newfoundland and England. I'm also about to jump back into finishing the Regency romance that got me blogging so very long ago. (Check out my very first blog post here!)
I thought long and hard about what topic I'd kick off this blog feature with. I mean, I could write about regency England, but I figure I'll have enough regency experts on here that I'll leave that to them. Instead, I'm going to talk about Newfoundland.
Today's topic: The Winter of the Rals, 1817-18
It being November, it's a grand time to jump back into that regency of mine, that has our heroine's father dragging her kicking and screaming out of St. John's, Newfoundland and back home to the motherland. While our dear heroine might not appreciate the forced evacuation, it was a prudent move on her father's part. For that November, in 1817, was the start of what's gone down in our history as The Winter of the Rals (rowdies!).
St. John's was a town built on the rocky slopes of the hills of Newfoundland and it has been consumed by fire many a time. In 1817 a fire swept though a large portion of the town, destroying nearly 300 homes, plus the all important merchant stores and wharves. More devastatingly, it left around 2000 people homeless for the oncoming winter. You can see from this sketch, from around 1830, that the town was made of mostly wood.
Needless to say, the place was a state. The loss of housing was made worse by the terrible winter that followed. What followed was a winter of famine, crime and pure destitution. Even Vice-Admiral Francis Pickmore, the appointed governor of the colony at the time, succumbed to the Winter of the Rals and died in February of 1818.
A grand jury was appointed shortly after to find ways to prevent another such winter, one where
"Gangs of half-famished lawless men everywhere threatened the destruction of life and property."
This is a crisis that drives my heroine to England, although she departed just after the fires and before things went from bad to worse.
It was a crucial period in our history, one which sent many immigrants on to the mainland of North America. Only the hardy, the desperate, and those truly invested in this place remained. Those that stayed by choice, and indeed, those that stayed by necessity, helped form the world that my heroine returns to.
Please don't let this doom and gloom cloud your notions of my regency series. While I can't ignore the Winter of the Rals and its aftermath, my story will speak to the resilience of those English, Irish and Scots who would become Newfoundlanders.