FROUDE (Froud), JOHN WILLIAM, miner, fisherman, seafarer, author, and businessman; b. 28 May 1863 in Twillingate, Nfld, son of William Froude and Mary ———; m. 7 Oct. 1893 Lucy Pelly (Pelley) in Tom Hall’s Harbour, Nfld, and they had as many as 12 children; d. 16 March 1940 in Twillingate.
John W. Froude kept a diary primarily between 1887 and 1898 which he wrote in his own style, using words and grammar that echo, as scholar Eric William Sager has commented, “the cadence and rhymes of hymns and sea shanties.” His career demonstrates that Newfoundland’s outports, far from being isolated, were connected by international trade to cities throughout the Atlantic world. During his lifetime Twillingate was one of the great centres of the Labrador cod fishery and seal hunt. Following what he later recalled as a “happy childhood” full of delight, Froude first went to work in 1877 with an uncle at the nearby Little Bay mine. In 1882 he signed on to a schooner for his first trip to Labrador, and in 1887 he spent “a long toilsome summer” on the Grand Banks. That fall, unhappy with poor earnings, he decided to join the crew of an English ship that was to carry salt fish to Italy.
Newfoundland sailors such as Froude often did not intend to travel too far or be too long away from home, but the fish trade in European markets could lead them on voyages that lasted for quite a while, either because their captains looked for good prices and return cargoes, or because they joined other ships. His initial transatlantic voyage took him to Leghorn, Italy, and then to Bristol, England, where he contracted to sail to Cadiz, Spain; from there he visited several ports in Brazil before returning to England, landing in Falmouth in October 1888. Froude liked the country and decided to base himself in London. He often worked on steamers, which by the end of the 19th century were replacing the wooden sailing fleets of the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Over the next four years he journeyed to the ports of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Froude was proud of his adventures on the high seas, recalling towards the end of his career, “I have sailed around the great globe over the bounding bellows of the 5 great oceans the 7 seas lakes and rivers of the world to 32 different countries 77 seaportowns and citys one hundred and fifty nine thousand seven hundred miles in my travells of 2270592,000 secons of time.”
Froude’s diary richly describes his experiences, including his many injuries and his carousing and occasional fights ashore, which once led to the threat of being jailed in New York City. He writes about the duties of the crew, the sails and rigging of the vessels he worked on, and the use of log lines for calculating a ship’s speed. He also demonstrates a fundamental curiosity about global geography, history, and people. For example, in Leghorn he “took a great delight in rambling around the town and viewing the great buildings churches music [h]alls theaters circuses and law coarts,” and “got acquainted with the italians greeks and turks which I thought was quite a treat they told me of things I had never heard and of things I had never seen and of strange places in their own country where I had never been.” He usually provides a brief history of the places he visited, and while in Sevastopol (Ukraine), he was particularly inspired to relate the story of the charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.
The curiosity and sense of wonderment about the wider world so evident in Froude’s diary is matched by the appreciation and empathy he felt for the various peoples he met. Froude does not hesitate to point out that he found many of the people native to the places he visited to be “quairous looking,” but he enjoyed such differences. While at the port of Nagasaki, for example, he “had a gay time with the Japanese,” who were “very kind and Friendly the women are very beautiful.” In Asia and Africa he often stayed among those of non-Christian faiths, and he observes, “I have been treated with sevility by lots Of these that bow down to wood and stone And bad by some of these that was Brought up under the sound of the Gosple all their life.” Perhaps reflecting the rough egalitarianism that so many scholars have attributed to Anglo-American seafarers, in 1890 Froude sympathized with the plights of the poor he encountered in Rio de Janeiro and the convict labourers he saw working at the Cape of Good Hope.
For Froude, as for many other Anglo-American mariners, work at sea was a young person’s vocation. Entrepreneurial by inclination, he studied photography while living ashore during the winter. He purchased a magic lantern and made extra money by giving shows for passengers on steamers, or by taking photographs for them. His diary suggests that by May 1891 he had begun to yearn for his hometown, and over the next 16 months he made a long and circuitous voyage back to Twillingate. Froude arrived on 19 Sept. 1892, revealing a more sentimental side of his masculinity when he recalls, “I meet my mother For the first time sence I leaved the old cottage on The hill she threw her arms around my neck and Fondly pressed me to her bosom as if I had been A child of 6 years.”
John W. Froude decided to remain in Newfoundland and make his living as an entrepreneur. Over the winter of 1892–93 he built a shop, acquired his first schooner, and began to trade in Notre Dame Bay, taking salt cod, cod-oil, and cash for dry goods. In October 1893 Froude married Lucy Pelly, with whom he would have a large family. Like many businessmen in the colony he suffered a financial setback in the bank crash of 1894 [see James Goodfellow*], and by the summer of 1898 the loss of two schooners in gales had led him back to work as a sailor, mostly on voyages to Cape Breton Island. Froude combined seafaring with trading, sawmilling, and boatbuilding throughout the next three decades. Among his riskier endeavours were investments in the Twillingate Coal Company of Newfoundland Limited, which failed in 1908, and the Twillingate Electrical Company of Newfoundland, which suffered the same fate the next year under his own management. By 17 Dec. 1937, perhaps sobered by his business failures and missing his life on the sea, he had retired to prepare his diary for posterity as a record of his “dreary wandering trackless trail Of Life.” In doing so, Froude left evidence of the often-unappreciated cosmopolitan aspects of outport life and of the views of late-19th-century mariners.
John William Froude’s diary came into the possession of a relative, Edwin Noftle of Campbellton, Nfld, who arranged to have it published as J. W. Froude, On the high seas: the diary of Capt. John W. Froude, Twillingate, 1863–1939 (St John’s, 1983). The birthdate given in the diary is confirmed by his baptismal record held in RPA, Methodist parish records, Twillingate, Reg. of baptisms, box 1, 1853—68, as is the correct spelling of his surname. However, his death certificate (Nfld, Dept. of Service NL, Govt. services branch, Vital statistics div. (St John’s), no.FD45824) shows that he died one year later than the title of On the high seas … might suggest. A copy of the marriage record of John W. Froude and Lucy Pelly is available at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Newfoundland, vital records, 1840–1949”: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKQF-DYSB (consulted 24 Nov. 2015).
A genealogical database of the Froude family has been maintained by Barbara Froude, a descendant of John W. Froude, at “The Froud family home page”: www.genealogy.com/ftm/f/r/o/Barbara--A-Froude/index.html (consulted 14 Oct. 2015).
The significance of Froude’s work has been well treated in E. W. Sager, Seafaring labour: the merchant marine of Atlantic Canada, 1820–1914 (Kingston, Ont., 1989). On the regional shipping industry see R. E. Ommer, “Ships and shipping, 1863–1914,” plate 39, and C. G. Head et al., “Canadian fisheries, 1850–1900,” plate 37, in Historical atlas of Canada (3v., Toronto, 1987–93), 2 (The land transformed, 1800–1891, ed. R. L. Gentilcore et al., 1993). See also E. W. Sager and J. J. Mannion, “Sea and livelihood in Atlantic Canada,” in Historical atlas of Canada, 3 (Addressing the twentieth century, 1891–1961, ed. Donald Kerr and D. W. Holdsworth, 1990), plate 23.
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Cite This Article
Sean T. Cadigan, “FROUDE (FROUD), JOHN WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/froude_john_william_16E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Sean T. Cadigan|
|Title of Article:||FROUDE (FROUD), JOHN WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2018|
|Year of revision:||2018|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|