PARTELOW, JOHN RICHARD, merchant and politician; b. 1796 at Saint John, N.B., son of a shoemaker, Jehiel Partelow; m. in 1819 Jane Hamlin Matthews, and they had eight daughters; d. 13 Jan. 1865 at Fredericton, N.B.
Of loyalist extraction, John Richard Partelow was educated in the public schools of Saint John and by private tuition. After working as a clerk in a Saint John store, he was by 1827 engaged in business as a general merchant. Partelow became prominent in 1823 as a partisan of Ward Chipman* Sr when the presidency of the Council was contested by Christopher Billopp* and Chipman following the death of Lieutenant Governor George Stracy Smyth*. At the time of his entry into the assembly in 1827 as a member for Saint John County, he enjoyed a public confidence probably unequalled by any other politician. He remained in the assembly until 1855.
Partelow’s peculiar ascendancy in the assembly rested on his capacity to make its members agree on distribution of revenue among the constituencies. In an age when there was no minister of finance to produce an annual estimate of income and expenditure, the assembly’s committee on appropriations allocated the roughly estimated available funds to the counties. Members for each county would then meet to divide the patronage. This system, later designated by Lord Sydenham [Thomson*] as “abominable,” and often described as log-rolling, made every member of the assembly a distributor of the public funds. Partelow was chairman of both the appropriations and audit committees. Amid the annual bargaining he was the master, always able to achieve compromise. George Edward Fenety*, a contemporary journalist, saw him as one “who knew better than any other person in the legislature how to manipulate honourable members and mould them to his purposes.” Jovial and hearty in his demeanour, he was sometimes jocularly called “the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Partelow was not renowned for eloquence, but the leadership he acquired as chairman of the appropriations committee brought him to the fore in the contest to gain greater colonial autonomy in the 1830s. Early in the decade he was prominent, along with Charles Simonds* and Edward Barron Chandler*, in the assembly’s agitation for control of the casual and territorial revenues, several times demanding from the executive information on the size of these revenues and on expenditures from these funds. Success came in 1837 when the British government agreed to turn over control of the casual and territorial revenues to the assembly in return for a guaranteed civil list. Partelow’s influence was now immensely enlarged because of the vast increase in revenue at the disposal of the assembly. In an era of free spending he presided over the flow of public money for construction of roads and bridges, subsidies to schools, pensions and gratuities to those who deserved favour. His enhanced popularity did not wither with adverse times in 1841. In the election of 1842, when the province was rapidly sinking deeply into debt, he emerged, as usual, at the top of the poll for Saint John county.
In addition to his commanding position in provincial finances he held the provincial appointment of chamberlain of the city of Saint John from 1827 to 1843. During the 1840s the finances of the city were in a precarious state owing to the heavy expense of cutting streets through the rocks on which Saint John was built. His few enemies blamed him for the impending bankruptcy of the city but he remained at the height of public favour and served as mayor in 1847–48.
Though Partelow remained behind the scenes, all governments of the 1840s were dependent on his support. This became most apparent at the time of the crisis surrounding the appointment of Alfred Reade as provincial secretary in 1845, when Sir William Colebrooke was mortified by resignations in his Executive Council and was compelled to invite the dissidents to return on the conditions they made. Colebrooke was certain that the “sinister” machinations of Partelow behind the scenes were principally responsible for his humiliation. Yet at this stage Partelow could not be considered a reformer. He was eminently satisfied with the existing system of administration and disapproved of the idea of responsible government which appeared on the horizon in 1846–47. Fenety’s unvarnished opinion was that he was “opposed to any change in the Constitution” and that he was “the most influential opponent of Responsible Government and Reform.” Without holding any important provincial office, he was the master of the administration by reason of his grip on a financial apparatus that must be described as disorderly as well as popularly based.
Partelow’s dominant position was recognized in 1848 when Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head introduced responsible government and reluctantly offered the provincial secretaryship to Partelow. The assembly had not surrendered the right to initiate money grants and only Partelow could manage it. “His opinion,” said Head, “has the greatest weight in the assembly in all matters relating to money.” In 1849 Partelow joined Lemuel Allan Wilmot* as a delegation to a Halifax conference to discuss reciprocity with the United States. He held the office of provincial secretary until Head’s predominantly conservative coalition government led by E. B. Chandler and Robert Leonard Hazen* left office in 1854.
Partelow finished his career in a manner just as unusual as that by which he established his early ascendancy. In 1855 his former opponents, the so-called “smashers,” led by Charles Fisher* and William Johnstone Ritchie*, on assuming office, bought the auditor generalship from Frederick Phillips Robinson for £350 and presented the position to Partelow, later increasing his salary. Lieutenant Governor John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton* was at a loss to explain this transaction, so reminiscent of more unenlightened times before the arrival of responsible government. Partelow held the position until his death in 1865.
PANB, J. C. and H. B. Graves, “New Brunswick political biography.” Fenety, Political notes and observations. The old grave-yard, Fredericton, New Brunswick: epitaphs copied by the York-Sunbury Historical Society Inc., comp. L. M. B. Maxwell ([Fredericton], 1938). Hannay, History of N.B., II, 78–82. MacNutt, New Brunswick.