LONGWORTH, FRANCIS, merchant, shipbuilder, and politician; b. 3 Oct. 1807 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., third son of Francis Longworth* and Agnes Auld; m. 3 Aug. 1835 Sarah Parker Watts, and they had 12 children; d. 12 June 1883 in Charlottetown.
Francis Longworth’s father, a member of an Anglo-Irish, Anglican, land-owning family, in the early 1790s immigrated from County Westmeath (Republic of Ireland) to Charlottetown, where he became prominent in local society, holding several public offices, including that of high sheriff for Queens County. Little is known about the younger Francis’ upbringing and education. He first appears in 1833 as the Island agent for a variety of American magazines. The following year his older brother, Robert, took him into his Charlottetown store which dealt “in all manner of British and Foreign goods.” The firm of R. and F. Longworth apparently prospered, for by 1839 the brothers were making their first initiatives in the expanding Island shipbuilding industry. The partnership ended by mutual consent in November 1842 and Francis proceeded to open his own Charlottetown store with Albert Hinde Yates. Longworth’s primary activity was as a general commission merchant, but he continued his involvement in shipbilding and brokerage, owning individually or in partnership a total of 47 vessels with a tonnage of 6,352 between 1840 and 1855. His business interests would often compete with his dedication to a political career.
In common with all the members of his family, Longworth moved easily in the society of Charlottetown’s élite, thereby joining an interlocking Family Compact which dominated the economic and political life of both the town and the Island. In 1838 this élite chose him to be, with Edward Palmer, a representative for Charlottetown and Royalty to the Island House of Assembly. For promoting the interests of Charlottetown and defending the propertied class from the inroads of the Escheat agitation led by William Cooper*, and later resisting the advance of responsible government, Longworth was returned without interruption through nine elections. Indeed, Longworth and Palmer often ran unopposed, a fact Edward Whelan*’s Palladium attributed to the fear the Family Compact instilled in both the electorate and possible Reform candidates. In 1847 Francis Longworth featured in Whelan’s “Black Watch” editorial outlining the commercial and familial connections of the Compact system.
Longworth served his political apprenticeship under the Conservative leaders Joseph Pope* and Edward Palmer, and he emerged as a partisan. His tactics, according to his Reform adversaries, “attempted not to convince,” and he “scarcely threw out any thing but volleys of abuse.” Unfortunately for the Conservative cause, Longworth’s usefulness in the assembly was limited by his lengthy business sojourns abroad. In 1846 he missed an entire session, and for the elections of 1842 and 1850 he trusted surrogates to win him re-election. Moreover, Longworth’s performance in the house was rarely brilliant; he seldom spoke, even on contentious issues, and when he did break his silence it was usually to little effect. Only during the debates over responsible government, notably in the sessions of 1847 and 1849, did he make anything approaching a formidable display for the Conservatives. Contrary to the account of the historian Walter Ross Livingston, at no time could Francis be termed “the skillful leader of the Conservative party.” This inflated view of the role of Francis Longworth (repeated by William Stewart MacNutt*) is largely explained by Livingston’s erroneously crediting to Francis the moderate responsible government amendments proposed in the late 1840s by his brother John. By combining one man’s conservative views with another man’s moderate amendments, Livingston invented a single character more complex and Machiavellian than Francis ever was. In fact, Francis Longworth provides a straightforward example of the Family Compact’s attitude toward responsible government.
