John Masters

Served as Mayor: 1748, 1752

John Masters was the only Mayor ever to come from Newfoundland. He was born about 1691 at Silly Cove (now Winterton) in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland.

His father, John, came from Langton in Dorset and was an early planter in Newfoundland. John Masters Sr. suffered greatly from French attacks and on one occasion was taken prisoner in a French raid. He escaped from the French and in 1697 carried his wife, son and four daughters to Poole, where he bought a "low old house at the upper end of High Street" and left his family to return to Trinity Bay to continue fishing. Shortly after he was captured and murdered by Indians the French had brought to Newfoundland to assist in their raids on English settlers.

His widow set up an Ale house known as the Old Cow in Poole and young John Masters was sent to school in Wimborne Minster, When he was 13 his mother apprenticed him to William Taverner, captain of a Newfoundland ship. Masters rose to be a ship's mate, spent a few years as a planter in Newfoundland and by 1715 was in command of a small ship, the Frome, fishing mainly in St. John's.

Sir Peter Thompson of Poole, who as a young man was in St. John's in 1716, recalls meeting Masters there and noted that "he was very industrious, split all his shore fish and I thought worked rather too much".

Hard work and drive brought him prosperity. He acquired valuable salmon fishing rights and by the 1730s he was exporting large amounts of fish, mainly from St. John's. He also began importing provisions from New England and sugar, rum and molasses from the West Indies.

About 1740 he formed a partnership with an Irishman, Michael Ballard, who became the Newfoundland agent for the firm. Masters retired to England, married Sarah Taverner, daughter of his former master, and tried his hand at English politics.

Masters first settled in Greenwich and in 1741 tried to become an MP. Unfortunately, however, he did not muster the support within Government then needed for an individual to get elected to Parliament. He had fallen into disfavour with the British Government by opposing the increase of formal authority in Newfoundland.

In Poole Masters is remembered mainly for his turbulent political career. Failing to get elected in London he returned to Poole to try his luck.

He rebuilt the "Old Red Cow" alehouse in Fish Street into a mansion at the cost of £1,500 and took up residence there. He took up the cause of Poole merchants in the Newfoundland trade and tried to get support as candidate for the 1747 General Election. Despite the support of the White family and considerable expenditure on his campaign, others resented his bullying manner and he failed.

However, in 1748 Masters managed to get himself elected Mayor of Poole but in a most unorthodox manner. According to tradition one could only become Mayor by serving junior offices in the Corporation and because Masters had not qualified himself in this way, his opponents tried to dislodge him by starting a lawsuit but were unsuccessful.

Until his death Masters exercised considerable control over local politics in Poole. He held office again in 1752 and the following year tried to nominate as his successor Aaron Durell a shipbuilder. His opponents supported George Hyde, who had been nominated by the Aldermen.

There followed one of the most scandalous events in Poole's civic history with fighting in the chamber as both candidates struggled to take the Mayoral chair. In the end Masters' candidate prevailed and Durell served his term in 1753.

Masters himself again failed to get the nomination for Parliament in 1754. He died the next year on a visit to London but was returned to Poole for burial.

Contact details


01202 633200

Mayor’s Office
Borough of Poole
Civic Centre
BH15 2RU 

Page last updated: 18 June 2019
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