CREASE, Sir HENRY PERING PELLEW, lawyer, politician, office holder, and judge; b. 20 Aug. 1823 at Ince Castle, near Plymouth, England, eldest son of Captain Henry Crease of the Royal Navy and Mary Smith; m. 27 April 1853 Sarah Lindley in Acton (London), England, and they had three sons (one of whom died in infancy) and four daughters; d. 27 Nov. 1905 in Victoria.
Despite the fact that his mother was heir to Ince Castle, Henry Pering Pellew Crease grew up in a middle-class family. He had his early education at Plymouth New Grammar School and Mount Radford College-School before going on to Clare College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a ba in April 1846. Armed with a gentleman’s education, he gained admission to the Middle Temple a month later to study law. He was called to the bar in June 1849.
Instead of beginning his law career immediately, Henry joined his parents in their journey to Upper Canada where, in an effort to buttress their weak financial position, they had speculated in canal construction. The elder Creases’ investments did not bear the expected fruit, and though they remained in the colony until October 1853, Henry, after helping to survey lakes Superior and Huron, returned to England in 1851 or 1852 and took up practice as a conveyancing barrister.
For whatever reason, the law evidently held little attraction for him because he assumed a position as manager of the Cornwall-based Great Wheal Vor United Mines in 1852 or 1853. Crease’s management of “the greatest tin Mine in the world” met with the approval of the 1,100 to 1,500 employees under his charge. The shareholders, however, took a rather less charitable view of “the School for the Miners’ Children, Horticultural Shows, Donations to objects dear to the working Miner, and . . . [the] commodious Washing Places for the men coming up from underground” that were established under his direction. A committee of investigation further claimed that he had sold tin rights without proper authority and had taken up company leases in his own name, charging the operational expenses to Great Wheal Vor United. Just as these allegations were levelled at Crease, his problems were compounded by a lawsuit brought against him by Sir Samuel Spry. Spry sued Crease for £700, contending that he had failed to develop mining properties entrusted to him. The shareholders of Great Wheal Vor United demanded and got his resignation.
That Crease was in such an unsettled condition at the age of 35 would have been enough to cause him and his parents much concern, but adding to their worries was the fact that he had a young family to care for. Just after his return from Canada, he had married Sarah Lindley, the eldest daughter of Sarah Freestone and botanist Dr John Lindley. Henry and his wife shared a love and a talent for sketching and water-colour painting which they indulged on their honeymoon to the Isle of Wight and throughout their lives together in England, on Vancouver Island, and in British Columbia.
After his departure from Great Wheal Vor United Mines, Crease decided to test the waters of British North America once again, in the hopes of securing a colonial appointment. Nathaniel Lindley was less than enthusiastic about his brother-in-law’s plans, extending only lukewarm support and a strong warning: “Beware how you place yourself in a position to rise in which order & method, especially in money matters, are essentially requisite.” With that stinging advice, Henry sailed for Canada in April 1858, leaving Sarah and their three daughters behind. Toronto proved a disappointment, and the anxious Henry wrote to Sarah in July 1858 proposing that they emigrate to Vancouver Island. Though she was somewhat taken aback, Sarah agreed “to consider that as our future home if it pleases God to direct our steps hither.” Henry proceeded to Victoria, reaching there in December 1858.
Before his family’s arrival in February 1860, Crease had set up as a barrister in Victoria and had established his competence in the eyes of Matthew Baillie Begbie*, the judge of British Columbia’s Supreme Court. He accompanied Begbie on his inaugural circuit in March 1859. The first assize in the gold colony, held in the barracks at Fort Langley (near Langley) before a crowd of restive American miners, must have been a strange and intimidating experience for the Middle Temple-trained conveyancing barrister. Crease also became immersed in the island’s polarized political life. Labelling himself a “liberal and independent Reformer,” he came out in opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s proprietary government which, according to some, had parlayed its economic monopoly into a political one. On 12 Jan. 1860 he won a seat for Victoria District in the Vancouver Island House of Assembly. Despite Crease’s efforts to distance himself from the government, Amor De Cosmos*, editor of the opposition newspaper the British Colonist (Victoria), contended that his victory had been engineered by “HBC officers and their tools.” On 15 Oct. 1861 James Douglas*, governor of both Vancouver Island and British Columbia, named him attorney general of the mainland colony, a step that left little doubt about Crease’s politics. Immediately following his appointment, on 18 October, Crease resigned his seat in the island assembly. In 1866 British Columbia and Vancouver Island were united, and the attorney-generalship of the new administration went to Crease.
