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WARREN, JOHN HENRY, merchant and politician; b. c. 1812 in Devon, England, one of five children of William Warren, sailing captain and supply merchant based at St John’s, Nfld; d. 28 April 1885 at Belgrave Terrace, Torquay, England, survived by two sons and three daughters.

Little is known of John Henry Warren’s early life. In the late 1830s he was in partnership with William Wheatley in the fish and wholesale-retail trade in St John’s. The firm became insolvent in 1840, and the following year Warren established his own business, a medium-sized operation exporting fish to Europe and providing supplies for vessels in the seal-fishery. For the latter trade Warren bought his manufactured goods through an agent in Britain, and he generally sold them at lower prices than most other merchants in the city. Of the vessels newly registered in Newfoundland between 1841 and 1853, 11 were owned by Warren. Although he lost his premises in the fire which largely destroyed St John’s in 1846, Warren quickly rebuilt and continued in business until April 1851 when he declared bankruptcy and apparently leased his property to local merchants for an annual rental of £265. A year later he began his long career in Newfoundland politics.

A Conservative, Warren ran successfully in seven out of the nine elections held from 1852 to 1878. Except in 1873, he stood for the district of Bonavista Bay. In the 1850s this district was generally regarded as a Tory rotten borough. Its reputation reflected the great political influence Conservative politicians could exert in the predominantly Protestant area through their mercantile connections in St John’s, such as J. and W. Stewart and Company, Baine, Johnston and Company, and Brooking and Company, all of which had branches in the Bonavista Bay district. In addition, the Protestant Conservatives could use sectarian arguments against their Catholic Liberal opponents as they did in the election of 1855. In that year a Central Protestant Committee was established at St John’s to coordinate the campaign, but the Liberals, led by Philip Francis Little*, nevertheless won the election. Finally, Warren, although a St John’s resident, appealed to the Bonavista Bay voters because his family, like most of those in the area, was from Devon, and such an association was an important asset in Newfoundland politics.

In 1861, after Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* dismissed the Liberal ministry led by John Kent* and appointed a Conservative government under Hugh William Hoyles, Warren was named surveyor general and chairman of the Board of Works. The latter position, which he held until 1865, entailed responsibility for all public buildings, institutions, and roads in the colony. It was also the main vehicle for the distribution of public funds and hence gave control of patronage. By supporting union with Canada, the pro-confederation Conservatives were defeated in the general election of 1869 by an alliance of Roman Catholics and Water Street merchants led by Charles James Fox Bennett, and Warren was himself unsuccessful in Bonavista Bay. Disavowing any further sympathy for confederation, the Conservatives, under the leadership of Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter*, had regrouped by 1873 and based their political appeal in the election of that year upon sectarianism. Warren and William Vallance Whiteway* successfully exploited the organization of the Orange lodges and were elected for the Protestant district of Trinity along with J. Steer. Although Bennett’s party was returned to office it was soon forced to resign. New elections were held in 1874 and Carter obtained a large majority. Warren was re-elected for his old constituency of Bonavista Bay with the help of the influential Orange lodges in the district, and once again was appointed surveyor general. He was defeated in the next election held in 1878 and was named to the Legislative Council on 13 Jan. 1879 by Premier Whiteway. He remained a member until his death.

Warren was perhaps typical of the St John’s merchant who became a politician. He adroitly exploited the sectarian animosities of outport voters for political gain. Moreover, through his son-in-law, Charles R. Bowring, a leading merchant, he had influence in the political and economic life of St John’s and he was a strong supporter and protector of the interests of the mercantile community for many years both in the House of Assembly and later in the Legislative Council.

Melvin Baker

Maritime Hist. Group Arch., Board of Trade ser. 107–8 (entries for John Henry Warren); Warren name file. Supreme Court of Newfoundland (St John’s), Registry, will of John Henry Warren, 7 Oct. 1885. Nfld., Blue book, 1852–85; House of Assembly, Journal, 1852–86. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 1843–82. Devine, Ye olde St. Johns. Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld. J. K. Hiller, “Confederation defeated: the Newfoundland election of 1869” (unpublished paper presented to the CHA, 1976). Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895). Elinor Senior, “The origin and political activities of the Orange Order in Newfoundland, 1863–1890” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1959).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Melvin Baker, “WARREN, JOHN HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warren_john_henry_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warren_john_henry_11E.html
Author of Article: Melvin Baker
Title of Article: WARREN, JOHN HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: October 20, 2014