A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 4, "Nova Scotia at the Turn of the 19th Century." TOC
Ch. 6 - Early Government:

Always in the background, in these years, 1793 to 1815, there was war. This war, or as history has it, the "Napoleonic Wars," according to Burke, was not a regular war between nations; but rather of war of all civilized nations (including the overthrown government of France) against Jacobins.

"Whatever were the first motives to the war among politicians, they saw that in its spirit, and for its objects, it was a civil war; and as such they pursued it. It is a war between the partisans of the ancient civil, moral and political order of Europe against a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists which means to change them all. It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the conquest of France."1
This sect, this populist movement, placed emphasis upon the observation of and sympathy with ordinary people. This movement against the long established order of power, wrapped up as it was in the monarchies of Europe and the attending aristocracies, was international in scope and made itself felt both on the European continent and in North America. In England the movement blossomed, but not in the bloody state that in did in the American Revolution of 1776 (which Burke supported), and most certainly not like that in the French Revolution of 1789 (which Burke, because of its bloody consequences, did not support). Great principles, during this age, came into conflict. One side was represented by Edmund Burke, the other by Thomas Paine. If you had any ideas politic, and there were many in those days that did, more it would seem then exist these days, then you were obliged to pick a side. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish-born English Statesman and author, -- though sympathetic towards the American colonists and Irish Catholics, alike -- attacked the principles of the French Revolution, and the violence and excesses of its leaders, in his work Reflections on the French Revolution (1790). Thomas Paine (1737-1809), one who was hardly new to the political scene, answered Burke with his work, Rights of Man.2 The works of both of these men "were read and discussed with a simple eagerness natural to men plunged for the first time into political speculation."3

"May the last of the Kings be strangled with the guts of the last priest," was an old Jacobin toast. It frightened the average Englishman, whether he was in England or in its colony of Nova Scotia. The respected historian John Richard Green wrote:

"The cautious good sense of the bulk of Englishmen, their love of order and law, their distaste for violent changes and for abstract theories, as well as their reverence for the past, were rousing throughout the country a dislike of the revolutionary changes which were hurrying on across the channel; and both the political sense and the political prejudice of the nation were being fired by the warnings of Edmund Burke. ... [Burke hated] a revolution founded on scorn of the past, and threatening with ruin the whole social fabric which the past had reared; the ordered structure of classes and ranks crumbling before a doctrine of social equality; a state rudely demolished and reconstituted; a church and a nobility swept away in a night."4
We have, in an earlier part, briefly reviewed the events which led France and England to go to war in 1793 and draw in, on one side or the other, all the countries of Europe. The war years changed Nova Scotia, especially when the new country of the United States of America was drawn in because of the heavy handed fashion in which Britain dealt with "neutrals." It led to the The War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. Britain was to use Nova Scotia as a staging ground so to launch its amphibious attacks on the United States; but all of that we will come to in our next part.

It is surprising to see, as one goes through the volumes containing his diaries, to see how Simeon Perkins, for one, kept abreast of world events. (I suspect there were many others like him in Nova Scotia.) Let us take a look at some of his entries:

