HILL, PHILIP CARTERET, lawyer, politician, and writer; b. 13 Aug. 1821 in Halifax, son of Captain Nicholas Thomas Hill and Hannah Harriet Binney; m. 24 July 1850 Margaretta Rhoda Collins; d. 15 Sept. 1894 in Tunbridge Wells (Royal Tunbridge Wells), England.
Philip Carteret Hill may not have been quite “to the manner born,” as some have suggested, but he grew up in a family which steadily became more closely connected with the tory-Anglican-merchant establishment of Halifax. His father had come to Halifax with the Royal Staff Corps in 1815 and within three years had married Hannah Binney, whose forebears had held public office almost since the beginning of Halifax. One of her cousins, Stephen Binney*, would be the first elected mayor of Halifax, and a second cousin, Hibbert Binney*, bishop of Nova Scotia.
Before the mid 1820s Captain Hill had left the army and gone to Boston to learn how to operate a bank. He became cashier (manager) of the privately established Halifax Banking Company, which flourished “like a green bay-tree” after it began operations in 1825. In this capacity he had close associations with the king-pins of the merchant-official oligarchy, Henry Hezekiah Cogswell*, Enos Collins*, Joseph Allison, Samuel Cunard*, and James Tobin*, all directors of the bank and all members of the Council. Each of Hill’s six children, two of them Anglican clergymen, married well, three into the Allison, Almon, and Woodgate families, but Philip Carteret did best of all – he married a daughter of Enos Collins, reputed to have been at one time the richest man in British North America.
Philip distinguished himself as a student at King’s College, Windsor, interesting himself particularly in religious subjects. Although admitted as attorney and barrister on 7 May 1844, he had no need to practise law to earn a living and the Halifax Morning Chronicle once called him “a lawyer in name only and not in reality. He may have given a legal opinion or addressed a jury at some period of his lifetime, but if so it must have been a remote time to which the memory of man runneth not.” By the late 1850s he had clearly demonstrated the tenets of a conservative creed in an address to the Young Men’s Christian Association of Halifax following an extended visit to the United States. Dismissing the uninhibited expectations of young Americans, he told rank-and-file Nova Scotians to imitate the Englishman who, cast in a subordinate role, performed his duties conscientiously and uncomplainingly. The true test for everyone was the faithful exercise of the trust committed to him, though it was but a minor one.
At this stage of his career Hill was known especially for his kindness to the poor and his support of community causes; in 1862–63, for example, he served as the first president of the Nova Scotian Institute of Natural Science. He entered active public life when he served competently, although not spectacularly, as mayor of Halifax between 1861 and 1864. It seems surprising, therefore, that on the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, Nova Scotia’s lieutenant governor, Lord Mulgrave [Phipps*], recommended that Hill be knighted, an honour often bestowed on some lord mayors of British cities on occasions such as this. Nothing came of it, however, since the Palmerston government, on the outs with William Andrew Rose, lord mayor of London, decided that no mayor should be accorded the honour. Later that decade when, after a change of government in Britain, some lord mayors were knighted, Hill sought similar recognition for himself through the lieutenant governor, governor general, and Sir John A. Macdonald, each time without success. It could at least be said of him that he based his requests, not on personal accomplishments, but simply on having been mayor of an important colonial city during a grand occasion.
Hill had entered partisan politics on 4 July 1867. On that date, in an action almost like a bolt from the blue, he was sworn in as provincial secretary in what is sometimes called the Blanchard–Hill government. The Morning Chronicle fulminated that he was “as fitted for the duties of the office as he would be for the command of a man-of-war,” but the reason for the choice was clear: the need to emphasize the coalition character of the confederate government by having a Conservative counterpart to the Liberal confederate, Hiram Blanchard*. Because the leading Conservative confederates were opting for federal office, Hill was chosen almost by default. He held the secretaryship only until 18 September when the confederates went down to overwhelming defeat and Hill lost out in Halifax County. In November 1870 he tried there again in a by-election and beat out the brilliant, sharp-tongued William Garvie* by 14 votes, allegedly because of the corrupt practices of his workers. He performed well in heading a three-man opposition during the session of 1871 before being unseated by an assembly election committee consisting entirely of Liberal anti-confederates. He ran for the last time as a Conservative in the general election of 1871, again going down to defeat in Halifax.
