Duncan Campbell's History of Prince Edward Island - Ch. 4


Colonel F. W. DesBarres, successor to General Fanning - His character as a Governor - Succeeded by Charles Douglas Smith - His character as displayed in his opening address - Proclamation of immunity from Proprietory conditions - Oppressive measures in regard to Quitrents - John McGregor, Sheriff - Public meetings called in the Counties - Tyranny of the Governor exposed - Arrival of Colonel Ready, and departure of Smith.

In July, 1805, Colonel Joseph F. W. DesBarres arrived in the island for the purpose of succeeding Governor Fanning. He was a man well advanced in life, and had held for some time the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Cape Breton, when that island was a separate province. His administration was notable for the occurrence of three important events, namely, the official announcement to the assembly that the act of 1803, which was intended to invest in the Crown the lands on which arrears had not been paid, was disallowed; the passing of the important resolutions of the assembly, to which reference has been already made, condemning the disallowance as grossly unjust, and in direct opposition to a settled and declared imperial policy; and the declaration of war by the United States against Great Britain. Colonel DesBarres is said to have been a man of cultivated mind, who, during his administration, strictly adhered to the official line of duty; and if he did not originate, during the eight years he was in office, any measure which could be regarded as of striking public utility, he gave no evidence of a selfish or tyrannical disposition, which is more than could be affirmed of his successor, Charles Douglas Smith, - a brother of Sir Sydney Smith, - who

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succeeded DesBarres in 1813. The assembly met in November of the same year. The address which the governor delivered on that occasion was such as indicated the temper of the man: it was dictatorial and insolent in its tone.. He prorogued the house in January, and indicated his estimate of the utility of the popular branch of the legislature by not again convening it till July, 1817. Its proceedings in that year were not satisfactory to the governor, who was determined to shackle the members and prevent them. from adopting any measures which did not accord with his own notions of propriety. His excellency accordingly dissolved the house, and a new one was convened in 1818 which, proving quite as refractory as the previous one was also suddenly dissolved, and another elected in 1820.

On the eighth of October, 1816, the governor had published a proclamation in which he intimated that the King had graciously resolved to extend to the proprietors of land in the island immunity from certain forfeitures to which they were liable by the conditions of their original grants and also to grant the remission of certain arrears of quitrent, and fix a scale for future payment of quitrent. But the governor, before the amount of quitrent to be exacted had been determined by the home government, directed the. acting receiver general to proceed, in January, 1818, to enforce payment of the arrears which had occurred between June, 1816, and December, 1817, on the old scale. Much distress was occasioned by these proceedings; and on the matter being represented to the home government, orders were issued to discontinue further action, and to refund the money exacted above the rate of two shillings for every hundred acres. It was at the same time intimated that the new rate would be rigidly exacted in future; but the years 1819, 1820, and 1821 passed over without any public demand.

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being made. Several proprietors, during that period, had offered payment to the acting receiver general, by whom they' were informed that he had no authority to receive it. The impression was therefore prevalent that no further quit-rent would be demanded, more especially as payment was not exacted in the neighboring provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. But on the twenty-sixth of June, 1822, the following notice was posted up in Charlottetown by John Edward Carmichael, the receiver general: "This office will be kept open from the first to the fourteenth of July, ensuing, for the payment of all arrears of quitrent due and payable within this island. Office hours, from ten till two o'clock." This demand not being peremptory in its terms, was disregarded by many who saw it, and the great body of proprietors in the country never heard of the notice.

In December, 1822, the acting receiver general posted up another notice, intimating that payments must be made by the fourteenth of January; but no steps were taken to give due publicity to the notice throughout the island, neither was any warning given to the proprietors as to the consequences of nonpayment. In January a distress was taken on the lands of two of the principal proprietors on townships thirty-six and thirty-seven. Immediately after doing this, the officers proceeded to the eastern district of King's County, which was one of the most populous on the island, and astonished the people by demanding instant payment, or promissory notes payable in ten days, on pain of having their land and stock disposed of by public sale. This district was inhabited by highlanders, who spoke no other language than their native Gaelic. Men who would have faced an open foe in the field, with the courage characteristic of the Celtic race, had a profound respect for law, and dread and horror of the bailiff; and, in order to pay the demand so suddenly and

