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MUNN, JOHN, merchant and politician; b. in 1807 at Port Bannatyne, near Rothesay, Scotland, son of Stewart Munn and Isabella Fisher; m. in 1838 to Naomi Munden by whom he had one son and four daughters; d. at Southport, Lancashire, Eng., on 29 Sept. 1879.
John Munn was reared in Scotland. After arriving in St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1825, he spent eight years in the general trading firm of Baine, Johnston, and Company as a bookkeeper. In 1833, with Captain William Punton, a Scottish master mariner trading out of Greenoch, he moved to Newfoundland’s second city, Harbour Grace, purchased property for £515, and set up business as Punton and Munn. The firm started on a small scale with one vessel. After Punton’s death in 1845 the firm continued as Punton and Munn until 1872, when the name was changed to John Munn and Company, Munn admitting his son William Punton Munn and his nephew Robert Stewart Munn as partners and transferring the more active duties to them.
Under John Munn’s direction the firm had prospered and expanded until it was the colony’s largest general supplying and mercantile business outside St John’s. It was active in the seal fishery and the Labrador fishery and owned large shipping and other interests in the colony. The shipbuilding yard at Harbour Grace began production about 1838. After his partner’s death Munn brought several relatives from Scotland into the business. They suffered a setback in 1858 when their large premises went up in smoke but there was no delay in rebuilding. John Munn and Company increased its business still further in the 1870s when Thomas Ridley and Sons, the other big mercantile house at Harbour Grace, was declared insolvent and the Munn firm bought out the Ridley estate and undertook to supply many of Thomas Ridley’s former dealers. John Munn helped to found the Union Bank of which he was appointed a director in 1870. Munn’s company also owned the Harbour Grace Standard.
Munn’s influential position in the trade and fisheries of Newfoundland made him a power in the colony, especially in Conception Bay. Harbour Grace was often referred to as a pocket borough, “Munnsborough,” since the Munn-approved candidate usually won an election. Munn himself took an active interest in politics, representing Conception Bay in the Amalgamated Legislature, 1842–48, as a Conservative. On the introduction of responsible government in 1855 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, but he resigned in 1869 when the question of confederation arose. Munn, a prominent confederate, contested the election in 1869 and succeeded in carrying the district of Harbour Grace, thus becoming one of a minority in the House of Assembly. At the dissolution of the house in 1873 he retired from politics.
The leading man in Harbour Grace for over 40 years, John Munn had won respect as an honourable and clearheaded merchant. A Presbyterian, he donated liberally to other churches and organizations, and was a member of the Protestant Board of Education and a director of the Harbour Grace grammar school. When news of his death at Southport, near Liverpool, reached the colony, Harbour Grace and much of Conception Bay put on mourning, with flags flying at half-mast, shops closed, and almost all work suspended for the day.
Department of Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador (St John’s), Registry of deeds, companies, and securities, Registry of deeds for the Northern District, 1826–88. PANL, Family tree of Azariah Munden (1739–1827) showing descendants of William Azariah Munn, 1864–1940; Family tree of Stewart Munn showing descendants of William Azariah Munn, 1864–1940; Newfoundland, Harbour Grace Sessions Court, Records, 1834, 744. Carbonear Herald and Outport Telephone, 2 Oct. 1879. Harbour Grace Standard and Conception Bay Advertiser, 4 Oct. 1879. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 3 Oct. 1879. Newfoundland, Blue Books, 1842–73 (copies in PANL). The Newfoundland almanack, for . . . 1849 . . . , comp. Philip Tocque (St John’s, 1849). The Newfoundland Almanac, for . . . 1858 . . . , comp. Joseph Woods (St John’s, 1857). W. A. Munn, “Harbour Grace history,” chaps. 11–21, in Newfoundland Quarterly, XXXVI (1936–37)-XXXVIII (1938–39).