Duncan Campbell's History of Prince Edward Island - Ch. 6


George Wright, Administrator - Court of Escheat refused - Central Academy - Severe Frost in September - Death of William the Fourth - Educational Condition of the Island - Forcible Resistance to Rent-paying - Rebellion in Canada - Able Report of Committee of Legislature on Land Question - The Coronation of Queen Victoria - Mechanics' Institute formed - Lord Durham on Land Question - The formation of an Executive, separate from a Legislative Council ordered - Mr. Cooper a delegate to London.

On the death of Governor Young, the Honorable George Wright was sworn in as administrator of the government until the appointment of a new governor. In February, 1836, Colonel Sir John Harvey was appointed governor, and arrived in the island in August, when the usual addresses of welcome were presented. There had been a popular agitation for some time for the establishment of a court of escheat, and despatches were received from the colonial secretary intimating that the prayer of certain petitions, presented to His Majesty on the subject, could not be granted. As we intend to devote, at a more advanced stage of the narrative, a chapter to the elucidation of the land question, we refrain at present from any lengthened remarks on the subject.

In January of this year the Central Academy was opened. Its first teachers were the Rev. Charles Loyd and Mr. Alexander Brown, formerly teacher of the grammar school. Mr. Loyd, having retired on account of ill health, was succeeded by the Rev. James Waddell, son of the Rev. John Waddell, of Truro, N. S.

The governor made a tour through the island for the purpose of becoming acquainted with its principal inhabit-

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ants, and observing its capabilities and resources. He was received everywhere with that degree of respect to which his position entitled him; and, in replying to the numerous addresses presented, expressed himself as highly gratified by the hospitality of the people, and the indications of progress manifested.

On the seventh of September, 1837, a frost of unprecedented severity for the season set in, by which the potato crop was greatly injured, and cereals were much damaged. Thus the prospect of a plentiful harvest was blighted in a night throughout the entire island. The loss thus sustained was referred to by the governor on opening the assembly in the spring following; and he called attention to the expediency of granting pecuniary aid for the purpose of supplying seed-grain and potatoes to such of the sufferers as required them.

In March, 1837, Colonel Sir J. Harvey, after being promoted to the rank of major general, was appointed Governor of New Brunswick, for which province he left towards the close of May. After the departure of the governor, the Honorable George Wright, as senior member of the council, took the oath of office, as administrator of the government until the arrival of Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy, who was appointed to succeed Sir John Harvey. The new governor arrived in June.

On the twentieth of June, William the Fourth died. Intelligence of His Majesty's death reached the island towards the close of July. On the twenty-first of July, Queen Victoria was proclaimed in London.

The first official visitor of schools was appointed this year, in the person of Mr. John McNeill, who, in his report for the year, gave the number of schools in the three counties as fifty-one, and the number of scholars as fifteen hundred and thirty-three. In his report, Mr. McNeill gives us an

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interesting peep at the educational condition of the country at this period, specifying the various causes to which the extreme deficiency of the educational machinery was attributable. In many of the settlements the inhabitants were poor, and having to struggle with numerous difficulties in procuring subsistence for their children, their education was regarded as a matter of secondary importance. Little encouragement was, in most cases, held out to teachers of character and qualification, and the precarious mode in which their salaries were paid operated powerfully us a bar in the way of educational advancement. Hence it not unfrequently happened, when the necessary literary attainments were wanting, that was only persons of shipwrecked character, and blasted prospects in life, who had assumed the important office of schoolmaster. "I must also mention," reported Mr. McNeill, another practice which is too prevalent in the country, and which, I conceive, is exceedingly injurious to the respectability of the teacher in the eyes of his pupils and consequently, hurtful to his usefulness, - that is receiving his board by going about from house to house; in which case he is regarded both by parents and children, as little better than a common menial." Mr. McNeill's suggestions, by way of reformation, were judicious and well put. He held the situation of visitor for ten years, and seems to have been well qualified for the post. When he vacated the situation, in 1847, there were one hundred and twenty schools, of all grades, and over five thousand scholars.

