Excerpt #1: Benevolent Irish Society
Although the BIS is today considered a Roman Catholic organization, it
was actually founded by a group of Irishmen, most of whom were Protestants,
and its first executive had only one Catholic member, Henry Shea, secretary.
When the BIS was conceived, Newfoundland had a total population of twenty-two
thousand, with only four thousand in the city of St. John's. The military
garrison in the city held seven hundred men and some of them were leaders
in organizing the BIS. The city was quite small with wooden tenement houses
huddled close together and Merrymeeting Road was considered the back of
There were no welfare programs a the time and the long cold winters brought
great hardships to the poor of Newfoundland. A group of Irishmen comprised
of military men and civilians saw the need for some kind of organized
help for the poor. Several meetings took place during February 1806 which
resulted in the formation of the BIS with an initial membership of seventy-four.
The BIS was a non-denominational society founded on the principles of
benevolence and philanthropy, which its organizers felt would be the most
effective way of establishing a permanent relief program for the poor.
The first President of the BIS was Captain Winckworth Tongue and while
it was founded at a meeting in the London Tavern in the east end of St.
John's, its first meeting was held in the old court house while all meetings
between 1817-1827 were held at the Crown and Anchor and Globe taverns.
Originally the membership was confined to natives of Ireland, sones of
Irish parents, and descendants of any present or past members. The rules
ordered members to avoid all controversy of religious or political subjects.
The organizing group worked closely with R.C. Bishop James O'Donnel because
he was universally respected in Newfoundland and had an expert knowledge
of the people.
The seal of the BIS consists of the figure of St. Patrick bearing the
cross with the motto encircling, "He that gives to the poor, lends to
The BIS also decided in its founding year to celebrate their annual festival
on the 17th day of March and to commemorate Holy St. Patrick who first
preached the Christian religion to the Irish. When Bishop O'Donnel left
Newfoundland due to illness the BIS presented him with a silver urn in
appreciation of his 23 years of service in Newfoundland and especially
his help to the BIS.
Excerpt #2: Prime Minister Edward Morris
During the period Sir Edward Morris served as Prime Minister of Newfoundland,
Roman Catholics strictly adhered to their Church's rule of abstaining
from eating meat on Fridays. Sir Edward once found himself in political
hot water because of this practice.
Word reached his enemies that he had eaten meat on Friday while visiting
a Protestant community at Grand Bank. In those days such a violation of
church rules would be enough to ruin any politician. Sir Edward's enemies
in Kilbride hoped to turn the Catholic vote in St. John's West against
him. On his return from Grand Bank, the Prime Minister was scheduled to
speak at a rally in Kilbride, His enemies filled the hall.
Their leaders were planning on raising the issue and confronting Sir
Edward int he presence of his loyal supporters. Anticipating this sort
of trouble, the politically shrewd Morris rose before the meeting to make
a special announcement. He began by denouncing the vile rumours circulating
that he had sacrificed his religion by eating meat on Friday to get votes
in a Protestant district.
Morris admitted that he did eat meat at Grand Bank but explained he was
in a delicate state of health with problems similar to that of the Archbishop.
He then plucked a document from his pocket which, in reality, was a life
insurance policy and he began reading improvised Latin phrases.
Holding the document up for the crowd to see, he claimed it was a papal
document of dispensation from the Vatican. Morris concluded with a denunciation
of his opponents for criticizing the Pope's authority. Completely won
over, his former enemies surged toward the stage and lifted the Prime
Minister on their shoulders. They then carried him around the Kilbride
hall in a victory procession.