HOGSETT, GEORGE JAMES, lawyer and politician; b. 1820, probably at St John’s, Nfld, second son of Aaron Hogsett, high sheriff of Newfoundland; d. 15 June 1869 at St John’s.
George James Hogsett was born into a family of some prominence and was educated in Church of England schools. He studied law under William Bickford Row and was called to the bar on 21 Dec. 1846. At his death he was described as the oldest practising barrister in Newfoundland, never having been raised to the silk.
Hogsett was elected to the assembly for Placentia and St Mary’s in 1852, and was re-elected in 1855 and 1859. He held the posts of chairman of the Board of Works and, briefly, solicitor general under the Liberal administration of Philip Francis Little*. Upon the retirement of Little from politics in 1858, Hogsett became attorney general under John Kent* and held this appointment until the defeat of the Liberal party in the spring of 1861. He was himself defeated in Harbour Main in 1861, but won in 1865 and held the seat until his death four years later.
Like his father Hogsett was active in the Benevolent Irish Society, becoming secretary in 1855. He must have converted to Roman Catholicism by this time as he was in charge of the society’s celebrations for the consecration of the new cathedral in St John’s in 1855.
Hogsett gained notoriety in 1861 during the stormy election contest at Harbour Main. The contestants were all Roman Catholics [see John Thomas Mullock]. The local Catholic clergy, fathers Kyran Walsh and J. O’Connor, actively campaigned for Hogsett and his running mate, Charles Furey, who were also supported by Bishop John Dalton of Harbour Grace. The opposing candidates, Patrick Nowlan and Thomas Byrne, had taken a position independent of the Liberal party in the months before the election and on polling day the supporters of each faction came to blows. Because the 36 men of Salmon Cove, largely partisans of Hogsett and Furey, were required to vote at Cat’s Cove, a centre of opposition strength, Father Walsh led some 250–300 Harbour Main residents to protect them. Violence resulted when the people of Cat’s Cove fired upon the crowd with sealing guns, leaving one dead and ten wounded. The Salmon Cove men then retreated to Harbour Main to record their votes. Under pressure from an angry crowd supporting Hogsett and Furey, the returning officer, Patrick Strapp, gave them a certificate of return. The Hugh William Hoyles* government, however, invalidated the Harbour Main returns, and left the assembly to decide the winners.
When Hogsett attempted to take one of the Harbour Main seats in the assembly a few weeks later, he was forcibly removed by the police and thrown into the arms of the huge and sympathetic crowd outside. As news of his ejection from the house spread, the crowd began to attack the property of Hogsett’s opponents and to stone the troops who had been called out. Eventually two rioters were killed and one fatally wounded. Hogsett’s claim to the Harbour Main seat was ultimately set aside by the assembly. Soon afterward he helped to organize a petition to the queen calling for the removal of Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman for his anti-Liberal partisanship and for his dissolution of the assembly. Hogsett failed to win a by-election in St John’s in 1861. During the summer of that year he took over the editorship of the St John’s Record.
When Hogsett ran again in 1865 the important issue was confederation with the other British North American colonies, a move he consistently opposed. He denounced his Liberal colleagues, John Kent and Ambrose Shea*, when they joined the coalition government of Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter*, and he himself became leader of the Liberal rump around which the anti-confederates rallied. He may have weakened his leadership in 1868 when, moved by the economic distress of the colony, he admitted that he would “wish to see any terms brought down by Government and to investigate them . . . [and] that he would like something that would lift the people out of their present degraded state.” By the spring of 1869, realizing the continued strength of anti-confederate feeling, he again took a vigorous anti-confederate stand, but the leadership of the party had passed to Thomas Glen*.
Hogsett was one of the ablest debaters and most active members of the assembly. He could with justice boast that he had never given a silent vote. As a convert to Roman Catholicism, he had to contend with the hostility of his former coreligionists, especially such a politician as Hugh Hoyles. But he could take the offensive himself and in the late 1860s did not hesitate to label his former Liberal chiefs as “a set of state paupers and legalized robbers.” He never evaded an unpopular stand. When many politicians were courting local votes by their distribution of poor relief, Hogsett urged that relief to the able-bodied poor be reduced and that they be stimulated to self-reliance by supplementing fishing with farming. As economic distress grew in the 1860s, he objected to any increase in the pauper grant of seed potatoes, presumably because they were being eaten rather than planted.
Hogsett seems to have been financially well off, as he claimed he paid the election expenses of Ambrose Shea on several occasions. He was married and at the time of his death left three small children.
Nfld., House of Assembly, Journal, 1861, app., “Harbor Main election; evidence taken before the select committee appointed to inquire into the contested election for the district of Harbor Main,” 59–92; 1866, 69; 1868, 20. Courier (St John’s), 16 June 1869. Morning Chronicle (St John’s), 28 Nov. 1865; 2, 9, 16 Feb., 6 March, 16 June 1869. Patriot (St John’s), 17 March 1866, 13 April 1867, 12 June 1869. Public Ledger (St John’s), 2 June 1865. Notable events in the history of Newfoundland: six thousand dates of historical and social happenings (St John’s, 1900), 234. Centenary volume, Benevolent Irish Society of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1806–1906 (Cork, Ire., [1906?]), 48, 101. Gunn, Political history of Nfld. Prowse, History of Nfld. (1896), 466, 488. Elinor Senior, “The origin and political activities of the Orange Order in Newfoundland, 1863–1890” (unpublished ma thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1959), 27, 38. Frederick Jones, “Bishops in politics: Roman Catholic v Protestant in Newfoundland, 1860–2,” CHR, LV (1974), 408–21. E. C. Moulton, “Constitutional crisis and civil strife in Newfoundland, February to November 1861,” CHR, XLVIII (1967), 251–72.