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Governor Pushed Confederation


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath


Anthony Musgrave had two Newfoundland communities named after him. (Photo courtesy of The Centre for Newfoundland Studies)

Many of the colonial governors of Newfoundland have left little mark, especially in rural parts of the island. Yet there is one governor who made enough of an impact to have not one, but two communities named after him. Anthony Musgrave was born Aug. 31, 1828 at St. John's, Antigua, the third of 11 children born to Mary Harris Sheriff and Anthony Musgrave. The Musgrave family had emigrated to the Caribbean island in the early years of the century and had become quite prominent in colonial affairs.

Musgrave received his early schooling in Antigua, but was sent to England to complete his education. He returned to Antigua in 1850, where he became private secretary to the governor of the Leeward Islands, including Antigua. The following year he went back to England, where he began to study law at the Inner Temple.

While there, he came to the notice of the Duke of Newcastle, secretary of state for the colonies, who, on Jan. 24, 1854, appointed Musgrave as colonial secretary of Antigua, a position he held until 1860. In 1861 he became temporary administrator of the nearby island of Nevis, and in 1862 was made lieutenant governor of St. Vincent.

After 10 years in the colonial service of the British Caribbean islands, Musgrave was ready to move to a more challenging position.

On Sept. 12, 1864 he was appointed Governor of Newfoundland. He arrived in St. John's Oct. 3, where the talk of the town was the proposed confederation of the British North American colonies.

Colonies gather

Frederic Carter, the speaker of the House of Assembly, and Ambrose Shea, the leader of the opposition, had been asked by Prime Minister Hugh Hoyles to represent Newfoundland at a gathering of the colonies in question at Quebec City that very month.

Carter and Shea returned from the Quebec Conference committed to confederation.

Musgrave became an enthusiastic advocate of the cause, as he saw it as the best solution to many of the economic problems that regularly confronted Newfoundland.

With Carter's succession of Hoyles as prime minister the following year, Musgrave was certain Newfoundland would be part of the new nation, especially after Carter was able to bring Shea into his ministry, uniting the Protestant and Catholic political factions in a coalition government.

If the new coalition was re-elected in the election scheduled for the fall of 1865, Musgrave was sure it could be interpreted as an endorsement for confederation and allow Newfoundland primary input into the negotiations on the powers and structure of the union.

As much as Musgrave tried to force the matter, however, Carter did not see the election as a go-ahead for confederation, as it had not been a specific issue in the campaign.

Carter refused to bring legislation into the House of Assembly to involve Newfoundland in the negotiations ongoing among the other colonies, even though most of his supporters indicated they would support the idea.

Governor frustrated

Musgrave's frustration with this turn of events was evident in the tactics he suggested to the British Colonial Office: threaten to reduce the military garrison in St. John's unless the government joined in the negotiations. The Colonial Office did not endorse Musgrave's suggestion, as it did not want to appear to be forcing confederation on the colonies, even if it did hope that would happen.

The two years that followed were quite disheartening for Musgrave, as he watched the new union take shape without Newfoundland. He was so committed to the idea that he attended the opening of the first session of the new Canadian Parliament in Ottawa in November 1867.

While there, he met privately with Governor General Lord Monck and Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald to discuss possible terms of admission for Newfoundland.

Upon his return to St. John's, he presented these terms to the government, but did not receive the commitment he had hoped for. In the year that followed, confederation languished behind more important issues on the legislative agenda.

The year 1868 was a particularly difficult one for Musgrave. In addition to the government's intransigence on the issue of confederation, he suffered a personal loss when his youngest son, James, died on May 7. In October, he left Newfoundland for England, where, ever the optimist, he assured British officials that confederation was just a matter of time.

Confederation achieved

He made arrangements while there to secure a new governorship, and the following summer he was appointed to the vice-regal post in British Columbia. There, he was able to succeed where he had failed in Newfoundland, as British Columbia entered the Canadian confederation in 1871.

Musgrave would continue in the colonial service for the remainder of his life, serving as governor of Natal (1872-1873), South Australia (1873-1877), Jamaica (1877-1883) and Queensland (1885-1888). He was knighted in 1875 for his service to the empire.

Anthony Musgrave married Christianna Elizabeth Byam on Aug. 3, 1854, and they were the parents of two children before her death in 1859. He married a second time, in 1870, to Jeanie Lucinda Field. He died in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, on Oct. 9, 1888.

In Newfoundland, his memory lives on, not as a Father of Confederation, but in the names of the communities of Musgravetown and Musgrave Harbour, both of which were named in his honour.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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