CARTER, ROBERT, naval officer, magistrate, and politician; b. at Ferryland, Nfld., in 1791, son of William Carter, judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court, and Anne Weston; m. to Anne Hutchings by whom he had one son and three daughters; d. in St John’s, Nfld., 25 May 1872.
Robert Carter was the grandson of the first Carter to settle in Ferryland, where the family were prominent merchants and holders of the magistracy. He appears to have joined the navy at an early age, and was retired soon after the peace of 1815 with the rank of lieutenant. In 1843 he was promoted commander (retired). After the death of his elder brother William in 1815, Robert Carter was appointed surrogate magistrate in his place, probably early in 1817. He served in that capacity at Ferryland until early in 1826, when he retired amid subsequently unsubstantiated accusations of improper judicial behaviour. The first general election in Newfoundland was held in 1832, and Carter won the Ferryland seat. From that time his career was largely politically oriented and he moved to St John’s.
The years between 1832 and 1836 saw the rise of denominationalism in local politics, and Carter, a member of the Church of England, was defeated in the Catholic district of Ferryland in 1836. From 1842 to 1852 and again from 1855 to 1859 he represented Bonavista Bay, and from 1859 to 1865, Fortune Bay. Both these districts were largely Protestant. Throughout his time in the assembly, Carter was a prominent member of the Protestant Conservative party, which was, however, in a minority from 1836 to 1861. But since, before the introduction of responsible government in 1855, patronage lay in the hands of the governor and council, Carter received several appointments of ascending importance. He remained a justice of the peace for the Ferryland area and served as a road commissioner there in the late 1830s. Following the fire that devastated St John’s in June 1846, he was appointed supervisor of streets, an important post which he held until the replanning of the town was completed in 1848. In October 1849 Carter became colonial treasurer and a governor of the Savings Bank. The tenacity with which he held to these posts slightly impeded the transition to responsible government in 1855. His demand for a retirement allowance being disallowed, Carter refused to resign. He argued that he had not been appointed as treasurer under the conditions imposed by the resolution, passed by the assembly in April 1849 and later approved by the Colonial Office, which stated that all executive appointees after that date would be liable to removal without compensation upon the introduction of responsible government. He received neither pension nor sympathy, and finally in May 1855 Governor Sir Charles Henry Darling* had to order him from office.
Carter’s resistance to the change was typical of many of his class, who feared not only the loss of their positions but also a Roman Catholic political ascendancy. In 1861 a crisis within the largely Catholic government party led by John Kent enabled the Conservatives under the leadership of Hugh Hoyles*, openly backed by the governor, Sir Alexander Bannerman*, to seize power. Carter became colonial secretary in the Hoyles ministries of 1861 and 1861–65. When Hoyles resigned as premier in the summer of 1865 to become chief justice, Carter lost his post, but he remained a member of the Executive Council until just before the election that fall. The Conservatives were again victorious under the leadership of his nephew, Frederick B. T. Carter*. Carter retired from public life at the same time and lived in St John’s until his death.
Never of outstanding importance in the political life of his time, Carter was a prominent member of, and spokesman for, the local establishment. Unlike his peers, however, Carter was neither in trade nor in the law; he had an economic dependence on political office which reinforced his resistance to responsible government but hastened his adaptation to the new order.
PANL, Newfoundland, Dept. of the Colonial Secretary, letter books, 1815–27; Newfoundland, Executive Council, minutes, 1865. Newfoundland, Blue Books, 1832–65 (copies in PANL); House of Assembly, Journals, 1836, 1837, 1838, 1840. Gunn, Political history of Nfld. J. R. Smallwood, “The history of the Carter family in Newfoundland,” unpublished typescript, 1937 (copy at PANL). E. A. Wells, “The struggle for responsible government in Newfoundland, 1846–1855,” unpublished ma thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1966.