DELANEY (Delany), JOHN, public servant, politician, and meteorologist; b. in 1811 in Ireland; m. Elizabeth Troy, and they had five sons and three daughters; d. 26 April 1883 at St John’s, Nfld.
Little is known of John Delaney’s early life, but his later career indicates that he received at least some education. He immigrated from Ireland to St John’s in 1831 with his wife, a sister of Father Edward Troy*. At St John’s, Delaney, like most Roman Catholics, attached himself to the Liberal party and in 1835, with the support of Patrick Morris* and other Liberal politicians, was appointed door-keeper of the House of Assembly, a position he retained until 1843. In 1848 he was elected to the House of Assembly for the district of Placentia–St Mary’s.
Although Delaney often voted with the Liberal party, he was not active in the movement for responsible government. Perhaps in appreciation Governor Ker Baillie Hamilton, on the advice of the Conservative administration, appointed him keeper of the House of Assembly in 1852 and surveyor of roads in 1853. However, Delaney’s lack of enthusiasm for responsible government had cost him the support of the powerful Roman Catholic politician Ambrose Shea*; in the election of 1852 Delaney lost his seat to George James Hogsett*. Delaney regained the seat in 1855, was re-elected in 1859, and chose not to run in 1861.
Early in his legislative career Delaney had shown an interest in improving internal communications in Newfoundland. In 1851 he had been active in obtaining passage of the Postal Act which reorganized the mail service in the colony, and on 17 Feb. 1860 he was appointed by Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* to succeed William Lemon Solomon, Newfoundland’s first postmaster general. Delaney believed that cheap postage and improved communications were essential to the social and economic development of Newfoundland and worked energetically to expand and modernize the postal system. By the early 1880s he had established mail service to all parts of the island and to the Labrador coast using steamships, initiated door-to-door delivery in St John’s, introduced a money-order system, and negotiated uniform postal rates with Great Britain and continental North America.
Although Delaney made an important contribution to Newfoundland as a public servant, his work as an amateur scientist is of almost equal significance. He was interested in astronomy, electricity, and telegraphy, and was competent enough as a civil engineer to survey a number of roads in St John’s and on the Avalon Peninsula. His main scientific achievement, however, was in the field of meteorology. From 1857 to 1864, Delaney, assisted by two of his sons, John Joseph and Edward Magdalene Joseph, recorded observations of the temperature, atmospheric pressure, and rainfall at St John’s, and submitted them to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for its compilation of statistics on the climate of North America. Although the two sons died in 1866, from 1871 to 1873 Delaney contributed another series of observations to the Smithsonian. In 1871 when the Meteorological Office (later the Meteorological Service) of Canada was formed by George Templeman Kingston, Delaney organized a network of six stations along the Newfoundland coast, manned by volunteer observers, which provided the Canadian meteorologists with important data on weather conditions in the approaches to the Gulf of St Lawrence. In spite of failing health Delaney spent his last years attempting unsuccessfully to persuade the Newfoundland government to extend the Canadian storm-warning system to the island. He had become a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, London, in 1873.
As a politician John Delaney was undistinguished, but as a public servant he was vigorous and far-sighted. In his efforts to improve communications in Newfoundland he was generally in harmony with the aspirations of the St John’s commercial community and the governments of the day. At times, however, his plans for the postal system and for a more elaborate meteorological service were thought to be too expensive and were ignored. Delaney’s persistent advocacy of progressive measures reveals his confidence in his own judgement and independence of mind. His meteorological work gave climatologists their first accurate, long-term measurements for Newfoundland, and the link he initiated with the Meteorological Service of Canada continued almost unbroken until Newfoundland entered confederation in 1949.
Can., Atmospheric Environment Service (Downsview, Ont.), Letterbook of the superintendent of the Meteorological Service, 1873–83. PAC, RG 93, A2, 1874–78. Nfld., Blue book, 1855–60; House of Assembly, Journal, 1837–61. Smithsonian Institution, Annual report (Washington), 1858–64. Terra Nova Advocate and Political Observer (St John’s), 28 April 1883. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 1, 29 Dec. 1852; 7 April 1860; 21 Aug. 1975. Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld. William Smith, The history of the Post Office in British North America, 1639–1870 (Cambridge, Eng., 1920).