July 31st, 1792:
"Rec'd a number of newspapers [via Halifax], by which it appeared that the French & the King of Hungary are at war, and a general commotion among the powers of Europe. Our King takes no part yet, & prohibits his subjects from engaging in privateering under other powers."
August 12th, 1797:
"The general report in Halifax is that the demands of the French are so extravagant that they cannot be complied with by Great Britain, therefore the prospects peace are at a distance. What the French demand is said to be a restoration of all we have taken from them, a part of Nova Scotia, two fortified ports in Newfoundland, and two million in cash, and Gibraltar to be ceded to the Spanish."
July, 1791:
"A mob of men in support of the principles of ultra liberty, but more interested, once things got started, in riotous activities, gathered in Birmingham, England, and proceeded to burn down houses belonging to the innocent. The army was brought in and peace was restored." [This is known in history as the "Birmingham Riots."]
October 13th, 1792:
"He [a Captain that just came in from Halifax] has brought newspapers which give an account of terrible riots & mobs in France, the King dethroned, his palace stormed by cannon & broke open, his furniture, wine, etc. destroyed. The Germans & Prussians have entered the Kingdom & are marching towards the capital."
January 11th, 1794:
Perkins reads a newspaper that came in from Halifax. "The Queen of France is beheaded, and 21 of their Great Men; the queen on the 16th of October, the others the 31st."
February 4th, 1794:
Perkins got his hands on another newspaper from Halifax: "there is still much fighting on the borders of France, and the guillotine is still taking off heads."
September, 17th, 1794:
A schooner comes in from Plymouth and the Captain, "reports that they have late news from France; that the French are carrying all before them in Flanders ... and that some large town near Amsterdam, has lately fallen into their hands, and that 500 aristocrats fell into their hands, all which they immediately put to death ..."

These were terrible times and the people of Nova Scotia were reading of them in their local papers.6 These were the times when bloody European battles were fought against the French people's hero, Napoleon Bonaparte. The government of Nova Scotia at its highest aristocratic levels were worried as the ordinary people in Nova Scotia were not without their own populist leaders.

At the highest aristocratic level in Nova Scotia, during most of the years now under review, was its governor, John Wentworth. Wentworth was in command at Halifax for a sixteen year period from 1792 to 1808. He had been the governor of New Hampshire, a job he lost on account of the American Revolution. Returning to England for a short period of time he was sent out to Nova Scotia as the Surveyor-General of the British North American woods. He had his eye on the governorship of Nova Scotia. With the death of Governor Parr, Wentworth in 1792 achieved his objective. Perkins wrote in his diary on May 24th, 1792, "The new Governor, Mr. Wentworth is well approved of by the people in general." Well, that's what Perkins thought at the time. The fact is that Wentworth was the leader of a great flood of people, 30,000 Loyalists7 that between April and November, 1783, were transported by five major fleets, and who settled in various locations in Nova Scotia. The loyalists overwhelmed the old settlers who thought they had Nova Scotia to themselves. In 1784, Governor Parr made a return8 and gave a figure of 42,747 as the population of Nova Scotia. (Nova Scotia would then have been a larger territory from which came the current-day provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.) The figure was broken down to include "Old British Inhabitants," 14,000; Loyalists, 28,347.

The flood of loyalists that came into Nova Scotia from the United States and the resulting pressure on the old inhabitants is background to a stimulating historical saga that can be told: a story of a bachelor prince of the powerful House of Hanover and his French mistress -- a story of a Governor who had been appointed by this powerful House -- a story of a Lieutenant Governor's Wife who was quite prepared to show, in an intimately physical way, her appreciation for political favors bestowed -- a story of a bloody sea war between Britain and the young United States, and the critical role played by Nova Scotia -- a story of a young elected representative, and how he took on the establishment and won -- a story out of Canada's past, when the world was green. This is the true story of William Cottnam Tonge and John Wentworth in colonial Nova Scotia.

The classic struggle, world over, was, and is, between those who are in power and those who want to be in power. They may have different ideologies, but their approach to getting power and keeping it is much the same. In Nova Scotia we had these two factions which have now been explained. The battles between them were not of the bloody kind; they were of the political kind. This might be best demonstrated by the election of November, 1785, in the County of Annapolis. The contest was between David Seabury and Alexander Howe. Seabury was a loyalist and Howe from a family that had long been in Nova Scotia. Indeed, Howe was the youngest son of Edward How who had given up his life in the French wars for Nova Scotia. This was an epic struggle between the newcomers who had fled the American Revolution to Nova Scotia and the established settlers whom they found there. Freeholders cast their votes. (I should say, parenthetically, that freeholders were males who held property worth 39 shillings, but did not include Roman Catholics.) On November 25th, Seabury was declared the winner with a majority of 165 votes. Howe, like his father was a fighter. He immediately appealed the result. The assembly heard him and read "seven dispositions," at least one of which showed that an office-holder, Sheriff Robert Tucker, a loyalist who had come from North Carolina in 1783, had, openly supported Seabury and "that he had been high-handed in his position, using the office to practice polling irregularities. The House of Assembly declared the seat vacant and ordered a new election. And so, the combatants went to the polls again: Seabury again won; Howe again appealed. On this second appeal (same grounds) the House passed a resolution by a majority of two to one, to remove Seabury from his seat and filling it instead with Howe.9

