McNEILY, ALEXANDER JAMES WHITEFORD, lawyer and politician; b. 3 Aug. 1845 in Armagh (Northern Ireland), son of Isaac McNeily and Olivia Whiteford; m. 24 June 1878 Jessie Emma Sutcliff Rogerson in St John’s, and they had three sons; d. there 7 Oct. 1911.
Alexander McNeily and his brother, Isaac Robert, arrived in Newfoundland with their widowed mother in 1849. She was the eldest daughter of Alexander Whiteford of Fair Head (Northern Ireland), who came the next year with his large, close-knit Ulster and Wesleyan Methodist family. McNeily was schooled at the General Protestant Academy and returned to Ireland to study at Queen’s College, Belfast, and at Queen’s University in Ireland. He was subsequently articled to Hugh William Hoyles*, was called to the bar in 1870 (qc 1880), and established a successful law practice with his brother. McNeily’s marriage to the daughter of James Johnstone Rogerson*, Rogerson’s marriage to McNeily’s aunt, the poet Isabella Whiteford*, and the marriage alliances of other relations linked Alexander to an influential circle of merchants and professionals.
Militant Protestant loyalists, the McNeily brothers were active in Orange order affairs. Alexander was an officer and Isaac a member of the first St John’s lodge, Alexander later being elected grand master of the society in Newfoundland. A taste of this ingredient of contemporary politics appears in one of his public addresses in 1870, which drew from a reader of the St John’s Morning Chronicle a furious letter accusing him of having “indulged his feelings against Catholicity, outraging those of the Roman Catholics present by sneering allusions to their Pope, Priesthood and religion.” In July of the same year the St John’s Courier described McNeily as the apparent liaison between the Orange order and the supporters of confederation, who had been defeated in the election of 1869.
McNeily entered the political lists when he was elected to the House of Assembly as a Conservative for Bonavista in 1873 and 1874. In 1878 he was returned for Twillingate and Fogo, and he served as speaker of the assembly during the administration of William Vallance Whiteway*. He was defeated for the same district in 1882 as a member of the New party, led by Rogerson. In the spring of 1883 the Grand Lodge of the Orange order approved McNeily’s motion for the formation of a political committee, and by the fall it had circulated resolutions to all lodges calling on Protestants to prepare to unite in case Protestantism should be threatened. McNeily was deeply involved in the political and legal manœuvring which took place in the aftermath of the Harbour Grace affray of December [see Whiteway].
After having joined Robert Thorburn*’s Reform party in 1885, McNeily was elected for Bay de Verde, and he played an important role as leader of the radical wing of the party. He also served as speaker and attorney general. In 1889 he was appointed chief clerk and registrar of the Supreme Court, but he soon resigned to resume his legal practice. There was one final incursion into public life: in 1908 and 1909 he ran unsuccessfully for the Liberal party of Sir Robert Bond* in Burgeo and LaPoile. His personal platform in both campaigns seems to have been much concerned with the issue of temperance.
McNeily’s involvement in the temperance movement was shared by many of his nonconformist (and other) contemporaries: J. J. and Isabella Rogerson and Daniel Woodley Prowse, to name only his close relatives and friends. To it he added interests in game laws, the artificial propagation of game fishes, the establishment of the Game and Inland Fisheries Board, and the like. He himself was a lifelong and tireless angler, and he wrote vividly and memorably on this “contemplative man’s Recreation.” He was also a poet in a marked, if minor, register, and like his many Whiteford relatives was a passionate lover of song and music. Memoirs of the time recall the charm of intimate life in the Whiteford family home, Dunluce (which McNeily had inherited from his grandfather); not the least of them is Prowse’s obituary of McNeily, which speaks of “our dear and loved friends and neighbours for half a century.”
Alexander James Whiteford McNeily published a number of articles in the Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s) between 1901 and 1910; a characteristic essay, “Some old-time anglers,” appears in 8 (1908–9), no.3: 17–19 and no.4: 5–8. He is also the author of “The land of Newfoundland,” in Canadian Law Rev. (Toronto), 4 (1905): 539–48.
Courier (St John’s), 10 July 1870. Morning Chronicle (St John’s), 26 March 1870. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser (St John’s), 29 Oct. 1861. DNLB (Cuff et al.). Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.). J. K. Hiller, “A history of Newfoundland, 1874–1901”