Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Suzanne Zeller

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor

Second Advisor

David Smith

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


For English merchants, planters and politicians, colonizing Newfoundland required learning the limitations and opportunities afforded by the island’s natural environment. The crucial period for this learning process took place from 1610, the first English effort to colonize the island, to the 1699 passing of the Act to Encourage the Trade to Newfoundland, which defined the cod fishery as the island’s only viable industry. During these eighty-nine years, English enterprises and policies consistently failed to meet the expectations of their backers, and new information challenged accepted ideas about Newfoundland’s climate and natural resources, pressuring the supporters of those decisions to reassess the island’s economic value and role as a colonial possession. This reflexive cycle of ideas, implementation and feedback shaped the creation of a series of policies and practices that guided English efforts to colonize and profit from Newfoundland by altering what industries were prioritized and how they were regulated. As a result of this process, English efforts in Newfoundland shifted away from developing an economically diverse colony with little government oversight to maximizing the fishery through government management. The challenges encountered by the English in Newfoundland, specifically how to adapt to the island’s natural environment and defining what the role of a colony with a single major industry was, shaped the development of the political, social and economic institutions and questions that influence the island to this day. This dissertation’s original contribution is its examination of this reflexive process and how the methods employed by policymakers, planters and merchants to learn about Newfoundland defined English colonization efforts and policymaking during the seventeenth century. This approach differs from previous studies, which have focused on how the English inhabitants in Newfoundland adapted to the island, by examining how perceptions of the island’s natural environment changed in England, and how that affected business ventures and policies during the seventeenth century.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season