The Seabury-and-Howe political duel of 1785-6, though there was much back-room maneuvering, ended without any great civil disturbance. It was not so for all elections. In 1788, there was an election in Halifax which broke out into a riot. It pitted Charles Morris and Jonathan Sterns (Morris won). We quote from Anthony Henry's Gazette:

"[In spite of efforts] to prevent many persons from being wounded and hurt, two of whom, we are sorry to inform the public, remain in a dangerous state; one having his skull fractured by some persons who rushed out of Laycock's house on the beach, and the other having been dangerously wounded by a shot from a window in the same house. We are likewise sorry to inform the public, that Mr. Benjamin Mulberry Holmes and his son, have been much beaten and abused by the populace on Friday night, and were it not for the very fortunate and timely interposition of Mr. Tobin's man and some others, it is probable they would have fallen a sacrifice to an enraged multitude."10
In 1799, the 7th General Assembly, elected in 1793, was dissolved. An election was called and commenced at Halifax on Monday, 18 November, at 11 A.M., and closed there on Saturday, the 23rd. The election led to the 8th General Assembly which was dissolved in 1806.11
"The 1799 election saw the birth of political parties in Nova Scotia; candidates in Colchester and Pictou districts (the two were then part of Halifax County) combined to challenge what they angrily called the 'Government or Court Party' ... The Court Party could generally be relied upon to support both Wentworth's wishes and those of Halifax's mercantile community. ... There had even been talk of moving the capital from Halifax to the more central rural retreat of Windsor. ... At Tonge's urging James Fulton, a prosperous farmer in Londonderry township, and Edward Mortimer, the wealthiest merchant and landowner in Pictou, determined to run and challenge the Court party's control over the county's representation. With Tonge, they formed the nucleus of what became called the Country Party ..."12
The Tonge gang consisted of: Dimock, Robie, Morton, Allison, Bolman, Oxley, Wollenhaupt, Wilkins, Barss, Chipman, Campbell, C. Campbell, Parker, Cox and Marshall. The Wentworth gang: Blowers, J. Halliburton, B. Wentworth, J. Brenton, A. Belcher, C.M. Wentworth, and Hartshorne -- all council members. In addition there were Hutchinson, Beckwith, Cochran, who with Belcher were members of the commission appointed to oversee the building of Government House, with Michael Wallace as its head; Uniacke has to be considered as part of the Wentworth gang, too.

In January of 1800, Governor Wentworth, in a letter to one of his correspondents, demonstrated how he was convinced that contested elections have come about on account of the "machinations of one member, actively disseminating discord and hatred, both in and out of the house, more especially against those who are in the king's service, and longest established. Strange to tell, this man and his family exist upon the bounty of government, and thus ungratefully seeks to subvert its harmony, in which consists its credit and prosperity, but I think he will be disappointed."13 Wentworth also inveighed against popular meetings: "convened in the country, ... composed of uneducated tradesmen, labourers and farmers, ... who, from the nature of their industry, cannot possibly have ... any real information - who are persuaded to sign or make ... their mark to anything, often without knowing the contents, ... and almost always deceived in its objects and consequences."14 Murdoch wrote:

