MORTIMER, GEORGE, Church of England clergyman; b. 20 May 1784 in England, son of Harvey Walklate Mortimer, a gunmaker on Fleet Street, London; m. 21 Feb. 1812 Mary Barford; d. 15 June 1844 in Thornhill, Upper Canada.
George Mortimer’s mother died while he was a baby, and he was placed in the care of a relative in Birmingham, where a long illness left him deformed. After his father remarried in 1787, he returned home and was privately educated. For seven years, beginning in 1798, he apprenticed at Mr Otridge’s bookstore in the Strand. He became a spiritual disciple of philanthropist Joseph Butterworth, a seller of law books at whose house William Wilberforce and others of the “Clapham sect” gathered.
While preparing for college, Mortimer studied the church fathers, whose writings would inspire the Oxford movement, and at the same time widened his acquaintance with evangelical leaders. A sensitive young man, he was often moved to tears by his reading of Christian authors. After graduating in 1811 from Queen’s College, Cambridge, he worked in a Shropshire parish. Though his bishop regarded this earnest young evangelical with some suspicion, he ordained him to a curacy there in May 1811. Mortimer later served at Bristol and in Somerset.
Discouraged by political and economic circumstances in England and convinced that clergymen who were “the unbeneficed-unpatronized heads of large families must . . . sooner or later decamp,” Mortimer left for Upper Canada in 1832. He was offered the parish of Thornhill, where two years earlier a frame church had been erected on land donated by Benjamin Thorne and others. Bishop Charles James Stewart assured him of an income of £100 from the clergy reserves, and the parish promised to pay a further £40–50 and supply a home at a moderate rent. Especially at first Mortimer was distressed by his situation. His house was small and he believed the reserves provided people with an excuse to neglect his needs. Since he had a private income, however, he did not suffer. Indeed he identified politically with “the more loyal and opulent” class and was able to devote a tithe to the poor and to other benevolent causes. When in 1836, his spirits worsened by bad health, he prepared to move, his parishioners begged him to stay. He decided to build a substantial house at his own expense, and his health improved.
The rebellion of 1837 was an uneasy period for Mortimer. As the recipient in 1836 of one of the 44 rectories granted by Sir John Colborne*, he feared himself a target for the rebel parties that passed his door on the way to Toronto in December 1837 [see William Lyon Mackenzie*]. Though he was spared, he buried one victim, Colonel Robert Moodie, in the churchyard, surrounded by mourners armed with swords and fowling pieces. The demonstration was, he remarked, “altogether uncalled for.”
As time passed, Mortimer felt his circumstances improved. The church building was enlarged in 1840, and in 1841 he was able to write, “In England all was struggling and difficulty, and no possibility of settling my family; while here, I am enabled to call every reasonable comfort around me.” His custom was to spend most of the day in his study, and to devote two or three hours to driving about the parish. He visited each family, including Roman Catholics and dissenters. Though he did not regard episcopacy as essential to a church and was friendly towards dissenters, he did warn them against the sin of schism. He delivered a similar admonition to his own parishioners when he suspected they were neglectinghis evening services to attend Methodist meetings. He established a Sunday school and a temperance society, but not all his initiatives were successful. Weekday meetings along Methodist lines were discontinued because of people’s reluctance to discuss religion. Only a dozen people availed themselves of the books in the village’s Library of Useful Knowledge, to which he had contributed.
Although Mortimer felt his first responsibility was to prepare his flock for heaven, he was conscious of his own “latent infidelity, as to the reality of the coming world.” While preaching on the afterlife, on the evening of 10 Oct. 1841, he suffered a nervous attack from which he never fully recovered. Care of the parish was entrusted to his curate, the Reverend Adam Townley, and the rector undertook less demanding work at the German Mills, some four miles distant. He resumed charge of the parish in 1843. On 15 June 1844, having learned that his bookseller in Toronto had received a new shipment, he set out for the city. He was thrown from his carriage and died of his injuries.
Mortimer was a man to whom family relationships mattered deeply. He had great affection and respect for his stepmother and formed a close attachment to his brother Thomas and sister Mary, with whom he corresponded throughout his life. His views on matrimony reflect the growing emphasis in his time on the importance of love and companionship to marriage. Before his wedding with Mary Barford, his “dearest friend,” he made himself a series of resolutions, promising to avoid “pettishness,” “pertinacity,” and “self-will,” and to “cultivate a tender and affectionate manner . . . sharing every domestic and maternal anxiety.” He vowed that he would “consult her in everything . . . give her the freest access to all my papers, letters, &c.” and “commit to her entire management all my money concerns.” “As to the arrangement of domestic concerns,” he wrote, he would “interfere as little as need be.” Their relationship indeed turned out well. When his sister was about to be married he wished her the same happiness that he enjoyed. He was the father of three sons and three daughters, in whom he took much pride. His decision to emigrate for their sake was probably sound. By 1844 Arthur was already a rector, and Herbert became president of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
[George Mortimer directed his papers to be destroyed after his death and the vestry minutes of Holy Trinity Church (Thornhill, [Ont.]) for this period were lost in a fire. The church register which he used survives and is in the ACC, Diocese of Toronto Arch. r.e.r.]
AO, MS 35, letter-books, 1839–43, John Strachan, circular to Mortimer et al., 10 June 1840; corr. to Mortimer, 13 April 1840, 5 April 1841, 10 March 1843; 1839–66 (“to societies”), letter concerning memorials of Deacon and Mortimer, 19 April 1842; 1844–49, corr. to Dr O’Brien, 7 Dec. 1846; unbound papers, letters missive authorizing the bishop of Quebec to institute the Rev. Geo. Mortimer to the parsonage at Thornhill, 16 Jan. 1836; MS 199, M. S. [Gapper] O’Brien, journals, 11 Feb. 1834. The life and letters of the Rev. George Mortimer . . . , ed. John Armstrong (London, 1847).