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unexpectedly made, many of the poor fellows loaded their carts with such produce as they could collect, and began a journey of from fifty to sixty miles to Charlottetown, in the depth of winter, in order to redeem the notes which they had given to the heartless myrmidons of the law. The sudden influx of grain into the market thus produced, caused a great decline in prices. This, with the suffering occasioned by the long journey, roused public indignation, and the people resolved to hold meetings in the respective counties, and take measures for their own protection against the tyranny to which they were subjected. At this time, John McGregor, subsequently Secretary to the Board of Trade in London, and M. P. for Glasgow, was high sheriff of the island, and a requisition was immediately drawn up and presented to him. It began in the following terms: "We, His Majesty's loyal. subjects, freeholders and householders in different parts of this island, in the present alarming and distressing state thereof, - threatened at this time with proceedings on the part of the acting receiver general of quitrents, the immediate effect whereof cannot fail to involve a great part of the community in absolute ruin, - feel ourselves irresistably impelled - when the island has been nearly three years deprived of that constitutional protection and support which might be expected from our colonial legislature - to call upon you, as high sheriff of the island, to appoint general meetings of the inhabitants to be held in the three counties into which this island is divided, that they may have an opportunity, according to the accustomed practice of the parent country, of consulting together for the general benefit, and joining in laying such a state of the colony at the foot of the Throne, for the information of our most gracious Sovereign, as the present circumstances thereof require." the requisition was signed by forty individuals, and the sheriff appointed

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the meetings to be held at certain specified dates at Charlottetown, St. Peter's, and Princetown.

This very legitimate procedure on the part of the people did not accord with Governor Smith's notions of propriety, and he deemed it proper to remove Mr. McGregor from the office of sheriff, and to confer it on his late deputy, Mr. Townshend. On the eighteenth of February, the Hilary term of the supreme court commenced, and Mr. Townshend, at the request of the governor, struck out the name of John Stewart from the panel. During the term, petitions were presented to the grand jury, complaining of the conduct of the acting receiver general and his deputies, and true bills were found against the latter; but no trial took place in consequence of the interference of the governor.

On the sixth of March, the first meeting called by the sheriff took place at Charlottetown. Considering the deep snow on the ground and the state of the roads, it was numerously attended, and the proceedings were conducted with the utmost order and regularity. A number of resolutions were passed, which were embodied in an address to the King, containing grave charges against the governor. It was said that, though he had resided on the island for ten years, he had only been once absent from Charlottetown, when he ventured to drive eighteen miles into the country, thus failing to make himself acquainted with its actual condition. He was charged with illegally constituting a court of escheat in 1818, and, in violation of his own public proclamation of the 8th of October, 1816, harassing by prosecution the tenants of township number fifty-five. He was charged with refusing to receive an address from the house of assembly in answer to his speech at the opening of the session in November, 1818, though he had appointed an hour for that purpose. In addition to this public insult, he was accused

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of sending a message, on the fifteenth of December, to the assembly, requiring both houses to adjourn to the fifth of January following; and before the business in which they were then occupied was finished, and when the lower house was on the point of adjourning, in accordance with the said message, it was insulted by Mr. Carmichael, the lieutenant-governor's son-in-law and secretary, who, advancing within the bar, addressed the speaker loudly in these words: "Mr. Speaker, if you sit in that chair one minute longer, this house will be immediately dissolved," at the same time shaking his fist at the speaker; and while the house was engaged in considering the means of punishing this insult, the lieutenant-governor sent for the speaker, and, holding up his watch to him, said he would allow the house three minutes, before the expiration of which, if it did not adjourn, he would resort to an immediate dissolution; and this extraordinary conduct was soon after followed by a prorogation of the legislature, in consequence of the house having committed to jail the lieutenant-governor's son for breaking the windows of the apartment in which the house was then sitting. The lieutenant-governor was also charged with screening Thomas Tremlet, the chief justice of the island, from thirteen serious charges preferred against him by the house. He was also accused of degrading the council by making Mr. Ambrose Lane, a lieutenant of the 98th regiment, on half pay, and then town major of Charlottetown, a member of it, without having any claim to the position, save that of having recently married a daughter of the lieutenant governor. Another member was a Mr. William Pleace, who came to the island a few years previously as a clerk to a mercantile establishment; from which trust he was dismissed, and then kept a petty shop of his own, where he retailed spirits. These were some of the charges brought against

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the governor, and the address concluded with the following words: "That your Majesty's humble petitioners regret much the necessity they are under of approaching your Majesty's sacred person in the language of complaint now submitted to your paternal consideration, and humbly trust, on a full review thereof your Majesty will be satisfied that the further continuance of Lieutenant-Governor Smith in the command of your Majesty's island must be distressing to its inhabitants, and, by preventing the usual course of legislative proceedings, greatly impede its prosperity." The addresses, adopted by the other counties were similar to that of which we have just given a sketch.

