PICKMORE, FRANCIS, naval officer and governor of Newfoundland; b. c. 1756, probably in England; married, with at least one daughter; d. 24 Feb. 1818 in St John’s, Nfld.
Nothing is known of Francis Pickmore before his commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy on 18 Dec. 1777, while he was on the Newfoundland station. On 27 June 1782 he achieved the rank of commander, and on 21 Sept. 1790 that of captain. Between 1803 and 1812 Pickmore served on various commands with Richard Goodwin Keats*, who preceded him as governor of Newfoundland. In 1806, in the Ramillies, Pickmore took the French raider Marengo in the Atlantic, and the following year he was in a force sent to capture the Danish West Indies. On 28 April 1808 he reached flag rank as rear-admiral of the blue, and he became rear-admiral of the white on 25 Oct. 1809 and of the red on 31 July 1810. He was subsequently appointed vice-admiral of the blue on 12 Aug. 1812 and reached his ultimate rank of vice-admiral of the white on 4 June 1814.
Though his commission as governor of Newfoundland was dated 18 May 1816, Pickmore did not arrive there until 5 September. He remained at St John’s until November, long enough to learn that the inhabitants faced a trying winter. A fire the previous February had destroyed 120 houses, and there was a shortage of provisions throughout the island, a consequence of the economic depression that had accompanied the end of the Napoleonic Wars. One of Pickmore’s officers, Commander David Buchan* of the Pike, wintered in Newfoundland to oversee the proper distribution of supplies. Conditions for the next winter were not helped by a poor seal fishery in the spring of 1817, followed by a similarly bad summer fishery.
Pickmore returned to St John’s on 30 Sept. 1817. He had been asked by the British government to remain in Newfoundland over the winter, and he was the first governor to do so. It was hoped that his presence would guarantee to the more than 70,000 settlers the continuance of law and order. One of Pickmore’s personal worries was the governor’s residence in Fort Townshend, intended for summer use only; he found snow had drifted into the bedrooms the previous winter. Lord Bathurst, the Colonial secretary, refused his request for money to reconstruct and advised him to rent a suitable residence. Conditions generally were worse than in the previous year: provisions were short, and lack of gainful employment had impoverished a large part of the population. The social disorders that threatened were likely to be all the more dangerous because of the continuing influx of large numbers of poor Irish, a most unwelcome group to the English population.
The expectations of a hard winter were more than fulfilled. From November 1817 to the following spring the frost, which was severe and unrelieved, iced over the harbour of St John’s and made communications difficult. On 7 and 21 November fires destroyed 400 houses and left 2,000 persons homeless. The conflagrations also consumed large amounts of provisions in warehouses, so compounding the destitution. It is not surprising that all this misery was accompanied by vandalism, looting, and other social disorders of all descriptions. In Newfoundland parlance the season was known as the “Winter of the Rals” (rowdies).
Pickmore was literally worked to death by his efforts to alleviate the worst sufferings. He placed a temporary embargo on all vessels holding supplies, purchased provisions wherever possible, and sent out urgent appeals for help; subsequently, substantial aid came from Halifax, N.S., Boston, Mass., and England. For himself, the governor had been unable to find better quarters; in poor health when he arrived, he suffered great discomfort from the inadequacies of his house. The bitter cold and his ceaseless labours eventually took their toll and Pickmore died on 24 Feb. 1818, the first governor to do so in office. His duties were assumed by the senior naval officer, Captain John Bowker, until the arrival of Governor Sir Charles Hamilton* in July. Pickmore was given a “grand funeral,” and his body rested in the Anglican church before being conveyed to England in the spring. During his short stay in Newfoundland he was considered to have been a ruler of “humane and amiable qualities.” Contrary to statements in some secondary sources, he was never knighted.
Gentleman’s Magazine, July–December 1808: 156; July–December 1813: 383; July–December 1814: 496; January–June 1816: 561. Naval Chronicle, 40 (July–December 1818): 343–44. [James Saumarez], The Saumarez papers: selections from the Baltic correspondence of Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez, 1808–1812, ed. A. N. Ryan (London, 1968). Royal Gazette (St John’s), 3 March 1818. G.B., Admiralty, The commissioned sea officers of the Royal Navy, 1660–1815, [ed. D. B. Smith et al.] (3v., n.p., [1954?]), 3. R. H. Bonnycastle, Newfoundland in 1842; a sequel to “The Canadas in 1841” (2v., London, 1842), 1: 145–49. Joseph Hatton and Moses Harvey, Newfoundland, the oldest British colony; its history, its present condition, and its prospects in the future (London, 1883), 97–99. McLintock, Establishment of constitutional government in Nfld., 124–30. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895), 406–7.
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