The new governor visited all the principal districts of the island, and, as the result of his inquiries and observations, addressed a circular to the proprietors of land, in which he advocated the granting of important concessions to the tenantry, with a view of allaying the agitation for escheat,

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and removing any just grounds of complaint. The governor stated to the proprietors that it was impossible for any one, unacquainted with the local circumstances of a new colony, to form a correct estimate of the difficulties and privations which the past settlers on wilderness lands had to encounter. He said it was a long series of years before he could obtain from the soil more than a bare subsistence for himself and his family, notwithstanding the most unwearied perseverance and industry. It ought not, therefore, to be matter for surprise that, although he might be ready and willing to pay a fair equivalent, either in rent or otherwise, for the land occupied, he should feel dismayed at the prospect of being deprived of the hard-earned fruits of the labor of the earliest and best years of his manhood, whether from an accumulation of heavy arrears of rent, which he was unable to realize from the land, or from the refusal of the proprietor to grant him a tenure of sufficient endurance to ensure to his family the profits of his industry; and this, probably, in the decline of life, with a constitution broken, and health impaired by incessant toil. In these circumstances it could not be matter for surprise that he should be discontented with his lot, or that he should instil hostile feelings into the minds of his family, and be ready to lend a willing ear to proposals, however fallacious, which held out a hope of relief.

After alluding to the fact, that the high sheriff of King's County had been recently resisted by a considerable body of armed men, while engaged in enforcing an execution on a judgment obtained in the supreme court for rent, and had his horses barbarously mutilated, he recommended, as a remedy for the evil, that land-agents should have a discretionary power to relieve tenants of arrears of rents, in eases where it was impossible they could ever pay them; and that long leases should be granted at the rate customary in the

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colony, the rent to be payable in the productions of the soil at the market prices, he also recommended that, in cases where long leases were objected to, the tenants should be allowed to purchase the fee simple at twenty years' purchase, or that payment for their improvements, at a fair valuation, should be ensured on the expiration of their terms.

The governor forwarded a copy of the circular containing these reasonable suggestions to the secretary of state for the colonies. This mode of dealing with the tenantry, it may be here remarked, had already, in numerous instances, been acted upon with the best results, so that the efficiency of the change recommended in securing harmony between landlord and tenant had been most satisfactorily tested.

Towards the close of 1837, a rebellion broke out in Canada. The insurgents mustered in considerable numbers, but without sufficient organization, and their leaders - utterly incompetent and cowardly - were the first to escape after a few shots were fired. The militia of the island offered their services in vindication of the King's authority; but the troops in Canada were quite sufficient to extinguish the rebellion, ere it had attained to any formidable dimensions.

The colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, transmitted to the governor the copy of a memorial from the proprietors of land, protesting against the royal assent being given to an act of the legislature of the island for levying an assessment on all lands in the island, and demanding an opportunity of stating their objections to it, by their counsel, before the judicial committee of the privy council. This document was referred to a joint committee of the legislative council and assembly, who, in April, 1838, produced an able and elaborate report in justification of the law. The committee, of which T. H. Haviland, R. Hodgson, John Brecken, Joseph Pope, Edward Palmer, and others

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were members, showed that the local expenditure of the government for the last twelve years had been £107,643, of which £27,506 had been expended on roads and bridges, to the great advantage of the property of the memorialists; £13,556 on public buildings and wharfs ; and £66,562 for other local purposes. And of these large sums, the whole amount contributed by the proprietors of the soil had been only £7,413. leaving the balance of £100,000 to be borne by the resident consumers of dutiable articles. The committee fortified their position by extracts from despatches sent by Lords Stanley and Glenelg, and completely justified the imposition of a tax of four shillings currency on wilderness lands. The report, when printed, occupied upwards of five newspaper columns, set in minion type, and bore striking evidence of the industry and ability of its framers.

It appears from a despatch from Lord Durham, then governor general of British North America, which we found at Government house in Charlottetown, and which was not published either at the time or subsequently, that Lord Glenelg forwarded this able report, along with other documents bearing on the subject of escheat, in September, 1838, to his lordship, for the purpose of obtaining his special opinion on the subject, for the guidance of the home government. It is scarcely necessary to premise, before giving this important state document, that Lord Durham is considered the highest authority on those colonial subjects of which he treats in his celebrated report, - a document which will stand for successive generations as a lasting monument of his ability as a statesman, and which has been and is now recognized as embodying the most masterly exposition of colonial questions which has ever been published.

