BLISS, WILLIAM BLOWERS, barrister and judge; b. 24 Aug. 1795 at Saint John, N.B., son of Massachusetts loyalists Jonathan Bliss*, attorney general of New Brunswick, 1785–1809, chief justice, 1809–22, and Mary Worthington; brother of Henry; d. 16 March 1874 at his residence, Fort Massey, Halifax, N.S.
As a loyalist William Blowers Bliss was part of the group which ruled the colony of Nova Scotia and had tremendous social prestige. After graduating from King’s Collegiate School, he received a ba in 1813 and an ma in 1816, both from King’s College where he was recognized as a classical scholar and poet. Thomas Chandler Haliburton*, creator of “Sam Slick,” was among his classmates. Bliss was admitted to the bar of Nova Scotia on 9 April 1818, then went to England where he spent several years at Westminster Hall and at the Inner Temple under Sir William Wightman, afterwards an eminent English judge. On 24 Aug. 1823 at St Paul’s Church, Halifax, he married Sarah Ann Anderson, adopted daughter of Sampson Salter Blowers*, a Harvard classmate of Jonathan Bliss and chief justice of Nova Scotia from 1797 to 1833. Bliss had seven children; his three sons moved to England and three of his daughters married eminent men of the Atlantic provinces: the eldest, Elizabeth Ann, was married to William Odell* of New Brunswick, Mary to Bishop Hibbert Binney*, and Louisa to Bishop James B. Kelly* of Newfoundland.
In 1830 Bliss was elected to the Nova Scotia assembly for Hants County. In keeping with his family tradition and social position he was a Tory, but he expressed independent opinions by supporting the demand for the separation of the executive and legislative functions in the council and by backing a group of Halifax businessmen seeking a charter for the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1832. He was elected to the first board of directors of the bank on 10 May 1832 and remained in that capacity until 1835. Other directors of the bank included his brother, Lewis Bliss, Mather Byles Almon, James Boyle Uniacke*, James William Johnston, William Murdoch, and William Lawson*, the first president.
When S. S. Blowers resigned the office of chief justice in 1833, he strongly recommended that his son-in-law and protégé be appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court, but there were other candidates with more seniority. However, upon the death of Richard John Uniacke* II, Bliss was appointed by royal mandamus of Queen Victoria a puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on 15 May 1834, at an annual salary of £540 and fees. Mr Justice Bliss was strict in upholding the dignity of the court and was respected for his industry, his legal knowledge, and the logical expression of his opinions. He had been appointed when it was customary for puisne judges to rise by seniority to be chief justice, but was disappointed in this expectation because responsible government made this position a prize of the political party in power. In 1860 the Liberal government by-passed Judge Bliss when their leader, William Young*, left politics; he became chief justice. Ill health forced Bliss to resign from the court in January 1869. Sir Charles Hastings Doyle*, lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, requested that Queen Victoria confer “the honour of Knighthood or some other marks of Her Royal favour on her old Servant on his retirement from the Bench,” but this request was never granted. A portrait of Mr Justice Bliss hangs in Halifax County Court House.
Bliss acted as one of the governors of King’s College at Windsor from 1848 to 1853, and as one of the trustees of the Halifax grammar school from 1847 to 1868. He was president of a short-lived historical society formed at Halifax in 1863. A devoted member of the Church of England, he served for several years as a member of the vestry of St Paul’s Church in Halifax and later attended St Luke’s Cathedral when his son-in-law Bishop Binney moved his episcopal chair there in 1864. He was one of the first contributors to All Saints’ Cathedral in Halifax.
When Judge Bliss died in 1874, he left an estate valued at $536,725. Authors have assumed that he inherited Judge Blowers’ fortune, but it was left to Bliss’ wife, Sarah. It is known that Bliss inherited about $20,000 in 1818 from his American grandfather, Colonel John Worthington; he also received a bequest from his father. Bliss seems to have been shrewd enough to invest his capital in bank and railway stocks rather than in shipping. Certainly his position on the board of the Bank of Nova Scotia and his social contacts with the Halifax business élite provided him with useful financial information which enabled him to make astute and lucrative investments.
Halifax County Court of Probate, will of S. S. Blowers, 1842; will of W. B. Bliss, 1874. PANS, Anderson family papers; Bliss family papers. PRO, CO 217/114, 97–99, 125–26; 217/155, 43, 55. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 17, 20 March 1874. R. V. Harris, Catalogue of portraits of the judges of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and other portraits, Law Courts, Halifax, N.S. ([Halifax], n.d.), 45–47, 59. F. E. Crowell, “Bliss family,” Yarmouth Herald, 9 Aug. 1932. J. W. Lawrence, The first courts and early judges of New Brunswick (Saint John, N.B., 1875),17–19. C. J. Townshend, “Memoir of the life of the Honourable William Blowers Bliss, with portrait,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XVII (1913), 23–46.