Pickmore, Francis (c.1756-1818)

Governor, 1816-1818

Francis Pickmore was born circa 1756, probably in England. He was acquainted with Newfoundland early in his naval career, being stationed there as a lieutenant in 1777. By 1814 he had reached the rank of vice-admiral, and he was appointed governor of Newfoundland in 1816, arriving in September that year.

Pickmore's term coincided with a period of economic and social crisis. A severe economic depression had hit the island following the Napoleonic wars, and a large number of immigrants, mainly from Ireland, placed a great strain on available resources. Fires in St. John's further aggravated the situation, and provisions were short. Pickmore only stayed for two months in 1816, and his second-in-command, Commander David Buchan, remained to take charge. Pickmore did not return until the autumn of 1817, and became the first governor of Newfoundland to stay the winter. The seal and cod fisheries had been poor, and he faced a difficult task.

Conditions were probably worse than the year earlier, and the season that followed became known as the "Winter of the Rals" (rowdies). There was a severe frost from November onwards. Fires during the same month destroyed houses and stores of provisions, and left about 2,000 people homeless. Vandalism and social disorder followed.

Pickmore did what he could to alleviate the situation, but he was not in good health. His residence at Fort Townshend, built for summer use, was cold and uncomfortable. The combination of hard work and harsh living conditions killed him. He died in St. John's on 24 February, 1818. Captain John Bowker, a senior officer under Pickmore's command, acted as governor until Governor Sir Charles Hamilton arrived in July.

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