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BULKELEY, RICHARD, office-holder; b. 26 Dec. 1717 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland), second son of Sir Lawrence Bulkeley and Elizabeth Freke; m. 18 July 1750 Mary, daughter of John Rous*, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and they had four sons; m. secondly 26 July 1776 Mary Burgess at Halifax; d. there 7 Dec. 1800.

Richard Bulkeley’s early life is somewhat obscure. It has been asserted that he attended school in Dublin and that he served as an officer in a British cavalry regiment during the War of the Austrian Succession, but neither of these claims has been substantiated by contemporary records. In 1749 Bulkeley was persuaded by Edward Cornwallis, newly appointed governor of Nova Scotia and a personal friend, to accompany him to the province as an aide-de-camp. Bulkeley was soon actively engaged in carrying out Cornwallis’ orders for the establishment of Halifax, the new capital of Nova Scotia. Commissioned by the governor as an ensign in the 45th Foot in October 1749, he acted as paymaster of works, director of “sundry Publick Works,” and, with Horatio Gates, “Commissary of Wet Stores for soldiers.” His command of French and German was useful in dealing with the “Foreign Protestants” who were gathered at Halifax prior to the founding of Lunenburg in 1753. When Cornwallis left in October 1752, Bulkeley was retained as aide-de-camp and director of public works by Governor Peregrine Thomas Hopson*.

Charles Lawrence*, Hopson’s successor, also employed Bulkeley as director of public works, and the two men became closely associated. Bulkeley was not actively engaged in the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, but the “Vindication by Secretary Bulkeley and Judge [Isaac Deschamps*] of the Acadian Removal” published later showed that he supported it as necessary military strategy. In 1757 difficulties arose from his position as director of public works. When several Halifax inhabitants, including Jonathan Binney*, Malachy Salter, and Otto William Schwartz, petitioned for an assembly that year, one of their complaints was that a small clique of officials around Lawrence had control of too much public money. Bulkeley was calculated to control over £1,700, consisting of his own salary as overseer of the king’s works (£182 10s.), the pay of five clerks as overseers (£273 15s.) and of three servants as labourers (£72), an allowance for 75 cords of wood (£45), his salary as commissary of rum and molasses (£300), his pay as an officer (£80), and “advantages on Contracts for the public Works, at the lowest Calculation £750.0.0.” It was also asserted that since no government contracts were publicly advertised Bulkeley, together with a small staff, drew up the estimates for any public work, employed all the workmen, and valued the final result.

On 10 Oct. 1758 Lawrence appointed Bulkeley to succeed William Cotterell as provincial secretary, recommending to the Lords of Trade Bulkeley’s “abilities, Integrity and attention to his Duty.” At that period the duties and responsibilities of the secretary were not clearly defined, but they included keeping the Great Seal, conducting and having charge of government correspondence, and issuing letters patent, land grants, commissions, and other documents. An examination of the various commission-, order-, and letter-books reveals that the provincial secretary recorded orders he had been given by the governor and Council for pardons, licences to keep school, leaves of absence, writs, proclamations, and warrants. The beautiful copperplate handwriting and well-kept indexes bear witness to the efficiency of the clerks hired by Bulkeley. The secretary usually assumed the duties of clerk of the Council and was a Council member himself. Bulkeley was appointed to Cotterell’s vacant Council seat on 16 Aug. 1759 but did not become clerk of the Council until 4 Nov. 1763.

When Lawrence died in October 1760, the administration of the province was assumed by Chief Justice Jonathan Belcher, who was thankful to retain Bulkeley as secretary because of his experience and knowledge “of the respective views of our late Governor.” In the difficulties between Belcher and the legislature Bulkeley was loyal to the chief justice. He and Charles Morris disagreed with Belcher in 1763, however, when their report on local government favoured the New England township system over the British and Virginian county grand jury system strongly supported by Belcher. Bulkeley and Morris seem to have won the Council to their view, but long negotiations between Council and assembly left the grand jury system intact. Bulkeley’s support for the township system appears to have been a result of his wish to keep Lawrence’s promise to the New England settlers that their former system of local government would be retained. His own predilection, however, as revealed in other ways, was for strong central control.

The two succeeding governors, Montagu Wilmot* and Lord William Campbell, also retained Bulkeley as provincial secretary. In an attempt to enforce collection of customs duties and thereby reduce the provincial debt, Campbell instructed Bulkeley to impress upon the magistrates of the outports their responsibility to stop smuggling. In 1770 he appointed Bulkeley inspector of public works and buildings, inspector of workmanship and repair, and commissioner of escheats. Both Bulkeley and Campbell were interested in horses and Bulkeley imported thoroughbreds from Ireland. Horse-racing took place at Halifax and Windsor, where Bulkeley had acquired land in 1764 through a large grant made to him and several other councillors, including Michael Francklin and Joseph Goreham. He owned other property as well, but his holdings never became substantial.