In January 1874 Hill reappeared in politics under bizarre circumstances. The federal Conservative members for Halifax, facing certain defeat over the Pacific Scandal in the coming election [see Lucius Seth Huntington*], decided not to re-offer and, joined by some Conservative newspapers, threw their support to Donald Robb, the working-man’s candidate. An outraged Hill burst into print declaring that it was “no light thing to set class against class and to foster the idea that there is some privileged class who live at the expense of the workingman.” Several of the Conservative papers then accused him not only of intervening to protect his friend Alfred Gilpin Jones*, a federal Liberal candidate, but also of being part of “a corrupt bargain . . . not permitted by the code of honour.” In their eyes he had entered into a conspiracy by which he would become provincial secretary after the incumbent William Berrian Vail* entered the cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie in Ottawa. “We silvered him over with brilliant glitter,” lamented the Halifax British Colonist, “but the base pewter would ever reveal itself.”
The dénouement did not come until ten months later. Following dissolution of the assembly on 23 Nov. 1874, Hill became a Liberal candidate for Halifax County and shortly afterwards provincial secretary. Apparently it was to be only a first step upwards since Premier William Annand* made it known that he would soon be handing over the premiership to younger hands. In justifying his change of party Hill argued that with the disappearance of the confederation issue he could find nothing in the policy of the provincial government which he could not wholeheartedly support. He believed that what the provincial government most needed at the time was “hard-working, painstaking and efficient men, in the Departmental offices.” Various accounts offer explanations of his move to the Liberal camp: his abhorrence of the Pacific Scandal; his friendship with Jones; and his desire, as a man of leisure, to have a political career, with the Liberals being the only vehicle offering any chance of success. Perhaps all three factors played a part. Hill easily won election and at the outset 25 of the 38 members supported the Liberals.
Since Annand sat in the Legislative Council, Hill led the government in the assembly during the session of 1875. In his first speech he resorted to some recent words of Benjamin Disraeli to the effect that even when “political passion [runs] high . . . sentiments of courtesy” should prevail. But he was told that Nova Scotia tories could hardly be expected to follow the course of William Ewart Gladstone and Disraeli, who respected each other for being true to their parties’ traditions and had not “bartered away consistency and political honor for the sake of office.” Both inside and outside the house he was taunted with names from “the son-in-law” to “ass” and “traitor.” In the house he met a barrage of attacks from Conservatives Simon Hugh Holmes*, Avard Longley*, and Douglas Benjamin Woodworth, who was often turbulence itself. To the temperate, elegant Hill it was a new and disquieting experience to be subjected to a mélange of half-truths and unfounded charges. Incapable of matching the rhetoric of his opponents, he generally replied in short, factual, reasoned speeches more suited to an Oxford debating society than to the Nova Scotia assembly of the mid 1870s.
Although most of the eight members from Cape Breton were nominally Liberals, they appeared to attach less importance to party than to the extension of railways to the island, and at the beginning of the 1875 session the Conservatives hoped to use them to supplant the Liberal government. Accordingly they circulated a round robin containing specific promises to encourage the building of a line eastward to Louisbourg. But Hill countered with an even more attractive offer and only one Cape Breton member supported the Conservatives. The Conservatives were frustrated again when they failed to damage the government with charges that it had given the public printing to three Liberal newspapers without calling for tenders. They had their revenge in what the Acadian Recorder called “the roughest, most unnecessary piece of business ever perpetrated in a deliberative assembly.” To ensure the support of John Barnhill Dickie* of Colchester County, the Liberals had made him speaker on 11 March 1875 even though he was new to the house. Apparently he performed badly, for when Woodworth called for his resignation on 30 April, 7 Liberals joined the 13 Conservatives to defeat the remaining 12 Liberals, who included all the members of the Executive Council. For Hill the session had been a rough initiation. He had won approbation only for his transference of the trial of controverted elections to the courts and he had ended up by appearing to have lost control over his backbenchers.
