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ALLCOCK, HENRY, judge and politician; baptized 26 Jan. 1759 in Birmingham, England, son of Henry Allcock and Mary Askin; m. Hannah – , and they had a daughter; d. 22 Feb. 1808 at Quebec, Lower Canada.

The Allcock family came from Edgbaston, near Birmingham, and moved to the city in the decade before Henry was born. He began his legal studies at Lincoln’s Inn, London, in January 1785, and was admitted to the bar exactly six years later. He then practised in London specializing in equity law, which deals with matters not covered by the common law. In November 1798 Allcock was appointed a puisne judge of the Upper Canada Court of King’s Bench on the recommendation of his friend, Chief Justice John Elmsley. By early January 1799 he was at York (Toronto), where he took the oath of office to become one of the three judges of the highest court in a virtual wilderness. His duties included attendance both at the court sessions held in the capital and at the assizes held in the local administrative towns, such as Cornwall, Kingston, Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), and Sandwich (Windsor). Although the question of establishing an equity court with Allcock as judge was raised, no action was taken.

Personally, Allcock was a difficult individual, like so many of the fractious misfits who came to the province, particularly in that era. He was quickly on bad terms with his two colleagues on King’s Bench, his former friend Elmsley and William Dummer Powell*. Legislative councillor Richard Cartwright remarked that what Elmsley supported, Allcock was bound to oppose. Allcock’s disagreements with Powell were partly over his own insistence on the use in Upper Canada of the full pomp and procedures of English courts. The Reverend John Stuart of Kingston at first felt that Allcock was “not so rough in his manners, as the world is pleased to suppose.” But he changed his mind when his son, the Reverend George Okill Stuart* of York, was upbraided by Allcock during a church service for a supposed violation of church law. Allcock then began a sort of persecution of the young cleric which, Stuart Sr asserted, was “passionately illiberal & vindictive.”

Allcock was barely settled in the province before he decided to run for the House of Assembly in the election of 1800, despite the fact that he was on the bench. He was duly elected for Durham, Simcoe and the East Riding of York. Soon, however, there was a petition from some local inhabitants, including Samuel Heron, to Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter. They asserted that Allcock’s agent, William Weekes, had used unwarranted steps to secure the election. When a hearing was held by the assembly into the legality of the election, Allcock made use of a paper drawn up by Attorney General Thomas Scott* to argue that the house was incompetent to decide the issue and refused to leave during the proceedings, declaring that he would have to be thrown out by the “neck and heels.” On the grounds of irregularities the house unseated him on 11 June 1801; he had, in Alexander Grant’s words, “tryed every means and did not leave a Stone unturned to keep his Seat but could not.”

Allcock was, naturally, a decisive judge. John Askin described him at a land claims hearing in 1799 as “a very Impartial good man, but so particular & sticks so close to the law, a very unfits man to act up to the Spirit of the Act”; he added, moreover, that Allcock “did as he pleassed without asking the Sentiments of the othe[r] Commissioners in hardly any case.” The most famous case over which Allcock presided was the trial of John Small* for the murder of Attorney General John White* in a duel. Allcock, who claimed to have been friendly with White, lamented that the solicitor general, Robert Isaac Dey Gray, “failed altogether in adducing positive evidence” of Small’s guilt and the “Jury would presume nothing.” Thus the defendant went free, as was usual in trials arising from duels. In 1803, at the assizes in Sandwich, Allcock sentenced two murderers to be hanged till dead and afterward hanged in chains, evidence that he was not lenient on the bench.

After Hunter arrived as lieutenant governor in 1799, Allcock gradually became one of his chief advisers, supplanting Elmsley, and helped him bring some order and regulation to the land-granting system. By 1803 Hunter was recommending him for an increase in salary as a reward for his efficiency. He also supported him for new offices. When Elmsley was appointed chief justice of Lower Canada in May 1802, Allcock, rather than the senior judge, Powell, succeeded to the Upper Canadian post. Allcock became an executive councillor and in January 1803 he was appointed to the Legislative Council on Hunter’s recommendation, becoming speaker of that house.

Whatever his office, Allcock constantly pressed for the creation of a court of chancery. In 1801 he prepared a draft bill and also proposed that he be appointed to the new court while retaining his position on King’s Bench, an arrangement that would have given him two salaries. The British government delayed taking action but this did not stop Allcock from bombarding it with letters during 1802. By the end of 1803 he had decided that it would be necessary to go home to obtain action and, with Hunter’s blessings, he applied for a six-month leave of absence. It was approved in March 1804 but the government refused either to increase his salary or to grant his request for a court. That fall, armed with a letter of introduction from Hunter, which solicited a salary increase for him, Allcock left for England.

While he was there, opportunity presented itself. Allcock had long been eyeing the more lucrative chief justiceship of Lower Canada. As early as 1800 he had begun studying the Lower Canadian statutes and, when William Osgoode* retired from the post in 1801, he had attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain the appointment. As 1804 closed and the hopes for the chancery judgeship faded, another possibility opened up – Elmsley was dying at Quebec and Allcock could see the chance of promotion. The main obstacle to his appointment was the Lower Canadian administrative oligarchy, who were unanimous in not wanting a third chief justice brought in from Upper Canada and who had their own candidate in Attorney General Jonathan Sewell*. Unlike Allcock, Sewell was expert in French civil law and spoke French fluently. His case was strongly presented by Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes* who noted that Allcock lacked the proper dignity. Sewell was also supported by Anglican bishop Jacob Mountain* and other Lower Canadian leaders. Nevertheless, when Elmsley died in April 1805, Allcock succeeded through the influence of a British patron, the lord high chancellor, Lord Eldon. As Sewell was advised, “there was no resisting such powerful Interest.”

