Thomas Talbot, a Newfoundland politician and educator Home

Headstone at Belvedere Cemetery, St. John's, N.L. The Honourable Thomas Talbot was one of the prominent and influential men of late 19th century Newfoundland and Labrador. He was involved in the politics and government from the 1850’s until nearly the turn of the century and had a significant voice in issues such as confederacy, education and the French shore. Many of the details of his life that survive come from his own writings, especially an essay he wrote in 1882 entitled Newfoundland; or, A letter addressed to a friend in Ireland in relation to the condition and circumstances of the island of Newfoundland, with an especial view to emigration. At the time of his death in 1901 his age is given as anywhere from 83 to 90.¹ His headstone which can be found in Belvedere Cemetery, St. John’s, attests, in Latin, to him being a “most worthy man, Thomas Talbot a native of Ireland, inhabitant of Newfoundland student of the fine arts, client of the muses, first he gave his talents to the education of youth then having entered the Parliament of his country he adorned it by his eloquence, helped it by his prudence in the management of public affairs, he was a wise counsellor of his private estate, a prudent manager his vast fortune frugally husbanded, he nobly distributed for the encouragement of education, the sustaining of religion, the relief of the poor he died on the 26th of March 1901 aged about 85 years, In the hope of everlasting life.²

Born in County Kilkenny, possibly Ooning ³, Talbot experimented with religious or literary life, medicine and teaching4 before arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador after “a thirty day journey” in May of 18375, apparently having been summoned by his father6. After a week in St. John’s he made his way to Harbour Grace where his father William (d. 28 April 18737), retired from the fisheries, had a farm. Thomas spent the summer fishing and farming. In December 1837 he started to tutor. The newspapers of the time carry many advertisements of the services he offered8. Interest in education was to last through his life time. He was instrumental in the setting up of the grammar schools at Harbour Grace and Carbonear, tutored the children of men such as Sir Francis Brady (1847-48), Chief Justice of Newfoundland, and George Henry Emerson and served on the Education Committee of the Legislative Council9.

Talbot says he wrote for the newspapers of the Harbour Grace and Carbonear area. Unfortunately most of the articles in the surviving newspapers of the period are unsigned or use a pseudonym making it is impossible to definitively trace his works. For example, there are a series of letters written by one Larry O’Gaff which is possibly a pseudonym for Talbot. Larry O’Gaff is the name of an Irish jig and O’Gaff is not a name listed in Seary’s Family Names of Newfoundland. In addition some of these articles are on the subject of education and are interspersed with classical quotations, not unlike some of Talbot’s writings. Also, for example, the issues of Nov. 21 and Dec. 12, 1838 of the Star and Conception Bay Journal both have editorials on education from unidentified authors.

In the early 1840s Thomas relocated to St. John’s ostensibly to study for the bar10. However, he found it was not to his liking given the long course of study, which did not recognize his previous education, and the promise of limited financial rewards once a person started to practice. He became a professor at the non-denominational St. John’s Academy (Castle Rennie) upon its establishment in 184411. Then in 1857 he applied to St. Bonaventure College, although he was not offered a job there until 186112.

In 1859 Talbot ran unsuccessfully for election13. This was not his first foray or expression of interest in public life. He was House recorder in 1853 – and in his own words “ I was first who introduced the practice of taking down speeches in shorthand, and of reporting debates in full.14 The reporting was done in Talbot’s own newspaper, the Reporter. He also edited the Record. After his election in 1861 as representative of St. John’s West, Talbot’s activities and speeches can be traced in the proceedings of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council and sometimes the local newspapers. He was a major supporter of C.F. Bennett and the campaign against Confederation. The Morning Chronicle contains a series of articles he wrote which no doubt were instrumental in swaying the public to the anti-confederate point of view15. Under Bennett Talbot became a member of the cabinet without a portfolio and then in 1870 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. In 1872 he was appointed sheriff of the central district, a position he retired from in 189816. Throughout he retained his ties with the College and acted as one of its directors17. Thus after the great fire of 1892, when Talbot lost his home, he took up residence at the College until his death in 1901.18 Besides bequests for Bride Vinnicombe and for masses for his soul, Talbot left his monies to the Roman Catholic Church for its upkeep, its charities and the furtherance of education. For example, his monies helped to build the Talbot Memorial Wing at Littledale and provided for annual “bourses” to pay for the education of two students there.19

