Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Before 1832 Newfoundland was governed by non-elected officials, usually naval governors, appointed by the British Parliament. Agitation had been growing during the early decades of the 19th century for the granting of representative government to Newfoundland as it had been to other North American colonies. The fight for representative government was led by Dr. William Carson, a Scottish-born medical doctor, and Patrick Morris, an Irish-born merchant, both of whom had been living in St. John's for many years. Through public speeches, pamphlets, letters to the newspapers and petitions to the British Parliament, they encouraged the people of Newfoundland to support the cause. In January 1832 a committee of local residents went to London to lobby for the establishment of an elected assembly. They were finally successful: a bill approving a representative assembly for Newfoundland was passed by the British Parliament in the summer of 1832.
The lobbying efforts of the Newfoundland representatives and their supporters in Britain did not go unnoticed in London. Articles appeared in the press both in favor and opposed to the idea. One person who took a particular interest in the subject was the noted caricaturist who signed his work HB.
HB was the pen name for John Doyle (1797-1868), who had been born in Dublin and trained as a miniaturist and portrait painter. Unable to make a living in his chosen profession, even after moving to London, he soon took an interest in lithography. This led to the series of caricatures for which he became famous. During the years between 1829 and 1851 he produced over 900 drawings, usually of the prominent British politicians of the day, including Wellington, Disraeli, O'Connell and Melbourne. His work was highly acclaimed for both his "excellent likenesses and gently satiric pencil." His drawings were produced as broadsheets and over 600 are preserved in the print room of the British Museum.
Newfoundland's new legislative assembly became the subject of one of Doyle's caricatures. It was entitled New Legislative Assembly. Newfoundland. (The Speaker Putting the Question.) It pictured a meeting of the House of Assembly with the Speaker in powdered wig and black robe presiding in the chair, and members on both sides. They are not represented as people, however, but as Newfoundland dogs. The Speaker puts the question: "As many as are of that opinion say ...Bow! Of the contrary ...Wow! The Bows have it." For many years it was thought that this cartoon was published in Punch but that magazine was not established until 1841 and there is no record of the cartoon appearing in its pages. The drawing was actually printed in broadsheet by Meifred Lemercier and Co., Leicester Square, and published by Thomas McLean, 26 Haymarket, London, on March 30, 1832. It is identified as "HB Sketches No. 187."
It was assumed for many years that the drawing caricatured the Newfoundland House of Assembly after it had opened, as in its early years debate was rowdy, often acrimonious, and the members might be taken for a pack of unruly dogs. However, it would seem that no one took note of the date of publication and compared it to the dates surrounding the establishment of that first House of Assembly in Newfoundland. The bill granting the assembly did not pass the British Parliament until the summer of 1832, the first election of members did not take place until November 1832 and the first House of Assembly did not open until Jan. 1, 1833. Therefore, Doyle's cartoon, published March 30, 1832, was not descriptive, but prescriptive, a prediction of what he thought would happen, before the fact; an interesting commentary on Newfoundland in Britain.