When Governor Francis Legge arrived in Nova Scotia in October 1773, Bulkeley was still a councillor and provincial secretary. Since he held a multiplicity of other offices it would appear that he stood to lose from the governor’s attacks on the spoils system, but he initially supported Legge because of his strong sense of loyalty. Legge considered Bulkeley’s office so inefficient, however, that in November 1774 he replaced Bulkeley’s son John as first clerk to the secretary, and Bulkeley became the governor’s enemy. As a Council member he participated in the measures that body took to oppose Legge. By May 1775 the governor was sufficiently convinced that Bulkeley and other Council members such as Jonathan Binney and John Butler were actively hampering his efforts to investigate the provincial debt that he asked the British government for their dismissal. Although Bulkeley did not sign the Council petition to the king on 1 Jan. 1776 requesting Legge’s removal (Butler noted that “Mr. Bulkeley is under Some fears”), he appears to have overcome his misgivings. In June 1776 he was a member of the Council committee that drew up an address thanking the king for Legge’s recall the previous month.

Bulkeley was retained as secretary by lieutenant governors Mariot Arbuthnot, Richard Hughes*, and Sir Andrew Snape Hamond, naval officers with little knowledge of Nova Scotia who left most of the governing of the province to Bulkeley and other officials. Hughes appointed Bulkeley brigadier-general of the provincial militia in June 1780. The inflation of wartime caused Bulkeley to submit a memorandum to Hamond in May 1782 asking the British government for an increase in his salary as secretary. Although Bulkeley acknowledged that he might obtain some addition to his income from the assembly, “it could be only voted annually and the continuation of it would depend entirely on their consideration, how far his conduct pleas’d them to do which might, in many instances, be to sacrifice the interests of Government.” Like most members of the executive, he preferred to remain independent of the assembly’s control.

Governor John Parr found in Bulkeley a fellow Irishman only eight years his senior, and soon Bulkeley, Alexander Brymer, and Matthew Richardson formed an inner circle of advisers to the governor. In dealing with the problem of accommodating the thousands of loyalist refugees and disbanded soldiers who arrived in Nova Scotia at the end of the American revolution, Parr and Bulkeley sometimes worked 20 hours a day. The secretary’s letter-book contains correspondence about rations and tools for the loyalists, surveying, and land grants, as well as material about the separation from Nova Scotia of the new provinces of New Brunswick, St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, and Cape Breton, and the question of American vessels fishing in Nova Scotian waters.

In November 1785 some inhabitants of Halifax petitioned the Council for incorporation as a city, but the request was refused as neither “expedient or necessary.” Bulkeley was blamed by the petitioners for having influenced this decision, and the stand would have been consistent with his desire for strong executive control since an independent city administration might have opposed the wishes of the Council. Two years later the assembly complained to Parr about the improper and irregular administration of justice by Isaac Deschamps and James Brenton*, the two, puisne judges. The Council, after having investigated behind closed doors, unanimously exonerated the judges in February 1788, declaring the charges to be “Groundless and Scandalous.” Bulkeley and the other Council members undoubtedly believed that it was in the interests of established authority that the judges be defended from attack.

Parr died suddenly on 25 Nov. 1791 and Bulkeley, as senior councillor, assumed the administration of the government until John Wentworth* took office as lieutenant governor on 14 May 1792. As administrator Bulkeley carried on Parr’s arrangements for the emigration of black loyalists to Sierra Leone [see Thomas Peters] and won Lieutenant John Clarkson’s praise for the efficient way in which he assisted preparations for the embarkation.

Wentworth was an experienced ex-governor of New Hampshire who had lived in Nova Scotia as surveyor general of the king’s woods. He did not need to depend on the opinion of Bulkeley, whom he described as “from his great age and infirmities, intirely incapable of attending the Duty [of secretary].” Wentworth may have hinted to Bulkeley that he resign; in any event Bulkeley did so as secretary and clerk of Council on 22 Dec. 1792 and was succeeded by his son James Michael Freke. A bachelor, Freke continued to live at home and paid a large share of the salary to his father by a family agreement. After Freke’s death in November 1796, Wentworth appointed his own brother-in-law Benning Wentworth to the vacant positions. This move apparently affected Bulkeley’s financial position adversely, for Chief Justice Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange* and the lord mayor of London, Sir Brook Watson*, both asked the British government to make some financial arrangement for Bulkeley and his wife. Wentworth accordingly paid Bulkeley £200 a year. Since Bulkeley retained his positions as judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court (to which he had been appointed on 18 May 1769) and commissioner of escheats, he had, according to Wentworth, “a decent and comfortable support.” In view of the fact that a private income of over £1,000 a year has been claimed for Bulkeley, the attempt by his friends to secure financial support for him is curious; it may be that the deterioration in his “private circumstances” he was said to have suffered during the American revolution resulted in his need for government assistance.

Bulkeley was not to enjoy his judgeship long after this incident. In June 1798 Admiral George Vandeput forwarded to Wentworth a complaint from nine captains in Halifax against some of the Vice-Admiralty Court’s decisions and the fact that trials were held in Carleton House, Bulkeley’s residence. In a well-reasoned letter Bulkeley replied that any of his decisions could be appealed and that the court was held in a spacious room with “the doors always open for access to all persons.” While the matter was being considered by the British government, however, Bulkeley resigned in favour of Brenton, evidently wishing to avoid a long dispute. He remained a councillor until his death on 7 Dec. 1800, when he was buried in St Paul’s Church.

