PRENDERGAST, JAMES LUKE, merchant, politician, office holder, and jp; b. 7 April 1800 in Harbour Grace, Nfld, son of James Prendergast; m. there 1 Feb. 1825 Margaret Bransfield, and they had several children; d. there 13 May 1895.
Although he was of humble origin, James Luke Prendergast had by 1840 established a mercantile business in his home community and had also become involved in religious and philanthropic organizations. His political career began in that year, when he contested a by-election called because of the death of a member of the House of Assembly for his district, Conception Bay.
At this time Newfoundland political life was dominated by bitter religious and ethnic tensions as the Liberal party, representing Irish Roman Catholics and reformers generally, sought to take power from the entrenched, mainly Protestant, Conservative party. Prendergast, a Catholic, ran as an independent Liberal against official Liberal nominee Edmund Hanrahan*. Since Conservatives came to Prendergast’s support and the Catholic clergy and Liberal leadership did the same for Hanrahan, the campaign turned violent. Amidst reports of arson, shootings, and wholesale voter intimidation, Governor Henry Prescott* sent a detachment of soldiers to the district and subsequently nullified the election. This débâcle contributed greatly to the abolition the following year of representative government [see Sir John Harvey*].
By 1842, however, Prendergast had become reconciled with mainstream Liberals. In the general election held in December he was a successful candidate for the party in Conception Bay, and he was re-elected six years later. But by 1852 he was voting against his colleagues in the House of Assembly and, running once again as an independent Liberal, he was defeated in the general election held that year.
Prendergast’s political career continued to be marked by periodic estrangements from his fellow Liberals and by his disorderly election campaigns. He again served as a Liberal mha, for Harbour Grace, from 1855 to 1859; during this term he was an acting superintendent of fisheries and with Michael John Kelly* tabled reports on the fisheries before the House of Assembly. Prendergast was re-elected in the November 1859 election, after his leading opponent, Robert Walsh, withdrew his candidacy on election day. However, an investigating select committee of the assembly found that Walsh has been forced to withdraw because of harassment and threats of violence. Responding to these findings, the assembly declared the seat vacant and called a by-election for November 1860. Prendergast won this election, without opposition, but his enemies accused him once again of using “mob tactics” to intimidate voters and opposition candidates. The May 1861 general election was marred in several ridings by violent clashes between Liberal and Conservative supporters. In Harbour Grace tensions were so great that the magistrates refused to open the polls. For the November by-election to fill this seat, Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* blanketed the riding with a huge military presence to ensure an uneventful vote. On this occasion Prendergast was soundly defeated and he was similarly unsuccessful four years later. His political career ended when, as an anti-confederate candidate in the 1869 general election, he was once again unsuccessful [see Sir Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter].
Soon after this last defeat Prendergast was appointed sheriff of Harbour Grace. He would later serve as a justice of the peace for this community, an office he was still occupying in his late eighties.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Harbour Grace, Nfld.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 1825 (mfm. at PANL). MHA, Prendergast name file. DCB, vol. 11 (biog. of M. J. Kelly). Encyclopedia of Nfld. (Smallwood et al.), 1: 683–90. When was that? A chronological dictionary of important events in Newfoundland down to and including the year 1922 . . . , comp. H. M. Mosdell (St John’s, 1923; repr. 1974). Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld., 70–71, 163.
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