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William Epps Cormack (May 5, 1796 – April 30, 1868) was a Scottish explorer, philanthropist, agriculturalist and author, born St. John’s, Newfoundland. Cormack was the first European to journey across the interior of the island.

Cormack studied at the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh. Then in 1818 he left Scotland to lead a group of Scottish emigrants to Prince Edward Island where they settled on the Hunter River near Charlottetown. In 1822, he returned to his native Newfoundland to carry on some family business and property interests.

Cormack decided to undertake a venture never before attempted by a European, to explore the interior of Newfoundland. His other goal was to make contact with the Beothuk and to establish friendly relationship with the few surviving native peoples.

On September 5, 1822, Cormack’s expedition departed from Smith Sound, Trinity Bay, along with his only companion Joseph Sylvester, a young Mi’kmaq hunter from Bay d’Espoir. By early October, they had reached the centre of the island and came across a hilly ridge, which Cormack named, after his Edinburgh teacher (Robert Jameson), Jameson’s Mountains (now Jamieson Hills). They both arrived in St. George’s Bay on November 4 of the same year and never did meet any Beothuk.[1][2][3]

Cormack continued on to Little Bay, Fortune, and left for Dartmouth, England, arriving there on February 10, 1823. Cormack had explored and described the interior of the island with an accuracy no subsequent traveller has matched; his Narrative is the undisputed classic of Newfoundland travel. His botanical observations were the most important since those of Sir Joseph Banks in 1766, and his account of the mineralogy and geology of the interior paved the way for Joseph Beete Jukes in 1840 and for the extension in 1864 to Newfoundland of William Edmond Logan’s geological survey by Alexander Murray and James Patrick Howley. On 22 July, Cormack wrote Lord Bathurst, the British colonial secretary, enclosing a sketch of the interior of the island and a short account of the route followed, drawing particular attention to the state of the Beothuks and expressing his intention to pursue further inquiries into their condition, as well as to examine further the natural resources of the colony.

Cormack did not give up on his plan to rescue the remnants of the tribe from extinction. To solicit community support and funding he founded the Boeothick Institution on 2 October 1827, while at Twillingate. The purpose of the institution was to open a communication with the Red Indians of Newfoundland, to promote their civilization, and to procure an authentic history of this native group. Many prominent citizens subscribed. Cormack subsequently set off with three native guides, a Canadian Abenakis, a Labrador Montagnais and a young Mi’kmaq from the island to explore the area around the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake but found the country deserted. As a last resort, a native search party was sent to the region of Notre Dame Bay and White Bay under the auspices of the Boeothick Institution. No Beothuk were encountered and it was feared that they were on the verge of extinction.

Although Cormack found much evidence of Beothuk culture, his attempt to locate and save them from extinction proved unsuccessful.

In January 1829, when Cormack’s business ventures failed, he left Newfoundland. Apart from occasional visits to Britain, and another brief visit to Newfoundland in 1862, Cormack’s later years were spent in British Columbia. Cormack died, unmarried, at New Westminster, British Columbia.

In Newfoundland, a granite cairn marks the spot at which Cormack and Sylvester crossed what is now the Bay d’Espoir Highway on their way across this vast island. Cormack, and an inland agricultural community on the banks of the Humber River, established in 1947, bears his name. Another monument marks the spot of the beginning of the journey at Milton in Smith Sound, Trinity Bay.

Contents

References

Partial Bibliography

  • Cormack, W. E. Account of a Journey Across the Island of Newfoundland. Edinburgh: Printed for A. Constable, 1824.
  • Cormack, W. E. Report of Mr. W.E. Cormack's Journey in Search of the Red Indians in Newfoundland Read Before the Bœothick Institution of St. John's, Newfoundland. S.l: s.n, 1828. ISBN 0665611013
  • Cormack, W. E. Narrative of a Journey Across the Island of Newfoundland. St. John's, Nfld.?: s.n.], 1856. ISBN 0665225598
  • Cormack, W. E. Geological Map of N.F.Land Gisbornes. 1800s.
  • Howley, James Patrick, and W. E. Cormack. The Beothucks, or Red Indians, The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland. Cambridge: University Press, 1915.
  • Jones, Robert, and W. E. Cormack. The Art of Skating Practically Explained. London: Baily Brothers, 1800.

Further reading

  • Fardy, Bernard D. William Epps Cormack Newfoundland Pioneer. St. John's, Nfld: Creative Publishers, 1985. ISBN 0920021158
  • Horwood, Joan. William Epps Cormack His Historic Walk Across Newfoundland in 1882. S.l: s.n.], 1975.

External links

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