BOULTON, D’ARCY (baptized George D’Arcy), lawyer, office holder, politician, and judge; b. 20 May 1759 in Moulton, Lincolnshire, England, son of Henry Boulton and Mary Preston; m. 18 Dec. 1782 Elizabeth Forster in Bloomsbury (London), and they had six boys and two girls; d. 21 May 1834 in York (Toronto).
When in 1833 William Lyon Mackenzie* drew up his list of the “family compact,” he began with the name D’Arcy Boulton. Next followed Boulton’s four sons, like their father office holders all, then one son’s brother-in-law, and finally the brother-in-law’s brothers. By underscoring family connections and the monopoly of offices, Mackenzie imparted a literal aspect to the political label he helped popularize. That position in this catalogue of names did not correlate with actual political influence did not matter: a connection had been suggested in a formidable manner. Boulton’s place – at the top – seems, at the very least, symbolically apt. In the early history of the province he was surely one of its quintessential placemen.
The second son of an old family of Lincolnshire gentry, D’Arcy Boulton followed the example of his elder brother, Henry, enrolling at the Middle Temple in 1788 to study law. Law, however, took a back seat to a business career and Boulton became a partner in the Woollen Yarn Company. The enterprise encountered difficulties and in 1793 the partners declared bankruptcy. Boulton was unabashed and wrote to his wife: “Set not your mind on riches lest you should be deceived. They have wings to fly away. . . . We can, thank God, be as happy with the necessaries of life as many discontented persons cannot be with all the possessions of their imaginations.” Bankruptcy proceedings lasted several years and in the end Bolton’s financial problems may have had a bearing on his decision to emigrate.
Boulton with his wife and two sons arrived in the United States about 1797 and seems to have settled in New York’s Hudson River valley. The exact nature of Boulton’s activity is not certain: one story has him starting up a school in Schenectady, another has him an assistant oarsman on a lumber raft operating on Lake Champlain. By the turn of the century, however, he had set his sights north of the St Lawrence River. He first appears on the assessment roll of Augusta Township in 1802. Several years later, he recounted his sentiments at this change of scene in Sketch of his majesty’s province of Upper Canada: “English people, untainted by political speculations, are naturally attached to their own constitution. I confess, for my own part, that when I first . . . set my foot on British ground, after residing in the American states, I perceived sensations that were unexpected even to myself. I seemed at once to step home. I need not describe my feelings on this occasion; a true Englishman can well imagine them, and with respect to those that are not so, I am perfectly indifferent.”
If Upper Canada offered Boulton a more congenial social and political climate, there were other, more tangible, advantages as well. In 1802 his petition for a land grant was approved and he received 200 acres for himself and an additional 200 acres for each of his children, then five in number. The following year, in response to a dearth of accredited lawyers, parliament empowered the lieutenant governor to authorize attorneys to practise by licence. Boulton and others were examined by Chief Justice Henry Allcock* and admitted to the bar in Easter Term 1803; later critics labelled them “heaven-descended.” Not long afterwards Boulton began his upward climb on the ladder of official preferment. The initial rung was provided him by the death of Solicitor General Robert Isaac Dey Gray* in the wreck of the Speedy early in October 1804. The following February Boulton assumed Gray’s position. Boulton also succeeded Gray in a by-election as the member for the riding of Stormont and Russell.
His next opportunity resulted from the suspension of judge Robert Thorpe* by Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore* in July 1807. In Thorpe’s stead Boulton carried out the business of the Court of King’s Bench on circuit. He did, however, suffer a setback when he was defeated in the general election of 1808 by John Brownell. A sympathetic commentator remarked: “I really could not have believed there was so much ingratitude in the human frame as his former clients have manifested towards him.” Boulton may have suffered by association with an administration unpopular for its slow handling of land claims; he also may have had disgruntled legal customers.
Boulton, in fact, had his own problems in government circles. Gore had grown disenchanted with the legal acumen of both Boulton and Attorney General William Firth* – who differed in their legal opinions – and had begun instead to place his faith in the counsel of William Dummer Powell, an associate judge of King’s Bench. When, in the late summer of 1810, it appeared that Boulton had decided to seek the vacant judgeship (Thorpe had received another posting), Gore and Powell worked in tandem to bar his appointment. The matter, however, became academic after the frigate on which Boulton was bound for England to press for the appointment was captured on 22 Dec. 1810 by a French privateer. Boulton fought vigorously in the short-lived attempt to defend the ship; for his troubles he received a sabre slash across his forehead. He was detained for more than two years at Verdun, France, during which time he wrote letters to authorities in London in an attempt to secure his release. He also acted as the lawyer for the community of British prisoners. In this regard he exasperated his son Henry John Boulton* who declared, “My father’s letters are always about business for he has numberless ‘poor devils’ to assist as clients.”
