CROWDY, JAMES, office-holder; b. 1794 in England; d. 17 April 1867 at Newton Abbot, Devon, England.
James Crowdy served as clerk of the Council and colonial secretary of Cape Breton Island from 1814 until 1820 when Nova Scotia absorbed that previously independent colony. On 15 Sept. 1831 Crowdy with his wife, Elizabeth (Eliza) (d. 1836), and family arrived in St John’s from Bristol, England, to take up new duties as Newfoundland’s colonial secretary and clerk of the Council. In addition to these appointments he was collector of crown rents, which brought his total official yearly income to £800.
Crowdy’s arrival coincided with the introduction of representative government in Newfoundland and the establishment of a local legislature. As colonial secretary, Crowdy was appointed to the new Council in July 1832. He appears to have acted as conciliator between Governor Thomas John Cochrane* and the more independent members of the Council. This role was tested during the first session of the assembly when the revenue bill for 1833 introduced new duties on spirits. The president of the Council, Chief Justice Richard Alexander Tucker, with the support of Attorney General James Simms, opposed the bill. Tucker and Governor Cochrane, who objected to such attempts to deny the government revenue, were locked in a struggle until Tucker resigned his office and left the island. Throughout the dispute Crowdy supported the governor and the revenue bill, a position later vindicated by the British colonial secretary.
Crowdy was responsible for creating a crisis in 1836 when as Newfoundland’s colonial secretary he did not make certain that the great seal was attached to the election writs issued through his office. Chief Justice Henry John Boulton advised Governor Henry Prescott* that by this deficiency the election was invalid. Since it was found at the same time that the great seal might not have been attached to the election writs for 1832, all legislation passed by that assembly was in danger of being invalidated. Although Boulton’s opinion was supported by Attorney General Simms, the British colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, held that Crowdy’s technical error could not be allowed to undermine the operation of the government. He ordered that a new election be held. However, Crowdy’s carelessness caused a bitter controversy between the Reform group including Dr William Carson* and Patrick Morris* and the merchants and officials like Crowdy gathered around the governor. Indeed, some Reformers suggested that Crowdy’s omission had been a deliberate attempt to discredit representative government in Newfoundland. In the midst of these difficulties Crowdy made a powerful alliance by marrying in September Caroline Augusta, daughter of Councillor John Dunscombe, a prominent St John’s merchant.
The continuing conflict between the Council and the assembly led to the Council’s refusal in 1841 to pass legislation sent up from the assembly, including the election and supply bills. As a result, the legislature was suspended and a parliamentary inquiry was held in London. Crowdy was one of a delegation to England to present the views of the Council, which sought the abolition of representative government. The chief result of this inquiry was the amalgamation of the assembly and the Legislative Council into one chamber with 15 elected members and ten appointed by the governor, a scheme first devised by Lord John Russell for the constitution of New South Wales. Crowdy was appointed to the new legislature and in 1843 was elected speaker at the insistence of Governor Sir John Harvey*, despite the objection of Lord Stanley, British colonial secretary, that Crowdy’s two public offices were incompatible. Remaining in the speaker’s chair until the dissolution of the amalgamated legislature in 1848, Crowdy was reasonably successful in gaining the passage of legislation and in quieting the conflict between the Reformers and the conservative colonial officials. His close connection with Governor Harvey and the governor’s heavy personal indebtedness led to rumours that Harvey was under financial obligation to Crowdy. Indeed, a loan to Harvey from Crowdy’s personal resources raised questions about Harvey’s independence. Chief Justice John Gervase Hutchinson Bourne sent accusations of improper financial arrangements between the two men to the Colonial Office, and, although he dismissed the charges, Lord Stanley admonished Harvey for the “incautious and ill-considered” action of borrowing from persons on whom he could confer advantages.
The year 1848 brought the return of representative government in virtually the same form as in the 1832–41 period, and Crowdy was again appointed to the Legislative Council. The Reformers led by Philip Francis Little* waged a campaign for responsible government until the new system was introduced in 1855. One of the principal advantages to them of a responsible executive would be the chance to eliminate those officeholders who held place at the pleasure of the governor or of the British colonial secretary, rather than of the assembly. Office-holders such as Crowdy worked unsuccessfully to defeat the movement for responsible government but after the Reformers’ victory in the election of 1855 were forced to resign.
Apart from his many official duties Crowdy had taken little part in the social or economic life of St John’s. He had been involved in few of the social and charitable activities which were the acknowledged duty of a person of his social station. After his resignation from the Legislative Council in 1855, he retired to England with a generous pension of £400 from the government of Newfoundland. He died 12 years later.
Church of St John the Baptist (Anglican) (St John’s), Registers of marriages and baptisms, 1838–51. PANL, GN 1/1, 1843; GN 9/1, 6 Oct. 1831. PRO, CO 195/18. Nfld., Blue book, 1843, 1845, 1857. Newfoundlander, 1831, 1835, 1852. Newfoundland Patriot (St John’s), 1840. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 1853. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 1867. Garfield Fizzard, “The amalgamated assembly of Newfoundland, 1841–1847” (unpublished ma thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1963). Gunn, Political history of Nfld. Leslie Harris, “The first nine years of representative government in Newfoundland” (unpublished ma thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1959), 65–67. Prowse, History of Nfld. (1895), 450.