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HOLDSWORTH, ARTHUR, fishing captain and merchant in Newfoundland; b. 1668, son of Arthur Holdsworth (1624–90), fishing captain, ship-owner, and merchant of Dartmouth, Devonshire; d. 1726.

Arthur, with his brother Robert, helped develop the family business with Newfoundland and Portugal. It was the custom in Newfoundland that the first fishing captain to arrive at each harbour was the fishing admiral for the season. In 1700 Robert Holdsworth in the Nicholas (with Arthur accompanying him) was admiral at St John’s. At a party given in Fort William by Capt. Michael Richards, Arthur Holdsworth resented the supercilious remarks of the garrison commander, Capt. William Lilburne, and challenged him to a duel. Lilburne retired hurt after a single touch, though he claimed to have inflicted three wounds on Holdsworth. Lilburne was accused by Richards of cowardice, and was dismissed and brought home by the commodore, Capt. Stafford Fairborne. Arthur Holdsworth thus became a centre of controversy as recriminations continued in England. That the Holdsworths were unpopular may be seen from the support of some 40 fishing captains, many of them from Plymouth, for Lilburne against Holdsworth.

Rivalry between the western fishing ports may partly account for this animosity, but it was also caused by an innovation by the Holdsworths in their way of doing business. They had developed, though they did not in fact initiate, the practice of bringing out each season a large number of passengers or by-boatmen. These men would fish on their own account for the season, but hand over a share of their catch to the Holdsworths; most of the other fishing captains restricted fishing to the regular crew. In 1701 George Larkin noted that Holdsworth made it his business “in the beginning of the year . . . to ride from one Market Town to another in the West of England on purpose to get passengers,” and promised that if one of the Holdsworths should be admiral in any harbour he would see to it that the by-boatmen got a fishing-room normally reserved for a ship’s crew. This was a discouragement to the Western Adventurers since the by-boatmen could afford to sell their fish more cheaply than the regular fishermen. In 1701, Arthur Holdsworth, again in the Nicholas, was fishing admiral at St John’s and distributed no fewer than 236 passengers among the fishing-rooms, much to the disgust of the other captains. This killing seems to have been enough for him, however; in the following seasons he was on good terms with his fellow captains and cooperated with them.

Holdsworth was a merchant as well as a fishing captain. He occupied a house in St John’s during the fishing season, and in 1702 undertook to bring out Portland stone, in ballast, for the fort. His brother, Robert, incited Major Thomas Lloyd to hire out soldiers to the fishing captains in 1704. The following year, Arthur Holdsworth was one of those who wrote from Newfoundland to thank the Bishop of London for sending out the new clergyman, Jacob Rice. In 1706 he registered a complaint that some of his fellow captains were throwing ballast into the harbour. Holdsworth seems to have worked closely with Lloyd, and was one of those who defended him against the accusations made in 1708.

Vice-admiral in 1708, Holdsworth was admiral again in 1709 when he arrived to find St John’s destroyed by the French. He advocated the rapid restoration of Fort William, supplying some materials for emergency repairs, and urged that a strong garrison be maintained. Similar recommendations were made by the commodore, Capt. Joseph Taylour. Holdsworth had a good head for business; for many years from 1702 onwards, he worked in close association with Henry Hayman, the influential Plymouth fishing captain. In 1711 Holdsworth’s possession of the house in St John’s was confirmed. After 1711, however, Holdsworth seems slowly to have relinquished his personal contacts with Newfoundland, though it is likely that he visited Placentia (Plaisance) on at least one occasion. His ships continued to take part in the Newfoundland fishery, his son, a third Arthur, taking his place as captain.

Arthur Holdsworth married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Lane of Dartmouth. Her first husband, Capt. Roger Vavasor, had been killed at sea in 1696, and Holdsworth brought up her son, Henry, in his own household. Elizabeth and Arthur Holdsworth had four surviving children, a son and three daughters. Apart from his house in Newfoundland, Holdsworth owned extensive property in and around Dartmouth. His Dartmouth home was Mount Gilpin, and he also built a country house at Widdicombe, near Torcross. He died on 9 Nov. 1726 and was buried in St Petrok’s church, Dartmouth.

Holdsworth’s was one of a number of west-country seafaring and merchant families which had large stakes in the Newfoundland fishery over three or more generations. Arthur Holdsworth was a good example of the type; at first he attempted to enlarge his profits by unorthodox methods, but he was pulled back by his fellow captains and thereafter devoted himself to developing their strong collective interests.

D. B. Quinn

Dartmouth Municipal Records (in Exeter Public Library), leases of a house in Modbury, Devon, 1719 (Z7/Box 12), and of Perrings Pallace and Town Pallace, Dartmouth, 1725 (DD63900–63902, 63908). Somerset House, Principal Probate Registry, Holdsworth’s will (dated 1 Nov. 1726, proved 5 June 1727). PRO, CSP, Col., 1701, 1704–5, 1706–8, 1708–9, 1711–12, 1724–25; B.T. Journal, 1708/9–1714/15. M. A. Field, “The development of government in Newfoundland, 1638–1713,” unpublished m.a. thesis, University of London, 1924, 218–22. Innis, Cod fisheries, 109. Prowse, History of Nfld. Percy Russell, Dartmouth, a history of the port and town (London and New York, 1950), 122–24, 141–42. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries (Exeter), XIV (1927), 261. Devonshire Assoc., Exeter, Trans., XXXII (1900), 513–14; XLV (1913), 239–41.

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D. B. Quinn, “HOLDSWORTH, ARTHUR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/holdsworth_arthur_2E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/holdsworth_arthur_2E.html
Author of Article:   D. B. Quinn
Title of Article:   HOLDSWORTH, ARTHUR
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   May 25, 2024