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At home with Mr. Hoyles


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



The Hoyles name is present in St. John's in number of localities: the Hoyles-Escasoni Seniors' Complex, Hoyles Avenue and Hoylestown. The family for which all three are named played a very prominent role in commercial, political, civic and philanthropic endeavours in Newfoundland during the 19th century.

The patriarch was Newman Wright Hoyles. He was born in Dartmouth, England on Aug. 30, 1777, the second son of William Hoyles and Anne Wright. William Hoyles was a medical doctor, which probably provided Newman with the opportunity for a good education.

Still, he went to sea at age 15, which was common for boys in a seafaring town like Dartmouth. He was involved in the trans-Atlantic trade, particularly between England, Newfoundland and the West Indies.

It may have been his familiarity with Newfoundland from his trading routes that led him to enter into a partnership with Thomas Follett, a Devonshire native who had long been involved in the Newfoundland trade. That partnership lasted only about five years, but its success helped to establish Hoyles as a leading player in the St. John's mercantile community.

A new venture

He began a new business venture in 1813 when he formed Brown, Hoyles and Co. in partnership with his brother-in-law, Hugh William Brown. With headquarters in St. John's and branches at Trepassey and in Conception Bay, it soon became a major supplier of foodstuffs and fishing supplies to Southern Shore and Conception Bay communities.

The company was also involved in the trans-Atlantic and Newfoundland-U.S. trade and had cod and salmon operations in several sites on the southern Labrador coast.

The business was a successful one, providing Hoyles with the means to become involved in various civic, social and charitable ventures. It continued to flourish until the late-1820s, when he began selling off the company's assets. By 1831, local papers carried notice that the company would cease operations on Sept. 30.

Hoyles was a longtime advocate of municipal government for St. John's and a local legislature for Newfoundland. He lobbied hard for the establishment of a civilian hospital, and the regulation and examination of pilots to reduce losses to ships and cargo entering St. John's harbour.

He established and served as captain of his own fire company, and worked for an overhaul of the court system and the creation of a police force.

He was a member of the Society of Merchants, which attempted to manage the affairs of St. John's in the absence of a municipal infrastructure, became vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce when it was formed in 1823, and stood along side William Carson and Patrick Morris in the fight for responsible government.

On the social welfare side, he worked to alleviate the plight of the poor, especially those who were faced with food shortages and lack of accommodations as a result of the devastatingly hard winters of 1816, 1817 and 1818. Much of the winter food supply and many houses were destroyed by two fires only weeks apart in November 1817.

At one point Brown, Hoyles and Co. were supplying up to 20 meals per day to needy residents. In 1822, he was again called upon to chair a committee for the relief of the poor.

He was very much involved with the Church of England parish, serving as church warden for many years. He was secretary of the local branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and helped found and was first treasurer of the St. John's Library Society.

Having played a lead role in the fight for a local legislature, it was a given that he should seek election when it was granted in 1832. He was elected to represent Fortune Bay.

First to speak

It is a measure of the esteem in which he was held by his fellow members that he was the first person to address the House of Assembly at its first session on Jan. 1, 1833, when he proposed John Bingley Garland as speaker.

In the House, he continued to fight for improvements in the civic life of St. John's and the quality of life of its residents. He introduced bills to establish quarantine regulations and build hospitals, provide for fire companies and the creation of fire breaks between buildings, regulate pilotage, and provide financial assistance to injured seamen and fishermen.

Many of his bills were enacted into law, but his attempt to bring municipal government to St. John's met with failure.

During his four-year-term in the House of Assembly, Hoyles served on the governor's council as colonial treasurer. This put him in charge of the public purse, which often caused him to be at odds with many of his colleagues in the House, who thought they should have control over public spending.

At that time, the government operated on a cash system. The money was all in coin and kept in a large chest at Hoyles's residence.

Hoyles did not run for election in 1836, but continued as colonial treasurer until his death on Feb. 29, 1840.

Hoyles married Lucretia Brown, a daughter of the doctor at the military garrison at Placentia, in 1801. They were the parents of nine children, including Sir Hugh Hoyles (1814-1888), the first native-born prime minister and chief justice of Newfoundland.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. A Backward Glance returns next Tuesday. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: 29 May 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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