LEDINGHAM, JOHN, engineer and businessman; b. 14 Oct. 1846 in Kintore, Scotland, second of seven children of John Ledingham and Agnes Allan; m. 19 July 1877 Anna Maria Brown Rogers in Newton upon Ayr, Scotland, and they had eight children; d. 25 July 1897 in St John’s.
John Ledingham first came to Newfoundland in February 1875 as the representative and engineer for a shipbuilder in Ayr, Scotland, who had constructed the steamship Leopard for the island’s sealing fleet. Ledingham travelled with the vessel on her voyage across the Atlantic for delivery to her owner, Walter Grieve*. Shortly after his marriage in 1877, Ledingham and his wife emigrated to Newfoundland. A portrait photograph taken when he was in the prime of life shows a strong, angular, dark-haired, determined, and confident young man.
Soon after his arrival in St John’s Ledingham began working as the foreman and superintending engineer at McTaggart and Gemmel’s foundry and boiler works, which had been established in 1875 in the east end of town on the skirt of the harbour. (McTaggart and Hugh Gemmel had previously worked at Charles James Fox Bennett*’s foundry at Riverhead.) Ledingham was also the superintending engineer for the Newfoundland sealing steamers. In 1878 McTaggart withdrew from the partnership and Gemmel continued to operate the foundry as sole proprietor. It was generally known as the Terra Nova foundry and boiler works. After Gemmel died in 1888, Ledingham purchased the premises from his estate with the help of a number of shipowners in St John’s. The Terra Nova foundry was the chief competitor of the Victoria engine and boiler works, which was owned by James Angel* and his son-in-law Alexander D. Brown under the partnership James Angel and Company. Ledingham and Angel vied for repair work on the steamers entering St John’s Harbour. They carried it out throughout the harbour and in the graving dock as well as in their own machine shops. Both companies apparently had excellent reputations for dealing with emergency repair work on transatlantic ships and this type of business formed a significant part of their operations. They also manufactured boilers and engine fittings for various factories, buildings, and installations in Newfoundland.
Despite their keen commercial competition Ledingham and Angel cooperated in some areas, notably in the setting of wages and working conditions for their employees. In 1891 they coordinated their efforts to reduce wages by eliminating terms and conditions of employment, in force since 1875, that provided men engaged on outside jobs with a 9-hour, rather than the usual 10-hour, day and with an extra 20 cents a day as “dirt money.” The workers complained of abuses in the apprenticeship system and the employers’ arbitrary practice of paying by the hour or the piece as it suited them. In July 1891 there was a strike in both foundries, which was probably lost, but five years later the men succeeded in forming a union.
Ledingham by the late 1880s was at the head of his profession. In January 1888, when only 41 years of age, he, as superintending engineer for the sealing steamers, had been presented with a heavy gold watch and chain by the “Engineers of the Port.” On 21 May 1892 his machine shop and store-room were completely destroyed by fire at an estimated loss of $14,500. This misfortune occurred only a few weeks before the great fire that levelled large sections of St John’s. Despite this set-back the business recovered and continued in operation.
During the mid 1890s Ledingham held an interest in a number of mining claims on Bell Island, Conception Bay, from Bryant’s Cove to Ochre Cove. He actively pursued the development of the sites during these years, but no mention is made of them in the inventory of his estate or on the government map of mining grants.
Anna Ledingham died of “decline” in June 1895, and two years later her husband succumbed to consumption at the comparatively early age of 50. He left a young family of eight children ranging in age from 4 to 16 years. His estate had an estimated value for probate purposes of $60,552.65, of which 40 per cent represented the assets of the Terra Nova foundry, 37 per cent life insurance, and the balance real estate holdings, personal effects, and bank savings. Three years after Ledingham’s death the foundry was reportedly purchased by a group of local businessmen for $30,000, $4,000 less than he had paid for it. The registered deed, however, indicates that the business was sold for only $9,000, a figure which suggests that it had not been as prosperous as newspaper reports and the estate papers had stated or that, with the concurrence of his executors, it was sold at less than market value. When Ledingham’s estate was finally wound up, it realized only $37,464.41. In 1908 the foundry was merged with James Angel’s company and four years later the amalgamated firm was absorbed by the Reid Newfoundland Company [see Sir Robert Gillespie Reid*], which at that time was probably the largest industrial concern on the island by virtue of its ownership of the Newfoundland railway, the steamship service, the graving dock, and substantial land holdings.
John Ledingham lived a short but full life as engineer, foundry owner, mining speculator, husband, and father. He was revered by his fellow engineers. An active member of the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and the St Andrew’s Society, he also belonged to the masonic temple. As an obituary in the Daily News stated, he was “one of the best known and most justly popular of the citizens of St. John’s.”
[The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Robert T. Templeton of St John’s, a descendant of the subject, who consented to an interview as well as provided access to various family documents and artifacts in his possession, including the gold watch presented to Ledingham in 1888 and copies of photographs of Ledingham and his wife. j.l.j.]
Nfld., Registry of Deeds, Companies and Securities (St John’s), Deed of conveyance, Newfoundland District, 17: f.95. St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (St John’s), Reg. of deaths (mfm. at PANL). Supreme Court of Newfoundland (St John’s), Registry, letters of probate for the estates of Hugh Gemmel, 17 July 1888, and John Ledingham, 4 Aug. 1897. Daily News (St John’s), 26, 28 July 1897. Evening Mercury (St John’s), 1 Feb. 1882. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 19 June 1895, 26 July 1897. G.B., General Registry and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen, The mercantile navy list and maritime directory (London), 1876, 1880. Nfld. directory, 1877:7. St. John’s directory, 1885–86:83, 86, 117. P. K. Devine, Ye olde St. John’s, 1750–1936 (St John’s, 1936). 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), 150–56.