DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

McDONELL, JOHN, Le Prêtre (1768-1850) – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 17 April 1850 in Pointe-Fortune, Upper Canada


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

TOCQUE, PHILIP, teacher, author, office holder, and Church of England clergyman; b. 14 Jan. 1814 in Carbonear, Nfld, son of Philip Tocque and Ann Howell; m. 11 Dec. 1838 Eliza Touzou Chauncey of St John’s, and they had six sons and four daughters; d. 22 Oct. 1899 in Toronto.

Philip Tocque’s father was a merchant and shipowner in the firm of Tocque and Levi at Carbonear, and the boy grew up in relative comfort. He was educated in what were termed private schools, that is, schools run by masters in their own homes, where he was taught mathematics, navigation, and English grammar. At the age of 16, in the same year his father died, Tocque left the Church of England to join the Methodist Society in Carbonear. There he learned to preach and met the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse*. In 1831 he went to Bristol, England, probably on business for Tocque and Levi, and heard sermons by Jonathan Edmondson, a former president of the Wesleyan conference. Three years later he stowed away on one of Tocque and Levi’s ships to get a firsthand view of the Newfoundland seal hunt. He became convinced that the slaughter was immoral and had a coarsening effect on those who took part in it. Late in life, however, he would have a more sympathetic view of the sealers.

In 1835 Tocque became a clerk in the mercantile establishment of Slade, Elson and Company, where Gosse and William Charles St John (like Tocque an early Newfoundland-born literary figure) also worked. John Elson, an agent in the firm, was president of the Carbonear Book Club, and together the clerks and agent formed a literary circle. In 1836–37 Tocque published three articles in Conception Bay newspapers.

Tocque wrote to the Methodist Missionary Society in London, England, in 1840 asking to be considered a candidate for the ministry. Nothing resulted from this application. The following year he became a schoolmaster in Port de Grave, an outport in Conception Bay, and the year after that he went to Bird Island Cove (Elliston), Trinity Bay, where he is said to have kept a pedlar’s shop. During his two years in Bird Island Cove he wrote his first book, Wandering thoughts, or solitary hours (London, 1846), a collection of entertaining, rambling essays designed in part to introduce younger readers to the wonders of science. Woven into the essays are the threads of an amateur historian, a naturalist, and a patriot. The writing is sometimes awkward and florid, yet it is impressive.

After his stay in Bird Island Cove, Tocque taught school again, this time at Broad Cove (St Phillips) near St John’s, where he stayed one year. Throughout the 1840s he was searching for suitable employment in Newfoundland and trying his hand at an assortment of skills. In 1845 he gave his first public lecture at a meeting of the Natives’ Society of Carbonear. The difficulties facing native Newfoundlanders who were trying to get ahead in their own country would be one of his persistent themes. He now also became interested in geology, and he is said to have been the first Newfoundlander to lecture on scientific subjects. In 1845, too, he published pieces on astronomy and natural history in the St John’s Public Ledger and corresponded with the British Museum about supplying specimens of rocks, minerals, birds, and insects for its collections.

In July that year Tocque secured an appointment as clerk of the peace in Harbour Breton, Fortune Bay, at a modest salary of £35 per annum. While carrying out the duties of this office, he continued to publish on scientific subjects and for the first time commented on political and economic issues. His articles, which appeared in the Public Ledger, brought the remote and neglected south coast of Newfoundland to public attention. He pointed to the agricultural potential of the area, not always realistically. In other pieces he criticized the system of education in the island and the power of the merchants, and made unfavourable comparisons between Newfoundland and the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to which he had travelled to promote his book. He also wrote about responsible government, which he appeared to support, though he stated, “I have no faith in parties.” His views were noted, not altogether favourably, by the government in St John’s, and when Tocque asked for an increase in salary to £60 in 1848, it was not forthcoming. In December he described himself in a letter to the colonial secretary as “bordering on a state of starvation.” The following year, having been denied other appointments, he decided to leave Newfoundland for good. “I have no doubt,” he wrote, “I shall be able to push my way in any other colony.” During his years in Harbour Breton he published three almanacs.