"Naturally he had a horror of ultra-democracy, which had banished him from his native home, and the more moderate views of English freedom seemed to scare him. The error of all the old, colonial constitutions, which combined in one small body of men all kinds of offices and powers, some quite incompatible with others, was at the bottom of the mischief. The same men were a privy and a cabinet council and a house of lords. They also held most of the executive and judicial offices, and their tenure of all these functions were practically for life; also, on a vacancy in their number by death or removal, they had it much in their own hands to nominate the person to fill it."15
The governor's mansion, Government House, is not only a fine example of Georgian architecture but also a fine example, during the years it was built, 1798 to 1805, of what brought about fights between the elected representatives of the people (the County Party) and the self-appointed elite (the Court Party). In 1797, legislation was passed setting up a commission for lands to be found and bought and buildings to be built ("of stone or brick") to house the main branches of government: the Assembly (Province House), the courts and the governor (Government House).16 Construction commenced during 1798, and, on September 11th, 1800, the cornerstone was laid by Wentworth. This Georgian stone edifice, Government House, stands and is in use today, the pride of Halifax.17 Architect Isaac Hildreth drew the plans, Michael Wallace was the commissioner who supervised its construction18, and a reluctant Assembly kept voting funds year after year, even though the cost rose to be much greater than what was originally projected. The country members were not keen to see money being spent on the palace at Halifax; so, it was necessary to pay them off, so to speak, by spending money on rural roads. A master painter, John Merrick, employed at the dockyard, was given the job as the interior decorator; later, it is seen19 that Merrick was to become the "architect for the building of Province House." On April 9th, 1802, the committee of the whole House condemned the commission set up to oversee the building of Government House. The committee had kept no minutes and it obtained no estimates; generally it exercised no control over the £10,000 which the House had allotted. The lack of control was so bad, that, while only the first story had been completed, the money was practically all gone.20 A few days later, on the 14th, the displeasure of the House was communicated to the Governor, who sent back a message. Sir John "declined to alter the commissioners for building Government House, on the ground they were fully competent to their duty -- had not offered to resign, and had hitherto conducted themselves in that service to his satisfaction."21 During the following year when the House met, June 1st, it reluctantly voted more money, £3000, so that the great stone albatross in the south end of Halifax should go on a-building. At times the young colony was spending, during the course of a year, more money on a residence for its illustrious Governor then it was spending on all the roads in Nova Scotia. In the process, however, the House lent a better definition to "money bills": "the House, conceiving it unconstitutional and derogatory to the rights of the subject to raise a revenue until the purposes to which such revenue is be applied are ascertained ..."22 On July 20th of that year, 1803, Mr. Morris moved that the Speaker sign the two revenue bills. On a division there appeared: For the motion -- Monk, Lyon, Fulton, Chandler, Northup, Morris, McMonagle, Pyke, Rutherford, Thorne, Millidge, Cochran, McCurdy, Moody, Crane, Lovett -- 16 members in all. Against -- Dimock, Robie, Morton, Allison, Tonge, Bolman, Oxley, Wollenhaupt, Wilkins, Barss, Chipman, Campbell, C. Campbell, Parker, Cox, Marshall -- an equal number of 16. The Speaker, Uniacke, gave his casting vote for the motion, by which he attached himself to the "Court Party." Mr. Tonge then moved a grant of £10,000 to His Majesty, as a free gift from the province to assist in the war, which passed, 30 voting for it and but 2 against it."23 This is an example of the earliest development of party politics in the province.24 It was not a formal party system as we know it today. There was simply a division among the people. Call them "Newcomers and Oldcomers" or "Loyalists and Ancient Inhabitants." This division existed in the population and was soon extended into the House of Assembly.

Government House -- View, Looking Northeast.

The fact of the matter is -- though all members but two were seemingly patriotic -- that the House split between those who represented the people and those who represented the landed class, the aristocracy. The aristocracy had as its head Sir John Wentworth, the Governor, one with royal privileges to bestow. In 1805, the Wentworths finally moved into their mansion. That December, another £2,500 was voted to finish off Government House and to keep it running.25 In 1808, when sent from England to replace Governor Wentworth, Prevost was to write: "... an edifice out of all proportion to the situation ..." As for the defences at Halifax, "Ruin and desolation."26

So it was, that Wentworth was replaced in 1808 with a military officer, George Prevost. No sooner had Prevost arrived at Halifax with his troops then he was off for a little conquering in the West Indies leaving behind at Halifax Alexander Croke to administer the affairs of Nova Scotia. On December 23rd, 1808, Croke sent a reporting letter to Castlereagh, the Secretary of State at London. Dr Croke summed up the internal political state of Nova Scotia at that time (and maybe yet today).

