Alderdice, Frederick Charles (1871–1936), businessman and politician, the last prime minister of the dominion of Newfoundland, was born 10 November 1871 at Rose Cottage, Stranmillis, Belfast, son of William Alderdice, linen and yarn merchant, and Rachael Katharine (‘Kathleen’) Alderdice (née Monroe). Educated at the Methodist College, Belfast, he emigrated at age 14 to Newfoundland, where he prospered in varied business interests as a protégé of his Irish-born uncle Moses Monroe (1842–95), president of Colonial Cordage Co., the country's only manufacturer of rope, twine, and fishing nets. Becoming vice-president and managing director of the company in 1922, Alderdice was also a director of Imperial Tobacco, Newfoundland Hotel Facilities, Eastern Trust, and two insurance companies. Despite suffering at an early age the amputation of both legs, he pursued his business and later political careers with great energy. He entered politics in 1924 as a member of the appointed legislative council, the upper chamber of the Newfoundland legislature. In 1928 he became government leader in the council, then succeeded on the retirement of W. S. Monroe (qv), his Dublin-born kinsman and business partner, as leader of the right-wing Liberal-Conservative (‘tory’) party, and as prime minister (August–November).
Decisively defeated in the November 1928 general election, he was opposition leader during a period (1928–32) in which the dominion's grave economic difficulties – originating in the massive public debt incumbent on mismanaged infrastructural development and the costs of the first world war – were exacerbated by the effects of the 1929 depression, especially the collapse of the international fishery markets. When public outrage over mounting unemployment, widespread deprivation, and accusations of ministerial corruption culminated in the Colonial Building riot, during which protestors invaded and ransacked government offices (5 April 1932), the Liberal Party administration collapsed and elections were called. As leader of the United Newfoundland Party – a coterie of leading merchants – Alderdice portrayed himself as a ‘plain man of business’ ranged against the veteran ‘men of politics’, and pledged to examine the feasibility of a temporary replacement of representative institutions by an appointed governmental commission equipped to address the economic crisis.
Winning a landslide victory, in which his party took all but two of the twenty-seven seats in the house of assembly, he became prime minister, minister of finance and customs, and minister of education (1932–4). With expenditure slashed to the bare minimum, the government's credit entirely exhausted, and the country verging on bankruptcy, in November 1932 he proposed a four-year reduction in the semi-annual interest payments due on the public debt to 25 per cent of the normal rate. Alarmed that even such partial default might seriously damage the credit of the empire with lenders, the governments of Britain and Canada intervened and induced Alderdice to accept short-term financial assistance in meeting debt payments in full, pending the report of a royal commission of enquiry into the dominion's finances and governance. The resultant Amulree commission proposed (October 1933) a rescheduling of debt at a lowered rate of interest with capital investment guaranteed by the British government. Attributing Newfoundland's difficulties to ‘a prolonged period of misgovernment’, and prescribing a temporary ‘rest from politics’, the commission recommended suspension of existing legislative and executive institutions and administration by a commission appointed by and responsible to the dominions office in Westminster. When London insisted that there be no election or referendum on the issue, Alderdice forswore his campaign promise of no constitutional change without popular consultation, and carried through the Newfoundland legislature an address to the crown requesting implementation of the Amulree proposals.
After passage of the Newfoundland act (1933) by the imperial parliament, he signed the formal suspension of the constitution on 16 February 1934. Appointed to the commission of government as vice-chairman and commissioner for home affairs and education (1934–6), he was one of three Newfoundlanders on the seven-member body. Although the extraordinary surrender of responsible and representative government must be understood against the local conditions of dire fiscal crisis, a mercantile elite never fully committed to democratic government, and widespread public disillusion with politics owing to corruption and misrule, historians have also interpreted the event in the context of the worldwide decline of faith in liberal democracy amid the ravages of the 1930s depression. Intended as a temporary measure, Newfoundland's government by commission persisted for fifteen years until 1949, when by a small majority the electorate opted for confederation with Canada.
Alderdice was a member of the Church of England synod. Widely respected and unpretentious, a committed foe of political corruption, he was adjudged by the dominions office as thoroughly honest in money matters. He married (1900) Harriet Carter; they had two sons and two daughters. His recreations were golf, fishing, and motoring. Three days after suffering a stroke, he died at his home in the Newfoundland capital of St John's on 26 February 1936.