HOWORTH, WILLIAM, naval officer and officeholder; m. and had two children; d. 23 Feb. 1881 in Newfoundland.
Little is known of William Howorth’s early life. He joined the Royal Navy and is first mentioned in naval records as acting mate. He was promoted lieutenant in 1856 and commander in 1867. He had an active and varied naval career serving on the west coast of Africa, in the Pacific Ocean, and in European and Australian waters. As part of his service in the Crimean War he was present at the bombardment of Sveaborg in 1855, and he was honourably mentioned in dispatches. Between the years 1859 and 1863 Howorth was stationed in Chinese waters following the Arrow incident of 1856; he again distinguished himself in action, on one occasion by undertaking a hazardous expedition into North China in search of coal deposits.
From 1873 to 1875 Howorth served on the West Indies and North Atlantic station, which was responsible for the protection of British fisheries in Newfoundland waters. The Treaty of Paris of 1815 and the Convention of 1818 with the United States had defined the fishing rights of the various nations off Newfoundland. The most difficult aspect of Howorth’s duties was maintaining peace among the nationals who had fishing rights along the west coast of the island, including the fishermen of Newfoundland, France, and the New England states. Although the Americans did not send naval vessels to patrol their treaty shore, the French did, and their presence led to dangerous confrontations, made worse by the sour diplomatic relations between Britain and France.
Aside from policing the fisheries, Howorth was one of the two British naval officers on the Newfoundland station commissioned by the colonial government to act as justices of the peace for the duration of the fishing season. In addition, as the senior naval officer on the station he supplied medical aid to residents in the Bay of Islands and the St George’s Bay area, heard complaints against the extortive practices of the merchants, and swore in special constables to preserve order when the need arose. The undeveloped and neglected state of the treaty shore led Howorth to look into the general condition and potential resources of the area. In 1874 he carried out an important survey of the French shore and Labrador fisheries. He also studied the state of agriculture, mineral locations, and lumbering. His report concluded that the deposits of coal, iron, limestone, and gypsum were more important to the future of the area than the fisheries and urged the establishment of a more thorough magisterial system to prevent possible encroachments by foreign powers.
Howorth’s report influenced the British government’s decision to begin relinquishing to the colony some of the functions it had been fulfilling on the west coast. In 1877 Howorth was appointed the first full-time stipendiary magistrate at St George’s Bay by the administration of Frederic Bowker Terrington Carter* and the imperial government. The choice reflected Howorth’s reputation for having a considerable grasp of the social conditions, complications arising from the treaties, and the natural resources of the region as well as for firm but fair handling of the cases brought before him as senior naval officer on the treaty coast. For the years 1879 and 1880 he was one of John Delaney’s volunteer observers at the meteorological station at the Bay of Islands.
Howorth officially retired from the Royal Navy in 1879 and in the next year visited England with his family to seek medical assistance. He returned to Newfoundland early in 1881, probably to wind up his affairs, but died on 23 Feb. 1881 shortly after his arrival. Declining health had prevented Howorth from establishing a full and permanent system of civil government including magistrates and collectors of customs, and representative government did not come to the west coast until the election of 1882. However, the Royal Gazette commented on the general regret at the death of Howorth who had had the area’s “best interests at heart.”
William Howorth was the author of Report on the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries, 1874 (St John’s, 1874). Newfoundlander, 30 Nov. 1875, 25 Feb. 1881. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 22 March 1881. F. F. Thompson, The French shore problem in Newfoundland: an imperial study (Toronto, 1961).