Information provided above is taken from Talbot (1882) and the additional sources noted below.
1. The Evening Herald (1901) gives his age as 83, Howley (1901) as circa 85, and the Evening Telegram (1901) as either over 87 or 90.
2. This inscription is written in the hand and on the stationary of Bishop Michael Francis Howley (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)
3. Both Shortis (1889) and Howley (1901) give Talbot’s place of birth as Ireland. His father was a native of County Kilkenny and a letter in the Bascilica Archives gives Thomas’ parish at the time of writing (March 7, 1834) as Ooning.
4. Shortis (1889), Talbot (1882) and Talbot (Sentinel: Oct. 1839)
5. According to the Royal Gazette (May 30, 1837) the Three Sisters out of Waterford (Burke, master) arrived in St. John’s on May 25. It is the only ship out of Ireland to enter St. John’s harbour around the time period given by Talbot’s “30 day journey”.
6. Shortis (1889).
7. Crosbie (2004). Interestingly enough Crosbie also lists other Talbots,some of whom resided in the Conception Bay area, but I was not able to establish any familial connection with Thomas Talbot at the time of writing this piece. Talbot’s letter of March 7, 1834 (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s) mentions an Aunt Whitty but she may have resided in Ireland. However, it appears as he neared the end of his life, Talbot had no acknowledged relatives. (Slattery as quoted in Darcy (1999))
8. For example, newspaper advertisements for Talbot’s school or tutoring services can be found in the Sentinel and Conception Bay Advertiser for Nov. 29, 1838 (p.3, c.2) , Nov. 12, 1839, Dec. 3, 1839 (p.3, c.2) and Nov. 12, 1840.
9. Evening Telegram (1901). The Sentinel of June 18, 1839 has a letter by Talbot where he puts forth his name for mastership of the grammar school in Carbonear. Journal of the Legislative Council (1873). Shortis (1889)
10. Riggs (2000) suggests that Talbot may have studied with the Archibalds.
11. Shortis (1889). Evening Telegram (1901: March 27)
12. Letter of March 23, 1857 in Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s. He taught at St. Bon’s for over ten years.
13. Talbot’s father, William, had retired due to failing eyesight from politics around the same time. William Talbot’s note of death in the May 7, 1873 issue of the Harbor Grace Standard states he was M.H.A. for twelve years. He represented Conception Bay in 1852 (Journal of the House of Assembly 1852) and Harbour Main in 1855 (Journal of the House of Assembly 1855). He was not listed in the members in 1843 or 1848. Note sometimes the historical record attributes the 1852 and 1855 elections to Thomas, not William. William apparently had spent 59 years in NL. The latter is corroborated by his own advert for election where he states as of the 1850’s he was “nearly forty years in the Fisheries and Agriculture of the Country” (Pilot Oct. 16, 1852 p. 4 c. 1 signed William Talbot)
14. Talbot (1882, p. 39)
15. Morning Chronicle (1869)
16. Evening Herald (1901); Yearbook (1896) still lists Talbot as sheriff. Interestedly Talbot, according to the Journals of the Legislative Council, still attended sessions in 1899 and 1900.
17. In the Great Fire of 1892, Talbot lost his home. “Among these fugitives is the Sheriff of the City, an old gentleman named Talbot. [He was on the Board of Governors of the College.] About 30 years ago he was professor here under Dr. Mullock and like the hunted hare of goldsmith he returns again to the old spot--- He had no friends, no relatives, no one; he would like to remain with us and die here, above all to be buried from the College” (quoted in Fair or Foul the Weather by Br. J.B. Darcy, p. 41—Brother Slattery acceded to Mr. Talbot’s request and the latter remained at the College until his death nine years later at the age of ninety. p. 41). Adelphian (1893/94, 1899)
18. Talbot had a recorded brush with death previous to 1901 in 1894: Slattery to Whitty St. Bonaventure’s College St. John’s, N.F. May 7, 1894 Excerpt of letter #283 Poor Mr. Talbot was anointed last night. I fear he wont get over his present attack. The stomach refuses its work. We shall all be very lonely when he is gone. Though a little fond of money—or rather he has but little inclination to spend it—he is the soul of gentlemanly conduct, a most enjoyable companion and a very mine of anecdote and story. (Slattery letters, Christian Brothers Archives) Will (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)
19. Hogan (1986, p. 222-224) and Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s


