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HARMON, DANIEL WILLIAMS – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 23 April 1843 in Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal North), Lower Canada


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Original title:  Sir William Campbell. Image courtesy Campbell House Museum, Toronto.

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CAMPBELL, Sir WILLIAM, lawyer, office holder, jp, militia officer, politician, and judge; b. 2 Aug. 1758 in Caithness, Scotland, son of Alexander Campbell and Susannah Poole; m. 1 June 1785 Hannah Hadley in Guysborough, N.S., and they had two sons and four daughters – two of the latter married Robert Roberts Loring* and William Robertson*; d. 18 Jan. 1834 in York (Toronto), Upper Canada.

William Campbell was born into a branch of Clan Diarmid that migrated north to Caithness late in the 17th century. His paternal grandfather was a captain in the Royal Navy, and his father owned land at Houstry in the south of Caithness, the possible location of William’s birth. He attended a grammar school at Thurso where classical languages were taught, and studied law briefly at Elgin before the death of his instructor ended his formal education. By then the American colonies had rebelled, and against the advice of his friends Campbell decided to enter the army. He became a volunteer in the 76th Foot, a Highland regiment in which one of his relatives was a soldier, and accompanied it to North America. Captured at Yorktown, Va, in 1781, he remained a prisoner for some time. Before the end of the war he was awarded a commission in a provincial regiment so that he could receive half pay.

Midway through 1784 Campbell appeared in Nova Scotia with a group of refugees arriving at Chedabucto Bay to settle. He received a water lot in the new town of Guysborough and other acreage, and married the daughter of a pre-loyalist inhabitant. Local tradition tells that when Campbell became discouraged by his prospects his neighbour Thomas Cutler* suggested that he study law with him. Records of admissions to the provincial bar for this period are not extant. Campbell seems to have begun practising as an attorney around 1785. A remote fishing village offered little business, and he had to keep a small shop in order to make ends meet. His training and occupation set him apart from his neighbours, and undoubtedly helped him acquire several township offices such as assessor, surveyor, and overseer of the poor. By the early 1790s he had also obtained the socially significant appointments of justice of the peace and captain of militia. In 1799 Campbell was acclaimed to the House of Assembly as one of the two representatives for Sydney County, and he remained a member until his seat was declared vacant for non-attendance in 1806. Although Campbell was an infrequent visitor to the house, he came to notice during 1803 when he was a vocal supporter of fellow assemblyman William Cottnam Tonge. Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth*, the chief critic of Tonge, commented that another figure had joined the “reprehensible opposition.”

Campbell’s parliamentary career occurred while he was a member of the government of the neighbouring colony of Cape Breton. His involvement there began in October 1799. The administrator, John Murray, had fallen out with Attorney General David Mathews*, and Mathews’s supporter Archibald Charles Dodd refused to be a party to any prosecution of him instigated by Murray. Since Mathews and Dodd were the only lawyers on the island, Murray needed independent legal support, and Campbell was evidently chosen because of his proximity to Sydney and his need for work. Murray appointed Campbell solicitor general and, because there was no provision for such an official, a subscription was raised on Campbell’s behalf and Murray took him into his home. The death of James Miller, the superintendent of the coal mines, gave Murray the chance to appoint Campbell to that position, though at first he had to share its attractive salary with Miller’s sister, Jane. Campbell was also named to the Executive Council, and after Mathews’s dismissal as attorney general in November he began to act in his place. In February 1800 Murray assumed control of the mines from the lessees, Jonathan Tremain and Richard Stout*, with the result that Campbell had even more responsibility over the operations there.