Tocque arrived in Boston in December 1849. He was one of thousands of Newfoundland emigrants leaving the island for America at this time. (Between 1846 and 1859 almost 3,000 Newfoundlanders arrived in Boston.) He responded with wide-eyed astonishment to the commercial and industrial life of New England and soon produced a book entitled A peep at Uncle Sam’s farm, workshop, fisheries, &c. (Boston, 1851) to acquaint Newfoundlanders with America, “a country which is destined to be the greatest upon which the sun ever shone.” He now became a pacifist and delivered an anti-war lecture, he attended what he said was the first woman’s rights convention ever held in America, and he took an interest in the movement against slavery. Any progressive cause struck a chord with him. In 1851 he enrolled in the theological department of Trinity College at Hartford, Conn., to train as an Episcopalian minister. He completed his studies in 1852 and was ordained to the diaconate by the coadjutor bishop of Connecticut, Dr John Williams. He then became assistant to Bishop Horatio Southgate at the Church of the Advent in Boston. During his stay in America he busied himself with preaching, and one of his sermons was published in 1853. A short introduction to oceanography, The mighty deep, had appeared the previous year in New York.

After more than four years in America, and with a family of seven children, Tocque left for Nova Scotia, where he was elevated to the Anglican priesthood by Bishop Hibbert Binney* in 1854. From then until 1877 Tocque’s life was that of a backwoods Anglican preacher in parishes in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario. His first mission was centred at Tusket, N.S., and covered 60 miles of coastline from Barrington in the southwest to Digby on the Bay of Fundy. At first he was a travelling missionary in this parish, but in 1856 he was given a regular appointment with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Another of his sermons was published at Yarmouth, N.S., in 1858. That year he received an honorary am from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis. In 1862 Tocque left Nova Scotia and moved to Sydenham, near Kingston, in the diocese of Ontario. A year later he departed for a new mission in Hope Town in the Gaspé district. From 1869 onwards he served in various parishes in Ontario, including Markham and the townships of Mulmur and Galway.

It was in these rural ministries that Tocque was destined to pass his priestly life, and his annual reports to the SPG show the nature of his work: incessant (and usually effective) fund-raising, the building of churches and parsonages, and preaching. It was typical of Tocque that while carrying out the duties of the priesthood with apparent enthusiasm, he should also be looking for jobs elsewhere. For example, in 1861 he wrote to the SPG to ask for an appointment as an emigrants’ chaplain in some Irish port. If that was not possible, he said, he would be willing to hold public meetings and collect money “in either of the three kingdoms.” He added, “I am healthy and able to undergo any physical labor.” Caught up in parish work, he may have longed for travel and adventure. His suggestion was not taken up.

During this period Tocque wrote articles for the Dominion Churchman (Toronto) and other journals, and prepared what is possibly his most important book, Newfoundland: as it was, and as it is in 1877 (London and Toronto, 1878). Essentially this work is a combination of history, gazetteer, and almanac. The first two chapters present an overview of the history of the island. Eleven others describe the colony’s districts, and four constitute a statistical almanac. In addition, there is an extensive chapter on natural history and a concluding one on the Beothuks. The book indulges every passion and interest of Tocque’s. It contains outspoken criticisms of Newfoundland’s system of government and its merchant class, memorably termed by him the “fishocracy.” The book is packed with information derived from other authors, but some of it is personal. “I have made this book out of myself, out of my life,” he says in his preface.

Tocque’s years in the active ministry of the Church of England ended in the late 1870s, and he settled in Toronto on a small pension. His retirement was an early one, perhaps because he had suffered a stroke, but he stayed busy. He became a chaplain to various institutions: the asylum for the mentally ill, reformatories, hospitals, prisons, and the immigration buildings. In 1890 he made his third and final visit home to Newfoundland, where he delivered a lecture and made contact with the St John’s Evening Telegram. Beginning in the spring of 1891, Tocque sent lengthy letters to the Telegram, which were usually given prominence in the paper. Ten of these comprised reminiscences “awakened by” his reading of Daniel Woodley Prowse*’s A history of Newfoundland from the English, colonial, and foreign records (London and New York, 1895). Others were promotional, “booming” letters exaggerating the potential of Newfoundland, which he said would in a hundred years be “the rendezvous where all the gay sports meet.” In all, about 125 letters appeared; some of them were reprinted in Kaleidoscope echoes . . . (Toronto, 1895). His visit home also inspired a touching piece in this volume, a book of essays somewhat resembling Wandering thoughts, though more poignant and stimulating. In one of the essays he writes gloomily of his feelings as he walks through the Carbonear graveyard; in another, entitled “He is nobody,” he ponders the futility of trying to achieve fame.

