CARMICHAEL, JOHN EDWARD, army officer and office holder; b. c. 1790, probably in Britain; m. 7 July 1814 Frederica Ubrica Charletta Catherina Smith, and they had two daughters and one son; d. 20 Nov. 1828 in Port Glasgow, Scotland.
On 13 Oct. 1808 John Edward Carmichael, whose background is totally obscure, joined the New Brunswick Fencibles (later the 104th Foot) as an ensign, and in 1810 he was promoted lieutenant. In 1813, while stationed in Charlottetown, he became private secretary to the lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island, Charles Douglass Smith*. The next year he married one of Smith’s four daughters. On 1 April 1816 he was appointed acting receiver general of quitrents, and it was probably shortly thereafter that he resigned his commission in the army. Smith, from the time of his arrival in the colony in July 1813, had insisted that quitrents ought to be collected, but owing to the absence of the receiver general, John Stewart, and the failure of the Colonial Office to issue precise instructions, no action had been taken. Early in 1818 Smith ordered Carmichael to demand payment and in six months Carmichael collected more quitrents than had been submitted in the preceding 26 years. But in May, the secretary of state for War and the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, who had received numerous protests from absentee proprietors, censured Smith for acting precipitately, before a new schedule of rates had been sent. Although Bathurst’s dispatch established new rates, Carmichael did not seriously attempt to collect quitrents again until ordered to do so by Smith in 1822.
In November 1818 the House of Assembly criticized Smith for extracting quitrents illegally. On 15 December Carmichael added to his own unpopularity by attempting to enforce Smith’s subsequent order to have the assembly adjourn against its wishes. According to one account, Carmichael shook his fist at the speaker, Angus Macaulay, and declared that “if you sit in that Chair one minute longer . . . this House will be dissolved.” The assembly ignored Carmichael and adjourned only when Smith himself intervened. Although Carmichael’s overbearing manner won him few friends in the assembly, the next September Smith appointed him colonial secretary, registrar, and clerk of the Council upon the death of Thomas Desbrisay*. On 26 June 1822 Carmichael, following Smith’s instructions, again issued a notice demanding the payment of quitrents. When it was ignored he reissued the notice in November and December, and in January and February he launched legal proceedings against two of the resident proprietors, Donald McDonald* and John Stewart, and a large number of the tenants in Kings County. In mid winter many of the latter travelled to Charlottetown where they sold their meagre possessions to pay their arrears, and Carmichael treated them with ill-disguised contempt.
Carmichael’s actions set in motion a chain of events which led to Smith’s recall in 1824 and his replacement by John Ready*. Charles Joseph Briscoe was appointed receiver general of quitrents by the British government and on 14 July 1824 he replaced Carmichael, whose provisional appointment had never been confirmed. Unfortunately for Carmichael, an investigation of his accounts revealed a deficit which he could not meet. Early next year the assembly, spurred on by John Stewart, who had been elected speaker of the new house, condemned Carmichael for enforcing quitrents “in an illegal, arbitrary and oppressive manner,” and the attorney general, William Johnston, who had recently been restored to that office after being dismissed by Smith, prosecuted Carmichael for the recovery of the fees he had earned as acting receiver general. Carmichael began to drink heavily in order, as he himself was to say, to “drown the recollection of the very . . . embarrassing dilemma into which he was plunged by the vindictive and vexatious proceedings against him.” In October 1827 Ready reported that because of “constant and habitual Intoxication” Carmichael was not fit to continue in office, and in May 1828 dismissed him from his posts. Virtually destitute, Carmichael journeyed to London later that year to appeal for reinstatement or appointment to a lesser position. Although both Ready and the Colonial Office were sympathetic to his plight, he died of “brain fever” before any action could be taken. His brother-in-law, Ambrose Lane*, undertook to care for his widow and three children, who had been left unprovided for.
Carmichael was a man of limited talent who rose to high office through nepotism. He was not guilty of all the exaggerated charges laid against him and, as he legitimately claimed in his own defence, he was simply obeying Smith’s orders. None the less, by the high-handed and arrogant way in which he implemented his instructions, he contributed not only to the widespread popular unrest on Prince Edward Island that Smith generated but also to his own disgrace.
PRO, CO 226/31: 126–28; 226/32: 41, 150; 226/34: 15–23, 31–33; 226/35: 69, 255; 226/36: 237–38; 226/38: 137; 226/39: 126–27, 131, 141–42; 226/40: 113–14; 226/41: 93–94, 121–23, 421–54; 226/42: 194–95, 363–64; 226/43: 195–203; 226/44: 105–7; 226/45: 159–60, 173–74, 237–38, 303–23; 226/46: 37–38; CO 227/7: 69–73. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PAPEI). Petitions from Prince Edward Island . . . (London, ), 7–8, 27. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 21 March 1825. Prince Edward Island Register, 27 Jan. 1829. G.B., WO, Army list, 1809–17. Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1875; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 66. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 86–91. Frank MacKinnon, The government of Prince Edward Island (Toronto, 1951). W. A. Squires, The 104th Regiment of Foot (the New Brunswick Regiment), 1803–1817 (Fredericton, 1962), 79, 188. Islander (Charlottetown), 27 Oct. 1848.