In his capacity as secretary, Bulkeley supervised the publication of Anthony Henry’s Nova-Scotia Gazette and for a time had edited the Halifax Gazette. He is believed to have been the author of an Address to the public on the present state of the province of Nova Scotia, published in 1785, which described how the province might be improved by attracting capital and settlers and by developing the export trade and agriculture. Bulkeley was deeply involved in organizations of various kinds. One of the members of the first masonic lodge at Halifax in 1750, he succeeded Parr as provincial grand master of the masonic lodges in December 1791 and held the office until his death. In January 1786 he helped found the Charitable Irish Society of Halifax and twice served as its president. He was also chosen president of a society for the promotion of agriculture founded in 1789 and was president of a chess, pencil, and brush club in Halifax from about 1787. Bulkeley was appointed churchwarden when St Paul’s parish was formally organized in 1759 and was vestryman until his death; he also served as organist in 1759–60. Noted for his lavish hospitality, Bulkeley had entertained James Wolfe* and many other military men during the Seven Years’ War and the American revolution. The dining-room of his mansion opposite St Paul’s, which he built of stone brought from the ruins of Louisbourg, could seat 50. As administrator, he entertained in his own residence (still standing as the Carleton Hotel) and held large levees there on New Year’s Day and the queen’s birthday, as well as dinners on St Patrick’s and St George’s days.

One of the few officials in Cornwallis’ expedition who remained in Nova Scotia, Richard Bulkeley, a healthy, vigorous, and hard-working civil servant, assisted 13 governors and lieutenant governors from Cornwallis to Wentworth. In half a century of service he took part in the founding of Halifax, the immigration of New Englanders and loyalists, and the prosperity of the French revolutionary wars. A man of “Inflexible integrity,” in his obituary he was called “the Father of the Province.”

Phyllis R. Blakeley

A small chalk self-portrait of Richard Bulkeley as an old man is in the PANS. Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), B175 (estate of J. M. F. Bulkeley), B176 (will and inventory of estate of Richard Bulkeley) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 1, 258 (Isaac Deschamps docs.), nos.143, 156, 191, 195, 198, 200, 202, 206–21; RG 1, 48, nos.63–75; 134; 136, pp.157, 163ff.; 137, p.105; 164–72; 186–91; 215–18; 286–87; 348, no.43; F.-J. Audet, “Governors, lieutenant-governors, and administrators of Nova Scotia, 1604–1932” (typescript, n.d.). PRO, CO 217/16, ff.204–18, 221–22, 231–32, 307; 217/18, ff.48–49, 73–79, 135–36, 204–44, 280; 217/51, ff.190–93; 217/52, ff.116–18; 217/59, f.7; 217/63, f.163; 217/68, ff.3–5, 8; 217/75, f.33. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages, 1752–56; registers of burials, 1776, 1796, 1800; registers of marriage licenses, 1753–90.

[Richard Bulkeley and Charles Morris], “State and condition of the province of Nova Scotia together with some observations &c, 29th October 1763,” PANS Report (Halifax), 1933, app.B, 21–27. [John Clarkson], Clarksons mission to America, 1791–1792, ed. and intro. C. B. Fergusson (Halifax, 1971), 77, 89, 92, 96–99, 109–11, 142. “Report on the present state and condition of his majesty’s province of Nova Scotia,” PANS Report, 1933, app.B, 28–34. “Vindication by Secretary Bulkeley and Judge Deschamps of the Acadian removal,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., II (1881), 149–53. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 13 June 1775; 1785. Nova-Scotia Magazine (Halifax), 1789–92. Royal Gazette and the Nova-Scotia Advertiser (Halifax), 15 Nov. 1796, 9 Dec 1800. Tremaine, Bibliography of Canadian imprints, 206–7, 599–601.

Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1969), 66, 76–77, 213–16, 236, 240–41, 243–46, 254–55, 262–63, 273, 287; New Englands outpost, 256, 259–60. R. V. Harris, The beginnings of freemasonry in Canada (Halifax, 1938), 100, 106–9. Murdoch, History of N.S., II, 356, 537–38, 571, 577, 585, 645; III, 4, 94, 97, 99, 152. A. S. Barnstead, “Development of the office of provincial secretary, Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XXIV (1938), 1–31. Margaret Ells, “Nova Scotian ‘Sparks of liberty,’” Dal. Rev., XVI (1936–37), 475–92. J. S. Macdonald, “Hon. Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax,” “Life and administration of Governor Charles Lawrence, 1749–1760,” and “Richard Bulkeley, 1717–1800,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XII (1905), 1–17, 19–58, 59–87; “Memoir of Governor John Parr,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XIV (1909), 41–78; “Memoir, Lieut.-Governor Michael Francklin, 1752–1782,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XVI (1912), 7–40.

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Cite This Article

Phyllis R. Blakeley, “BULKELEY, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bulkeley_richard_4E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bulkeley_richard_4E.html
Author of Article:   Phyllis R. Blakeley
Title of Article:   BULKELEY, RICHARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   April 16, 2024