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HARVEY, AUGUSTUS WILLIAM, businessman and politician; b. 31 May 1839 in Bermuda; m. 18 Oct. 1864 Elizabeth Walker of Lunenburg, N.S., in St John’s, and they had five sons and one daughter; d. there 7 Feb. 1903.
Augustus Harvey’s ancestors had been among the first settlers in Bermuda in the early 17th century, and by the 1800s the Harvey family was active in trade between that island and Newfoundland. He received his early education in British North America and later studied at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1853 he went to Newfoundland, where he worked briefly for the Marine Insurance Society before moving to the fishery supply firm of Dunscombe, Harvey and Company, partly owned by his uncle Eugenius Harvey. Following several subsequent changes in partnership, the business by 1866 was known as Harvey and Company. Augustus had joined the firm in 1861, and soon after, with the departure of his uncle for Bermuda, he became its managing partner.
Unlike most Newfoundland mercantile houses, which originated in Great Britain, Harvey and Company was North American in its origins. Its interests included a substantial import trade with the United States and Bermuda, and it had a branch in New York City. The firm was one of the first to become actively involved in importing foodstuffs from the United States. Its flour and provisions trade by the early 1900s would be the largest in the island. Harvey and Company was also active in the fish export business and by the 1880s would be the eighth largest exporter in Newfoundland, shipping cod to the Caribbean and South America.
Under Harvey the company diversified into mining, lumbering, and industrial interests. It was a major beneficiary of the government’s efforts from the 1870s to promote local industries through tariff protection. With Moses Monroe*, Harvey was a pioneer in establishing manufacturing in Newfoundland and by the 1880s was one of its most prominent and influential industrialists. Among the many businesses he founded at St John’s in the early 1870s were furniture, tobacco, margarine, biscuit, and bread factories. From that decade his firm was a non-managing partner in A. Harvey and Company, owned by his cousin Alexander J., which also invested in local industries. Harvey and Company in the mid 1880s became a minority partner in the New York, Newfoundland and Halifax Steamship Company (known as the Red Cross Line), which provided a weekly service from St John’s to Halifax and New York.
Having supported the anti-confederate party in the 1869 general election, Harvey and another city merchant, Robert Thorburn, had been appointed to the Legislative Council on 14 Feb. 1870 by Premier Charles James Fox Bennett*. Harvey would remain an anti-confederate for the remainder of his life. In the 1870s and early 1880s he strongly backed the efforts of Conservative premiers Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter* and Sir William Vallance Whiteway to secure foreign investors for a railway across Newfoundland. In this regard, he differed from his fellow Water Street merchants, who generally opposed its construction and in the 1882 general election tried unsuccessfully to defeat the government. Harvey also had a close professional relationship with Whiteway, who from the 1870s had served as Harvey’s solicitor.
Although Harvey favoured railway building and economic diversification, perhaps because of his North American upbringing and trading interests, he otherwise shared the outlook of his fellow merchants in his concern for the fisheries. In 1886 he helped the government of Robert Thorburn to draft legislation regulating the sale of bait fish to French fishermen on the Grand Banks. Approved by the British government the following year and put in force in 1888, the Bait Act symbolized the fears of Water Street merchants, who blamed a subsidized French fishery for the increased competition from that country in Newfoundland’s traditionally strong markets in southern Europe. Harvey also advocated innovation in the fisheries and pressed for the colony to follow the lead of other countries and establish a bureau to conduct scientific investigation. In 1887 the Thorburn government appointed a joint committee of the legislature to examine the organization of fisheries departments in other countries and suggest how Newfoundland could establish its own. The commission consisted of members from government and opposition parties with Harvey as chairman and Moses Harvey corresponding secretary. Its report in March 1888 recommended cod hatcheries to restock the bays and the creation of a permanent fisheries commission. Late that year it appointed a Norwegian official, Adolph Nielsen, superintendent of fisheries. Augustus Harvey in 1889 became chairman of the permanent commission. He strongly supported Nielsen’s work, and when in the 1890s the government withdrew financial support for his hatchery, Harvey funded it for a year.
About 1888 Harvey had acquired controlling interest in a Halifax company that had contracted with the Thorburn government to operate a coastal steamer service in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the 1889 general election Harvey prudently gave money to both sides. Whiteway’s supporters, renamed the Liberal party, were successful, and Harvey entered the cabinet with responsibility for the fisheries commission while continuing as its chairman. Four years later Whiteway made the commission a government department, which Harvey headed until 1896. Like Robert Bond*, also an anti-confederate, Harvey after 1889 wielded considerable influence within the government. Although he supported Whiteway’s policy of railway development to open up the interior of the island, on the bait and French Shore questions his views resembled those of Water Street merchants who had supported Thorburn. Harvey intimated to his close associates that he had joined the Whiteway government to protect the existence of the newly established fisheries commission and enforcement of the Bait Act. In 1890 he backed Whiteway’s decision to complete the railway across the island. Harvey stood to gain from supplying materials and foodstuffs during its construction, but he also saw the railway as a means of strengthening Newfoundland’s economy and reducing the likelihood of confederation.
