Archives Contain Last Will and Testament of First Speaker

From the files of The Gazette April 25, 1996.

There was a time in the British parliamentary tradition when the Speaker of the House of Commons (Assembly) was the most important member of the House. Such was the case in Newfoundland in 1833 when the first legislature convened after the granting of representative government. Under representative government the House of Assembly had little power, with control mainly in the hands of the British-appointed governor and his appointed council of advisers. There was no premier or government leader other than the governor. As a result the Speaker was the spokesman for the only elected body in Newfoundland, the House of Assembly.

John Bingley Garland
John Bingley Garland
Garland was the first person to hold the position of Speaker in Newfoundland's House of Assembly.
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

John Bingley Garland was the first person to hold the position of Speaker in Newfoundland's House of Assembly. He was born in Poole, England, the son of Amy Lester and George Garland, in 1791. The senior Garland had inherited from his father-in-law, Benjamin Lester, one of the largest and most prosperous mercantile establishments involved in the Newfoundland fish trade. The company was based in Poole, with its Newfoundland headquarters in Trinity.

John Bingley Garland and his younger brother, George Junior, entered into partnership with their father in 1819. They were immediately dispatched to Trinity to manage the company property in Newfoundland. Shortly after their arrival in Trinity they were both appointed as justices of the peace, and were soon involved in the building of St. James Church of England Church.

Last Will and Testament
Last Will and Testament
The last will and testament of John Bingley Garland. His will reveals his wealth and generosity.
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (MF-135), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

In 1821, after only two years in Newfoundland, John returned to Poole, where he spent the next 11 years working for the family business. It is believed that he travelled to Newfoundland during that period, but his place of residence was Poole, as he was elected mayor of that town in 1824 and in 1830. George Garland Senior retired from the business in 1822 and George Junior left in 1830, resulting in John becoming sole proprietor. He entered into a partnership with St. John's businessmen George R. Robinson and Thomas Brooking around this time.

In 1832 Garland and his family returned to Trinity to live, possibly in response to the granting of representative government in Newfoundland. He may have been concerned about the effect this move would have on his business interests. Later that year Garland was elected the first member of the House of Assembly to represent Trinity Bay district. He may have been elected by acclamation, but even if he was not, his return would not have been a surprise, despite his short residency, because his company employed or bought fish from most of the electors in the district, and voting was by public ballot.

Shortly after his election, Garland moved to St. John's. When the House of Assembly opened in January 1833, he was chosen as the first Speaker. Later that year he resigned his seat, and was appointed to the Executive Council by Gov. Thomas Cochrane. Despite this appointment and his growing business concerns, he left Newfoundland and returned to Poole in 1834, after which his interest in his Newfoundland business appears to have gone into decline. He dissolved his partnership with Robinson and Brooking, and sold some of his holdings.

John Bingley Garland married Deborah Vallis in 1822; after her death, he married Fanny Marie Read, who survived him. He fathered at least seven children: Rev. George Vallis Garland; Rev. Lester Lester (who changed his name from Garland to Lester to carry on the Lester family name); Amy Pyper; Marie Georgina Cass; Eileen Blanche Plumtree; Margaret Deborah Cooksley; Frances Augusta Swinny. Garland died at Stone Cottage, Wimborne, on July 12, 1875.

In 1979 the Centre for Newfoundland Studies acquired an original copy of the last will and testament of John Bingley Garland, one of two or three which would have been made at the time it was written. It contains the actual will dated Oct. 27, 1871, together with two codicils and letters testimonial. It measures 30.25 x 24 inches (77 x 61 cm) and is handwritten on vellum. The will is an interesting document, revealing not only how Garland disposed of his property but also acting as an inventory of his possessions. He was both a wealthy and a generous man, leaving property to his wife, daughters, grandchildren, servants and friends -- in addition to his two sons, to whom most of his estate devolved. Of particular note are bequests of money to his daughters which were to be "for their sole and separate use free from the debts or control of their respective husbands."

Archives and Special Collections Table of Contents