The session over, Annand gave up the premiership to Hill in May 1875. Because of the weakness of the cabinet and the need to cope with an intractable opposition, Hill resorted to expediency and in November appointed as attorney general Otto Schwartz Weeks, who could be expected to meet a fractious opposition at its own level. But although Weeks was popular and talented, his intemperate habits and erratic behaviour could mean that Hill was borrowing trouble. During the session of 1876 the debates sometimes tended to create the impression that Weeks was very much the leader de facto. Scornfully Woodworth suggested they might settle the leadership in the manner of the Tycoon and the Mikado, the one having the semblance, the other the reality of power. After Woodworth, who had been ejected from the house in 1874, was awarded $500 in damages against the Liberal assemblymen involved, the Hill government took action to prevent a recurrence of such an incident. It passed an act in 1876 which abandoned the house’s reliance upon inherent powers of self-preservation for a complete statutory guarantee of its privileges, powers, and immunities. To this day the act remains almost as it was passed, entirely adequate to its purpose.
Hill won commendation for one act in 1876, his opening of government printing to tender, but did not fare as well with his tentative move towards setting up a provincial university, long one of his pet projects. By his plan the denominational colleges would continue to receive government grants for five years, while preliminary steps were taken to establish the institution he had in mind under the title of the University of Halifax. The Conservatives, long the defenders of denominational colleges, were loud in their opposition and eventually Hill’s proposal came to naught. Otherwise the seemingly everlasting railway question dominated the session of 1876. No progress having been made in the construction of the Eastern Extension Railway from New Glasgow to the Strait of Canso and into Cape Breton, Ebenezer Tilton Moseley moved to the Conservative side of the house. Hill offered new proposals for a start on these lines and on another from Nictaux and Middleton to the Atlantic, but not even he was optimistic.
Weeks had done much to ease Hill through this session, but shortly afterwards his intemperateness resulted in long absences. Late in the year, after he had refused to resign, the government had his office vacated by order in council, the only instance of its kind in Nova Scotia. For the next two years Weeks adopted an independent stance in the house which embarrassed Hill no end. It was only one of a number of difficulties which must have made him wonder about the wisdom of his having changed parties to become premier. In 1877 he was constantly beset on the Great Seal question. For weeks Woodworth and his colleagues contended that the provincial seal had had no validity since 1869, that all appointments and conveyances of land under it were illegal, and that even the legislature and government were illegally constituted. In the end the dispute proved to be much ado about nothing, but an impending financial crisis did not fizzle out.
By 1877 the province’s financial position had deteriorated badly, partly because of an economic downturn which, beginning late in 1875, had ripened into a full-scale recession. It would become worse when Joseph Howe*’s “better terms” payments of $82,968 a year for ten years ended on 1 July 1877. Early that year Hill warned Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie and,Minister of Finance Richard John Cartwright* that the loss of these funds would force Nova Scotia to resort to direct taxation, only to be told that Ottawa could provide no help. To save money Hill sought to revive the old question of maritime union. “It would seem . . . quite as proper,” he said in the assembly in March 1877, “to employ one of Narmyth’s steam hammers to crush an egg-shell as to employ such an [inordinate] ount of machinery” to govern three small provinces. But the other provinces showed no interest. Hill also took action to reduce the number of ministers from five to four by combining the offices of attorney general and commissioner of crown lands. But Weeks heaped scorn upon so “curious and incongruous an amalgamation,” while the Conservatives scoffed at a change that would save no more than $2,000 a year. The one bright spot for Hill was the letting, at long last, of a contract for building the Eastern Extension. But at the same time Woodworth was charging that the Western Counties Railway between Annapolis Royal and Yarmouth had been “built largely of brush and logs” and that “the sky [might soon be] filled with smoke from the conflagration” of the line.
After the session of 1877 the government’s position further worsened when it lost a by-election in Antigonish County to John Sparrow David Thompson and another in Shelburne County to Nathaniel Whitworth White. Its position in the assembly, previously so secure, had become a little precarious: a majority of only three with a Liberal speaker in the chair. Hill dressed up the speech from the throne as best he could in 1878, but he could not hide the prevailing gloom. His railway problems were almost insoluble: unpaid labourers’ claims on the Eastern Extension and a stoppage of work on the Western Counties and the Nova Scotia, Nictaux and Atlantic Central railways. He had lacked the temperament to deal decisively with the counties’ over-expenditure of road moneys. His one attempt during this session to cut costs, a further reduction in the number of ministers with office to three (he had the provincial secretary assume the duties of the provincial treasurer), would result in only minuscule savings. He had failed to keep Woodworth from convulsing the proceedings of the assembly. The previous year Woodworth and Edward Farrell* had almost turned the house into a beargarden; in 1878 Hill himself sought to put Woodworth on the defensive by causing his use of road moneys in Kings County to be investigated, but he managed to escape and was his troublesome self throughout the session.
