John Joseph Murphy


Melvin Baker

Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXXIV, no. 4 (Spring 1989)

John Joseph Murphy was born at Catalina on 13 May 1849, the son of coastal sailing captain James Murphy and Alice (McDonald) Murphy. He was educated at St. Bonaventure's College in St. John's and became manager of the Greenspond branch of the Harbour Grace firm of Ridley and Sons in 1869. Murphy started his own fishery supply firm in 1871 and was in business at Greenspond until 1876. In that year he left the "general business of the country" and established a sawmill and shipbuilding company at Gambo.

A succession of poor fisheries at Greenspond had forced Murphy to give up the supply business. Fortunately, he had previously purchased some sawmill machinery. Murphy applied himself to the development of Newfoundland's interior and natural resources and became one of Newfoundland's first lumber operators.

For the next 28 years, "Gambo" Murphy (as he became known) oversaw an expanding establishment at Mint Brook, Gambo. In 1893 he constructed a hotel at Gambo, anticipating that he would be able to attract sportsmen and tourists, as Gambo was connected to the railway being constructed across Newfoundland by Robert G. Reid. Murphy's hotel also served as station depot for the railway.

In 1904 Murphy sold his mill and logging rights to Newfoundland Timber Estates Ltd., a company owned by timber speculator Harry Crowe, W.D. Reid and American businessman Henry Whitney. He probably invested the proceeds of this sale in his growing interests in "electrification", particularly the United Towns Electric Company, which had been formed in 1902 by Alfred Penney and John P. Powell to supply electric power and lighting to Harbour Grace, Carbonear and other communities in Conception Bay.

Murphy entered politics when he was elected MHA for Harbour Main as a supporter of Edward Morris in the tie election of 1908. He was re-elected when Morris won a majority the following year. Murphy did not seek re-election in 1913, but accepted an appointment to the Legislative Council. He held his seat in the upper house of the legislature until the establishment of Commission of Government in 1934.

By 1914 Murphy was United Towns Electric Company's majority shareholder and he was elected president of the company in 1915. In 1919 he formed the Avalon Telephone Company, to purchase the St. John's telephone system from Western Union. Murphy remained president of both companies until his death at St. John's on 4 August 1938.