ALSOP, ROBERT, merchant and politician, b. in 1814 to a prosperous Newfoundland merchant family; d. 25 March 1871 at St John’s, Nfld.
Nothing is known of Robert Alsop’s upbringing or education. He became a principal in the merchant and shipping firm of R. Alsop and Company, which in the 1840s and 1850s was one of the most extensive trading out of St John’s, Newfoundland. Like many of the older firms, it suffered severely during the late 1850s and 1860s because of the failure of the fisheries. After the decline of the firm Robert Alsop was induced to enter political life. In September 1866 he ran in a by-election in Trinity Bay as a supporter of a coalition government headed by Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter*. He won the election and was named chairman of the Board of Works, thus entering the Executive Council. His entry to the council was opposed by the Liberal newspaper, the Patriot, whose editor, Robert John Parsons*, while affirming his support of the coalition, asserted that John Kavanagh, a Catholic who had been elected in 1859 and 1861, had a better claim to the post. However Alsop’s victory in the Trinity Bay riding was acclaimed by the Patriot, which rejoiced to see “a liberal Protestant, as is Mr. Alsop” returned.
The path of Alsop, a Liberal in the coalition government which had seen the coalescing of confederation forces under the Tory Protestant, F. B. T. Carter, and the Liberal Catholics, Ambrose* and Edward Dalton Shea* and John Kent, was to prove thorny. Carter’s victory at the polls in 1865 had not really been a triumph for the confederate forces; many of his supporters had made pledges to their constituents not to support the union. As a new election campaign approached in 1869 the confederates tried to stem the mounting wave of opposition being organized by Charles Fox Bennett*. The government was, however, having trouble controlling its own members, including Robert Alsop, who received a terse communication from the colonial secretary, John Bemister*, on 7 Sept. 1869 asking “what course you [intend] to adopt at the approaching election on . . . confederation, it being, as you are aware, a government measure.” This was the second such query to Alsop.
Alsop, like most of the St John’s mercantile class, was hostile to confederation. He openly declared his opposition to it when he sought reelection for Trinity Bay as a Bennett supporter; he won by 22 votes. He was named colonial secretary in Bennett’s new government on 5 March 1870. Alsop sought re-election in Trinity in the autumn of 1870, when, during a particularly bitter campaign, he was accused of turning “Catholic,” and opposition manifestos warned voters that Alsop had “put the Queen and the British Government against us and made them take away the troops who were the people’s protectors against the St. John’s rowdies.” He was also branded as one who would haul down the “Old Flag and put up the Stars and Stripes.” Such abusive electioneering devices had their desired effect on the outport fishermen. Alsop was defeated by a narrow margin, but he continued to serve as colonial secretary until the time of his death and was given the consolation of being named to the Legislative Council though he never occupied his seat because of ill health.
Sometime prior to his death Alsop was converted to Roman Catholicism. He was described as a man of honour and integrity, and he served efficiently as colonial secretary. His entry into political life had not been without misgivings as he was by nature a retiring person preferring a contemplative life to the excitement and hazards of politics.
PANL, Newfoundland, Department of the colonial secretary, letter books, 1867–1934, John Bemister to Robert Alsop, 7 Sept. 1869. Courier (St John’s), 21 Sept. 1870. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 27 Sept. 1870, 28 March 1871. Newfoundland Patriot and Terra Nova Herald (St John’s), 15, 22 Sept., 17 Nov. 1866. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 28 March 1871. St John’s Daily News, 14 Oct., 18 Dec. 1869. Prowse, History of Nfld., 706.