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political career winds down
18, 1999, Gazette)
the final part of a series on the life of Sir Robert Bond.
the Nov. 2, 1908, election campaign mainly on his record and
the prosperity and stability his government had helped to provide
during the previous four years. Edward Morris had an elaborate
platform promising a wide range of programs and policies. It
was a very hard fought campaign with most of the emphasis on
the districts of Conception Bay, where candidates often won or
lost by very small margins. When the final results were known,
each party had won 18 of the 36 seats in the assembly: a tie.
What followed was a constitutional entanglement, unprecedented
in the British Empire. Morris demanded Bonds immediate
resignation. Bond argued he had the right to remain in office
until he was defeated in the House of Assembly. The major obstacle
to calling the House into session was once Bond appointed a speaker
from among his members, he would be in a minority, with one seat
less than the opposition, as the speaker voted only in case of
a tie. The same would be true if Morris were to become Prime
Minister. The House was scheduled to open on Feb. 9, 1909, but
this was delayed until Feb. 25, as one of Bonds cabinet
ministers was out of town.
In the meantime Bond asked Governor MacGregor for a dissolution
of the House and a new election; when the governor refused, Bond
resigned. On March 3, after assurances from Morris that he could
form an administration, the governor invited him to become Prime
Minister. Morris called the House into session but was unable
to elect a speaker. On March 31, the governor agreed to Morriss
request for a dissolution. A new election was scheduled for May
In this election, Morris had the upper hand. He had the advantage
of advantages which are part of being the leader of the party
in power. Morris was the prime minister; Bond was leader of the
opposition. And being prime minister appears to have paid off:
the Peoples Party picked up eight seats, giving it a clear
majority in the House, with 26 seats to Bonds 10. Bond
spent the next four years as leader of the opposition, offering
alternatives to Morriss legislative platform, but opposition
was not a place he enjoyed nor wanted to remain.
Nov. 2, 1908, the same day as the election, the first of two
meetings was held in Herring Neck, Twillingate district. Called
by William F. Coaker, a St. Johns native who had become
a farmer on a small island off Twillingate, the meetings
purpose was to interest fishermen and other workers in the possibility
of forming a union. Out of these two meetings arose the Fishermens
Protective Union, with Coaker as its president. He and his colleagues
spent the next few years organizing locals around the northeast
and northern coasts, as far south as Conception Bay and as far
north as the top of the Great Northern Peninsula. They also established
the Fishermens Advocate, a newspaper to spread their message,
and the Fishermens Union Trading Company to act as a wholesale
supplier and central marketing arm of the union. At its annual
convention in 1911, the membership approved the creation of a
union political party to field candidates in the next election,
expected in 1913.
Coaker and Bond were not strangers. In fact, Coaker had once
been president of the Twillingate Liberal Association, and Twillingate
was the district Bond represented in the House of Assembly. Bond
had helped Coaker obtain a position a telegraph operator and
postmaster at Herring Neck in 1902. There had been a parting
of the ways, however, and Bond was quite wary of Coaker when
he was approached about a possible coalition between the Liberal
Party and the union. An agreement was eventually reached whereby
the two parties divided the seats which they would each contest.
The union would field nine candidates: Bay de Verde (one of two),
Bonavista (three), Fogo (one), Port de Grave (one), Trinity (two
of three) and Twillingate (one of three). The Liberal Party would
field the candidates for the other 27 seats.
Morris called a general election for Oct. 30, 1913. In what many
historians consider to be a grave tactical error, Bond campaigned
in the areas in which the union was strong, instead of leaving
that area to Coaker, and concentrating his campaign in the marginal
seats in Conception Bay. Perhaps his pride would not allow him
to believe the union had the strength in rural Newfoundland that
it claimed. Morris campaigned strenuously in Conception Bay and
along the south coast.
Morriss strategy appears to have paid off, for despite
losing eight seats (Bay de Verde, Bonavista, Port de Grave and
Trinity), the Peoples party picked up two seats in Burin
and one in St. Johns East, to give them a six seat majority.
All union candidates, with the exception of one who lost by 10
votes in Bay de Verde, were elected. As a result, the union had
one more member than the Liberals and were entitled to be the
official opposition party.
Bond did not relish spending another three or four years in opposition.
He probably resented the fact that Coaker, his one-time assistant,
not only commanded more seats in the House than he did, but that
the union also controlled four of the northern seats which elected
Liberals, including Bonds own in Twillingate. He was a
man of great pride and he did not take rejection kindly. On Jan.
14, 1914, before the House of Assembly opened, Bond resigned
his seat. Despite several attempts to lure him back into the
fray, particularly in 1919, he never again played any active
role in Newfoundland political life.
