HARLEY, JOHN, shipbuilder, inspector of lights, buoys, and beacons, and harbour master; b. in 1800 at Courtmacsherry, County Cork, Ireland, second son of a schoolmaster; d. 16 Sept. 1875 at Chatham Head, Miramichi, N.B., and buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Newcastle, N.B.
John Harley’s older brother, William, emigrated from Ireland to Miramichi, New Brunswick, about 1820 and quickly found employment as a government land surveyor. William Harley encouraged his sister Mary Ann to follow him in 1822; the next year a third member of the family, John, also came to Miramichi. On his arrival John Harley went to work for William Abrams*, who was a prosperous merchant and shipbuilder at Rose Bank (Nordin) both before and after the great Miramichi fire of 1825. “By his faithfulness and industry,” said the Union Advocate in an 1875 obituary, “he [John Harley] in a short time reached the responsible post of foreman of the yard, and soon after rose to the position of master builder.” At Miramichi, in 1829, John Harley married Ann Coughlan by whom he had three sons and two daughters.
After Abrams’ death in 1844, John Harley became master builder for Joseph Russell at Beaubair’s (Beaubear’s) Island. When Russell, a devout Mormon convert, left Miramichi for Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1849, John Harley with a partner, George Burchill, of Nelson, bought the island and the shipbuilding plant. This partnership was dissolved in 1857, and Harley continued on his own until 1866 when his last craft were built. At this time he stated that he had been responsible for the building of 62 sailing vessels on the Miramichi River.
John Harley had been appointed one of two commissioners for the lighthouse at Escuminac in 1853. After confederation he was appointed inspector of lights for New Brunswick, a position he held until his superannuation in 1871. He continued as inspector of buoys and beacons for Miramichi River and Bay as late as 1873; in that year he was also harbour master, a post he had held for some years.
John Harley’s successful career as a shipbuilder is a notable example of what could be achieved in the 19th century by industry and ability. His 62 well-built vessels, mostly large barks and full-rigged ships, found a ready market in the Old Country. They were sound and durable and had no difficulty in maintaining the Lloyd’s classifications for which they were built. William Abrams’ Phoenix, built the year after the Miramichi fire and so aptly named, was still registered at Lloyd’s in 1850. Other Harley vessels reached the age of 21 years – the Royal Adelaide (built in 1830), the Romulus (1831), the Kalodyne (1856), the Sandringham (1864), and many more. Fast passages of the Harley vessels between Miramichi and Liverpool were often recorded in the Gleaner (Chatham); in 1864 the bark Sea Mew took 16 days from Miramichi to Liverpool and equalled that speed on her return trip.
John Harley’s 50 years in Miramichi were well spent. When he died the Union Advocate said a host of friends mourned him for “his warm and loving disposition, and for his integrity and sterling character.”
Lloyd’s register of British and foreign shipping (London), 1839–71. Gleaner (Chatham, N.B,), 1833–73. Mercury (Chatham, N.B.), 1829. Union Advocate (Newcastle, N.B.), 23 Sept. 1875, 16 Feb. 1898 (this issue contains a reprint from the Press (Portland, Me.) of family traditions related by Mrs John Henry (Mary Ann Harley) when she was 99 years old). Louise Manny, Ships of Miramichi: a history of shipbuilding on the Miramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada, 1773–1919 (N.B. Museum Hist. Studies, 10, Saint John, N.B., 1960).