One of the accusations brought against the governor, which has not yet been mentioned, was, that he permitted, as chancellor of a court over which he himself presided, heavy and vexatious additions to the fees since the appointment of Mr. Ambrose Lane as registrar and master. On the fourteenth of October, the lieutenant-governor, on pretence that this charge was a gross libel and contempt of the court of chancery, commenced proceedings before himself - on the complaint of his son-in-law - against the members of the committee appointed by Queen's County to manage the address to the King, who were all served with an attachment, and subsequently committed to the custody of a sergeant-at-arms. The object of these proceedings was evidently to get hold of Mr. Stewart, in order to prevent him from going to England with the petitions, - of which the lieutenant-governor had determined to get possession. Mr. Stewart only got notice of the governor's intentions two hours before officers arrived at his house on purpose to take him into custody; but he escaped to Nova Scotia with the petitions, and thence proceeded to England. Had Stewart been taken into custody, there would, doubtless, have been a

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rebellion in the island, for the people were exasperated. Chagrined beyond measure at Stewart's escape, the lieutenant-governor determined to lay a heavy fine on the other members of the committee, and sequestrators were appointed to enter upon their property and secure the amount; but being now alarmed at unmistakeable symptoms of a popular tumult, he prudently ordered proceedings to be delayed till his judgment could be enforced. The defence was ably conducted by Messrs. Binns and Hodgson.

On Saturday morning, the twenty-sixth of July, 1823, appeared the first number of the Prince Edward Island Register, printed and edited by James D. Haszard, in which newspaper all the proceedings to which we have alluded were published. For the publication of these, Mr. Haszard was served with an order to appear at the bar of the court of chancery, being accused as guilty of a contemptuous libel against the court and the officers of the court. Mr. Palmer was agent for the prosecutor. Mr. Haszard was asked if he would disclose the authors of the publication complained of, - which he agreed to do. The parties were Messrs. Stewart, McGregor, Mabey, Dockendorff, Owen, and McDonald. Addressing himself to Mr. Haszard, the chancellor said "I compassionate your youth and inexperience; did I not do so, I would lay you by the heels long enough for you to remember it. You have delivered your evidence fairly, plainly, clearly, and as became a man; but I caution you, when you publish anything again, keep clear, sir, of a chancellor! Beware, sir, of a chancellor!" And with this solemn admonition, Mr. Haszard was dismissed from the bar.

But the rule of the chancellor was destined not to be of much longer duration; for on Thursday, the twenty-first of October, 1824, His Excellency Colonel Ready, accompanied

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by Mr. Stewart, arrived in a brig from Bristol, after a passage of twenty-eight days. "He was loudly cheered on landing by a great concourse of spectators, and was received on the wharf by a guard of the 81st regiment and a number of the most respectable inhabitants." A public meeting of the inhabitants, called by the sheriff, Mr. William Pope, was held for the purpose of voting an address to the lieutenant governor. Colonel Holland, Mr. Hodgson, and Mr. Binns were appointed to prepare it. "We feel," said the inhabitants, "the utmost confidence that the harmony which ought always to exist between the government and the people is perfectly established, and that your excellency will believe that loyalty, obedience to the laws, and a love of order is the character of the inhabitants of Charlottetown. We cannot omit on this occasion to express our unfeigned gratitude and thanks for the attention which His Majesty has been graciously pleased to pay to the interests of this colony, in confiding its government to your excellency's hands, and to add our most fervent wishes that your administration of it may be long and happy." The town was illuminated in the evening, and, to the credit of the inhabitants of Charlottetown, the exuberance of joy and festivity on the occasion was not marred by any impropriety, or insult to the man who had exercised his functions with a harshness and tyranny which made him the most unpopular governor who ever ruled on the island. The new governor was entertained at dinner in the Wellington Hotel. John Stewart was chairman, and the Honorable George Wright croupier. It is only fair to say, that an address was presented to the late governor, previous to his embarkation for England, signed by the members of council, principal officers of government, and two justices of the peace. Considering the character of Governor Smith's administration, there is a

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spice of humor in the following portion of his reply: "I assure you I must ever feel a high interest in the prosperity of a colony whose welfare, it is well known to many of you, I have unceasingly watched over. It. is my confident hope, as well as my fervent wish, that the island may continue to flourish under my successor, aided as he will be by the same support and advice from which I have myself so much and so generally benefited."

Chapter End

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History of Prince Edward Island

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