After Bond retired he moved full-time to his country estate,
the Grange, at Whitbourne. Whitbourne was Newfoundlands
first inland town. It was established as a railway junction in
1883 when it was decided that the branch line to Harbour Grace
would join the main railway line at that point. For a number
of years it was known as Harbour Grace Junction. Bond acquired
approximately eight square miles of land near Whitbourne shortly
after the community was established, and built a small hunting
lodge on the site. He later built the Grange, a large Edwardian-style
house, which would eventually become his home. Bond spent as
much time as he could at the Grange during the intervening years.
His mother lived with him there, at least for part of the time,
during her latter years, and she died there in 1900. During 1908-1909,
his niece Roberta, daughter of his brother George, lived there
with Bond while his brother was in China and Japan. Sarah Roberts,
his mothers cousin, served as Bonds housekeeper for
At the Grange, Bond attempted to create an English country estate.
He planted thousands of flowering plants, shrubs and trees which
were not native to Newfoundland. He experimented with various
types of vegetables and imported Ayrshire cattle, which he raised
for their milk, which he sold. The grounds were laid out with
walkways and terraces, and decorated with statuary, urns, and
gas lamps. In his will Bond left the estate to the people of
Newfoundland, but the government of the day, fearing the cost
of upkeep, declined the gift. His brother George lived there
until his death in 1933 and his son, Fraser Bond, lived there
occasionally until 1949 when he gave title to the new provincial
government. Within a year the building had been demolished and
the land allowed to return to its natural state.
Robert Bond was made a member of the order of St. Michael and
St. George and knighted by the Duke of Cornwall (later King George
V) during his visit to St. Johns in 1901. On a visit to
England the following year to attend the Colonial Conference,
he was sworn into the Imperial Privy Council and with it received
the title Right Honourable for life. During that 1902 visit he
was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University
of Edinburgh and was granted the freedom of the city by London,
Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Sir Robert Bond never married. He died, after a short illness,
at the Grange on March 17, 1927, and was interred at Whitbourne.
On Sept. 7, a stained-glass window was placed in the Anglican
Church of St. John the Baptist there in his memory.
The papers of Sir Robert Bond are a mixture of personal and political
papers ranging from before his birth to after his death. The
papers before his birth relate mainly to his father, John Bond,
and include correspondence and a diary. The papers after Bonds
death relate to the disposition of his estate and the interpretation
of his will. There are papers documenting his education, legal
training and practice, financial and business dealings, mineral
and timber speculation, various other personal interests, and
with the Grange, his estate at Whitbourne. There is extensive
correspondence with his brother George, a Methodist clergyman,
and with other family members.
The bulk of the papers are concerned with Bonds involvement
in Newfoundland politics from 1882 when he was first elected
to the Newfoundland House of Assembly to 1914 when he resigned.
There are political papers after that date, reflecting his interest
in Newfoundland politics even after he had ceased to be an active
participant. The political papers cover both constituency and
government affairs, and include material related to various election
campaigns, the Liberal Party, the fishery, the railway, mineral
exploration, the economy, and foreign policy. There is correspondence
between Bond and the major political figures of the time, including
Sir William Whiteway, Sir William Coaker, Sir Edward Morris,
Sir William Horwood, George Shea, Sir Alfred Morine, Governor
Sir Cavendish Boyle, Governor William MacGregor, Governor Henry
Blake and a host of others. There is also correspondence from
his constituents and other Newfoundlanders concerned with national
and local issues.
Specific issues documented in these papers include the Bait Act
of 1888, the controversy with Great Britain and France over the
French Shore, negotiations on free trade with the United States
(Bond-Blaine Convention in 1890 and Bond-Hay Convention in 1902),
all issues intertwined with the coastal fishery. There is also
documentation of Bonds political involvement with education,
agricultural and mineral development, trade, native peoples,
relations between Newfoundland and Canada, the Bank Crash, and
the development of transportation and communication systems.
There are extensive newspaper clippings, both in books and loose,
which Bond kept; some were grouped by subject, others by date.
Photographs in the collection provide a visual record of Bond
from small child to elderly man. Photographs also document the
Grange, various Newfoundland communities, special occasions,
and family members.
Biographers, political historians, social historians, political
scientists and researchers interested in almost any aspect of
Newfoundland between 1880 and 1930 will find examination of these
papers a very worthwhile exercise.
In 1995 Dr. George Nichols, a son of Roberta Bond Nichols, initiated
the process whereby Sir Robert Bonds papers were returned
to Newfoundland. They had been in the custody of Dr. Frederick
Thompson, historian at the Royal Military College, Kingston,
for over 30 years. Thompson had borrowed the papers from their
owner, Fraser Bond, Sir Roberts nephew, sometime before
his death in 1965. It was Thompsons intention to write
a biography of Bond, but this project did not come to fruition.
Unfortunately, George Nichols died before final arrangements
were made for transfer of the papers.
In October 1996, the Centre for Newfoundland Studies was contacted
by Randell Nelson, George Nicholss son-in-law, on behalf
of Joan E. Nichols, George Nicholss widow, concerning presentation
of the Robert Bond papers to Memorial University, and physical
transfer took place early the next year.