Christopher Kovacs - Fine Art
June 25, 2024   11:42 am NL Time

Defending Port Kirwan

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Defending Port Kirwan


Status of Original Painting – For Sale

All prices are in Canadian dollars

Size: 14 x 20  inches

Price: Inquire

Medium: Watercolour on 300 lb Arches


In this painting an old cannon defends a foggy inlet to the protected fishing cove and harbor at Port Kirwan. It’s a tiny fishing community of only 42 residents, located on the southern shore of the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland. Fishing remains an important part of its economy but the main catch is now crab rather than cod.

Migratory Portuguese fishermen used this as a harbor beginning in the 1500s, while English and Irish fishermen likely settled here year-round by the mid-1700s. Port Kirwan originally was known as Admiral’s Cove because it was that part of the harbor most favored by English fishing admirals, and therefore the center of governance.

What is a fishing admiral?

In the 1500s Newfoundland was the focus of a large fishing industry with fleets from England, France, Spain, and Portugal. No government had settled permanently on the island; consequently, there were no formal laws of the land. Some form of governance was needed, and so the English created the position of “fishing admiral.” This was not a formal naval term. The only qualification was to be the first ship’s captain to arrive in a harbor at the start of the fishing season. In turn, the “vice-admiral” and the “rear admiral” were the second and third ship’s captains to enter a harbor. The admiral had first choice of harbor and rooms for his ship and crew, which in this location became (not surprisingly) known as “Admiral’s Cove.” Nearby was “Vice Admiral’s Cove (now called Kingman’s Cove).

The first captain to arrive wasn’t necessarily the most qualified person to govern, but if that captain had a well-armed ship and a large crew, he was more likely to have his authority respected and obeyed. The fishing admiral enforced British law as well as rules and customs that had developed surrounding the fishery. This included settling petty disputes and claims of theft and vandalism, whereas more important civil and criminal issues (such as murder) required resolution back in England. The vice-admiral and rear admiral assisted in governing.

There were numerous communities governed by fishing admirals around Newfoundland’s coastline, and not surprisingly, many gained the name Admiral’s or Admiralty Cove.

When this Admiral’s Cove gained a post office in 1960, it was necessary to change its name to distinguish it from all the other similarly named Newfoundland communities. Port Kirwan was chosen to honor Reverend Mother Mary Bernard Kirwan of the Presentation Sisters, who had founded a convent and school there in 1853.

Why does Port Kirwan have a cannon? These communities are among the oldest on the island, and if they were large enough in the 1600s, they qualified to have cannons installed as a defense. Over the years many were discarded and buried, later to be uncovered and restored. Large ones are now found in parks and town halls, whereas smaller ones can be found in the yards of residents.

I took the reference photos for this painting in October 2020.

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