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CAMPBELL, Lord WILLIAM, naval officer and colonial administrator; b. c. 1730, fourth son of John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll, and Mary Bellenden; d. 4 Sept. 1778 in Southampton, England.

As a younger son of a peer William Campbell possessed no inherited income, and he therefore entered the Royal Navy in search of a career. From 1752 to 1760 he served in the Indian theatre, taking part in two actions against the Comte d’Aché’s fleet and participating in the battle of Plassey. By August 1762 he had risen to the rank of captain. Campbell then spent several years in American waters, and while in command of the Nightingale he visited South Carolina. There, on 7 April 1763, he married Sarah Izard, daughter of one of the principal planters of the province. Two daughters and a son were born to the couple.

In 1764 Campbell was elected to parliament from the family constituency of Argyllshire, but he resigned two years later after being named governor of Nova Scotia, an appointment that owed much to his family’s influence at court. The death of the previous governor, Montagu Wilmot*, in May 1766 necessitated Campbell’s speedy assumption of his duties. He arrived at Halifax on 26 November and the following day took over the administration from Lieutenant Governor Michael Francklin.

In a report to the British government submitted soon after his arrival Campbell stated that Nova Scotia was £23,000 in debt and was contributing little towards its annual expenditure. Since complaints had been received about Francklin, Campbell also, as instructed, commented upon the lieutenant governor’s suitability to hold office. He criticized Francklin’s “overbearing Influence” and his ability to “sit Judge, and Arbitrator in cases, where his own Interest is most immediatly concerned,” but Francklin’s influence in London protected him.

Late in 1767 the assembly passed a bill raising the excise on locally produced rum and lowering the impost on imported spirits. Campbell had supported the measure in order to make cheaper rum available to the population and to break the monopoly of John Butler and John Fillis, who controlled the wholesale rum trade in the province. Butler and Fillis appealed to Joshua Mauger in London for assistance, and Mauger, supported by several other merchants, petitioned the Board of Trade to repeal the legislation, which they claimed would injure Nova Scotia’s allegedly large trade with the West Indies. In spite of an “able, convincing statement” by Campbell in defence of his actions, the board accepted the merchants’ arguments and ordered the legislation annulled.

Campbell was able to appear personally before the board to present his case since he had been granted leave in 1767 to return to England to bring out his wife. He was absent from Nova Scotia from October 1767 to September 1768, and upon his return he travelled to Boston for a month. Although in total his absences eventually amounted to nearly two of his seven years of governorship, Campbell was genuinely interested in the welfare of the province. He visited much of it to see conditions for himself and as a result urged that the British government finance road building to connect the various settlements and townships; he also pointed out the desirability of encouraging settlement in the “Infant Colony.”

But although Campbell believed that the province could, with proper support, become “equal to any of his Maj.s Colony’s upon the Continent,” he was prevented from exercising efficient government in many instances by economic constraints which the home authorities imposed. In 1767 he was refused permission to use the Cape Breton coal mines or the revenue from quitrents to finance road building, and in 1768 he was forced to spend £100 of his own money to rent a schooner to observe the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Campbell utilized his visit to London to convince the Board of Trade not to reduce the parliamentary grant further. He was also able to obtain a £500 grant to pay for road building but upon his return discovered that Francklin had already incurred £423 worth of debts for the construction of roads on his own initiative. Although the governor’s request for reconstruction of the decayed Halifax fortifications was refused, the threat of war with Spain in 1770 secured approval for repairs. The removal of the garrison of Halifax to Boston in 1768 caused Campbell concern, and he pointed out that the “thinly settled nature of the colony” meant that Nova Scotia was now more exposed to enemy attack.

Campbell had suffered from ill health and problems with his eyes for some time, and in 1771 these difficulties became increasingly troublesome. Leave was granted him to go south for treatment and he spent from October 1771 to July 1772 in Boston. The treatment appears to have been effective, since he returned to work with vigour, urging the British government to establish naval patrols in the Strait of Canso and in the Baie des Chaleurs to protect the fisheries and prevent smuggling. The patrols were refused, but during the winter of 1772–73 Campbell organized his own investigation into smuggling at Halifax and on the Saint John River (N.B.).

Despite his avowed intention of remaining in Nova Scotia, Campbell had twice petitioned for the vacant governorship of South Carolina, and in June 1773 his wish was fulfilled. He left Halifax in October and after spending over a year in England arrived at Charleston in June 1775. The governor met a hostile reception since the revolution was already well advanced, and his attempts to secure cooperation from the assembly were fruitless. He spent the last four months of his term of office, from September 1775 to January 1776, on a British warship in Charleston harbour. In June 1776 he participated in the British attack on Charleston as commander of a gun-deck on the Bristol. Wounded in the battle, he went to England to recover but died two years later of his injury.

Campbell’s governorship of Nova Scotia has been described as uneventful by historians, and there is little doubt his term of office lacked the controversy associated with that of his successor, Francis Legge. His relations with assembly and Council were generally good and he was popular with the community at large. He was one of the more energetic governors in trying to improve communications and defence and to increase settlement; it was his misfortune that the economic climate was unfavourable to his plans.

Francis A. Coghlan

PANS, F.-J. Audet, “Governors, lieutenant-governors, and administrators of Nova Scotia, 1604–1932” (typescript, n.d.). PRO, CO 217/44, ff.11–19, 157–59, 167–68; 217/45, f.245; 217/46; 217/47, ff.23–24; 217/48, ff.41–43, 45, 140. Burkes peerage (1927). DAB. Murdoch, History of N.S., II, 463, 468–72, 474, 478, 480, 488–94. J. S. Macdonald, “Memoir, Lieut.-Governor Michael Francklin, 1752–1782,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XVI (1912), 7–40.

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Cite This Article

Francis A. Coghlan, “CAMPBELL, Lord WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_william_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_william_4E.html
Author of Article:   Francis A. Coghlan
Title of Article:   CAMPBELL, Lord WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   June 16, 2024