Medicine and politics may seem strange bedfellows, but there is a long
tradition of medical doctors entering the political fray. Dr. William
Carson was one of the leaders of the Newfoundland reform movement of
the 1820s, which resulted in the granting of Representative Government
and an elected legislature to Newfoundland in 1832. Since then, several
other medical men have served in the House of Assembly. One of them
is Harris Munden Mosdell.
Born in Bay Roberts on June 27, 1883, Mosdell was the son of Thomas
Mosdell and Susan Munden. He received his early education at the Church
of England Academy in Bay Roberts.
Began as teacher
At the age of 17, like many young Newfoundlanders who were able to complete
high school, he embarked on a teaching career.
For the next five years he taught in several Newfoundland communities.
He left teaching in 1905 to found a newspaper, The Bay Roberts Outlook.
Two years later, he entered the University of Toronto, graduating in
1911 with an honours baccalaureate degree in medicine.
Returning to Newfoundland, he spent two years practising at Woody Point,
Bonne Bay, before becoming infected with the political bug that would
influence much of the rest of his life.
Mosdell became a Liberal candidate in the Harbour Grace district in
the 1913 general election.
Even though he finished last in a field of six for the three-member
district, he was only 173 votes behind the candidate who won the third
seat, out of more than 2,500 ballots cast.
This defeat was certainly not enough to dampen his enthusiasm for politics.
Rather than resume his medical practice, Mosdell returned to journalism.
He became editor of a new paper, The Daily Mail, established by the
Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU) on Jan. 1, 1914.
When that paper was incorporated into the Fisherman's Advocate on May
1, Mosdell, in company with Richard Squires, founded The Daily Star.
Served as editor
Mosdell served as editor of The Daily Star until 1920. It was often
referred to as the Squires paper, as it championed his political platform,
especially after he took over the Liberal Party in 1919. Mosdell is
credited with helping to bring about the alliance between Squires and
FPU president William Coaker, establishing the Liberal-Unionist coalition,
which won the 1919 election and made Squires prime minister.
One of his rewards was a seat in the Legislative Council, to which he
was appointed by Squires in 1922. The following year, he became editor
of a reconstituted Daily Mail, established to support Squires in his
bid for re-election in that year's May 3 general election.
It was steadfast in its support of Squires in the subsequent fallout
following his forced resignation, amid charges of corruption, in July.
It ceased publication in September 1924.
In addition to his seat on the Legislative Council, Mosdell spent the
early years of the 1920s heavily involved in public service: as a member
of the board of governors of the St. John's General Hospital; secretary
of the Royal Commission for Tariff Revision; and as a member of the
Board of Pensions Commissioners.
After the fall of the Warren administration, which had succeeded Squires
in July 1923, in May 1924, A.E. Hickman became Liberal Party leader
and prime minister. Mosdell was invited to join his cabinet as a minister
His tenure was short-lived, as the Liberals lost the general election
the following month.
Mosdell remained on the Legislative Council until 1926, when he resigned
to contest a byelection in Fortune Bay. He was successful and joined
the Liberals in opposition.
He was one of the group of nine Liberal members who announced they would
no longer support Hickman as Liberal Party leader, thereby clearing
the way for Squires' return.
Squires led the Liberal Party to victory in the Oct. 29, 1928 general
Mosdell was re-elected in Fortune Bay and entered Squires' cabinet as
minister without portfolio and chairman of the board of health. He was
also appointed chairman of a Royal Commission on Public Health and Public
After years as one of Squires' most loyal supporters, Mosdell broke
with his leader on March 27, 1932, resigning from cabinet and the Liberal
He retained his seat, as an independent, by acclamation in the June
11 election, but later in the year accepted an invitation from Conservative
Prime Minister Frederick Alderdice to become minister of public health
With the advent of Commission of Government in February 1934, he became
secretary for public health and welfare, the equivalent of deputy minister,
a position he held for over 10 years.
In this position, he was able to implement many of the recommendations
of his own royal commission report, including the cottage hospital construction
program for rural Newfoundland.
In addition to his journalistic, medical and political careers, Mosdell
also compiled and published several fact and guide books about Newfoundland,
the best known of which is When Was That? (1923).
It contains dates for thousands of Newfoundland people, places and events
and continues to be a valuable ready reference source.
In the midst of this turbulent decade, Mosdell completed studies at
the University of Toronto for a doctorate in medicine, graduating in
Mosdell married Bessie Mundy in 1911. They were the parents of two children,
Bryant and Margaret. A true master of many endeavours, Mosdell died
at St. John's on April 30, 1944.
Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies
at Memorial University of Newfoundland ...