Talbot’s writings and speeches (note: links are given to works transcribed and digitized by myself; also a link is given for Talbot’s Newfoundland book which was digitized at MUN).

Classical literature up to the Christian era. Colonist Christmas nuber 1887, p. 10-11.

Confederation. Its nature and object. Colonist, Oct. 31 (p. 4, c. 2), Nov. 4 (p. 4, c.2), 6 (p. 1, c. 5), 8 (p. 1, c. 5), 9 (p. 4, c. 5), 11 (p.1, c. 5), 12 (p. 1, c. 5), 13 (p. 1, c. 5), 14 (p. 4, c. 2-3).

The exile: and other verses together with translations from some of the Greek and Latin poets. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1879.

Epicutus. [Manual. English]. Ancient philosophy, or, The Enchiridion of Epictetus and Chrusa epe of Pythagoras, translated into English prose and verse, with large and copious notes explanatory of the different systems of the Grecian philosophy; and scriptural references in illustration of the moral precepts inculcated by these philosophers. Montreal: J. Lovell, 1872 (CIHM 13321) [notice of receipt of new publication in Morning Chronicle Feb. 28, 1873, p. 2, c. 2; review in Morning Chronicle (from the Montreal Gazette) March 12, 1873, p. 2 c. 4-5, p. 3 c.1]

Epicutus. [Manual. English]. The Enchiridion of Epictetus, and the golden verses of Pythagoras, translated into English prose and verse with notes and scriptural references together with some original poems. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rvington, 1881. [includes Consecration of the Right Rev. Dr. Dalton Bishop of Harbor-Grace (From the Latin of the Right Rev. Dr. Carfagnini, Bishop of Harbor-Grace, successor of Dr. Dalton)]

The Granvilles, an Irish tale. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1882.

Greece and the Greeks; or, A historic sketch of Attic life and manners. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1881.

The Hebrews at home; or, An historical sketch of the life, manners, customs and ceremonies of the ancient Hebrews. Montreal: J. Lovell, 1874.

Letter dated July 4, 1856 from T. Talbot to Rt. Rev. D. Mullock (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)

Letter dated March 23, 1857 from T. Talbot to Rt. Rev. D. Mullock (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)

Letter dated March 7, 1834 from T. Talbot to Dear father (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)

Literature of the Augustine age. Colonist Christmas number 1886, p. 14-15.

Logy Bay valley. Shortis, [n.d.], vol. 7(165), p. 2 pp.

Morning Chronicle Oct. 16, 1865 p. 2, c. 2-3 [concerns politics and confederation; Oct. 19, 1865 p. 1, c. 2-3 attributes the letter signed “Public opinion” to Talbot]

Morning Chronicle Oct. 16, 1865 p. 1, c. 3-4 To the independent electors of St. John’s West [signed T. Talbot and H. Renouf; repeated in other issues, e.g. Oct. 21, 1865]

Morning Chronicle Nov. 1, 1871, p. 2 c. 4-5, p. 3, c. 1-2 The Newfoundland Fishermen’s Star of the Sea Association [gives an account of the address by Talbot to the meeting]

Morning Chronicle Sept. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 1865 Mr. Talbot’s speech on the union of the B.N.A. Provinces, delivered in the House of Assembly March 7, 1865.

