RIDLEY, THOMAS, merchant and politician; b. in England or Ireland in 1799; d. Upper Tooting, Surrey, Eng., 20 March 1879.
Thomas Ridley came to Newfoundland to work for his uncle William Bennett, a merchant with premises at Adams Cove, Carbonear. By 1824 they had formed a partnership, Bennett and Ridley, which lasted until the late 1820s. Ridley, having married a daughter of a well-to-do Liverpool family, was joined by her relative Thomas Harrison in the firm of Thomas Ridley and Company, with headquarters at Harbour Grace but with stores as well at Carbonear and Western Bay. In spite of the fire of 1832 which destroyed much of Harbour Grace, Ridley built up a flourishing business. In the late 1830s Ridley established a partnership with Gilbert Henry Harrison and James Harrison – Ridley, Harrison and Company. After the death of Gilbert H. Harrison in 1849 this partnership was dissolved and Ridley took his two sons, Thomas Harrison and William, into the business as Ridley and Sons.
Several incidents in the 1830s, a decade marked by bad feeling between fishermen and merchants, show that Thomas Ridley was especially unpopular. In February 1832 after the sealers’ strikes and riots at Harbour Grace and Carbonear, all the merchants made concessions except Ridley. As a result a mob of fishermen boarded and partially destroyed Ridley’s schooner, the Perseverance. In the 1836 general election Ridley was forced to withdraw as a candidate because of violence and intimidation. Then in the Conception Bay by-election of December 1840, while trying in his capacity as a magistrate to keep order, Ridley was hit over the head and nearly killed. The times, nevertheless, were changing. In 1842 Ridley was elected to represent Conception Bay in the Amalgamated Legislature. From 1843 to 1848 he also sat as a member of the Executive Council.
After 1850, with Thomas Harrison Ridley emerging as the most prominent member of the family, Ridley and Sons expanded and played a leading role, second only to that of John Munn’s firm, in the development of Harbour Grace as the commercial centre of Conception Bay. They set up a branch at Catalina, took part in the seal hunt, carried on extensive operations on the Labrador, and began to develop the winter codfishery at Rose Blanche. In the fall of 1870 the news that Ridley and Sons were in trouble came as a shock both to their creditors and to the many fishermen who were depending on them for winter supplies. In spite of efforts to keep the business going, Ridley and Sons were declared insolvent in 1873. They sold out to the Munns and moved back to England where Thomas Ridley died.
PANL, Harbour Grace Sessions Court, Records, 1825–35. 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, I, II, IX, X, XI, XIII, XVIII, XIX; Registry of deeds for the Central District, XXII, 341. Newfoundland, Blue Books, 1842, 1843 (copies in PANL). Conception-Bay Man (Harbour Grace, Nfld.), 7 April 1858. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 29 April 1879. Newfoundland Patriot (St. John’s), 12 Dec. 1840. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 24 Aug. 1843. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 11 Nov. 1848. Leslie Harris, “The first nine years of representative government in Newfoundland,” unpublished ma thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1959, 114.