Despite Campbell’s favoured status, he clashed with Murray when the administrator began to take all responsibility for the mines and ignore his remonstrances. He thus abandoned Murray when Murray was disputing the leadership of the government with John Despard in the late summer of 1800. Despard’s victory left Campbell in an influential position, and his advice about the mines was solicited by Despard. Campbell disparaged the system of government control, and his arguments in favour of private management persuaded Despard, who advertised in Halifax for bids. When this effort failed, he leased the mines to Campbell, whose offer was accepted over that of his only rivals, Tremain and Stout, and Campbell took possession on 24 Nov. 1801. He promptly proved lacking in the experience to run the mines alone and by January 1803 claimed that his losses had been so ruinous that he required an increase in prices, a reduction in the government duty payable on each chaldron, or a termination of the lease with suitable reimbursement. Despard refused all three alternatives, but Campbell kept up the pressure and avoided sinking the new pit that Despard requested on the grounds that additional workers would cost too much. The disastrous drop in coal shipments which resulted placed Despard in a difficult position, since the money from the duties was a badly needed source of revenue for Cape Breton. By early 1804 Despard realized his mistake in allowing a relatively unskilled lessee to run a resource of such value to the colony, and on 28 February he took control of the mines on behalf of the crown. Campbell surrendered the mining equipment and other stock only after Despard paid him £477 in compensation.

Campbell had arrived in Cape Breton poor and much in debt, a situation which had been eased by the salaries of superintendent and attorney general. He had taken the lease hoping that the profits would solve his financial worries, and his inexperience did not prepare him for his losses, which were harder to take because he had ceased to be superintendent. While lessee he purchased land extensively and started building the largest house in Sydney, perhaps in anticipation of the revenue from the mines. Thus when Despard proved unwilling to help he turned against the administrator, and by February 1804 the rift between the two men was irreparable. That spring Despard took the advice of the other members of the council and ordered that Campbell not be summoned to further meetings because his behaviour had become “so violent, so disrespectful and indecorous.” However, Despard did not dismiss Campbell as councillor or attorney general.

In his anger at Despard, Campbell tried to have him replaced as military commander in Cape Breton, and when that attempt failed he aligned himself with Richard Collier Bernard DesBarres Marshall Gibbons. The son of the colony’s first chief justice, Gibbons had a keen legal mind and a desire to see the island’s non-representative government replaced by an elected house of assembly. To this end, about 1805 he began to attack the tax on imported rum inaugurated by Despard in 1801 as illegal because it had not been approved by an assembly, and he went so far as to declare that the same reason made all the colony’s ordinances invalid. It is difficult to tell if Campbell supported Gibbons out of a desire for revenge against Despard or because of his genuine belief in Gibbons’s views. He may even have put some of these notions into Gibbons’s head. Certainly Campbell accepted the principle of reform and subscribed to Gibbons’s ideas, although Chief Justice William Woodfall believed that he did not advance them “quite so daringly” as Gibbons. Around the beginning of 1806 he declared publicly that he would dispute the legality of ordinances passed by the council and refused to prosecute a ship’s captain who had carried coal from Cape Breton without a permit on the grounds that the relevant ordinance was illegal. Only after repeated orders from Despard did he take the case to court.

In July 1807 Despard was replaced as administrator by Brigadier-General Nicholas Nepean. A weak man, Nepean quickly fell under the influence of Campbell, whom he summoned to council meetings and nominated mines superintendent. The previous superintendent, John Corbett Ritchie, who had been appointed by Despard, complained to London, and in April 1808 Lord Castlereagh, the colonial secretary, ordered Nepean to reappoint Ritchie and commented adversely on the selection of Campbell. During that spring Nepean made some sort of family connection with Ritchie, and bolstered by the fear of endangering his own position, he dismissed Campbell as superintendent in June. In a further attempt to stay in Cape Breton Nepean then turned on his erstwhile confidant, describing him as an “instigator of mischief” who had opposed him at every turn. Before his replacement as superintendent, Campbell had lived at the mines and had rented his Sydney house to Nepean. When in July he reminded Nepean that the lease had almost expired the administrator dismissed him as councillor and attorney general and refused to move. Now homeless as well as jobless, Campbell was forced to leave Cape Breton, which he did some time that year, and sail for England to obtain redress.

In London, Campbell pressed his “hard case” at the Colonial Office, obtaining in March 1810 the promise “that something should be done to remunerate me for the injustice I have experienced.” He then spent an anxious 15 months while he awaited news as to what that something would be. Moreover, the certainty that “uncommon and underhand means” had been taken to impugn his character with colonial officials was cause for further unease. An obvious solution and one which Campbell favoured was his appointment to the vacancy on the Upper Canadian Court of King’s Bench. The judgeship had been empty since Robert Thorpe*’s removal in 1807.