Morning Chronicle April 25, 1873 p. 1, c. 3-5, p. 2 c. 1-2 Evidence taken before Select Committee of Legislative Council on Seal Fishery Bill, brought down by message of the Legislative Council, 16th April, 1873 [T. Talbot, Chairman]

Morning Chronicle Jan. 21, 1875 p. 3, c. 1-2 [signed T. Talbot, Sheriff; re treatment of prisoners Butler and Harvey]

Morning Chronicle Sept. 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 1869 A few brief observations on Confederation its nature and effects

Newfoundland; or, A letter addressed to a friend in Ireland in relation to the condition and circumstances of the island of Newfoundland, with an especial view to emigration. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882. [An excerpt from his pamphlet on Newfoundland is quoted in Early days of the Catholic Church in Newfoundland by Edward B. Foran on p. 210 in the article The Centenary of the Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist St. John’s Newfoundland 1855-1955]

Poetry—Epigram and Elegy. Atheneum lectures. 1874 Monday, Feb. 16

Quidi Vidi [poem] Newfoundland quarterly. Dec. 1909, p. 4

Record (St. John’s, N.L. : 1862) [editor]

Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council upon Education. Feb. 14, 1873 Talbot et al. (appendix no. 2 in 1875 Legislative Council Journal)

Reporter (St. John’s, N.L. : 1856) [publisher]

Sentinel Conception Bay Advertiser
Nov. 29, 1838, p3, c. 2 [advertisement for Mr. Talbot’s school]
June 11, 1839, p. 2, c.3-4 To the Commissioners of Education of Conception Bay [“Finding that it is in contemplation to establish a Grammar-School in the town of Carbonear, to be supported by a grant of the Local Legislature, I take this opportunity of addressing you thro’ the medium of the press, and offering myself as Candidate for the mastership of that institution.”]
June 18, 1839, p. 1, c.2-4. [same as above article]
Oct. 22, 1839, p. 2 c. 1-4, p.3 c.1-2 To the Householders and Inhabitants of Mosquito{url} [“ …I pursued before I came to this country} my character was exhibited in three different forms; first as a literary student, secondly, as a Medical Student and thirdly, as a private Tutor.”; includes letters of reference from P. McGrath (P.P., V.R.C.), B. Scott (CC P.L.E.), John Leech M.D., E.W. Briscoe]
Nov. 12, 1839 [advertisement for Mr. Talbot’s school]
Dec. 3, 1839 p. 3c. 2 [advertisement for Mr. Talbot’s school]
Aug. 20, 1840, p. 2 c. 3-4, p. 3 c. 1 [reply to allegation that Talbot opposed his pastor and the clergy]
Sept. 10, 1840 [advertisement for Mr. Talbot’s school]
Nov. 12, 1840 [advertisement for Mr. Talbot’s school]

Will (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s)

Articles by Larry O’Gaff from the Sentinel

March 19, 1839 p. 2 c. 4 [poem]
March 26, 1839 p. 2, c. 3-4, p. 3 c. 1-2
April 2, 1839 p. 3 c.1-2 [poem]
April 9, 1839 p.3, c. 1-3
April 16, 139 p.3 c. 1-4 [education]
April 23, 1839 p. 2 c.3-4 p.3, c.1-2 [eduation]
April 30, 1839 p.2 c. 3-4, p. 3 c. 1-3 [education]
Mr. Editor, May 21, 1839, p. 3 c. 2-3) [about entry of James Second into Dublin]
June 4, 1839 Spring, p. 2 c. 3-4

Unidentified authors

Star and Conception Bay Journal
Nov. 21, 1838 p.1, c. 3-4
Want of education Dec. 12, 1838 p. 2, c.2-4 [editorial on education]

Secondary sources:

Aldelphian (Yearbook of St. Bon’s) 1901 p.34 (taken from ET March 26), 1893/94, 1899

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s

Boy, Old. Echoes from 1860 and 1861 [re teachers; incl. the Frenchman & the Spaniard; Latin Class] Adelphian, June 1907, vol. 4(1), pp. 31-37 [speaks to the style of Talbot’s instruction—e.g. “Mr. Talbot never used the rod…” p. 35

Crosbie, Gert. Births, deaths and marriages in Newfoundland newspapers 1810-1890 [electronic resource]. St. John's, N.L. : Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maritime History Archive, c2004.