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8th October, 1836.

"My LORD - I have had the honor of receiving your despatch of the fifth October, whereby you desire that I will express to you my judgment on the whole subject of escheat in the Island of Prince Edward. After perusing the voluminous documents with your lordship's despatch, I do not feel that it is in my power to add anything to the very full information on the subject which these documents comprise. The information before me is now so ample that upon no matter of fact can I entertain a doubt. Yearly the whole island was alienated in one day by the Crown, in very large grants, chiefly to absentees, and upon conditions of settlement which have been wholly disregarded. The extreme improvidence - I might say the wreckless profusion - which dictated these grants is obvious the total neglect of the government as to enforcing the conditions of the grants is not less so. The great bulk of the island is still held by absentees who hold it as a sort of reversionary interest which requires no present attention but may become valuable some day or other through the growing want of the inhabitants. But, in the meantime, the inhabitants of the island are subjected to the greatest inconvenience - nay, the most serious injury - from the state of the property in land. The absent proprietors neither improve the land themselves, nor will let others improve it. They retain the land and keep it in a state of wilderness. Your lordship can scarcely conceive the degree of injury inflicted on a new settlement hemmed in by wilderness land which has been placed out of the control of government and is entirely neglected by its absent proprietors. This evil pervades British North America, and has been for many years past a subject of universal and bitter complaint. The same evil was felt in many of the states of the American Union, where, however, it has been remedied by taxation of a penal character, - taxation. I mean, in the nature of a fine for the abatement of a nuisance. In Prince Edward Island this evil has attained its maximum. It has been long and loudly complained of but without any effect. The people, their representative assembly, the legislative council, and the governor have cordially concurred in devising a remedy for it. All their efforts have proved in vain.

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Some influence - it cannot be that of equity or reason - has steadily counteracted the measures of the colonial legislature. I cannot imagine it is any other influence than that of the absentee proprietors resident in England; and in saying so I do but express the universal opinion of the colony. The only question, therefore, as it appears to me, is whether that influence shall prevail against the deliberate acts of the colonial legislature and the universal complaints of the suffering colonists. I can have no doubt on the subject. My decided opinion is, that the royal assent should no longer be withheld from the act of the colonial legislature.

"At the same time, I doubt whether this act will prove a sufficient remedy for the evil in question. It was but natural that the colonial legislature - who have found it impossible as yet to obtain any remedy whatever - should hesitate to propose a sufficient one. Undeterred by any such consideration, - relying on the cordial cooperation of the government and parliament in the work of improving the state of the colonies, - I had intended, before the receipt of your lordship's despatch, and still intend, to suggest a measure which, while it provides a sufficient remedy for the evil suffered by the colonists, shall also prove advantageous to the absent proprietors by rendering their property more valuable. Whether the inhabitants of Prince Edward Island prefer waiting for the now uncertain results of a suggestion of mine, or that the act which they have passed should be at once confirmed, I cannot tell; but I venture earnestly to recommend that Her Majesty's government should be guided by their wishes on the subject; and in order to ascertain these. I propose to transmit a copy of the present despatch to Sir Charles FitzRoy, with a request that he will, after consulting with the leading men of the colony, address your lordship on the subject.

"With respect to the terms proposed by the proprietors, I am clearly of opinion that any such arrangement would be wholly inadequate to the end in view.

"I am, &c.,



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The reference in the closing paragraph of the despatch is evidently to a memorandum of terms proposed by the proprietors for the sale and settlement of land in the island, and forwarded to Lord Glenelg by Mr. G. R. Young, their talented solicitor and counsel, in January, 1838.

The very decided opinion expressed by Lord Durham led to the confirmation by Her Majesty of the act passed in 1837 for levying an assessment on all lands in the island, which confirmation was effected at a meeting of the privy council, held on the twelfth of December, 1838; but his lordship's despatch was not communicated to the assembly by the governor. Its publication would have gratified the inhabitants of the island, and mightily strengthened the agitation which had been prosecuted for so many years with so comparatively little success.

