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GLEN, THOMAS, merchant and politician; b. 1796 at Greenock, Scotland, son of Alexander Glen, Glasgow merchant; m. 29 Aug. 1829 Jane Reed (d. 1834) of Bay Bulls, Nfld, and they had one son; d. 28 April 1887 at St John’s, Nfld.

Thomas Glen was educated in Scotland and came to Newfoundland about 1811 to work as a clerk for Miller, Fergus and Company. This firm was a general supply firm at Bay Bulls, one of the important fishing settlements south of St John’s. He subsequently went into partnership with James Fergus. The partnership was not, however, a financial success. The Bay Bulls business became insolvent in 1826 and Fergus and Glen moved to St John’s to start a West Indies trading company. In January 1837 they formed a partnership with Eugenius Harvey; Fergus withdrew in December 1838, and in December 1841 Glen and Harvey dissolved their association. Glen then acted as a commission merchant and auctioneer, activities he maintained along with a political career through the 1860s.

Glen entered public life in 1842 when he was elected by a narrow majority to the Amalgamated Legislature as the representative for Ferryland. A member of the majority Conservative party within the legislature, he received several patronage posts, becoming a governor and later auditor of the government-controlled Savings Bank and a commissioner for the construction of the Colonial Building in St John’s; he retained these posts probably until 1848 and 1850 respectively. After the great fire of 1846, which devastated much of St John’s including his own business premises, Glen was appointed a relief commissioner and re-building appraiser. He was also an active member of the Scottish Society of St John’s, serving as its president in 1845.

Glen, along with Walter Grieve, was one of the few Conservatives in the Amalgamated Legislature to support John Kent*’s 1846 resolutions in favour of introducing responsible government to Newfoundland. By 1848 the members had divided along sectarian lines, the Catholic Liberals being proponents of responsible government and the Protestant Conservatives being opponents, and Glen’s position as a Congregationalist representing a Catholic constituency became difficult. He was defeated in 1848 and did not run again until 1855. By that year Philip Francis Little* had worked out a political alliance between the Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants. Peter Winser, the Liberal who had defeated Glen in 1848, moved to contest the new district of St John’s West and Glen was nominated as the Liberal candidate for Ferryland, now a two-member riding. He was returned with Edward Dalton Shea*. Glen remained a member for this constituency until 1874.

The introduction of responsible government immediately followed the election of 1855, and Glen became receiver general in the Liberal administrations of Little (1855–58) and John Kent (1858–61). Daniel Woodley Prowse* describes Glen as “a heaven-born Receiver General, one of the best party men that ever sat in a cabinet,” and one of the most active and important members of both governments. Glen also managed the Liberal party funds. Had it not been for the issue of confederation with the other British North American colonies, it is quite possible that Glen would have drifted over to the Conservatives during the 1860s, as did several Liberals. He believed, however, that union would ruin the colony’s economy and fought strongly against it from the opposition benches. He argued that retrenchment and reform would be of far greater benefit, and that responsible government could not be judged a failure so soon after its inception. With the electoral victory in 1869 of the anti-confederation party led by Charles James Fox Bennett, Glen became once again receiver general. Although he was not a dominant figure in the Bennett government, he did manage to fulfil the party’s campaign promises of reduced taxation and government expenditure, helped by the prosperity of the colony during this period. In July 1874, Glen retired from active politics, and because of his personal financial need he accepted the post of auditor of public accounts from the Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter* administration. Though his last report was published in 1885, Glen nominally held the post until his death in 1887.

Throughout his political career Glen was recognized as an able, if conservative, financial administrator. He believed in strict economy and a minimum of government intervention, opinions not always shared by his colleagues. He was especially wary of government subsidies to industries and transportation. As a public figure his behaviour and speech were independent, sharp, and crusty. Had he been more pliable, his political success might well have been greater.

James K. Hiller

Nfld., Amalgamated Legislature, Journal, 1843; Blue book, 1874. Evening Mercury, 29 April 1887. Newfoundlander, 20 Dec. 1838; 23 Dec. 1841; 9 Jan. 1845; 27 Aug. 1846; 29 April, 20 May 1847; 30 Nov. 1848. Public Ledger, December 1827, 7 Oct. 1842. Royal Gazette (St John’s), September 1843, February 1849. Garfield Fizzard, “The Amalgamated Assembly of Newfoundland, 1841–1847” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1963). J. P. Greene, “The influence of religion in the politics of Newfoundland, 1850–1861” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, 1970). W. D. MacWhirter, “A political history of Newfoundland, 1865–1874” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, 1963). Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

James K. Hiller, “GLEN, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/glen_thomas_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/glen_thomas_11E.html
Author of Article:   James K. Hiller
Title of Article:   GLEN, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 30, 2023