In Upper Canada Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore* was eager to fill the vacancy. He urged the Colonial Office in October 1810 either to send out a judge from England or to permit him to make a provisional appointment. By May 1811 Campbell had been informed that the position was his. Immediately Campbell pressed under-secretary Robert Peel for a document making it official, adding, “I trust . . . you will please to pardon any Seeming impatience in me when I inform you that I have been upwards of two years from my family and business, at a very heavy expence.” Campbell received his official appointment on 31 July and arrived at York (Toronto) in November. “His intelligence and authority,” President Isaac Brock* reported, “promise every thing that can be desired.” The following March Campbell petitioned the Executive Council for land; he was granted a town lot in York and 1,200 acres.

Campbell joined on the bench Chief Justice Thomas Scott, a worn soul eager for retirement, and Mr Justice William Dummer Powell, an able, experienced judge and skilled, ambitious courtier. He seems to have had little desire to win political distinction in Upper Canada, and as a result his career there was blessedly free of the vexation and rancour that had accompanied it in Cape Breton. His was a judicial life with its own particular seasons. Four times a year the Court of King’s Bench sat en banc at York to decide on appeal issues of law. The terms had been set by statute in 1797 and amended periodically. The court also heard and decided upon motions. Until 1826 it was accommodated in a, “mean and ruinous . . . wooden Cottage” which Campbell said was “in such a state of irreparable decay and dilapidation, as to be unfit for human residence.”

More taxing for the judges were the assizes held once a year in each administrative district. These assizes were combined and arranged into an eastern and western circuit. Held in the district capital, each of the assizes was presided over by a supreme court justice. Civil cases were argued before the judge alone, whereas in criminal cases he was accompanied on the bench by associate judges chosen from the local magistracy. With the establishment of new districts (three were erected between 1816 and 1821, making a total of 11), there was a corresponding increase in travel and judicial workload. Aside from the Home District assizes, which were usually held in April, the other districts were visited by the judges between the spring and fall. The judges split the duties of the assizes, often taking turns on the eastern and western circuits. In 1825 Campbell opened the western circuit in Sandwich (Windsor) on 1 August and finished at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) on 16 September.

Campbell found the criminal calendar more onerous although not usually as full as the civil one. For one thing, the decisions of the criminal court had a more direct bearing upon individual lives. For another, until 1835 there was no statutory provision for defence counsel (except in cases of treason), and the interlocutory role was fulfilled by the judge. In sentencing, the judge’s discretion was usually circumscribed by statute, in which case it was necessary for him to advise the lieutenant governor if there was any legal cause for gubernatorial intervention and pardon. For all cases of capital conviction the presiding judge was expected – Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland* was particularly adamant on this point – to advise the lieutenant governor’s secretary on the circumstances of the case. In these instances the judge’s counsel was crucial but, more often than not, Campbell was loath to suggest extenuating legal circumstances. During his career on the bench from 1812 to his last assizes in 1827 Campbell presided over 382 criminal cases. His criminal calendar from 1812 to 1819 (excluding the special assizes at Ancaster in 1814) averaged 17.4 cases, whereas from 1820 to 1827 the average increased to 32.5. Most cases involved larceny (of varying degrees) and assault. Sentences normally combined imprisonment, fines, and corporal punishment (whipping and the pillory). Fewer than 10 per cent of Campbell’s criminal cases resulted in capital convictions; most of these prisoners received full or conditional pardons.

In Upper Canada, Campbell was noticed and appreciated from an early date. In April 1814 President Gordon Drummond*, the performance of his Executive Council hobbled by the deaths of Prideaux Selby* and Alexander Grant*, recommended to Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst that additions be made to both the Legislative and the Executive councils. Anxious for two or three appointments, he lamented that the only “properly qualified” candidate was Campbell. Drummond nominated him for seats on both councils, believing that he would be “no small acquisition of Talent and information to these Boards.” Nothing, however, came of the suggestion.

