AYLWIN, THOMAS CUSHING, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 5 Jan 1806 at Quebec, son of Thomas Aylwin, merchant, and of Louise-Catherine Connolly; d. 14 Oct. 1871 at Montreal and was buried in Mount Hermon cemetery at Quebec.
Thomas Gushing Aylwin’s education was at first entrusted to the Reverend Daniel Wilkie*, a Presbyterian minister, then, after a brief stay at Harvard University, Aylwin studied law with Louis Moquin, a Quebec lawyer. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada in December 1827, and rapidly acquired a reputation as an excellent criminal jurist. The young lawyer entered the rough-and-tumble of political life on the side of the Patriotes, and in the thick of the fight took up the defence, in the press of Lower Canada, of the prisoners whose cases he had argued.
However, it was not until after the union of the Canadas that Aylwin appeared in the assembly: he was member for Portneuf in 1841, and held the office of solicitor general for Canada East during the first government of Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*. His English Canadian origin and the fact that he represented a county in the Quebec area were largely responsible for his appointment. La Fontaine thus hoped to win over in that region the elements hostile to the Union. The control of patronage for that locality was, moreover, left in Aylwin’s hands. In 1843 he was among the ministers who resigned because they did not agree with the governor, Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*, on the question of the use of political patronage. Aylwin was elected member for the City of Quebec in the general elections of 1844 and 1847, and in the assembly he led the attacks, sometimes with violence according to Le Canadien, against the various Conservative ministries: “Short, nearsighted, and (at this time at least) never quite sober, Aylwin commanded not by his physical presence as much as by his charming, genial bluffness and, above all, by his prodigious bilingual gift for words.”
When Baldwin and La Fontaine were recalled to office in March 1848, Aylwin was appointed solicitor general with William Hume Blake*, but he was the only one to hold a seat on the Executive Council. On the suggestion of Francis Hincks*, La Fontaine offered him a post as judge to make room for Blake: “. . . if Aylwin were to go on the bench,” wrote Hincks, “I think it would remove the difficulty with Blake . . . .” On 26 April 1848 Aylwin became a judge in the Court of Queen’s Bench, and declared himself happy to have given up political life. His electors thought otherwise: Aylwin’s appointment, wrote Joseph-Édouard Cauchon*, “was censured by almost everybody, because he was too quick to get himself settled even though his services were needed.” Aylwin seems, however, to have discharged his duties as judge satisfactorily; in 1854 he formed part of the Seigneurial Court responsible for instituting the transformation of the seigneurial régime. In 1868 he retired, for reasons of health.
On 2 June 1832, at Quebec, Thomas Gushing Aylwin had married Margaret Nelson Hanna; after her death, he married Eliza Margaret Felton of Sherbrooke on 14 May 1836; having become once more a widower, he married Ann Blake on 7 Sept. 1850. No child was born of any of these marriages.
BNQ, Société historique de Montréal, Collection La Fontaine, Lettres, 480, 484, 491 (copies in PAC). Le Canadien (Québec), 16 déc. 1844. Gazette (Montreal), 16 Oct. 1871. Political appointments, 1841–1865 (J.-O. Coté). P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, III, 126–28. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, IV, 105–7. Monet, Last cannon shot.