A Blupete Biography Page

Edward Cornwallis
"The Founder of Halifax."

Edward Cornwallis1 was the sixth son of Charles, fourth baron of Cornwallis, and Lady Charlotte Butler, daughter of the Earl of Arran; his grandfather, the Duke of Ormonde. The Cornwallis family was possessed of "large estates in Suffolk and the Channel Islands, as well as a fine household and retinue in London." At the age of twelve years old, he and his twin brother2 were appointed royal pages, attending the royal family and court at Windsor and Hampton Court Palace. At fourteen the brothers were enrolled at Eton. Edward entered military service at eighteen and "was garrisoned for several years around and about London, but never very far from it."

At the age of 21, in 1734, Cornwallis was made a major of the 20th Foot3 and was appointed to the personal staff of the Duke of Cumberland. In 1744, Cornwallis was appointed a member of parliament for the borough of Eye in Suffolk. The following year he joined his regiment in Flanders and fought at the Battle of Fontenoy, a battle lost by the British and their allies (the Austrians and the Dutch) to the French. Returning home from Europe, Cornwallis was given the post of Groom of His Majesty's bed-chamber. In the fall of that year, 1745, Cornwallis was stationed at Edinburgh and Stirling, at which stations he became involved in the Jacobean rebellion. During April of 1746 he was at Culloden when the Duke of Cumberland defeated the forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. At the close of the rebellion, Cornwallis received, together with other commanders the thanks of his Britannic Majesty for the "satisfactory manner" in which the uprising had been suppressed.

With the conclusion of the The War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48) and the hand back of Louisbourg by the terms of The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapele and after deliberations at the highest levels in the British ministries, it was determined to found a colony of "protestants" in Nova Scotia, so to offset the Roman Catholic population, the Acadians, who were as a practical matter the only settled inhabitants of this British territory up to that time. Edward Cornwallis arrived off Chebucto on the 21st of June, 1749 (July 2nd, new style, see note on dates). There he found, on the shores of Chebucto Bay, where waters lapped virgin shores, a new British colony. It was one, if not the only colony, which was intentionally established by the British crown in North America. This business is treated separately in my history.

Cornwallis was to continue on4 as the head of the infant colony, Halifax, until his petition for relief was granted. In 1752, Cornwallis returned to England having been replaced by Peregrine Hopson. Once back in England he continued on in both his career as a politician and as a military officer. He was elected as the member for Westminster and held the seat until 1762. With the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, Cornwallis was to see duty in Ireland for a period of time; and then, in 1762, he was appointed governor of Gibraltar. At the age of 63, still the Governor of Gibraltar, Edward Cornwallis died.5

As to Cornwallis' character: "a strict disciplinarian whose submission to the command of his superior officer was the first and only duty without regard to the consequences."6 Wolfe thought him to be particularly sensitive to reproach. Akins says, "If we may judge from the course twice taken by him when under difficulties, he was lacking in the firmness required to oppose the authority of his superior."7


[1] Articles written about Cornwallis, include: James S. MacDonald, "Hon. Edward Cornwallis, Founder of Halifax"; NSHS, vol. 12 (1905); Dr. Webster, "The Forts of Chignecto," (1930) Appendix beginning at 87; Reginald V. Harris "The Honourable Edward Cornwallis: Founder of Freemasonry in Halifax, (1949)", a pamphlet in the author's posession; George T. Bates, "John Gorham", NSHS, vol. 30 (1954); and, J. Murray Beck's contribution to the DCB (1979).

[2] The name of his twin brother (they were dead ringers for one another) was Frederick who was eventually to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.

[3] In 1748, Cornwallis gave up his command of the 20th Foot and a young major took his place, James Wolfe.

[4] Winthrop Bell (Foreign Protestants, p. 337) suggests that Cornwallis "never got beyond Chebucto in the three years of his governorship."

[5] MacDonald has it that Cornwallis was buried at Gibraltar; Webster, at the Gulford (Culford?) Parish Church, close to his family estate near Bury St. Edmunds. An e-mail from a person who works at Culford Hall confirms that Sir Edward Cornwallis was buried in the Cornwallis red brick vault beneath the vestry of the church of St Mary the Virgin at Culford Hall, 4 miles north of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England.

[6] Bates, op. cit., p. 60.

[7] As quoted by Bates, op. cit. In addition to Minorca, Akins had to be thinking of the abortive attempt, in which Cornwallis was involved, by the British, to take posession of Rochefort in 1757.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)