"The internal political state of the Province may be comprehended in few words: The Lower House is as usual, composed principally of farmers, who have a little leaven of American democracy amongst them. They are consequently as a body, suspicious of Government, jealous of their rights, and strongly retentive of the public purse. Little or nothing whatever of party division prevails amongst them. They are not at all under the control, or influence, of any individuals, either in, or out, of the House; but the Government of the Province has always a considerable power over them, from its means of bestowing little favours and advantages upon the members and their friends."27
These were the days of the most flagrant wirepulling and sinister hatching of plots. This was the case in England as well as in Nova Scotia. Since the days of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), who is considered the first Prime Minister of Great Britain28, it was known that, to gain and keep power, it was necessary to dole out Crown patronage. Robert Liverpool (1770-1828) was a Tory with liberal ideas who supported a free trade policy. He did much during his term as Prime Minister (1812-27), in spite of pressure from certain quarters, to dismantle the spoils system. By the time Wellington took over in 1828, there was a "growing shortage of governmental patronage of any kind."29 The process had begun in 1780 with the speeches of Edmund Burke, and it continued from there "silently and stealthily, almost unknown to the public."

Most of the obnoxious practices were done away with by a mass of legislation passed by the English parliament throughout the forty-year period from 1782 to 1806.30 Paul Johnson makes the point that in this era, Britain reformed itself from within through a complex of legislation and, by doing so, avoided violent and bloody revolution. Great Britain did not set up for her colonies, as it had for herself, "responsible government." In the colonies the executive could not be chosen or removed by the legislature. The colonies had what might best be described as having semi-popular representative assemblies which were to advise the Governor, vote the taxes, and pass the laws.

In Nova Scotia the patronage system went hand-in-hand with nepotism. Take Dr. John Halliburton, as an example. Halliburton married the daughter of Admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton who was the sister to Judge Brenton, one of the first Attorneys-General of Nova Scotia. Halliburton, loyal to the crown, came to Nova Scotia to act as the surgeon at the Naval Hospital. In 1787, Halliburton was appointed as a member of Council.31 Halliburton's son, Brenton (1775-1841) married Margaret (b.1775), the daughter of Bishop Inglis. Halliburton's daughter married Admiral Robert Murray. Another daughter married John Beckwith.32

During November of 1795, Benning Wentworth (1755-1808), a brother to Wentworth's wife, was sworn in as a councilor, "on a royal mandamus." George Brinley was the "commissary and storekeeper general" for the garrison. Brinley's wife was a sister to Lady Frances Wentworth. Murdoch commented on the frequent recurrence of appointments and recommendations made by Wentworth of persons either connected with him by family ties or by the party sentiments he entertained. Frances' sister, Mary, came to Halifax, and Mary's "hard drinking"33 husband, George Brinley was to get the job as deputy commissary general for the garrison. So, to get ahead without family connections, was near to being an impossibility during the days under review.34 "It was not unusual in this province for a son to be appointed to succeed his father in his public offices, and in some instances arrangements were made to confer the office on one of the family before the death of its head."35 William Cottnam Tonge took, as if by way of an inheritance, his father's position as the naval officer (duty collector) at the death of his father in 1792. The younger Tonge supported himself in this position. In later years he moved into politics and, as we have seen, came into conflict with the ruling party at Halifax headed up by Wentworth. By 1805, Tonge was to take a leading role in the legislature and was picked by his fellows to be the Speaker of the House, pro tempore, Uniacke, the Attorney General, being granted a six month leave of absence. Tonge took this to be a great privilege: "Gentlemen, I feel this to be the most honourable day of my life. ... To succeed as I have done, without intrigue, without personal solicitation, or influence of party ..."36 It only remains to be said, that in this battle between Tonge and Wentworth, Wentworth, in February of 1807, summarily suspended Tonge as naval officer. Just as summarily, in the following year, the 72 year old Wentworth was replaced by the home government. Sir George Prevost, the newly appointed governor, came to Nova Scotia and handed Sir John his walking papers. It was not because of any action Wentworth took towards Tonge, but rather because War was looming and what was required at Halifax was a "military governor."