Philip Tocque has been called Newfoundland’s first man of letters. He produced ten separate publications, four of them substantial books, as well as numerous articles in newspapers and journals. His essays are varied in subject-matter, progressive in attitude, and engaging in tone. His independence of mind and his patriotism stand out against the colonial mentality of many other writers in 19th-century Newfoundland.

Marjorie M. Doyle and Patrick O’Flaherty

In addition to the works cited in the text, Philip Tocque’s publications include two sermons, The voice of the sea: a sermon, preached on Sunday evening, Oct. 2, 1853, in StMary’s Church, Richmond Street, Boston . . . (Boston, 1853) and “If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?A sermon, preached on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 21st, 1858, in StStephen’s Church, Tusket, Nova Scotia (Yarmouth, N. S., 1858), and three issues of The Newfoundland almanac . . . (St John’s), which he compiled for the years 1848–50. A second edition of A peep at Uncle Sam’s farm . . . appeared in Boston in 1858. His volume of essays, Kaleidoscope echoes: being historical, philosophical, scientific, and theological sketches, from the miscellaneous writings of the RevPhilip Tocque, A.M. (Toronto, 1895), was edited by his daughter, Annie S. W. Tocque.

Tocque also made a number of contributions to periodicals and especially newspapers, including the Carbonear Sentinel and Conception Bay Advertiser (Carbonear, Nfld.), 1837; the Weekly Herald and Conception-Bay General Advertiser (Harbour Grace, Nfld.), 1845; the St John’s Morning Courier and Public Ledger, 1845–51, and Evening Telegram, 1890–99; the Dominion Churchman (Toronto), 1875–89, and its successor, the Canadian Churchman, 1890–99.

There are letters from Tocque to the colonial secretary of Newfoundland in PANL, GN 2/2, 1847: f.442; 1848: ff.669–72, 746–48, 976; January–June 1849: ff.172–75, 393–94; July–December 1850: ff.79, 87. Microfilm (and some transcript) copies of his SPG correspondence are available at NA, MG 17, B1. These records include Tocque’s letters from Tusket, N. S. (C/N. S., box I/11, folder 134; D.27/N.S.), Hopetown, Que. (D/Que., 1860–67: 615–16 (transcripts)), and various parishes in Ontario (D/Ont., 1862–67: 828 (transcript); D.40/Tor. & Alg. (mfm.); D.44/Ont.: 114; D/Tor., 1879: 413; D.54/Tor.: 131–34 (transcripts)), as well as his mission reports from Tusket and Hopetown (in E/N. S., 1857–61 and E/Que., 1853–68 respectively). His letter of 11 Jan. 1840 to the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society is in the society’s records at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library, Univ. of London, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., corr., North America, box 11: f.258 (mfm. at NA); and there are two letters, dated 5 Jan. and 15 Nov. 1846, in the British Museum (London).

Carbonear United Church, List of tombstones; Reg. of burials for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1820–60 (copies at PANL). Private arch., E.-V. Chafe (St John’s), Geneal. file on Tocque. PRO, CO 199/40–45 (mfm. at PANL). York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.13726 (mfm. at AO). Canadian Churchman, 2 Nov. 1899. Evening Telegram, 3 Nov. 1899. Globe, 24 Oct. 1899. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). E.-V. Chafe, “A new life on Uncle Sam’s farm: Newfoundlanders in Massachusetts, 1846–1859” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., St John’s, 1984). Marjorie Doyle, “A biography of Philip Tocque (1814–1899)” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., 1986). Patrick O’Flaherty, The Rock observed: studies in the literature of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1979).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Marjorie M. Doyle and Patrick O’Flaherty, “TOCQUE, PHILIP,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tocque_philip_12E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tocque_philip_12E.html
Author of Article:   Marjorie M. Doyle and Patrick O’Flaherty
Title of Article:   TOCQUE, PHILIP
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   April 17, 2024