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PADDON, HENRY LOCKE, physician and medical missionary; b. 9 Aug. 1881 in Thornton Heath (London), England, son of Henry Wadham Locke Paddon and Catherine Van Sommer; m. 1 Oct. 1913 Mina Gilchrist in Indian Harbour, Labrador, and they had four sons; d. 24 Dec. 1939 in Haverford, Pa.

Harry Paddon was endowed with missionary zeal from childhood. His mother died just after he was born and his father, a military pensioner, wore himself out with the care of four young children. Harry was sent to Wimbledon (London) with a sister to be raised by their devout grandfather, James Van Sommer. Soon afterwards he entered Woodbridge Grammar School in Suffolk. During the summer holidays at Sheringham, having declared at age eight his desire to become a missionary, he distributed religious pamphlets to local fishermen on behalf of the Children’s Special Service Mission. At 13 he moved on to Repton School, where he received a classical education and performed well at football and cricket. In 1900 he entered University College, Oxford, to read for a degree in history, but he did not graduate until 1906.

With Oxford behind him, Paddon spent some time with the North Sea fishing fleet as a missioner of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, which fitted out hospital ships that could remain on station for weeks on end. This kind of practical Christianity suited his religiosity. It had also attracted Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, the mission’s first superintendent, who first took the society’s work to Newfoundland and the Labrador coast in 1892. Paddon, who had heard Grenfell talk at Repton, resolved to become a physician, and in the winter of 1907 he enrolled at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Still a keen athlete, he captained its football team in 1908 and during the following cricket season bowled against St Bartholomew’s to win the Inter-Hospital Cup.

After passing the qualifying examinations in surgery and medicine, in February 1911 Paddon received confirmation of his appointment to the Guest Hospital in the West Midlands town of Dudley. He stood on the verge of a conventional medical career, but a year later he resigned. Moved by his experiences in the North Sea, he had accepted an invitation from the RNMDSF to work at its hospital in Indian Harbour on the Labrador coast.

Once in Labrador in 1912, Paddon faced a crisis in public health caused by a high incidence of tuberculosis and infant mortality. He nonetheless embraced the north and its physical challenges. The Labrador fishery brought him into contact with thousands of itinerant Newfoundlanders during the spring and summer. As they vanished at the end of the season, he adopted a pattern of work that would continue throughout his vigorous early years: he shifted inland in the fall to treat the white and mixed population of Lake Melville and, in the winter, crossed the northern part of Labrador by dog team to reach the coastal communities.

Soon after his arrival at Indian Harbour, Paddon was treated to the high intensity of Grenfell’s initial visit, which he later described:

Firing questions and suggestions like shrapnel, helping with an operation, holding an impromptu service for the patients,… inditing a few letters or writing a chapter of some book, sharing the griefs or joys of any fresh comer always with complete detachment from all other interests, trying out new fungi on reluctant ‘volunteers,’ preaching the gospel of brown flour to a septuagenarian widow while his own dinner cooled.… When [Grenfell] could think of nothing more to do or say, he breezed off forty miles up the inlet for a goose hunt.… A marsh with a hundred or so square miles of area, a river and legions of waterfowl, was his Mecca.

In return, Grenfell thought highly of his utterly committed, Latin-reading confrère.

Paddon’s life was transformed during this first summer when he met Mina Gilchrist, a nurse from New Brunswick. He had never allowed much time for romance, but by September 1912 he was ready to marry her; after waiting eight months while she filled in at Grenfell’s hospital at St Anthony, Nfld, he did so in 1913. Settling into family life, the couple took in the broader significance of their task as they moved between their summer station at Indian Harbour and the temporary inland hospital set up in an abandoned lumber camp at Mud Lake. Like Grenfell and other colonial physicians before him, Paddon was already looking beyond his immediate practice to investigate the social milieu of illness. At the end of a furlough in England in 1914–15, he transferred to the winter hospital in North West River, the hub of the Labrador fur trade.

