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Charles James Fox Bennett

Photograph: Charles James Fox Bennett


Charles James Fox Bennett

(June 11, 1793 - December 5, 1883)

Charles James Fox Bennett was a prominent Newfoundland businessman who campaigned against responsible government. He also led the colony's anti-Confederation forces in the late 1860s.

Charles James Fox Bennett was born in Shaftesbury, Dorset, England, to Thomas and Leah Bennett. He was sent to Newfoundland in 1808 to act as a clerk, but soon established his own business. By the 1820s, he and his brother Thomas had formed C. F. Bennett and Company, an import/export firm. The business eventually expanded into other areas and by 1847, it included a foundry, a shipyard, a mine, and a model farm. Not surprisingly, Bennett was a lifelong supporter of the diversification of Newfoundland's economy. He served as the president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1836. His farming interests led him to help found the Newfoundland Agricultural Society in 1841. He also acted as an aide-de-camp to Governor Thomas Cochrane, a justice of the peace in 1834, and as a road commissioner. He married Isabella Sheppard in 1829.

Bennett became involved in politics in 1842, when he announced his candidacy as a member for St. John's in the Amalgamated Legislature. He withdrew in favour of a seat in the Legislative Council in 1843. While there, he voted against several motions in favour of responsible government. After a brief absence from the legislature, Bennett returned in 1850 as a member of the Executive Council, where he continued his opposition to responsible government. He believed such a system was unsuited for the small and underdeveloped colony, and would tip the balance of government power in favour of Catholics (Bennett was Anglican). These opinions proved politically disastrous, eventually resulting in an alliance between non-Anglican Protestants and Catholics that persuaded the Colonial Office to grant responsible government in 1855. Bennett lost his seat on the Executive Council, and drew unfavourable government attention to his business dealings.

Although the next few years were primarily devoted to his business interests, Bennett was one of the most outspoken critics of the Québec Resolutions when they were published late in 1864. He was convinced that union with the other colonies would result in raised taxes, disrupted trade, and a depleted population. He wrote many letters to the press on this subject between 1864 and 1865. Initially too occupied with business to take an active leadership role, he continued his editorial war through 1868.

By the time of the 1869 election, Bennett was the acknowledged leader of the anti-Confederation forces. After a strong campaign, he won by a huge margin. However, he lacked the ability to create a party out of elements having only opposition to Confederation in common. By 1872, much of Bennett's support had eroded. Although he won the 1873 election with a small majority, continuing defections of his backers to the Conservatives forced his resignation as premier. The Conservatives formed a new government, strengthening their position with an election victory in 1874. Bennett retained his own seat, but with a greatly reduced following.

Though he remained in the legislature until 1878, Bennett became increasingly isolated, with other Liberals looking elsewhere for leadership. He was primarily occupied in expressing his opposition to railway construction, believing roads to be more useful. He was also much involved with his business interests. He died in St. John's.


Hiller, James K. -- "Bennett, Charles James Fox". -- The Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh. - 3rd print ed. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. -- P. 222

Hiller, James K. -- "Bennett, Charles James Fox". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography. --  Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1982. --  Vol. 11, p. 65-69

Murray, Ettie L. Gordon. -- "Bennett, Charles Fox". -- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. -- St. John's, Nfld. : Newfoundland Book Publishers Ltd., 1967. --  Vol. 1, p. 175-176