GRIEVE, WALTER, merchant and office-holder; b. c. 1809, son of Robert Grieve and Margaret Johnston of Killater (Strathclyde), Scotland; m. in April 1846 Jane Richardson, and they had two sons; d. 26 March 1887 at Greenock, Scotland.
Walter Grieve apparently came to St John’s, Nfld, in the late 1820s to join his elder brother James Johnston. James, who had arrived in Newfoundland in 1828, was working for the firm Baine, Johnston and Company in which their maternal uncle, William Johnston, was a partner. This firm was engaged in the traditional import-export trade and had branches in Greenock and St John’s. Walter joined it, and after the death of William Johnston in 1837 he effectively ran the St John’s branch, with James usually resident in Greenock. The brothers gained full control of the firm when Walter Baine died in 1851. Four years later Walter Grieve relinquished the management of Baine, Johnston and Company to his nephew Robert Grieve, and established his own firm, Walter Grieve and Company, at St John’s, and another firm in partnership with Alexander Bremner at Trinity. During the 1860s Grieve began to spend most of the year in Scotland, and he therefore transferred the management of Walter Grieve and Company to another nephew, Robert Thorburn*, who was also made a partner. In 1863 the two firms, Baine, Johnston and Company and Walter Grieve and Company, combined to send the first steamers to the seal-fishery from St John’s. Although no longer directly involved in management, Grieve maintained an active interest in both firms.
Walter Grieve had held various local offices in St John’s: road commissioner in the late 1830s, justice of the peace, president of the Chamber of Commerce of St John’s for the years 1847–48, 1855–56, and 1857–58, president of the Scottish Society, one of the four-member Board of Revenue in 1855, and director of the privately owned gas and water companies. Through choice he did not play a prominent role in elective politics. He had refused to run for the legislature in 1842, despite the fact that a large number of St John’s citizens had tried to conscript him. He was, however, appointed by Governor Sir John Harvey* to the Executive Council as surveyor general, though he sat only for a short period between the years 1845 and 1848. His retirement from the council coincided with the introduction of the bicameral legislature. His political attitudes appear to have been liberal; he had supported the campaign for the grant of a constitution in the late 1820s, and his friendship with Philip Francis Little*, leader of the Liberals in the 1850s, suggests that unlike most St John’s merchants he favoured the granting of responsible government. He made his one noteworthy entry into Newfoundland politics in 1869 when he joined Charles James Fox Bennett in his anti-confederation campaign. His influence in the mercantile community and among those fishermen and planters who dealt with his firms, as well as his money, were important factors in Bennett’s electoral victory.
Though a Presbyterian, Grieve was sympathetic towards the aspirations of the local Roman Catholic church. Non-Anglican Protestants and Catholics of Newfoundland often aligned to oppose the Church of England. They supported each other over such contentious issues as the educational grant, responsible government, and patronage. A friend of Catholic Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming*, Grieve contributed generously to the building of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, completed in St John’s in 1855. Patrick Kevin Devine records that Grieve donated all the ropes and scaffolding, and in gratitude Fleming gave Grieve his farm, Carpasia, located outside St John’s.
Grieve emerged from his Newfoundland career wealthy and popular. The native prejudice against businessmen who viewed their stay in Newfoundland as temporary was mitigated by his public spirit, generosity, and refusal to become embroiled in local quarrels. An anonymous diarist noted in 1863 that “As a merchant and as a man, Walter Grieve, Esq., has, in my opinion, no competitor in this community. He is one of nature’s noblemen.”
Maritime Hist. Group Arch., Baine, Johnston & Company papers; Bremner papers; Grieve name file. Nfld., Blue book, 1840–50. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 15 June 1883. Newfoundlander, 22 Sept. 1842; 12 Jan., 30 April 1846. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 1838; August 1843; April, August 1847; February 1851. Chafe’s sealing book (1923). Devine, Ye olde St. John’s. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895).