BADGLEY, WILLIAM, lawyer, judge, and politician; b. 27 March 1801 in Montreal, Lower Canada, son of Francis Badgley*, a merchant, and Elizabeth Lilly; brother of Francis*, doctor and professor, and of Elizabeth, wife of William Molson*; d. 24 Dec. 1888 in Montreal.
After attending private schools William Badgley completed his secondary education under the Reverend Alexander Skakel* at Montreal and for four years worked in the business world. He then studied law and on 20 Nov. 1823 was admitted to the Lower Canadian bar. He founded a successful law firm, Badgley and Abbott, and in 1828 was a co-founder of the library committee of the bar of Lower Canada. He had failed in 1826 to be appointed protonotary in Montreal. In 1830 ill health forced him to Europe, where in 1834 he married Elizabeth Wallace Taylor; they were to have six children.
When he returned to Canada in 1834, Badgley threw himself into politics, and in that year was a founder and, in 1837, secretary, of the Constitutional Association of Montreal which brought together opponents, principally merchants in the city, of the Patriotes. He assisted in preparing laws for the establishment of registry offices on the British model and also wrote a pamphlet, Remarks on the registrar’s office (1837). Badgley’s favourite project was the promotion of the union of Upper and Lower Canada to redress “the old system . . . of proscription by which the interests of those of British origin were disregarded.” For this project he laboured unstintingly, producing newspaper articles and addresses. In 1837 Badgley and George Moffatt* went to England to present the grievances of Lower Canada’s “British party” and to lobby for legislative union; they returned to Canada in 1838 after the rebellion.
Badgley’s abilities had been recognized in England where he was offered an unsolicited post in the Colonial Office. In 1840 the new governor general of Canada, Lord Sydenham [Thomson*], appointed him commissioner of bankruptcy, a position he resigned in 1844 to become, on 29 April, a judge of the circuit court of the district of Montreal. He served as a judge until April 1847, when he returned to private practice, was named qc, and agreed to teach Roman and international law at McGill College, which in 1843 had conferred on him an honorary dcl. On 23 April 1847 he was appointed attorney general for Canada East in the government of William Henry Draper* and Denis-Benjamin Papineau*. The following month Draper resigned and Henry Sherwood* took over the leadership of a decidedly Tory Executive Council, in which Badgley continued as attorney general. On 10 June 1847 Badgley gained a seat in the legislature by defeating Bartholomew Conrad Augustus Gugy* in a by-election in the riding of Missisquoi. As attorney general Badgley personally conducted the business of the Canadian criminal terms, reputedly the last to do so. Parliament adjourned late in July and during the fall Sherwood and his ministers decided to call a general election. The Tories were soundly defeated in the December voting though Badgley personally was re-elected in the same riding, and on 10 March 1848 the triumphant Reformers under Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* took office.
Badgley was an acknowledged leader of the opposition in the new legislature, and with George Moffatt persuaded Montreal city officials to take effective measures to curb the violence during the Rebellion Losses riots in that city in 1849 [see James Bruce*, Lord Elgin]. In the elections of 1851 he was returned along with Reformer John Young* in the Montreal City riding. Over the next few years he ardently opposed Inspector General Francis Hincks’ financial schemes, agitated for the abolition of seigneurial tenure, presided over the private bills committee, tried generally to “do all in his power to assimilate the laws of Upper and Lower Canada,” and, despite his thoroughly Conservative principles, won the admiration of Governor General Lord Elgin.
In 1854, with the realignment of the old parties and the Liberal-Conservative merger, Badgley decided to retire, but was prevailed upon to change his mind. He was then defeated in the Montreal riding by the Liberal candidate, Luther Hamilton Holton*. His exit from politics opened the way for a highly distinguished legal and judicial career. He served as bâtonnier of the Montreal bar from 1853 to 1855. From 1855 to 1857 he was professor of law at McGill College, where he was also the first dean of the law faculty. On 27 Jan. 1855 he was appointed to the Superior Court of Lower Canada, and in September 1863 he was promoted to the Court of Queen’s Bench as temporary assistant judge; he resigned on 31 Dec. 1864. His most important appointment came on 17 Aug. 1866 when he was named puisne judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench. In this post he distinguished himself as much as he had when practising law, especially in commercial cases. He was “systematic and methodical in habit, sober and discreet in judgment, calm in temper, diligent in research, conscientious . . . courteous and kindly in demeanour and inflexibly just.” Because of deafness Badgley reluctantly retired from the bench on 2 March 1874, the same year his wife died. He continued to be active, however, and opened an office as a legal consultant.
In private life Badgley attained the rank of major in the militia, and was a prominent freemason, being named in 1850 provincial grand master of the grand lodge of the district of Montreal and William Henry. Bishop’s College honoured him with his second doctoral degree in 1855. Badgley was also interested in scientific and charitable organizations, being two or three times president of both the Natural History Society and the St George’s Society and an active member of the Church Society. In retirement he collected ferns and other botanical specimens.
One of the last of the old-style Lower Canadian Conservatives, Badgley’s attachment to British culture, to a constitutional link with Britain, and to Protestantism was translated first into a preoccupation with achieving a union of the Canadas, and then with anglicising Lower Canada by reforming such French institutions as the registration of land and the seigneurial system of land tenure. He was also devoted to the development of Protestant McGill College and of the masonic order. Thus an obituary could refer to him as a “staunch Conservative” and, in the same breath, as an “earnest advocate of reform.”
William Badgley was the author of two pamphlets: Remarks on the registrar’s office (Montreal, 1837) and Representation against the title of the seminary to the seigniory of Montreal; and objections to the proposed ordinance for the extinction of seigniorial dues in the city and the island of Montreal (Montreal, 1839).
AC, Montréal, État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church Cathedral (Montreal), 2 May 1801, 27 Dec. 1888. PAC, MG 30, D1, 3: 205–7. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Gibbs et al.), VI. Elgin-Grey papers (Doughty). Montreal Daily Star, 26 Dec. 1888. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 19, 68, 295–97. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer, 190. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté)P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 31. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Atherton, Montreal, III: 20–21. Pierre Beullac et Édouard Fabre Surveyer, Le centenaire du Barreau de Montréal, 1849–1949 (Montréal, 1949), 34–37. Cornell, Alignment of political groups. Dent, Last forty years. Helen Taft Manning, The revolt of French Canada, 1800–1835: a chapter in the history of the British Commonwealth (Toronto, 1962). J. P. Noyes, “Hon. Judge Badgley, ex-M.P.P., for Missisquoi,” Missisquoi County Hist. Soc., Report (St Johns [Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu], Qué.), 4 (1908–9): 47–49.
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Cite This Article
Elizabeth Gibbs, “BADGLEY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/badgley_william_11E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Elizabeth Gibbs|
|Title of Article:||BADGLEY, WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1982|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|