JARDINE, ROBERT, businessman, railway promoter, and office-holder; b. 12 Jan. 1812 at Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Alexander Jardine, mason, and Helen Davidson; m. 30 Oct. 1834 at Saint John, N.B., Euphemia Reid, formerly of Kildonan, Scotland, and they had four daughters; d. 16 June 1866 at Saint John.
Jardine apparently had some schooling in Scotland and dabbled in both law and business before immigrating to Saint John in the early 1830s. Shortly after arriving, he entered the employ of Barnabas Tilton, a grocer. In 1838 or 1839 he and his brother Alexander, who had joined him in 1835, took over the business and changed the name to Jardine and Company.
Throughout the 1840s and 1850s the Jardines expanded their operation into a significant enterprise, importing staples and exotics from around the world: Java coffee, Puerto Rican molasses, British seed, American tobacco, Peruvian fertilizer, Canadian flour, African cocoa, and Nova Scotian fish, as well as agricultural implements ranging from rakes and scythes to the most recent innovations in machinery. Robert Jardine also acquired a large farm named Woodside about a mile east of Saint John where he raised Ayrshire cattle and attempted new farming techniques. These interests led him to the Saint John Agricultural and Horticultural Society, of which he was several times president, and the New Brunswick Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Home Manufactures, and Commerce, of which he was vice-president in 1851.
Agriculture was never more than a hobby to Jardine. By 1851 he was president of the Saint John Gas Light Company and of the New Brunswick Electric Telegraph Company, and a director of the Saint John Water Company, the Saint John Hotel Company, and the Fredericton and Saint John Electric Telegraph Company. He was, in addition, vice-president of the Saint John Chamber of Commerce, president of the St Andrew’s Society of Saint John, and a school trustee for the parish of Simonds. A leading citizen in Saint John civic affairs, he gained special commendation in 1854 during the cholera epidemic when, as president of the Saint John Water Company, he pressed forward in establishing a pure water system that was to last for decades.
Railways, however, became Jardine’s great interest. He emerged as the leader of the businessmen of Saint John who envisioned their city as the prosperous east coast railway centre. Jardine attended the railway convention in Portland, Maine, on 31 July 1850 [see John Alfred Poor*] and returned to Saint John to help organize the European and North American Railway Company in order to build a line linking Saint John with the United States on the west and the Gulf of St Lawrence on the east. The company began with construction of a line from Saint John to Shediac. Jardine was president by the time the first sod was turned on 14 Sept. 1853.
During 1853 and 1854 work on the railway progressed satisfactorily, but by 1855 everything had stopped and the assembly called upon Jardine to explain. In the face of difficulties with the English contractors, Peto, Brassey, Betts, Jackson, and Company, Jardine fought valiantly to save what was being called “The Great Bubble Railway.” In the end the provincial government bought out the contractors and arranged to complete the line as a public project. Jardine was the logical candidate to complete the work, for he was a faithful supporter of the Liberal government, especially of Samuel Leonard Tilley*, the provincial secretary and a director of the European and North American. Construction was held up, however, when Lieutenant Governor John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton* put the government out of office over Tilley’s Prohibition Act of 1855 and called on John Hamilton Gray* and Robert Duncan Wilmot* to form a government. In the 1856 election Jardine ran as a candidate against Gray and Wilmot in Saint John but was badly defeated.
Within a year, however, Tilley and the Liberals were back in power, and by August 1857 Jardine was the chief commissioner of railways for New Brunswick. Between 1857 and 1860 he and the European and North American were the subject of three commissions of inquiry by the assembly, and Jardine was vilified by the opposition press. The first commission, reporting in 1858, found some small irregularities. The second inquiry in 1859, before which Jardine spent long hours, concluded that the railway “will be a first class road, of superior description, well and solidly built.” Still, Jardine had been criticized and there were some cabinet members who did not like him. He was incensed by the insults he felt he had experienced and complained to Tilley of the committee’s use of “anonymous slanders & calumny, by calling for, listening to & publishing as evidence the assertions – not on oath – of discharged servants and confessedly malicious and disapointed men of no character or standing.” He publicly resigned as commissioner of railways. When Tilley refused to let him go, another attack opened up on “Mr. Tilley and Mr. Jardine and the Smasher junta” and a third commission of inquiry was appointed. Two reports were submitted, a laudatory majority and a condemnatory minority. Gray, the Conservative leader, supported the majority opinion that the railway was a “thoroughly constructed road” and that Jardine was an admirable man. The 108-mile railway from Saint John to Shediac was completed on 8 Aug. 1860.
Jardine then urged Tilley to move on with the “line from Saint John to the State of Maine . . . immediately.” Though sympathetic, Tilley had other priorities and Jardine was left to manage the European and North American. Edward Watkin declared that Jardine was “one of the best informed on Railways he had ever met, and the Railway over which he presided was the best in construction and management on this continent.”
Jardine was responsible for New Brunswick railways until 22 March 1865 when he resigned as commissioner upon the defeat of Tilley’s government in the confederation election. For two years he had been considerably crippled by an attack of paralysis. On 16 June 1866, when out for a drive, he fell ill, and almost immediately died, apparently of a heart seizure. After Robert’s death Alexander Jardine continued to operate Jardine and Company until his retirement in 1875. He died in February 1878.
Robert Jardine was a practical, industrious, and highly successful Scot who made several contributions to his adopted city and province. His great work was the European and North American and for that he was given a unique honour. In 1868 a locomotive built in Saint John was named the Robert Jardine. On a steel front panel was painted the “engine portrait” of Jardine, now in the New Brunswick Museum.
N.B. Museum, Edward Barron Chandler papers, Jardine to Chandler, 26 Feb. 1857; Jardine family papers; Marriage register B (1828–39); Tilley family papers. PAC, MG 27, 1, D15. N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1855–61. Morning Freeman (Saint John, N.B.), 1859–60. Morning News (Saint John, N.B.), 1840–60, 18 June 1866. Morning Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 19 June 1866. New Brunswick Courier, 22 June 1839, 1840–60. New-Brunswick almanac, 1851, 1854, 1856, 1860, 1864. I. A. Jack, History of St. Andrew’s Society of St. John, N.B., Canada, 1798 to 1903 (Saint John, N.B., 1903). N.B. Museum, History Bull. (Saint John), I (August 1952).