Newfoundland and Labrador form Canada's most easterly province and in the sixteenth century a strong fishery trade developed along its western side of the North Atlantic. It served as a commercial trading output for the Basque, French, Spanish, Portuguese and the English, who became the superior power in the trade hierarchy through naval dominance. The demand for salt fish in Europe reached its height during the Napoleonic War after which time there was an economic slump in Newfoundland fishery until the outbreak of World War Two.
The Newman family, who were based in Dartmouth, began their association with Newfoundland in the fifteenth century with the import and export of cloth and wool. The trade extended in the early 1500s with the import of European wine in exchange for fish and salt. The seventeenth century saw the company establishing trading centres in Newfoundland, including one at Harbor Briton, and developing its own fleet of shipping vessels. By the late seventeenth century the firm began what was to become a three hundred year old tradition of sending shipments of port wine to mature in Newfoundland. This century proved to be a highly successful one for the company, now known as Robert Newman and Co., and it resulted in the growth of trading branches in Newfoundland, including St.John's and Little Bay. On an annual basis, the company sent skilled workers from Devon and Dorset to Newfoundland for an eighteen month apprenticeship, some being given the option of staying there or returning to England. By the mid-nineteenth century the company was effectively operating in two distinct areas, namely the wine business and the fishery trade. The latter began to suffer from competition and doubts over the quality of the produce. In 1907 this culminated with the sale of the firm's last fishery office in Newfoundland, which effectively ended the Newman family's involvement in the Newfoundland fisheries. However, the family's association with port wine continues to this day at St.John's and Vila Nova de Gaia, the latter under the guise of Hunt Constantino-Vinhos, SA. Indeed over the course of its history the firm had several name changes, in response to family deaths and expansion through partnerships. Notably, the company expanded with the Roopes family of Dartmouth in 1679 and with the Holdsworth family of Dartmouth in 1739.