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Entering the political arena

(June 22, 2000, Gazette)

By Bert Riggs

William Henry Cave was born in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, on Feb. 22, 1872, the son of Fannie Russell and Edward Cave. He was educated at Bay Roberts; after graduation he joined the Salvation Army Field Force and spent several years working in Canada before returning to Newfoundland to become Superintendent of Salvation Army Schools.

He eventually attained the rank of Major before resigning his commission in 1916 to enter private business. He established a general dry goods and commission business at 122-124 New Gower Street, St. John's. In 1919 Cave entered the Newfoundland political arena, offering himself as a Liberal Reform Party candidate in the two-member district of Bay de Verde. He finished second, but was just five votes ahead of Albert E. Hickman, one of the candidates for the Liberal Progressives, the main opposition party. Hickman petitioned the Supreme Court to have Cave's election overturned, charging there had been voting irregularities; Cave counter-petitioned, charging Hickman with bribery. The Supreme Court ruled against both men and declared the seat vacant.

In the by-election which followed Hickman was not a candidate; Cave defeated his opponent, John C. Puddester, by over 400 votes.
Cave's victory in the by-election may have been the result of many factors, but two important ones were the desire of the voters to have a representative on the government side of the House of Assembly and Cave's prominent position within the government. Shortly after the 1919 election, the prime minister, Sir Richard Squires, had named Cave minister of shipping; while this was not a cabinet position, it was a government department and Cave, as its minister, would carry considerable influence.

Cave remained in the shipping portfolio for four years. He was re-elected in Bay de Verde in the general election held on May 3, 1923, and in June Squires appointed him minister of Finance and Customs with a seat in Cabinet. Squires resigned as prime minister on July 23, 1923, and was succeeded by William R. Warren who invited Cave to continue as minister of Finance and Customs. Cave held the portfolio until April 24, 1924 when the Warren administration resigned after losing a vote of confidence in the House. Cave was not a member of Warren's second administration which lasted only four days (May 3-7, 1924) but, ironically, was invited to join and accepted appointment as minister of Finance and Customs in the new administration formed by Albert E. Hickman on May 10. That administration and Cave were both defeated in the general election held on June 2, 1924. Cave was also defeated in the 1928 general election. After his defeat in 1924, Cave returned to his dry goods business at New Gower Street which he operated until his death.

Cave married Emma Allan of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1899. They had two sons and one daughter. Cave died at St. John's on July 7, 1941.
Three pieces of election propaganda from Cave's 1920 by-election campaign were presented to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives by Burton Janes of Bay Roberts in August 1994.

Newfoundland election campaigns in the period before Confederation with Canada were highly spirited affairs. Many things were said and printed, both in election hand-outs and in newspaper advertising and editorials, that would probably be considered libellous or slanderous by late 20th century standards. This collection contains two handbills and a sample ballot card. The handbills bear the titles: "Merchants raise big outcry against fish regulations" and "Fishing crews are supplied for voyage." They are relatively tame in comparison to some of the campaign rhetoric, but they do contain some provocative statements. Such campaign material was an integral part of electioneering and provides insight into the way political campaigning was conducted in Newfoundland in the pre-confederate era.

Bert Riggs is the archivist for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, located on level one of the Queen Elizabeth II Library.