COWPERTHWAITE, HUMPHREY PICKARD, Methodist clergyman and administrator; b. 30 Nov. 1838 near Sheffield, N.B., son of Hugh Cowperthwaite, a farmer, and Elizabeth Ann Hunter; m. 19 July 1867 Annie A. S. Buchanan in Jacksontown, N.B., and they had at least three sons and two daughters; d. 26 Dec. 1924 in St John’s.
Educated in the parish school of Sheffield, Humphrey Pickard Cowperthwaite was reared by his pious mother, who like his father was converted under the Methodist ministry of George Seaton Milligan*. It was not until his 18th year, however, that he himself experienced a life-changing conversion under the preaching of John Prince on the Woodstock circuit. His call to ministry ripened slowly, after serious doubts about his vocation. In 1861 he was received on trial in the Eastern British America Conference and stationed at Sussex Vale (Sussex Corner), N.B. Probationary appointments in Nova Scotia, at Pugwash (1862) and Windsor and Falmouth (1863), were followed by studies in 1864-67 at Mount Allison Wesleyan College in Sackville, N.B. After receiving his ab in 1867, he was ordained in Halifax. That same year he married Annie Buchanan, a fellow graduate and daughter of William M. Buchanan, a former lecturer in geology and chemistry at the University of Glasgow.
From 1867 until 1889 Cowperthwaite served churches in Nova Scotia (Horton, 1867-70), New Brunswick (Fairville, 1870-73; Saint John, 1885-87), and Prince Edward Island (Tryon, 1873-76, 1888-89; Cornwall, 1876-79, 1882-84; Charlottetown, 1879-81). During this period, he not only earned an ma from his alma mater in 1870, but he also developed into a respected and capable churchman. He held several posts, among them financial secretary (1874-78, 1883), journal secretary (1878-79), and president (1889) of the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Conference and district chairman of the Island (1879-80, 1882, 1888-89). As well, in 1882 and 1883 he was a delegate to the General Conference.
Cowperthwaite began work in Newfoundland in August 1890 and would continue there for three decades until severe debilitation ended his labours. During this period he served on circuits in St John’s (Gower Street, 1890-93, 1899-1903; George Street, 1893-96; Cochrane Street, 1903-7) and at churches in Carbonear (1896-99) and Harbour Grace (1907-8). The historian of Gower Street offers the following portrait of Cowperthwaite: “A man of striking appearance, somewhat on the portly side, adorned with a trim Prince of Wales . . . beard, and possessed of a strong yet affable personality, he was also a man of considerable scholarship, widely read and highly articulate, an accomplished orator, in fact.” His appeal in urban Newfoundland rested on his combination of patriotic values and a progressive version of Methodist spirituality rooted in revivalism and personal holiness. During the South African War and World War I this loyalist descendant rallied Methodists around the flag and the empire. (His paternal grandfather had left New Jersey in 1783 for pioneer life in New Brunswick.) Theologically, he felt that the proclamation of the kingdom was a spiritual leaven capable of changing society by individual example and collective action. Such stimulation, he thought, would produce a moral revolution with tangible, ameliorative effects, including the removal of dishonesty in business, the prohibition of alcohol, and the elimination of gambling and other social vices. In deciding moral issues he was guided by biblical precept and personal experience, as is evident in his rejection of bazaars as an unscriptural means of fund-raising.
In his ministry in St John’s, Cowperthwaite had confronted two crises: the fire of 1892 [see Moses Monroe*] and the bank crash of 1894 [see James Goodfellow*]. The former destroyed the Gower Street Church; the latter nearly bankrupted the country. Cowperthwaite rebuilt the church within months as a temporary structure called the “Tabernacle” at the intersection of Parade Street and Harvey Road. The victims of the bank crash he treated pastorally and through benevolence where needed. Recognized for his administrative skills, he was chosen as president of the Newfoundland Conference in 1896 and as chairman of the St John’s and Carbonear districts. Granted a dd by Mount Allison in 1903, he retired on 15 Nov. 1908, the year his wife died. He was called out, however, to supply at Gower Street for two more terms, 1910-11 and 1913-14. Such supernumerary work, which was considerable, ended only when he became paralysed and housebound in 1921, at age 83. The “grand old man” of Newfoundland Methodism, as he is occasionally depicted, died three years later and was buried in the General Protestant Cemetery; he was survived by a daughter and two sons.
Today, a street in St John’s reminds people of his existence, but hardly anyone remembers the man for whom it is named.
The UCC, Newfoundland Conference Arch. (St John’s), holds a typescript copy of Humphrey Pickard Cowperthwaite’s “Gower Street Methodist Church” (n.d.). He also wrote “Bazaars or straight giving, which?” Methodist Monthly Greeting (St John’s), October 1894: 157-58; November 1894: 174-75; December 1894: 178-79, and “Cochrane Street Methodist Church,” Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s), 5 (1905-6), no.1: 6-7. The Methodist Monthly Greeting, the official publication of the Methodist Church in Newfoundland, contains numerous entries on Cowperthwaite’s life and work from 1890 until his death in 1924, and has been a major source in the preparation of this article. Of particular interest are Mark Fenwick, “The late Rev. H. P. Coperthwaite, m.a., d.d.,” January 1925: 3; “Mrs. (Dr.) Cowperthwaite passes away,” September 1908: 9; and “Rev. Dr. Cowperthwaite,” December 1923: 8-9.
Daily Globe (St John’s), 27, 29 Dec. 1924. Daily News (St John’s), 27 Dec. 1924. Evening Advocate (St John’s), 30 Nov. 1918. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 28 July 1890; 27, 29 Dec. 1924. “Mrs. A. B. Cowperthwaite,” Free Press (St John’s), 25 Aug. 1908. Provincial Wesleyan (Halifax), 10 July 1867. A century of Methodism in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1815-1915, ed. J. W. Nichols (St John’s, ), 27-28, 30. G. H. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism in Canada . . . (2v., Toronto and Halifax, 1881-1903), 1: 382, 777; 2: 50, 71. Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.), 1: 553. D. G. Pitt, Windows of agates; the life and times of Gower Street United (formerly Methodist) Church in St John’s, Newfoundland: 1815-1990 (2nd ed., St John’s, 1990). Vital statistics from N.B. newspapers (Johnson), 25, no.1229; 44, no.44; 54, no.2028; 64, no.3069. When was that? (Mosdell), 26-27.