Darcy, J.B. Fair or foul the weather, Brother Luke Slattery’s presidency of St. Bonaventure’s College, 1889 to 1895. St. John’s, N.L. Creative Publishers, 1999.

Devine, P.K. The Irish in Newfoundland: Hon. T. Talbot; J.V. Nugent; Hon. J. Tobin. Cadet, July 1916, vol. 3, pp. 27-29

Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador Biography. St. John's, N.L. : H. Cuff, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s, N.L.: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., 1994, v. 5.

Evening Herald March 26, 1901 p. 4, c. 3 Hon. Thomas Talbot dead.

Evening Telegram March 26, 1901, p. 4

Found in the records. The Monitor, March 1963, p. 7, c. 1-3. [This column may have been written by E. B. Foran]

Harbor Grace Standard 1873 [notice of William Talbot’s death]

Harvey, Moses. Citizen May 21, 1870 p. 3 c. 3-4 Our Newfoundland letter [“The Hon. Thomas Talbot, one of the members for St. John’s, and one of the Executive Council since the advent of the Antis to power, has just been appointed a member of the Legislative Council. It is considered that this move on the part of the Government is for the purpose of securing an abler organ in the Upper House than they have had hitherto,--the weight of debating power being altogether on the Confederate side. Mr. Talbot is an able debater, and “even though vanquished he can argue still.” Probably, too, he has an eye to some comfortable appointment, in view of the uncertainties of political life. He will be missed in the Lower House, by his party. His defence of them in the recent debate on the falsification of the Journals was admitted to be clever and plausible—the best on the Government side.”]

Hogan, M. Williamina. Pathways to Mercy in Newfoundland 1842-1984. St. John’s, N.L. : Harry Cuff, 1986.

Newfoundland. House of Assembly. Proceedings. 1843, 1848, 1852, 1855, 1861.

Newfoundland. Legislative Council. Journal 1873, 1899, 1900.

Prowse, D. W. A history of Newfoundland from the English, colonial and foreign records. Belleville, Ontario: Mika Studio, 1972.

Prowse, D. W. Hon. Thomas Talbot, brief sketch of his long public career. Evening Telegram March 27, 1901

Riggs, Bert. Thomas Who? An Irish scholar in 19th century Newfoundland. A paper presented to a public gathering hosted by the Irish Newfoundland Association, Hotel Newfoundland, March 16, 2000.

Royal Gazette (May 30, 1837) [Notice of ship arrivals]

Shortis, H.F. Hon. Thomas Talbot, M.L.C., 1889. [n.d.], vol. 4 (278), 5pp.

Sisters of Mercy Archives (Littledale, St. John’s, N.L.) with thanks to Sr. Marie Michael Power.

Slattery, Luke, Br. Letters [as transcribed]. Christian Brothers Archives (Mt. St. Francis, St. John’s, N.L.) with thanks to Br. J.B. Darcy.

Star & Conception Bay Journal Aug. 12, 1840, p. 2, c. 1-2 [Letter to editor about Mr. Talbot, Junior and the church; signed A Looker On]

Talbot, William. Independent Electors of the District of Conception Bay. Pilot, Oct. 16, 1852 p. 4 c. 1.

Yearbook and almanac of Newfoundland. St. John's : J.W. Withers, Queen's Printer, 1896.

Elizabeth Browne
Cataloguing Librarian
Queen Elizabeth II Library
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's, NL