Lord Durham, in his report, has repeated many of the arguments contained in the despatch which we have given, and the valuable evidence given by John W. Le Lacheur, Robert Hodgson, - now Sir Robert, - Sir Charles FitzRoy, George Wright, Thomas Haviland, John Lawson, and G. R. Goodman is published as a portion of the appendix to His Lordship's report, - evidence which presents a clear and most reliable account of the land question, and exhibits within a moderate compass, with startling effect, the evils which had their origin in the reckless disposal of the island to non-resident proprietors, who disregarded the conditions on which it had been granted.

The coronation of Her Majesty the Queen took place on the twenty-eighth of June, and the event was celebrated in Charlottetown in a manner becoming the loyalty of the inhabitants. The prison doors were thrown open and the debtors set free. A plentiful repast was provided for the poorer classes, of which they joyfully availed themselves.

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The city was illuminated in the evening, and large bonfires kindled. At a county meeting held in the court-house, a congratulatory address to the Queen was adopted, and forwarded to London by the governor.

Towards the close of the year 1838, a Mechanics Institute was established in Charlottetown, mainly through the instrumentality of Mr. Charles Young - now the honorable Judge Young LL. D. The introductory lecture, which was subsequently published in the Gazette, was delivered by that gentleman. The Lieutenant-governor, Lady Mary FitzRoy, the chief justice, and a large number of the leading people of the town were present. A course of lectures was thus inaugurated which for many years furnished entertainment and instruction to those who availed themselves of the privilege of attendance. In Charlottetown, as well as in other towns, there is a good deal of latent talent which might be beneficially elicited in the delivery of lectures during the whiter evenings. It not unfrequently happens that lecture - committees apply for lecturers in quarters where more able ones than can be found with themselves do not exist.

"'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view."

In the year 1838, the chief of the Micmac tribe presented a petition to the governor, praying for a grant of land to his tribe, which he represented as consisting of five hundred souls. This number seems to have been exaggerated; for the governor, in writing to Lord Glenelg, in reply to an application for information, states that the number of Indians on the island did not exceed two hundred. The governor recommended a grant of Lennox Island - the property of Mr. David Stewart - to the tribe.

Two sessions of the assembly were held in 1839. Whilst the first was proceeding with the public business, a despatch arrived ordering the governor to form an executive, separate

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from a legislative council he immediately prorogued the house, and made the necessary nominations to both the councils. The house again met in March, in order to complete the business which remained unfinished at the recent prorogation. During the short interval which had elapsed since the termination of the late session, intelligence had reached the governor that active measures had been taken by the State of Maine to enforce by arms their alleged claims to the territory in dispute between that state and the province of New Brunswick. The season of the year did not admit of any active assistance being rendered in the emergency; but the island authorities determined to respond to the feelings and sentiments expressed by the council and assembly of the neighboring province of Nova Scotia.

W. Cooper was the speaker of the house of assembly in 1839, and was sent as a delegate to London on the land question. Three propositions were made on the subject, namely, the establishment of a court of escheat; the resumption by the Crown of the rights of the proprietors; and a heavy penal tax on wilderness land. The home government rejected the project of escheat, and did not feel at liberty to recommend the advance of two hundred thousand pounds from the treasury. With respect to the third proposal, Lord John Russell, the colonial secretary, expressed his unwillingness to adopt it at the moment, so soon after the imposition of a tax of the same description, and until it had been clearly proved that no remedy was to be expected from the imposition of that tax, and from the disposition of time proprietors to come to an equitable arrangement with the tenantry. The colonial secretary declined to discuss the question with Mr. Cooper, and made his decision known, through the governor of the island, in a despatch dated the seventeenth of September, 1839, in which he expressed his approval of the

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terms proposed by the proprietors, through their agent, Mr. Young, recommending them as the basis on which Her Majesty's government desired that the question should be arranged.

Chapter End

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History of Prince Edward Island

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