Campbell’s first years on the bench were uneventful enough. The special assizes at Ancaster in the spring of 1814, towards the close of the war with the United States, was a judicial highlight in the colony’s history, but Campbell’s role was undistinguished. Six men appeared before him; five were convicted and one acquitted. Of the former, three were executed and two were pardoned. The purpose of the great show-trial was to overawe disaffection [see Jacob Overholser*]. To this end, the crucial decision was whom to execute and whom to pardon. The pre-eminent figure in this process was the acting attorney general, John Beverley Robinson*. Campbell was circumspect in suggesting grounds for clemency, although it is worth noting that both men he cited as possibilities for royal mercy received it.

Occasionally Campbell was baffled by popular reaction to convictions and the role it could play in determining a criminal’s ultimate fate. In the case of Edward McSwiney*, tried before Campbell at Brockville in 1813 and convicted of murder, there was, he concluded, no legal cause for pardon. But McSwiney was a calculating, articulate fellow whose compelling apologia and declarations of pristine loyalty won him the support of local worthies and President Drummond. The eventual result was McSwiney’s pardon. A second instance occurred at Niagara in September 1817 during the trial of Angelique Pilotte* for infanticide. Although she was convicted before Campbell on what he considered “clear and sufficient evidence,” he none the less respited her execution because of overwhelming popular support for mercy. In the end, imperial authorities pardoned her conditionally but not before she had escaped.

Between 1818 and 1828 the administration of justice operated increasingly under the cloud of charges of partiality. A series of incidents from the trials of Robert Gourlay* in 1818 and 1819 to the dismissal of Mr Justice John Walpole Willis* in 1828 convinced many opponents of the administration that justice was not blind but cock-eyed. Perhaps more by luck than connivance Campbell drew assizes with non-contentious cases. He escaped Gourlay’s censure because of his handling of the two acquittals in 1818; Gourlay had defended himself, and one observer, Miles Macdonell, commented that “Judge Campbell gave him every latitude.” Seven years later the jury’s acquittal of Robert Randal on a charge of perjury saved Campbell from the public displeasure – in some quarters at least – that would have accompanied a sentence. Still, Campbell’s summation in this case has been considered unfriendly to Randal, and Randal himself had in 1820 claimed that Campbell was implicated in the judicial conspiracy to deprive him of his rights. Yet it would seem that the tar did not stick. Indeed, Campbell’s handling of William Lyon Mackenzie*’s suit for damages against the young toughs who had destroyed his types and press – the so-called type riot of 8 June 1826 – earned him a measure of approval from the Maitland administration’s most vituperative critic.

On the bench, Campbell displayed a deep concern for constitutionality. In this respect he was not exceptional among his brother judges, but he certainly gave less cause for anyone to doubt his sentiments. The British constitution had acquired, he thought, “a state of perfection unrivalled in the annals of the world.” Absolute monarchies depended on the “mere will” of an individual; republics, “on the wild caprice of a Mob.” But the British constitution had been “tried by the only infallible test . . . that of the experience of mankind from the earliest ages of the world.” Habeas corpus and trial by jury (“the Bulwark of British liberty”) were its principal supports. Grand juries held a particular place in his affection as “the most Constitutional and effectual means of protection against the efforts of public oppression or private malice.” Their “inquisitorial capacity” – a power progressively circumscribed in the latter half of the century – was indispensable to protecting the constitution. The “upright and impartial discharge” of justice under that constitution was “the greatest benefit that can be conferred on society.”

Campbell was not without his prejudices. In an 1826 note to Major George Hillier*, Maitland’s secretary, on the efficacy of banishing rather than executing two black men convicted of stealing sheep, Campbell stated his opinion that “Nine tenths of the Blacks in this place [York], and I believe in all other parts of the Province Subsist principally by theft.” An observation the same year at Kingston that “men as lords of the creation have a right to inflict a little gentle castigation on our rebellious dames” occasioned both public notice in the press and private twittering among Kingston’s female gentlefolk. Yet, if the latter remark was conventional, his views on rape were not. The crime was “under any circumstances . . . of an abhorrent nature.” What concerned him was the tendency to call the character of the victim into disrepute during trials, “for the most common Prostitute is as much under the protection of the law, as the most virtuous woman, – and the violation of her person by force and against her will, is as much a crime.” Campbell lamented a situation in which “instead of trying the criminal fact, our time and attention would be occupied to little purpose in ascertaining the exact degree of female chastity.”