On foreign fishery matters Harvey helped shape government policy. In early 1890 Britain reached a modus vivendi with France concerning French fishing rights on the island’s west coast and the prohibition on Newfoundlanders’ building new lobster factories there. Whiteway and Harvey travelled to England that summer, prepared to accept the modus in return for financial assistance to complete the railway. They also wanted an arbitration process to resolve the question of French fishing rights in Newfoundland.
Tory leaders Alfred Bishop Morine* and Moses Monroe sparked widespread public protest that year throughout the island against any compromise on the modus, and Whiteway, unwilling to pass permanent legislation giving imperial naval officials authority to enforce French treaty rights on the west coast, fell into line. When the following year Britain proposed legislation granting itself this authority, Harvey was part of an all-party delegation the legislature sent to London in April 1891 to persuade imperial officials to withdraw the bill. In its place, Newfoundland offered temporary legislation for 1891 giving the authority to the British navy. Subsequently there would be a series of temporary bills until 1904, when France agreed to surrender its fishing rights on the island as part of a larger Anglo-French agreement.
It was no doubt Harvey’s business interests in the United States that led him to support stronger economic ties with that country and Colonial Secretary Robert Bond’s proposed reciprocity treaty with the Americans in 1890. The collapse of this deal as the result of Canadian opposition aggravated local feelings towards the imperial government, already strained over the modus vivendi. In mid 1892 Harvey had more success as Newfoundland’s delegate to Madrid, where he obtained a reduction in duties on the colony’s fish exports to Spain. He was also a representative at a conference Whiteway and Bond held with Canadian officials at Halifax in November 1892 to discuss trade relations, which had deteriorated following the Canadian efforts to defeat the island’s reciprocity treaty with the United States. In talks with the Canadians both Bond and Harvey took a strong anti-confederate line, in contrast to Whiteway, who was more sympathetic to political union with Canada.
In order to provide better facilities for his steamers in St John’s Harbour, Harvey in 1894 persuaded James Angel and Company, a St John’s boiler maker [see James Angel*], to tender for the contract to operate the government-owned dry dock. It had opened ten years earlier and had been leased to its contractor, J. E. Simpson and Company of New York, until 1894, when the government cancelled the agreement because the company had failed to make regular payments. Harvey and Company was a silent partner in the successful Angel bid, agreeing to share half of any operating cost with the other firm. Harvey also wanted part of the dock facility to store imported coal since in early 1894 he had become local agent for the Dominion Coal Company of Cape Breton. That year Harvey and Company began transporting coal in steamers of the Red Cross Line. The firm had not previously been active in the coal import trade, until then carried on by sailing vessel.
The Whiteway Liberals had won re-election in 1893 but were forced to resign the following year by the Tories, who filed petitions against 17 government members in the Supreme Court under the Corrupt Practices Act of 1889. Subsequent judgements of the court eventually led to the unseating of all Whiteway’s cabinet ministers except Harvey, who sat in the Legislative Council. By that time he and the entire cabinet had resigned. A new administration led by Tory merchant Augustus Frederick Goodridge governed until December 1894 when the Liberals under Daniel Joseph Greene returned to office. Harvey was appointed to the new cabinet, and after Whiteway resumed the premiership in February 1895, Harvey also served in his government.
Harvey’s return to political power was short-lived, for in December he resigned from the cabinet and the Legislative Council because of legal difficulties resulting from the collapse of the island’s two commercial banks a year earlier [see James Goodfellow*]. Harvey and Company had been one of the most important clients of the Union Bank of Newfoundland, and he had served as a director since 1866. There were reports in the British press that his company was one of those forced to suspend business. However, it was solvent, and Harvey had immediately taken legal action against the owners of the newspaper, which published a retraction to his satisfaction.
For several years prior to 1894 Harvey had been concerned over his bank’s practice of providing substantial credit to questionable businesses without proper security. In 1889 he had persuaded board members to adopt rules limiting “advances without security,” and on 10 Aug. 1891 he had tendered his resignation as a director over the Union’s reluctance to tighten up its lending regulations. He was induced to remain on the board since, as he later recalled, leaving at that time would have been “prejudicial to the bank’s and the colony’s interest.” Harvey resumed his attendance at board meetings while not formally withdrawing his letter of resignation. The rules continued to be “violated” and in 1893 he asked the board to have another shareholder elected in his place. As he believed that the bank’s local clients were solvent despite being seriously overextended, the other directors were able once more to persuade Harvey to remain. On 9 June 1894 he again tendered his resignation, which the directors did not act upon, but he withdrew from the Union’s operations.