The meaning and significance of responsible government in Prince Edward Island was the object of confused debate [see George Coles* and John Longworth]. Francis Longworth found that “none of its admirers appear to know what it really is.” If the Reformers meant by responsible government the complete control by the assembly of the Executive Council, and through that body control of the lieutenant governor, then Longworth could see only calamity ahead. If the line of demarcation between the liberties of the people and the prerogatives of the crown was not maintained, that happy balance which best protected the people from themselves would be lost and the cause of liberty retarded. He baulked at the prospect of giving government over to those lacking property, a seditious tenantry who would easily fall under the spell of the “political speculator . . . , the glib tongued mob-orator.” Not only would such a change upset the stability of society, it would also inevitably, in Longworth’s opinion, provide the engine “that would ultimately sever the connexion that . . . subsists between the mother country and the British Provinces.” Francis was one of three members of the assembly who refused to vote for responsible government in 1847, and although he was forced by events to support his brother John’s moderate version of the idea in 1849, “he was afraid injury and destruction would be the consequence.” Francis would not give up even after the institution of responsible government in 1851. He supported the Tory plan of “non-departmental” government in which elected Tories would sit on the Executive Council and non-elected Tories would hold salaried positions as the supposedly “non-political” heads of government departments. This bid to consolidate the Tory hold on political and administrative office was coupled with a plan to make the appointed Legislative Council elective, in the hope of reducing the existing dominance of it by the Liberals. By these means Longworth and the Tories might, in the words of Daniel Cobb Harvey*, “recapture the substance of power while leaving to the ostensible victors the shadow.”
Longworth reached the inner corridors of Executive Council power as colonial secretary in the government of John Myrie Holl* which took office in February 1854. When Lieutenant Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* dissolved the assembly in June without the consent of the Executive Council, Longworth openly accused him of improper conduct. Bannerman dismissed him for this impertinence, but Longworth refused to resign until the Holl government was forced out by the voters in the ensuing election.
Longworth did not run in the election of 1859, which the Tories won. The new government, however, rewarded him with a position as controller of customs and navigation laws, and collector of customs for the port of Charlottetown. In 1873 he became appraiser of customs for the port, a position he held until his superannuation in 1880. A justice of the peace, he was thrice appointed high sheriff of Queens County and in April 1869 officiated at a public execution which was so marred by badly measured and broken ropes that it proved to be one of the last executions held in public on the Island. Longworth was also on occasion president of the Benevolent Irish Society, and was a founding member of the Island’s mechanics’ institute. He took an active interest in the commercial life of Charlottetown and was on many boards of directors, including those of the Charlottetown Gas Light Company and the Steam Navigation Company.
Although a member of the assembly for over two decades, Francis Longworth was preoccupied with his business interests and lacked the skills necessary to become a major force in Island politics. None the less, as a strong partisan for the Conservative cause he articulated a firm belief in the right of the propertied class to rule. As time passed, his continued belief in such principles removed him from the mainstream of political life in Prince Edward Island.
[The author is indebted to L. R. Fischer for providing statistics concerning Francis Longworth’s shipbuilding activities. The most important sources for Longworth’s political career are the reports of the assembly and contemporary newspapers. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 19, 29 March 1855;11 April 1857; Journal, 18 March 1847; 17, 30 March, 18 April 1849. For his appointment to the Executive Council and the office of high sheriff see PAPEI, RG 1, Commission books, 5 May 1848, 22 April 1854, 12 April 1859, 7 May 1867, 6 May 1868; RG 5, Minutes, 17, 18 Feb. 1854; 11 April 1859. For electoral debates, public meetings, and the assembly debates prior to 1855 see Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 30 Oct. 1838; 11 Feb. 1840; 17 May 1842; 14 July, 11 Aug. 1846; 13 April 1847; 30 March 1849; 15 Jan. 1850; Islander, 25 Feb., 22 July 1853; 2, 16, 23 June 1854; Examiner (Charlottetown), 14 Aug. 1847; 5, 12 June 1854; Palladium (Charlottetown), 15 Feb. 1844. For aspects of his business career see Royal Gazette, 29 Oct. 1833; 30 Dec. 1834; 3 May, 1 Nov. 1842; 1 Aug. 1843; 24 June 1853; 4 June 1858; Islander, 4 Feb. 1853. There is an obituary in the Examiner, 13 June 1883.
For the major issues and problems of Longworth’s era, the most relevant secondary sources are Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1875; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972); Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard, Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle: a fragment of the great migration (Newton Abbot, Eng., and Toronto, 1967), especially chap. 10; D. C. Harvey, “Dishing the Reformers,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 25 (1931),
© 1982–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
M. Brook Taylor, “LONGWORTH, FRANCIS (1807-83),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/longworth_francis_1807_83_11E.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:||M. Brook Taylor|
|Title of Article:||LONGWORTH, FRANCIS (1807-83)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1982|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|