At London, in these colonial days, would be found the Commission of Customs, the Secretary-at-War, the Admiralty, the Admiralty Courts, the Surveyor-General of the King's Woods and Forests, the Postmaster-General and the Bishop of London. Each had their own involvement with possessions over the seas. By 1800, most of these offices had there own people at Halifax. They were representative of the official class, sent out from London as a result of delivering party jobs or the return of personal favours. The Colonies "were made the dumping ground for worn-out general officers, and cousins of peers and boroughs." Those required to report to them found those that the Colonial Office sent out were "corrupt and snobbish, a pinchbeck aristocracy, keeping itself loftily apart."37

Prior to the appointment of Henry Bathurst (1762-1834) as the Colonial Secretary in 1812, the Colonial Office, first created in the 1790s, was a small operation consisting of a couple of clerks in cramped quarters. That changed under his administration. Bathurst was of a conservative temperament, and while reticent, he was assiduous.38 He was an example, as Paul Johnson points out, of one of those Ministers of the Crown who, under the "old system" of government, did their own work. "[C]lerks were there to copy letters, not to write them." The Colonial Office, working out of 14 Downing Street, was run like a "gentleman's London house." There were, in England, in these days, Treasury restraints. The radicals of the day -- the likes of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham -- were having their way. The political objective at these times was to cut government expenditure, and to make government more efficient and less corrupt.

A succession of British-appointed governors had followed Edward Cornwallis: Peregrine Hopson, Charles Lawrence, William Campbell, Francis Legge and John Parr. In 1792, John Wentworth was sworn in as the Governor of Nova Scotia, a position he was to hold for a good long stretch, until his replacement, George Prevost, came along in 1808. I do not believe any of these gentleman (there were a few appointments in between that may well qualify) meet the description that certain writers have used. They were not corrupt or of the pinchbeck aristocracy, or "well-intentioned military man, gallant and gouty, with little knowledge of her history or her civil institutions, with a tendency to fall under the control of a small social set, whose interests are different from or adverse to those of the great majority."39 No, on the contrary. If one examines the lives of these men, it will be concluded, that they were thoughtful and industrious men who brought Nova Scotia a considerable piece down the track to the great British province she was to become. Not only were persons such as Cornwallis, Hopson, Parr and Wentworth sent out; but so too were sent princes of the royal blood.

Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, the Duke of Kent, came to Halifax in 1794. He was sent from England in a military capacity replacing General James Ogilvie. Upon his arrival, the Duke immediately set out to improve his predecessor's defence works, including the earthwork batteries covering both the entrances to the harbour and to the Northwest Arm, in an area we now know as Point Pleasant Park. Upon the advice of his Royal Engineer officer, Captain James Straton, Edward began work, in 1796, on the Prince of Wales Tower (named after his eldest brother). While the Duke did have some difficulties with his superiors in London -- his authority only extended to the building of temporary field works for emergency use -- the objections were eventually overcome and the "Martello Tower"40 was completed in 1797. Before the Duke left Halifax in 1800 he had built similar towers at both York Redoubt and Fort Clarence. These fortifications remained unchanged through to 1860. We will look further into Prince Edward's military activity during the years he was at Halifax in our next part. Now, however, we turn to two English statesmen whose influence from London went worldwide.

[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 7 - "The Legislature & The Courts."]

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