By the spring of 1813 Boulton had obtained his parole and crossed the Channel. He had, however, to put aside his hopes for a judgeship since the post had been filled in 1811 by the appointment of William Campbell. None the less, in August 1813 he obtained a leave of absence from his duties in Upper Canada as solicitor general to transact business “regarding my family affairs of the first importance to myself and my children.” He was admitted to the English bar in May 1814, his lack of this credential having been cited by Gore and Powell in their campaign to keep him off the bench. That June, Firth, who had been dismissed as attorney general in 1812, advised William Warren Baldwin* that Boulton was lobbying for the vacant attorney generalship. In this endeavour Boulton proved successful, although his wish that Henry John succeed him as solicitor general was frustrated by the ascending star of John Beverley Robinson*. Boulton was appointed attorney general on 31 Dec. 1814; Robinson became solicitor general less than two months later.
Robinson, the brother-in-law of D’Arcy Boulton’s eldest son and namesake, proved pivotal in a further reshuffling of places in the colonial administration which occurred three years later and which stemmed from a desire on the part of Gore and Powell to have a vigorous, young attorney general, namely Robinson. A chain reaction had been set in motion by Chief Justice Thomas Scott’s retirement in 1816. He was replaced by Powell and the resulting vacancy on the bench was filled by Boulton, who was appointed on 12 Feb. 1818 and replaced as attorney general by Robinson. What ought to have been a fairly straightforward procedure was complicated by Boulton’s attempt to make appointment conditional upon Henry John’s succeeding Robinson as solicitor general. The ploy, however, did not work. Henry John was named acting solicitor general in 1818, but his commission as solicitor general, although backdated to 2 December of that year, was not issued until 1 March 1820.
By the mid 1820s the rigours of riding circuit had begun to impose too heavy a strain on Boulton; moreover, he had started to become deaf. In 1827, several months after his retirement, his wife died, and Boulton was expected to follow her shortly. Instead, he lived another seven years, dying one day after his 75th birthday at the Grange, the home of his son D’Arcy. His tenure on the Court of King’s Bench coincided with Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland*’s administration, a period of conservative reaction. Boulton could be said to have expressed the spirit of his time and place, and hence was useful to reformers such as Mackenzie as a symbol of the province’s grievances. “How is Justice Boulton’s speeches and addresses like saying Mass?” queried Mackenzie. “Because nine-tenths of the audience don’t understand their meaning.” Henry Scadding* provides a more personal description, presenting Boulton as “an English gentleman of spare Wellington physique; like many of his descendants, a lover of horses and a spirited rider; a man of wit, too, and humour, fond of listening to and narrating anecdotes of the ben trovato class.”
AO, MS 88, William Firth to W. W. Baldwin, 8 June 1813; MS 525, H. J. Boulton to D’Arcy Boulton, 11 Sept. 1811, 7 Jan. 1813; MS 537, John Small Jr. to Samuel Ridout, 28 June 1808; RG 21, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Augusta Township, assessment roll, 1802. Art Gallery of Ont. (Toronto), Boulton papers, D’Arcy Boulton to Elizabeth Boulton, 3 Sept. 1793; Boulton family tree; corr. from Lindsey & Holland County Library (Lincoln, Eng.), 9, 12 March, 6 Aug. 1973; corr. from Middle Temple Library (London), 20 March, 16 June 1973; 10 June 1980. MTL, [Alexander?] Card, “An account of the Boulton family of Toronto . . .°,” 20 Jan. 1870; W. D. Powell papers, Mrs Powell to George Murray, 13 Feb. 1807; S. P. Jarvis to Powell, 1 Oct. 1827; Alexander Wood papers, business letter-books, II, Wood to James Macaulay, 3 April 1809. PAC, RG 1, E1, 47, 6 July 1802; RG 5, A1: 15645. PRO, CO 42/336: 128; 42/349: 169–70; 42/350: 306–7, 361; 42/351: 236–37; 42/354: 192, 214; 42/357: 361. “The Boulton letters,” ed. Mrs Marsh, Women’s Canadian Hist. Soc. of Toronto, Trans. (Toronto), no. 18 (1918–19): 48. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1911: 61. U.C., Statutes, 1803, c.3. Colonial Advocate, 14 Oct. 1824, 18 May 1826, 20 Sept. 1833. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology (1967). John Burke, A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland enjoying territorial possessions or high official rank; but uninvested with heritable honours (4v., London, 1833–38), 2: 377–78. John Lownsbrough, The privileged few: the Grange & its people in nineteenth century Toronto (Toronto, 1980). W. R. Riddell, The bar and the courts of the province of Upper Canada, or Ontario (Toronto, 1928), 53. Scadding, Toronto of old (Armstrong; 1966), 25. “Hon. G. S. Boulton,” Journal of Education (Toronto), 22 (1869): 29.
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