By this time Paddon had a vision for social medicine. He was determined to treat Labradorians on their home ground. By the autumn of 1919, following the Spanish influenza epidemic, he and Henry Gordon, the Anglican priest at Cartwright, had raised sufficient money to build a residential school at Muddy Bay to accommodate orphaned children. Then, in 1921, Paddon took up permanent residence in the hospital at North West River and started to cultivate land for his own use and as an example to local people. To battle scurvy and malnutrition, which was a major killer of children, he promoted the consumption of vegetables, fresh berries, brown flour, and cod liver oil. He was just beginning to see some progress in the fight against nutritional diseases when, in early 1924 while he was in the United States to study and raise funds, the hospital was destroyed by fire. Despite the International Grenfell Association’s inclination to abandon North West River and consolidate its services at St Anthony – the Paddons always felt their work was poorly supported – Harry Paddon was determined to rebuild the hospital and did so by October.

In 1927 he developed another plan for social reform: a cottage system for the treatment of tuberculosis. Similar to his school project, which he had envisioned as small residences instead of dormitories, this scheme foresaw log houses with staff and patient quarters, each self-sufficient with goats, cod oil, chickens, gardens, and materials for making fishing nets, toys, needlework, and weaving. The Hudson’s Bay Company was to assist with the administration, and Paddon had found a donor in New England to help finance the project. A year later he brought into service the 60-ton hospital vessel Maraval for visiting coastal communities in the summer. In 1930 he took it up the Labrador coast as far as Nain, accompanied by an eye, ear, and throat specialist from Cincinnati, Ohio, and a doctor provided by the Moravian mission in Labrador, which normally resented the intrusions of Grenfell personnel.

Following Sir Wilfred Grenfell’s retirement as his mission’s figurehead in 1935 (he retained the superintendency), the new Commission of Government in Newfoundland [see Frederick Charles Munro Alderdice] moved to establish its role in rural health services. In effect, it gave the IGA jurisdiction in Labrador from Blanc-Sablon to Indian Harbour and over most of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. With this decision, the Paddons were able to turn their attention to building their own house, but as they took up residence, new anxieties arose about the future of North West River. The commission, eager to develop a pulp mill, promised to grant a timber licence over a vast acreage in Labrador to Bowater-Lloyd, a British paper manufacturer. Paddon was alarmed by the development that might follow, including reports that the company would supply its own medical and educational facilities. Even after the agreement fell through, he remained concerned that his mission property might become a townsite.

In the autumn of 1939 Paddon left with Mina for a reunion with their sons in Pennsylvania, but he fell sick from a bacterial infection en route. He passed away on Christmas Eve, leaving his wife to return to North West River with his ashes and run the station throughout World War II. For her efforts she was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Their eldest son, William Anthony*, who served in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve as a medical officer, returned after the war to continue his father’s practice. From 1981 to 1986 he held office as lieutenant governor of Newfoundland, including Labrador, where Harry Paddon had struggled so long without government attention of the most basic kind.

From his headquarters at North West River, Paddon had pioneered a range of innovations for the treatment of tuberculosis and deficiency diseases, and founded institutions for the development of educational and public life. By so doing, he became one of Labrador’s modern-day builders.


Ronald Rompkey

Henry Locke Paddon is the author of “Forty days with fleeters and single-boaters,” Toilers of the Deep: A Record of Mission Work amongst Them (London), 21 (1906): 236–37. His work in Labrador is chronicled in The Labrador memoir of Dr Harry Paddon, 1912–1938, ed. Ronald Rompkey (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 2003).

Documents held in private archives were consulted for this biography. Raymond Lloyd (Tetbury, Eng.) holds two unpublished mss: Raymond Lloyd, “Jessie Marian Paddon, 1877–1958: the story of her forebears, background and early life” (1986) and J. M. Paddon (Lloyd), [Narrative of her early life, 1883–1902] (1947–54). Sheila Paddon (North West River, Labrador) holds Paddon family papers, and the family of Richard Locke Paddon Jr holds the Richard Paddon papers. Also consulted was MG 63 at RPA.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Ronald Rompkey, “PADDON, HENRY LOCKE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/paddon_henry_locke_16E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/paddon_henry_locke_16E.html
Author of Article: Ronald Rompkey
Title of Article: PADDON, HENRY LOCKE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2013
Year of revision: 2013
Access Date: November 22, 2014