ROW, WILLIAM BICKFORD, merchant, lawyer, politician, and office-holder; b. 3 Oct. 1786 at Torquay, Devon, England, son of John and Betty Row; d. 29 July 1865 in Taunton, Somerset, England.
John Row was a Torquay merchant engaged in trade between England and Newfoundland until 1811. The date of William Bickford Row’s arrival in Newfoundland is unknown, but by 1804 he was agent at St John’s for the English merchant, William Bickford. In 1809 Row joined his brother John in representing the firm of John Hill and Company of London and St John’s, which carried on a wholesale-retail trade, supplying provisions for the fisheries. It was declared insolvent in 1811. The two brothers then became joint agents for administering the firm’s debts, a function which W. B. Row continued until 1816. In May of that year he went into the supplying trade on his own account with a store in St John’s. In this period of depression following the Napoleonic wars Row’s enterprise does not appear to have prospered. On 15 May 1818 he entered a five-year partnership with William Vallance of Newton Abbot, Devon, with Row acting as the Newfoundland representative of the company.
In December 1823 Row began a long relationship with the newly organized St John’s Commercial Society and its executive body, the Chamber of Commerce, when he was elected secretary-treasurer. The Commercial Society repeatedly elected him to the Chamber of Commerce. One of the half-dozen most prominent officers of the society, he became its legal representative in later years.
Row’s legal career began in 1826 when he was one of the first lawyers to sign the barristers’ roll of the reconstituted Supreme Court of Newfoundland. In 1834 he was elected first treasurer of the Law Society of Newfoundland. He maintained a successful practice until the early 1850s.
With his growing public prominence Row was soon involved in island politics. In 1832 he contested the first election for the assembly under representative government as one of five candidates for the three-seat district of St John’s. Despite support from the St John’s commercial community, the unfavourable results of the first day’s voting persuaded Row to retire from the contest. Two years later he was returned to the house in a by-election for Trinity Bay in the place of John Bingley Garland, who had been appointed to the Council. He was again returned in 1836 and 1837 for Fortune Bay. Row was a Conservative, voting with such members as Robert Carter* and Newman W. Hoyles* and opposing Reformers such as William Carson* and John Kent*.
In February 1841 Row was appointed to the Council by Lieutenant Governor Henry Prescott*. When the existing form of government was suspended several months later and all legislative authority placed in an amalgamated legislature, Row became one of the ten appointed members of the new house. He also remained in the Executive Council. In the amalgamated house Row voted with his fellow appointed legislative councillors and the elected Protestant Conservative members, under the leadership of Attorney General James Simms. In 1844 Row introduced a bill to incorporate a second bank in St John’s, the Bank of Newfoundland, in which he was one of the principal shareholders [see Laurence O’Brien].
In 1848 the Legislative Council and the assembly were again separated. Retaining his seat on the council, Row continued to support a conservative policy in such matters as redistribution of seats in the assembly, on which would depend control of the house in the approaching era of responsible government. In the debates on education in 1852 Row was particularly prominent, presenting petitions and defending the position of the Church of England leaders, Bishop Edward Feild* and Archdeacon Thomas Finch Hobday Bridge*, on the division of Protestant education funds with the Methodists. Row also fought to prevent the erosion of Anglican pre-eminence in the most lucrative public offices. In these debates he had the support of the Anglican majority in the council. In 1854 Row joined Edward Mortimer Archibald* and Hugh William Hoyles* in presenting the council’s case to Colonial Secretary Sir George Grey against a hasty grant of responsible government.
Row’s public career ended in 1855 when he had to resign along with the other appointed officeholders to make way for the new age of an executive responsible to the assembly. During his last years, Row retired to Devon. He died in 1865.
Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maritime History Group Archives (St John’s), Row file. Nfld, House of Assembly, Journal, 1834–36, 1844; Legislative Council, Journals, 1853–54. Newfoundlander, 20 Sept. 1832. Newfoundland Mercantile Journal (St John’s), 1816–27. Public Ledger, 14 Feb. 1851. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 11 Oct. 1811, 4 Jan. 1816, 29 Aug. 1865. Greene, “Influence of religion in the politics of Nfld, 1850–61.” Prowse, History of Nfld (1895), 421–80. R. W. Bartlett, “The legal profession in Newfoundland,” The book of Newfoundland, ed. J. R. Smallwood (4v., St John’s, 1937–67), III, 519–27.