Despite the unhappiness over his appointment, Allcock deferred arriving at Quebec until August 1806, when he was sworn in as chief justice and member of the Executive Council. He became speaker of the Legislative Council the following January. Under the circumstances, he should have looked for allies, particularly since his patron, Hunter, was now dead. The task would have been relatively easy because there were factions among the province’s leaders. Instead, Allcock began to assail almost everyone in power. Like judge Robert Thorpe* in Upper Canada, by the end of 1806 he was writing to the colonial under-secretary, Sir George Shee, expounding on the evils he had found. His indictment of Lower Canadian society was truly comprehensive; neither the French nor the English members of the administration escaped his censure. Among his many complaints were that Milnes’s attitude to him personally was unsatisfactory; Administrator Thomas Dunn was mishandling the renewal of the lease on the Saint-Maurice ironworks; the puisne justices, Dunn and Jenkin Williams, were too old and infirm to perform their duties properly; and there was great confusion in the courts of justice. He recommended that French executive councillors who died should be replaced by English, and he expressed the hope that the new governor would not make appointments without consultation, advising Dunn that he “expected no appointment would be disposed of without his being first consulted.” Soon he was also writing to the colonial secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, stating that Dunn’s memory had failed, an accusation not borne out by Dunn’s correspondence. Castlereagh investigated the more substantial claims; “senile” Dunn, however, acquitted himself well. Despite Allcock’s efforts, the new governor, Sir James Henry Craig, who arrived in October 1807, quickly fell under the influence of Sewell and Herman Witsius Ryland*, the civil secretary, with whom Allcock was also quarrelling, Thus, though he remained in office, he was excluded from the influence he cherished. Early in 1808 he died of a “bilious fever.”

There is little information on Allcock’s personal life. His wife having died in 1802, he was, apparently, planning remarriage near the end of his life. He had a farm near York and he had applied for 1,200 acres of land in November 1798. He did not, however, petition for his full entitlement as an executive councillor until he had left the province. He was a member of the Church of England and in 1803 he presided over a meeting of subscribers to erect the first St James church.

Evaluating Allcock does not lead to pleasant conclusions. His letters reveal a consideration for his family that did not extend to most of his acquaintances; however, he could ingratiate himself with select patrons. His personality, possibly progressively, caused difficulties wherever he went. Like many office holders, he was incredibly persistent in advancing his own interests. Yet in Upper Canada he had undoubtedly helped Hunter make the administration run more smoothly. In Lower Canada he accomplished little but trouble-making. His avarice, importuning, and quarrelsomeness were still legendary when Henry James Morgan* did the research for his first collection of biographies some 50 years after Allcock’s death. He was one of the more unattractive of the many eccentrics who plagued the Canadas at the opening of the 19th century.

Frederick H. Armstrong

Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Ont. Arch., (Kingston), Group 11, John Stuart papers (copies at Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Arch., Toronto). ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 25 Feb. 1808. Birmingham Reference Library (Birmingham, Eng.), St Bartholomew (Edgbaston), reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials; St Martin (Birmingham), reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials. MTL, D. W. Smith papers, A10, A11, B8. PAC, MG 23, GII, 10, vo1.4: 1750–53; HI, 5, vol.2; MG 24, C1: 672–82; MG 30, D1, 2: 119–53. Corr. of Hon. Peter Russell (Cruikshank and Hunter), 3: 15, 85. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1803: 87; January–June 1808: 557. John Askin papers (Quaife), 2: 260, 351. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 154, 174, 183, 192–94, 441; 1911: 75. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, 11, 13, 30, 34, 35, 38, 60, 81, 165. F.-J. Audet, Les juges en chef de la province de Québec, 1764–1924 (Québec, 1927), 39–43. H. J. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians and persons connected with Canada, from the earliest period in the history of the province down to the present time (Quebec and London, 1862; repr. Montreal, 1865), 135–36. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 5. Turcotte, Le Conseil législatif, 15, 18, 64. Wallace, Macmillan dict. A. W. P. Buchanan, The bench and bar of Lower Canada down to 1850 (Montreal, 1925), 44–45. Life and letters of Hon. Richard Cartwright (Cartwright), 116–18, 121, 123, 131. Millman, Jacob Mountain, 68, 84, 115–16. Paquet et Wallot, Patronage et pouvoir dans le Bas-Canada, 41–43. D. B. Read, The lives of the judges of Upper Canada and Ontario, from 1791 to the present time (Toronto, 1888), 53–62. W. R. Riddell, The bar and the courts of the province of Upper Canada or Ontario (Toronto, 1928), 51, 61, 63, 69, 99, 102, 141, 143; Legal profession in UC., 27, 137, 152, 157, 166, 180, 182, 185; Life of William Dummer Powell, 91, 216. F.-J. Audet, “Henry Allcock,” La Rev. nationale (Montréal), 5 (1923): 338–42. Alison Ewart and Julia Jarvis, “The personnel of the family compact, 1791–1841,” CHR, 7 (1926): 211, 216. W. R. Riddell, “Toronto in the parliaments of Upper Canada, 1792–1841,” Women’s Canadian Hist. Soc. of Toronto, Annual report and trans. (Toronto), no.22 (1921–22): 14.

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Cite This Article

Frederick H. Armstrong, “ALLCOCK, HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allcock_henry_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allcock_henry_5E.html
Author of Article:   Frederick H. Armstrong
Title of Article:   ALLCOCK, HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   December 5, 2023