It was customary in Upper Canada for the superior court judges to apprise the executive of what had transpired on circuit; Campbell was punctilious in this regard. He took pains, for instance, to inform Hillier of anything that even hinted of contention during the assizes. In 1817 he hesitated forwarding a presentment from a grand jury to the lieutenant governor because it was “somewhat exceptionable both in matter and expression.” However, lest he be blamed for withholding information of a public nature, he submitted the offending material for Hillier’s judgement. His correspondence was almost exclusively routed through Hillier and its tone was scrupulously formal and correct. On one occasion in 1825, having already written more often than was usual and without receiving any replies from Hillier, Campbell began “to doubt the propriety of continuing to trouble you in this sort of demi official style.”

Only rarely was the subject at hand other than formal reports of what had transpired on the circuits or the official business of the court. One instance concerned Campbell’s memorial of 1817 on the insufficient salaries of puisne justices. He deemed £750 (sterling) “very inadequate to the rank and important duties and to that pecuniary independence so essential to the faithful and impartial discharge of those duties.” The sum was payable in England and thus subject to income tax, agency fees, and other incidental charges as well as “a most enormous discount on Bills of Exchange, amounting sometimes to 25 p.Cent – making in the whole a loss of considerably more than a third part of their income.” On the other hand, he argued, judges in Lower Canada were paid in the colony, clear of “all expenses, taxes, discounts, or other loss of deductions whatsoever.” Moreover, in 1817 the lower province had two chief justices and seven puisne justices, whereas the upper province had but one chief justice – Powell having succeeded Scott, who retired in 1816 – and Campbell (the bench was not brought back to full strength until D’Arcy Boulton’s accession in 1818). The Upper Canadian justices, Campbell complained, “have to hold assizes at a greater number of Districts, and to perform Circuits of nearly double the extent . . . besides the usual Terms and Sittings.” In short, he averred, the “personal fatigue privations and expences sustained” by Lower Canadian judges on circuit “bear no reasonable proportion to that which is unavoidably endured and paid by those of the Upper Province, owing to its’ far greater extent, more recent settlement, and consequent less improved state in regard to roads, accommodations, and other local disadvantages.” Forwarded to the Colonial Office with Gore’s recommendation, Campbell’s appeal was turned down by Bathurst.

More frequent in his official correspondence is discussion arising from a judge’s role as intermediary between the executive and the district grand juries. Local matters concerning appointments of district officials and the state of the jail and court-house were the stuff of the grand jury recommendations. It was not unusual for Campbell to initiate inquiries as to the fitness of certain men for public appointment or more generally to cast a net for names to be added to the magistracy. In performing the latter responsibilities, Campbell exhibited his characteristic wariness, diligently probing for possible problems. “Nothing,” he declared, “can be more repugnant to my sentiments than to be in any degree instrumental in recommending improper characters.”

His official correspondence was mainly concerned with reports of the assizes, the number of capital convictions, the possibilities for pardon, and the nature of sentencing. There was a strained, almost apologetic, quality to Campbell’s letters whenever a convict was beyond the reach of royal mercy. This letter of early 1825 is typical: “It is always matter of extreme regret to me when . . . I am unable to make such report as I know would be most gratifying to His Excellency’s benevolent feelings without injury to the administration of public justice, – but in the present case it is out of my power to do so consistently with the trust and duties incident to my Situation.” Usually Campbell would respite execution for a sufficient length of time to allow petitions and gubernatorial review. Often good character or respectable connections would be sufficient to mitigate punishment. In 1821, for instance, he recommended a soldier in the 68th Foot “as a fit object of mercy on account of the favorable character given of him by several witnesses.” Campbell derived “much satisfaction” in this case from complying with the jury’s recommendation of mercy, whereas in another case five years earlier it had been his “painful duty” to state that there were no mitigating circumstances. Where statutes allowed judicial discretion in sentencing, Campbell was usually prepared to be lenient. In these instances it was his practice to confer with the local justices chosen to sit with him on the bench for the particular assizes.