Following the collapse of the Union and Commercial banks in December, Harvey and the other directors were arrested and charged with providing false financial statements. They were also accused of defrauding their shareholders by approving large, unsecured loans to their own businesses. The Commercial directors were tried first before magistrate James Gervé Conroy*, who found sufficient evidence to have the matter referred to the Supreme Court. The Whiteway government managed to delay proceedings against the Union’s directors until July, when Conroy also referred their case to the superior court. In his defence, Harvey argued that following his resignation in June 1894, he had had no further knowledge of the bank’s operations and was not aware of that year’s financial statement.
For the next two years authorities tried to prosecute the directors of the Commercial, but the grand jury failed to find a true bill against them because few of the jurors were unaffected by the bank crash. In December 1897 a British judge, Sir David Patrick Chalmers, heard the case against the Commercial directors and instructed the jury to find a verdict of not guilty because of the difficulty in proving criminal intent on the part of the defendants. They were not retried and the directors of the Union were not brought to trial.
Harvey remained an important player in the Newfoundland economy. In 1896 his company revived the whaling industry through the establishment of the Cabot Steam Whaling Company, which used the technical expertise of Adolph Nielsen and other Norwegians. Harvey and Company pioneered pulp and paper making and in 1897 built Newfoundland’s first pulp-mill at Black River in Placentia Bay. It operated for only a few years before closing because of insufficient water-power.
In 1900 Harvey re-entered politics as a supporter of Robert Bond’s Liberal party, which won election that year by promising to renegotiate an unpopular contract with Canadian railway builder Robert Gillespie Reid, signed in 1898 with the Tory government of Sir James Spearman Winter*. Harvey was returned in the district of Harbour Grace and appointed a minister without portfolio in Bond’s cabinet. He resumed cabinet responsibility for the fisheries.
Well known for his philanthropy, Augustus Harvey was instrumental in establishing the Fishermen and Sailors’ Home, opened in December 1886. He served on the committee set up in 1893 to help English doctor Wilfred Thomason Grenfell* provide medical care to residents of coastal Labrador. Further, Harvey was prominent in lay and educational activities of the Church of England. He died at St John’s in February 1903 following an illness of several months. For the Water Street merchants, Harvey in the early 1890s had represented a strong voice in a government led by Premier Whiteway, whom many of them did not support. He had had, as the St John’s Trade Review observed in 1903, “buoyant enthusiasm and belief in the country’s undeveloped capabilities” through economic diversification.
The proceedings of the preliminary investigation of the Union Bank’s collapse were published as In the matter of the crown vs. the directors of the Union Bank of Newfoundland; evidence and exhibits . . . ([St John’s, 1895]); the “Statement of Augustus William Harvey” appears on pp.97–104.
NA, MG 26, C: 1488–93. PANL, GN 1/3/A, Harvey to Bond, 11, 17 April 1902. PRO, CO 199/67 (Nfld, Blue book, 1871): 74 (copy at PANL). Daily News (St John’s), 8–9 Nov. 1898, 9 Feb. 1903. Evening Herald (St John’s), 21 March 1900. Trade Review (St John’s), 14 Feb., 19 Dec. 1903. Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.), 2: 846–48. J. K. Hiller, “Hist. of Nfld”; “The origins of the pulp and paper industry in Newfoundland,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 11 (1981–82), no.2: 42–68. J. L. Joy, “The growth and development of trades and manufacturing in St. John’s, 1870–1914” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s, 1977), 147–50. David Keir, The Bowring story (London, 1962), 166. Keith Matthews, Profiles of Water Street merchants (mimeograph, [St John’s], 1980). Nfld, House of Assembly, Journal, 1898, app., report of the Dept. of Fisheries, 1897: 354. Newfoundland Fisheries Commission, Report of the fisheries commission . . . to investigate the operations of fisheries departments in other countries (St John’s, 1888). Nfld men (Mott). Nfld Quarterly, 2 (1902–3), no.4: 6 (obit. by Daniel Woodley Prowse*). A. B. Perlin, The story of Newfoundland, comprising a new outline of the island’s history from 1497 to 1959 . . . ([St John’s], 1959), 158. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld (1895), 614. C. F. Rowe et al., The currency and medals of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1983). Shannon Ryan, Fish out of water: the Newfoundland salt-fish trade, 1814–1914 (St John’s, 1986), 145. Chesley Sanger and Anthony Dickinson, “The origins of modern shore based whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador: the Cabot Steam Whaling Co. Ltd., 1896–98” and “Modern shore-based whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador: expansion and consolidation, 1898–1902,” International Journal of Maritime Hist. (St John’s), 1 (1989), no.1: 129–57 and 2 (1990), no.1: 83–116, respectively. F. F. Thompson, The French Shore problem in Newfoundland: an imperial study (Toronto, 1961).
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Cite This Article
Melvin Baker, “HARVEY, AUGUSTUS WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harvey_augustus_william_13E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Melvin Baker|
|Title of Article:||HARVEY, AUGUSTUS WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|