ASH, JOHN, physician and politician; b. c. 1821 in Ormskirk, England, son of William Ash; d. 17 April 1886 in Victoria, B.C.
Little is known of John Ash’s early life and education except that he attended Guy’s Hospital in London, where he met Dr John Sebastian Helmcken*. In 1845 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. Ash apparently practised medicine in Coxwold (North Yorkshire), from 1849 to 1860, before deciding to emigrate; he arrived in Victoria in 1862. On 31 July 1863 the Victoria Daily British Colonist reported the birth of a daughter, Annie Freer, to his wife, Dorothy Agar, at the home of Dr John Helmcken in Esquimalt.
In 1865 Ash was elected to the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island as junior member for Esquimalt District. He owed his seat to his connection with Helmcken and the Hudson’s Bay Company which controlled the riding because its employees made up a majority of the population. Ash supported the union of Vancouver Island with British Columbia, providing it was coupled with the granting of responsible government and of free port status for Victoria. He retained his seat until the abolition of the Island assembly upon the union of the two colonies in 1866. After British Columbia entered confederation in 1871, Ash was elected to the provincial legislature for Comox on northern Vancouver Island on 23 Dec. 1872. He was immediately appointed to the Executive Council as provincial secretary in the government of Amor De Cosmos*, serving until George Anthony Walkem*’s government resigned on 27 Jan. 1876. Ash also served as the first minister of mines of British Columbia when that portfolio was created in 1874, but received no additional salary. He remained in the assembly until 12 June 1882 when he decided not to seek re-election.
Modern political parties did not exist in British Columbia in Ash’s lifetime, and alignments were based on personality coupled with regional and economic interests. Ash generally supported the faction led by De Cosmos, Walkem, and Robert Beaven*. Also, personal antipathy between Ash and John Robson*, whose Daily British Colonist regularly attacked him, probably played as great a part in determining the doctor’s political alignment as did any regional or other interests.
Helmcken, in his reminiscences, describes Ash as “a hard-working clever man, noted for his short sight, tremendous breadth of shoulder and chest and – short temper. A very sensible companion, well read, when in good humour, but if in a bad one – keep clear.” Ash’s irascibility often involved him in quarrels, even with his political associates. Helmcken tells of an incident in which Ash and De Cosmos disagreed during a debate in the legislature. They met outside the house and “an altercation took place and blows were struck. De Cosmos always carried a stick and Ash asserted this had been used on his head. I came up at this time and with the aid of others induced them to go their way, for Ash had his ‘monkey up’ and was able to throw De Cosmos over the bridge.” Sir James Douglas*, who had little liking for De Cosmos, later chided Helmcken for his intervention. Helmcken concluded that “Ash was honest and honourable almost to a fault – but let no one thwart him, either in opinion or action.”
Ash’s business career was unspectacular. In 1863 he had acquired land in the Metchosin District as part of a scheme to construct a dock at Pedder Inlet (now Pedder Bay). However, the project fell through and in 1870 Ash was released from his commitment. That year Ash also served as a trustee of the Victoria Cemetery Society, and in the year he died he became a founding director of the proposed Victoria and Saanich Railway.
Dr Ash’s domestic life was shadowed by sadness. His only child, Annie, died of diphtheria in 1868 at the age of five, and his wife died in 1874. Late the following year, Ash married Adelaide Anne Amelia de Veulle, daughter of Sir John de Veulle, the high bailiff of the Island of Jersey. Their marriage was short; while they were visiting England, Adelaide Ash died of malaria on 13 July 1881 at Great Malvern (Hereford and Worcester). Dr Ash returned to Victoria and continued to practise medicine, specializing in ophthalmology, until his death of apoplexy at the age of 65 at his home in Victoria.
Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of British Columbia Arch. (Victoria), Christ Church Cathedral (Victoria), Register of marriages, entry no.225, 11 Dec. 1875, marriage of John Ash to A. A. A. de Veulle (mfm. at PABC). PABC, A. A. A. (de Veulle) Ash, Diary, 26 Aug. 1871–21 March 1872; Colonial corr., John Ash corr. B.C., Dept. of Mines, Annual report (Victoria), 1874; Statutes, 1874, no.16. [J. S. Helmcken], The reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken, ed. Dorothy Blakey Smith ([Vancouver], 1975). Daily British Colonist (Victoria), 4 Aug. 1863; 3, 21 Oct., 29 Nov. 1865; 26 Aug. 1868; 19 June 1870; 7 Nov. 1874; 14 Dec. 1875; 10 Aug. 1881; 24 Feb., 18, 21 April 1886. The year book of British Columbia . . . , comp. R. E. Gosnell (Victoria), 1911.