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CARTER, Sir JAMES, lawyer and judge; b. in Portsmouth, Eng., 25 Jan. 1805, son of Captain James Carter of the British army, one-time mayor of Portsmouth; d. at Mortimer Lodge, Berkshire, Eng., 10 March 1878.

James Carter went to school in Walthamstow, one of his schoolmates being Benjamin Disraeli, and continued his education at Manchester College, York, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He then studied law at the Inner Temple under his cousin, John Bonham Carter, was called to the bar in 1832, and served on the western circuit until 1834. With the aid of his cousin’s political influence he was appointed in 1834 to the New Brunswick bench by the secretary of state for the colonies, Thomas Spring-Rice.

Carter’s appointment, coming at a time when the province was in the throes of political excitement over crown lands and quitrents, caused an uproar especially among the legal profession who were educated to believe that judicial honours would fall to them in strict line of seniority. There were many outbursts in the press against the appearance on the New Brunswick bench of a 29-year-old stranger from England; a meeting of the New Brunswick bar passed a resolution protesting the appointment. The historian James Hannay* correctly interprets their reaction as one against “a gross insult” to the people of the province. A new colonial secretary apologized and promised that in the future judicial appointments would go to natives of New Brunswick.

Yet Carter’s character and presence on the bench were so impressive that the heated reaction against him quickly abated. Lemuel Allen Wilmot wrote a panegyric on him in the press on 25 Feb. 1835, concluding the piece with the quotation, “O wise and upright judge, how much older art thou than thy looks.” Approval grew stronger as the presence of a judge who was free of the family connections and alliances that explain New Brunswick politics at the time became more appreciated. Probably the most famous case he heard was that of the libel action against James Doak and Thomas Hill*, two journalists who in 1844 were jailed for contempt of the House of Assembly. Carter’s award of a habeas corpus brought to an end the assembly’s old custom of imprisoning those who offended its “privileges.”

The second occasion on which Carter unwittingly became a principal in a constitutional quarrel was in 1851 when he was appointed chief justice. Renowned for an ability to keep out of politics, he found his name a subject for political speculation, each time with fortunate results. The lieutenant governor, Sir Edmund Head*, confronted by a divided government who refused to give collective advice on a successor to the chief justice, Ward Chipman*, unilaterally made the recommendation that Carter receive the appointment. The reasons Head gave were Carter’s superior legal education, his aloofness from politics, and his private fortune. Charles Fisher led a powerful agitation in the assembly and the press against the appointment. The cry arose that the lieutenant governor had violated the principle of responsible government and that New Brunswick had slipped back under the complete control of Downing Street. Sir Edmund Head was called a tyrant, but Carter was serenely unaffected.

Having served as a referee in the Ryland case, a contentious affair in Anglo-Canadian relations, Chief Justice Carter was knighted in 1859. Eager to strengthen ties between the mother country and colonies, the British government had previously suggested awarding honours to eminent citizens of the province. The lieutenant governor, John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton, replied that honours would not produce the political result intended and that public opinion would be hostile. He would name but one man, Carter, as worthy of knighthood. Nothing was done until public opinion abruptly changed with news that the award had been conferred on Brenton Halliburton*, justice of Nova Scotia. Carter then became the first resident of New Brunswick to receive the honour of knighthood.

Suffering from failing health, Carter resigned in 1865. By arrangement with the lieutenant governor, Arthur Hamilton Gordon*, the withdrawal was carefully timed so that a place on the bench could be offered to the leader of the anti-confederate government, Albert James Smith*, thus easing the way for New Brunswick to accept confederation. Smith, however, refused.

In 1866 Carter left for England, where he died 13 years later at the residence of his son. He had been married three times: in 1831 to Emma Wellbeloved; in 1844 to Mary Ann Elizabeth Miller, by whom he had two sons; and in 1852 to Margaret Spencer Coster, by whom he had one daughter. Although he occupied a leading place in the more intellectual areas of Fredericton society, Carter enjoyed the wild life of the wilderness, keeping a bear and a beaver in captivity on his premises at Frogmore. He is invariably described as a highly cultivated man, gifted with a melodious singing voice, who for many years played the organ at St Anne’s Church in Fredericton. A man of mild temperament and retired habits, his prominence as a figure of controversy in New Brunswick’s public life was quite unsought. The province discovered, however, that he had served it well.

W. S. MacNutt

[There is no collection of Sir James Carter’s private papers in New Brunswick. Summaries of his judicial cases can be found in the Public Archives of New Brunswick. PRO, CO 188/105–188/132 contain numerous references to Carter. The Robb Letters at the University of New Brunswick Library, Archives and Special Collections Dept., contain many flattering allusions to him. For a biography see: Lawrence, Judges of New Brunswick (Stockton), 339–70. Also see Hannay, History of New Brunswick, II, 88, 94, and MacNutt, New Brunswick, 242, 342, 378–79, 437.  w.s.m.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. S. MacNutt, “CARTER, Sir JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carter_james_10E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carter_james_10E.html
Author of Article: W. S. MacNutt
Title of Article: CARTER, Sir JAMES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1972
Year of revision: 1972
Access Date: October 20, 2014