NEWBIGGING, JAMES, businessman, jp, militia officer, and politician; b. 1805 or 1806, probably in Scotland; m. 26 Jan. 1834 Anne Louise Hagerman, niece of Christopher Alexander Hagerman, in York (Toronto), Upper Canada, and they had at least two sons; d. 9 Feb. 1838 in Toronto.
James Newbigging received his early Canadian mercantile training as a clerk in the firm of Gillespie, Moffatt and Company in Montreal. In 1829 he moved to York, where he bought a store on the market square. The following year he entered into a partnership with Alexander Murray, formerly a clerk in William Proudfoot*’s wholesale-retail store in York. Murray, Newbigging and Company was also a wholesale-retail business, selling a general line of groceries, dry goods, and spirits. As well, the company bought a wharf and storehouse, from William Cooper in 1830, and acted as commission agents. The development of the wholesale trade in York, by the firms of Newbigging, Proudfoot, Joseph Davis Ridout*, and others, prompted the York Courier of Upper Canada to proclaim in 1832 that “Country Merchants need no longer think of incurring the loss of time and expense of going to Montreal, since every article of Merchandise can be obtained in York, in equal abundance and variety, and upon Montreal terms.”
Murray, Newbigging and Company quickly prospered, benefiting initially from the financial backing of a silent partner, Dr George Gillespie Crawford, who had inherited wealth from his father. Crawford suffered “great financial loss,” however, and in 1834 his affairs were turned over to two trustees, John Strachan* and Robert Baldwin*. Despite the importance of his initial investment, Murray, Newbigging seems to have been largely unaffected by his problems.
By 1832 the firm had added to its other interests a wagon-and-boat freight service, which operated on a thrice-weekly basis between Toronto, Newmarket, Holland Landing, and The Narrows (Orillia). This sideline was carried on, in collaboration with a succession of out-of-town partners including Charles Scadding of Newmarket (brother of Henry*), until at least 1838.
Newbigging, though still a young man when he set up in York, soon gained a reputation for energy and competence in commercial affairs and rapidly engag ed in business activities well beyond those of his own firm. He was one of the directors of the York branch of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District when it opened in 1832. Murray, Newbigging and Company became the agent for the Phoenix Assurance Company of London in 1833, and in 1834 Newbigging was a director of the newly formed British America Fire and Life Assurance Company of Toronto, the first local insurance firm. He was a member of a provisional committee created to conduct the affairs of the Toronto branch of the Bank of British North America when it was established in 1837. During the economic crisis of 1836–37, which produced a severe scarcity of specie in Upper Canada, he was among a small group of Toronto businessmen called upon to testify before a select committee of the House of Assembly on the monetary system in the province. In June 1837 he argued, without success, that the assembly should issue and sell interest-bearing bills both to the public and to the banks, which could then resume financing business activity and thus stimulate the employment of “thousands of labourers now nearly starving.”
During the 1830s Newbigging was also deeply involved in the first attempt to build a railway linking Toronto with Georgian Bay. At a public meeting in Toronto on 26 July 1834, he was elected secretary and treasurer of the committee set up to advance the scheme. He was largely responsible for supervising the work of the surveyors of the proposed routes; as treasurer he collected subscriptions and kept the books at his Toronto store. The railway was incorporated in 1836 as the City of Toronto and Lake Huron Rail Road Company, with Newbigging as a director, secretary, and treasurer. He was one of its largest shareholders and most enthusiastic promoters, arguing that it would provide a valuable connection with the American midwest. Despite his energetic, possibly over-optimistic, promotion, the railway company failed to attract sufficient capital to permit construction.
Newbigging did not confine his organizing abilities to business concerns. He was one of the founders in 1833 of the Commercial News Room and in 1837 of the Upper Canada Club (Toronto Club), of which he was a manager and treasurer. A Presbyterian, he was a trustee and secretary of St Andrews Church and a manager of the local St Andrew’s Society. He was appointed a justice of the peace for the Home District in September 1837, became a captain in the Toronto City Guards in December, and the following month was elected as an alderman for St David’s Ward. His death at the age of 32, the result of “over fatigue . . . after the late rebellion,” according to his wife, cut short an active and promising career. He may have left his wife little in the way of liquid assets. Destitute in 1844, she claimed that prior to his death he had purchased loyalist land rights to about 8,000 acres of land but that she had received only 3,000, which turned out to be “worthless.”
PAC, RG 5, A1: 100580–83; RG 9, I, B5, 8; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 508. Town of York, 1815–34 (Firth). U.C., House of Assembly, App. to the journal, 1837, app., “Report of the select committee, to which was referred the subject of the monetary system of the province,” 4–6. Colonial Advocate, 23 April, 3 Dec. 1829; 11 March, 13 May, 1 July, 1 Sept. 1830; 6 March 1834. Courier of Upper Canada (York [Toronto]), 4 Aug., 29 Sept. 1832. Patriot (Toronto), 1 Aug., 17 Nov. 1834; 21 Feb., 21 April 1837; 13 Feb. 1838. Upper Canada Gazette, 19 Nov. 1835, 7 Feb. 1839. Marriage notices of Ont. (Reid). Toronto directory, 1833–34, 1837. F. H. Armstrong, “Toronto in transition: the emergence of a city, 1828–1838” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1965). Canniff, Medical profession in U.C., 316–17. F. H. Armstrong, “Toronto’s first railway venture, 1834–1838,” OH, 58 (1966): 21–41.