Desbarres Actions Exposed As A Tyranny

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 de
arture 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

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 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 quitrent 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 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 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 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 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


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 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 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 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."