Evidence of imbecility or a simple nature was yet another reason for urging some commutation of sentence. Penitence on the part of the offender also induced Campbell to incline towards slighter punishment. He was not above a measure of judicial theatrics to induce repentance where none was apparent. In 1825, at Vittoria, Ebenezer Allan was convicted of two separate capital offences, but even after the verdicts had been delivered “he evinced a lamentable degree of audacious turpitude and impenitence, ill suited to his Situation.” Campbell, “in compassion for his immortal fate,” scheduled the execution to follow a “short period” after the sentencing – a strategy which had “the desired effect on him, and indeed on all present.” Afterwards, the sheriff reported that Allan “employs much time in prayer an act of devotion which I am told and verily believe he never before had recourse to.”

Juries had a tendency to acquit – as Campbell said, “some justly so, – others perhaps by mistake, – but many more I regret to say from less justifiable causes not unfrequent in all small Communities.” Campbell’s concern, however, was the possible conviction of the innocent rather than the acquittal of the guilty. In the 1825 cases of King Hans Hawe and Elizabeth Maxwell, convicted of murdering the child of their illegitimate daughter, Campbell had urged “the Jury to lean strongly to a Verdict of Acquittal – but the Jury thought otherwise and it being their exclusive province to judge of the fact,” he passed sentence. Yet he availed himself of his discretionary power under the particular statute, respited sentence, consulted his fellow judges, and pressed for royal mercy, which was ultimately granted.

Campbell was advancing in age when he took up his duties in Upper Canada. The fluctuating composition of the King’s Bench often added to a burden which his health was increasingly unable to tolerate. Powell’s leave of absence in 1822 increased Campbell’s responsibilities as senior judge and divided an already onerous work-load between two judges. Under the strain Campbell’s health faltered. On 23 March 1823 he conveyed to Maitland “my apprehensions that the increasing infirmities of age and ill health will ere long deprive me of the power of fulfilling the important duties of my situation.” For the past two years he had been “afflicted with occasional attacks of fever and temporary suspension of the mental faculties to a certain extent.” The condition, although “alarming,” had been brought under control. The following year, after particularly gruelling assizes and the prospect of equally wearisome ones yet to come, Campbell sighed that, “if he has not had the three regular warnings by being deaf, lame and blind, [he] has almost daily very broad hints to the same effect.”

Age and overwork were taking their toll. The prospect, however, of the imminent retirement of an increasingly cranky and possibly senile Powell held out the possibility of Campbell’s elevation to the chief justiceship. Campbell applied for the position and Maitland, anxious to be rid of Powell, warmly recommended Campbell. Bathurst concurred and on 17 Oct. 1825 Campbell became chief justice. As was customary, he also became president of the Executive Council and speaker of the Legislative Council. The emoluments of the chief justiceship and the councillorships brought a hefty increase in salary which Mackenzie claimed was Campbell’s only motivation in accepting the appointments. In doing so, the argument ran, he abandoned his “whig principles” and became the creature of Robinson and John Strachan*. His support, for instance, of Robinson’s attempt during the alien issue of 1825–26 to deprive a large number of inhabitants of their “civil rights” was cited as an example of Campbell’s “apostasy.”

The burden of his new duties quickly proved too much. Although Levius Peters Sherwood* had replaced Campbell as puisne justice, Boulton was now failing. During the summer of 1826, reporting “his faculties irretrievably gone,” Boulton was determined to suspend all duties. Forced to compensate for his incapacity, Campbell all but collapsed under the strain. At Brockville in September 1826, Christopher Alexander Hagerman* claimed, the “poor old Chief Justice did every thing in his power to go through all the suits, but his health was not equal to the undertaking. . . . he was taken so ill while on the Bench, that he was obliged to leave it, and I really thought he would have expired when he got into one of the Jury rooms, he was seized with a sort of fit, which resembled Cholera Morbus.”

