James Patrick Howley (1847-1918) – Canada.ca

James Patrick Howley (1847-1918) – Canada.ca

Posted on: June 28, 2018 6:45 am

James Patrick Howley was an accomplished geologist, author, and curator, who greatly advanced cultural and scientific understanding of his native Newfoundland. As a scientist and surveyor, Howley had a lengthy career with the Geological and Topographical Survey of Newfoundland that spanned more than 40 years. His 1915 study of the Beothuk is recognized as a landmark work in the field of Indigenous history and ethnography in North America. Widely recognized for his pivotal role in the creation of the institution that became the Newfoundland Museum, which is today part of The Rooms, Howley expanded the scope of the museum’s collection and left a lasting legacy for this cultural institution.    

Born in 1847 into a prominent Irish Roman Catholic family in St. John’s, Howley lived all of his life in Newfoundland. In 1867, at the age of 19, he started work with the Newfoundland Government as a clerk in the office of the Colonial Secretary. One year later, he was hired as an assistant to Alexander Murray, the first Director of the Geological and Topographical Survey of Newfoundland. Howley trained under Murray, receiving a thorough grounding in geology, surveying, and mineral identification, and eventually succeeded Murray as Director. Between 1868 and 1909, Howley conducted extensive fieldwork and produced much of the scientific basis for understanding the geography of the island’s interior, its geology, and mineral deposits as well as a series of detailed maps. After his retirement in 1909, Howley continued an energetic schedule of fieldwork, lecturing, and writing. He also represented Newfoundland overseas as an authority on the colony’s natural and human history.Howley made significant museological and scholarly contributions alongside his geological work. He is considered the founder and the first curator of the institution that became the Newfoundland Museum, then located on Duckworth Street. In this position, he oversaw the consolidation and expansion of both the museum and its core collections. Howley is perhaps best known for his 1915 publication, The Beothucks or Red Indians – The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland. It presented his decades-long research of the Beothuk, an Indigenous people distinct to Newfoundland, whose last member, the woman Shanawdithit, died in 1829. Written within the perspectives of his time, it is nevertheless important as a compilation of previously unknown or scattered information about the Beothuk that would otherwise have been lost without Howley’s efforts.Howley’s posthumous memoirs, Reminiscences of Forty-two Years of Exploration in and about Newfoundland, as well as his fine photographs of Newfoundland’s interior, and his scientific writings have been made available as digital documents. Together, these contributions are valuable records of early scientific explorations of the island from a personal perspective and provide a unique historical record of late 19th and early 20th century Newfoundland life beyond St. John’s

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