The Bartlett family in island politics

In the latter part of the 19th century, the forebears of Arctic explorer Bob Bartlett practically had a lock on the seat for their district in the Newfoundland House of Assembly (see photo). Merchant-aristocrats descended from Scots and Englishmen dominated politics in Newfoundland from the get go. Bob Bartlett’s ancestors were among them. 

John Leamon, Bartlett’s maternal great-grandfather, was one such person. Leamon came to Newfoundland to make his fortune and he reached his goal. He set up a store in Brigus and was soon a major supplier; he acquired a fishing station at Indian Harbour, Labrador, and other Labrador properties at Holton, Ice Tickles, Batteau, and Rogers Harbour.

As a Conservative, Squire Leamon, as he was called, won the seat for Port de Grave, which included Bartlett’s hometown, Brigus, in 1859 and was re-elected twice. Given the incestuous nature of rural Newfoundland politics, it is no shock that this was the seat his friend, relative, and former business partner Charles Cozens, had held before him.

The seat would later be held by the famous Captain Nathan Norman, who was John Leamon’s brother-in-law. Captain Norman eventually lost the seat to Bob’s paternal uncle Captain John Bartlett. Arctic veteran Captain John Bartlett was known for his famous grindstone campaign, in which he promised a grindstone in every community so that everyone could grind their axes at public expense. After he was elected, grindstones were placed in Brigus, Bareneed, Port de Grave, Clarke’s Beach, and PickEyes, an example of the patronage-type politics that endures in Newfoundland. Yet Captain John earned the nickname Honest John “by his sturdy independence and biting condemnation of all matters of a shady or unpatriotic nature.”

Of all his ancestors and relatives, it was Captain John upon whom Bartlett most clearly modeled himself.


Subscribe to this blog:’s written by Maura Hanrahan, author of the new biography of Bob Bartlett: Unchained Man: The Arctic Life and Times of Captain Robert Abram BartlettThe book has been endorsed by New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Niven who writes: “A riveting comprehensive portrait of one of the most dynamic and enigmatic sea captains the Arctic has ever seen. Robert Abram Bartlett was larger than life, his adventures the stuff of legends. Maura Hanrahan expertly recounts the long overdue, very true story of this understated polar hero in engaging, dramatic prose.”


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