Only an extraordinary effort by Campbell and Sherwood (also suffering illness) prevented the administration of justice from grinding to a halt in 1827. Campbell’s first inclination was to press for two additional puisne judges in addition to a replacement for Boulton. His personal choice for a judgeship was James Buchanan Macaulay*, whom he considered without equal in the colony “and less extensively, and perhaps less exceptionably connected than some others, a matter of important consideration in selecting a Colonial Judge.” After him he thought Jonas Jones* and Hagerman worthy. Campbell took his last assizes in 1827, sailing for England to recover his health the following year. His absence from the bench, by giving Willis the occasion to deny the constitutionality of the court in the absence of the chief justice, precipitated a major crisis. Campbell, however, was beyond the fray. His health did not recover sufficiently to enable him to resume his duties, and in 1829 he retired on a pension of £1,200. He was knighted on 29 April of the same year.

Historians have paid little attention to Campbell. His career in Nova Scotia practically never progressed beyond the boundaries of his county. Although more is known of his activities in Cape Breton, his role there has not been studied in any detail. His long career as a judge in Upper Canada has received only incidental mention. Thus conclusions appropriate to the whole of his career are difficult. Two tentative suggestions are, however, possible. On the one hand, there is, at least until 1825, an attachment to the “whig principles” mentioned by Mackenzie. Campbell’s early support for Tonge and Gibbons may be of a piece with his legal constitutionalism. On the other hand, there is his persistent concern with the precariousness of his finances. The desire for an increased salary, as Mackenzie suspected, may have been the object which weighed most heavily in his decision first to seek and then to accept the chief justiceship in spite of illness and advanced age.

In Upper Canada his career was almost exclusively judicial, and his historical stature suffers by comparison with his predecessor as chief justice, Powell, and his successor, Robinson. Not the saccharine saint portrayed by David Breakenridge Read*, Campbell is equally undeserving of William Renwick Riddell*’s barbed comment: “Campbell was not a strong judge; he seldom pressed for a conviction, but when a conviction had been secured, he was generally ruthless and seldom recommended commutation.” He did make one significant contribution to Canadian legal history, in 1822 at the trial in Sandwich of Shawanakiskie. His questioning of an Indian’s supposed immunity from prosecution for crimes committed by one Indian against another was upheld by imperial authorities. As a result, although the prisoner had escaped, the legality of his conviction had been confirmed and Indians were brought fully within the compass of the criminal law.

R. J. Morgan and Robert Lochiel Fraser

[The main source of information about Campbell’s Cape Breton career is PRO, CO 217/117–28. Other useful material can be found in PANS, MG 4, 109; RG 34–311, P, 1; N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1801–5; and R. J. Morgan’s thesis, “Orphan Outpost.”  r.j.m.

Campbell’s gracious mansion in York is one of the few landmarks of that bygone era to have withstood the onslaught of progress. Purchased by the Sir William Campbell Foundation, it was moved in 1972 to a fitting site across the street from Osgoode Hall. It stands today, an 18th-century oasis in a 20th-century desert.

References to Campbell’s career in Upper Canada are scattered through the numerous private manuscript collections and government record groups relating to the province. The most useful for this study have been AO, RG 22, ser.125, ser.133, and ser.134; and the Robinson papers in MS 4; PAC, RG 5, A1; RG 7; and PRO, CO 42. Among printed sources, William Renwick Riddell’s review of decisions on the legal status of Indians in Sero v. Gault (1921), 50 O.L.R. 27, is valuable. The following newspapers were consulted: Upper Canada Gazette, 1821–27; U.E. Loyalist (York [Toronto]), 1826–28; Kingston Chronicle, 1819–33; Chronicle & Gazette, 1833–34; Colonial Advocate, 1824–33; Advocate (York; Toronto), 1833–34; and Canadian Freeman, 1825–34. Secondary sources are not especially helpful. Read’s Lives of the judges is a bloodless, uneven account. W. R. Riddell’s article “The Ancaster ‘Bloody Assize’ of 1814,” OH, 20 (1923): 107–25, although focused on only a single event, contains an acid-etched depiction of Campbell.  r.l.f.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

R. J. Morgan and Robert Lochiel Fraser, “CAMPBELL, Sir WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 23, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_william_6E.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/campbell_william_6E.html
Author of Article:   R. J. Morgan and Robert Lochiel Fraser
Title of Article:   CAMPBELL, Sir WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   April 23, 2024