Hill’s last political act of consequence was to choose the date of an election. Realizing the unpopularity of his government, he deluded himself into believing that he might ride into office on the coat-tails of the Mackenzie government, unaware that it rested on as weak a foundation as his own. In any case both the federal and the provincial elections were held on 17 September. Hill’s major election activity was to address a letter to the people of Nova Scotia in which he claimed to be a good housekeeper and boasted of his success in extending the railways eastward and westward. The letter demonstrated that he had become something of a politician for, although the facts were accurate, it exaggerated his government’s rather meagre accomplishments and glossed over the unresolved problems. The elections were a disaster for both the provincial and the federal Liberals. Hill lost in Halifax County and his party won only 8 of the 38 assembly seats.
Defeat ended his political career and Hill left without comment. Four years later, in 1882, he moved to Tunbridge Wells, England, where he revived his literary interests and contributed to English magazines. When Scottish evangelist Henry Drummond published his Natural law in the spiritual world in 1883, Hill turned to religious subjects, an interest of his since his days at King’s College. His brochure on Drummond’s work went through three editions and enjoyed complimentary reviews. Likely these years before his death were happier than those he had spent as premier of Nova Scotia.
In other times Hill might have succeeded politically, but in the circumstances of the day he was a misfit. His attraction to politics was not so much a case of noblesse oblige as a craving for recognition, and this craving accounted in part for his change to a party which offered him the greatest possibility of success. But, for his easy and rapid rise he paid a heavy price. In Nova Scotia the turncoat often has to endure harsh treatment and it tends to be magnified when the benefits to the renegade are immediate and significant. No less a handicap was Hill’s limited experience before he assumed the leadership of an intemperate assembly. Not surprisingly, he never grasped its ethos. Yet his make-up would not have permitted him to behave much differently. Only in a limited way could he bring himself to use some common expedients of the politician. Basically he remained his cultivated, urbane, dignified self, a man who employed reason and logic, not rhetoric and verbiage, and who, whatever the provocation, refused to resort to innuendo or name-calling. Not even a Douglas Benjamin Woodworth could make him change his ways.
[Philip Carteret Hill’s address to the Halifax Young Men’s Christian Association was published in pamphlet form as The United States and British provinces, contrasted from personal observations . . . (Halifax, 1859). Two editions of his response to Henry Drummond’s book, entitled Drifting away: a few remarks on Professor Drummond’s search for “Natural law in the spiritual world”, appeared in London in 1885.
Biographical information concerning Hill is found in only a few sources. In addition to the present biography he is discussed in two works by J. M. Beck: “Philip Carteret Hill: political misfit,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 42 (1986): 1–16, and Politics of Nova Scotia (1v. to date, Tantallon, N.S., 1985– ). In the preparation of these portraits some use has been made of T. M. Punch, “The Halifax connection, 1749–1848: a century of oligarchy in Nova Scotia” (ma thesis, St Mary’s Univ., Halifax, 1972), which helped to indicate the relationship between the Hill family and the Halifax establishment. Hill’s pamphlet The United States and British provinces threw light upon his conservative political thought, and the Macdonald papers (NA, MG 26, A) contain letters in which he sought a knighthood for himself. The other principal primary sources for Hill’s life are the assembly debates and newspapers listed below. j.m.b.]
N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1871, 1875–78. Acadian Recorder, 26 Nov. 1874, 5 May 1875. British Colonist (Halifax), 5 Feb. 1874. Evening Express (Halifax), 2 Feb. 1874. Halifax Evening Reporter and Daily and Tri-Weekly Times, 3 Feb. 1874. Halifax Herald, 1875–78, 19 Sept. 1894. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 5 July 1867, 31 Oct. 1870, 1875–78.