Remembering an Influential Mason

From the files of The Gazette November 17, 1994.

Patrick Tasker was born in Greenock, Scotland in December 1823, the third son of James Tasker of Greenock. While there is no information available on Patrick's schooling, one can assume that he did receive a good education, as he was a merchant's son and eventually went to work in the family business. He left Scotland for Newfoundland in 1842; he was sent there to work as a clerk in Hunters and Company; this was the St. John's branch of James Hunter and Company of Greenock, a business in which Patrick's uncle, David Tasker, was a senior partner. Patrick Tasker worked with that company throughout his life, becoming manager in 1850.

Patrick Tasker was quick to gain the respect and confidence of the St. John's business community. In 1850 he was elected to a four-year term on the board of directors of the St. John's Hospital; he was re-elected in 1854 and served as president from 1854-1855. In 1854 he also became chair of the newly created group of health wardens and his regulations requiring the cleaning up of the town is credited with keeping the death toll from the cholera epidemic which invaded St. John's later that year to only 500 lives.

Patrick Tasker, 1859
Patrick Tasker, 1859
This photograph of Patrick Tasker is the oldest dated photographic image in Archives and Special Collections, taken just 20 years after the invention of photography in 1839.
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (MF - 313), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

Tasker was also a member of the St. John's Chamber of Commerce (1852-60), served as president of the St. John's Water Company (1854), the Newfoundland Marine Insurance Company (1860) and the Permanent Loan and Investment Society (1860), helped organize the Union Bank of Newfoundland (1854), and was a shareholder and director of various other enterprises. In 1855 he became president of the St. Andrew's Society and in 1856 president of the Agricultural Society.

It was as a member of the Masonic Order that Patrick Tasker was to become most prominent, however. He joined the order in St. John's on Feb. 2, 1849, one of the first four inductees into the newly constituted St. John's Lodge. Tasker was very devoted to the order and was instrumental in recruiting new, young professionals as members, which probably helped provide the stability the new lodge needed to succeed. In 1853 he became senior warden, the second highest office, and served as master, the highest office, in 1854, 1856 and 1857. In 1858 he was appointed the first deputy provincial grand master for Newfoundland, which made him chief freemason in Newfoundland, reporting to the provincial grand master in Nova Scotia. A second lodge under the English Constitution, Avalon, was established in St. John's in 1859.

Patrick Tasker, a bachelor, died quite unexpectedly on Nov. 1, 1860, just one month short of his 37th birthday. He was buried in the Riverhead Cemetery, and the Masonic Order arranged for a monument to be placed over the grave. The order also established the Patrick Tasker Masonic Educational Fund to provide financial assistance for orphaned children of freemasons: the charity continues to exist well over 100 years later. As well in 1866 a third lodge, the first under the Scottish Constitution, was established in St. John's and named Tasker in his honor.

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One Saturday during the fall of 1993 I happened to visit Livyers, an antique store in St. John's, where I happened across a small framed photograph of a young man. The photograph looked as if it might be from the late 1800s. I turned over the frame and written on the back was the name Patrick Tasker. It was a name I recognized as being involved with the Masonic order in St. John's. The price tag was quite reasonable so I recommended that it be purchased for the archives.

Once we had acquired the photograph, we set about cleaning and cataloguing it. After removing it from the frame, it was discovered that this image had been cut from a larger formal photographic portrait to fit the frame. The name and street address of the photographer was quite visible on the back, however: it was A. Robertson, 88 Glassford St., but no city was given. With the assistance of the staff of Memorial University's Map Library, we were able to locate a Glassford Street in Glasgow, Scotland. I wrote the University of Glasgow Library which had a listing for Archibald Robertson, photographic artist, 88 Glassford St., Glasgow; he had moved to that location in 1859. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow was able to confirm this.

This information identifying the photographer and dating the image is important in our cataloguing process and can assist us in providing proper conservation treatment. In this case it was even more important than usual. Robertson moved to this location some time during 1859. Patrick Tasker died in St. John's in November 1860. That would mean the photograph would have to be taken some time during 1859 or 1860, quite likely on Tasker's last visit to Glasgow. This makes this photographic image the oldest dated photographic image we have in the archives, taken just 20 years after the invention of photography in 1839. While it has yellowed slightly and has faded a little in the lower corners, the image is in excellent condition considering it is over 130 years old.

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