When he was not on circuit, either as a crown prosecutor or, later, as a judge, he was busy making the law in the capital. From his appointment in 1861 to 13 May 1870, when he was elevated to the British Columbia Supreme Court, Crease, according to his own admission, “worked like blazes & did all the Government business in the House & drew and fought through the House over 500 Acts of Parliament and the Crown business of the Colony.” Much of this early legislation dealt with land settlement, gold-mining, and the regulation of the economic transactions that accompanied the exploitation of resources. Crease had declared himself a free trader in his first election address, and the legislation he helped draft and shepherd through the house reflected the principles of laissez-faire.
Despite the impact of individualism on Crease’s jurisprudence, the aesthetics of his everyday life were impenetrable to any levelling influence. Henry and Sarah took pains to recreate the English world they came from in the “imperial stump field” that passed as the colonial capital. Ince Cottage, their Sapperton Road home outside New Westminster, was planted with “choice flowers,” gooseberry and currant bushes, and fruit-trees and was surrounded by a white picket fence. But it was their Victoria house and the events that occurred within its walls and on its grounds that best exemplified the social life of a late-19th-century colonial élite.
The family remained in New Westminster following the union of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in 1866, but returned to Victoria in 1868 when the seat of government was removed there. Four years later they commissioned Wright and Sanders, San Francisco architects, to design a house, “plain but pleasing with clear bold projections and good exterior.” In 1875 the Creases moved into Pentrelew, a three-storey “commodious plain family brick house” which, according to Henry, “for many years to come will be an excellent advertisement . . . for the qualities enumerated.” Those qualities included servants’ quarters, two kitchens, seven bedrooms, and a sixty-foot-long, south-facing verandah. The Italianate house became one of the regular social venues for Victoria’s élite. Dinners, dances, charades, magic lantern shows, backgammon, billiards, cards, and meetings of the Half Hour Reading Society occurred in Pentrelew’s drawing-rooms. As well, the house accommodated visitors and relatives from England. It symbolized the genteel hospitality associated with the English colonial and provincial upper class. Located at 1201 Fort Street, Pentrelew exists today as the Victoria Truth Centre.
Community service was another hallmark of the élite in British Columbia. Central to the associational life of people like Crease was the Church of England. In 1869 he led a campaign for the rebuilding of Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, and in 1885 he was appointed a lay reader in the church. In addition, Crease was elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute in 1868, was a central figure in establishing the Law Society of British Columbia in 1869, and served as a lieutenant in the Seymour Artillery Company, in which he was charged with training, exercising, and disciplining the inferior officers. Finally, he was a member of the board of the Colonial Securities Company Limited (a firm that promoted British investment in the colonies), initiating and organizing a branch in British Columbia. Also suggestive of the strength of Henry’s English connections was his and Sarah’s choice of schools for their sons. Although the Crease daughters were educated in Victoria, both Lindley and Arthur Crease were sent to Haileybury College in England.
The self-conscious Englishness that revealed itself in Crease’s social life was also manifested in his politics. The debate over confederation showed how, for him, the personal was political. His remarks at that time and in the decade following demonstrate his deep distrust of representative and responsible government and were indicative of a power struggle between the old colonial élite and the new provincial administration. Though he eventually endorsed the idea of union, Crease was not an early supporter. He did not trust the Canadians, whom he referred to as “North American Chinamen”; he feared they would “rule the country and job its offices,” leaving him without a post. Moreover, becoming a “Kannuck” was, in his eyes, merely a preliminary step to “Yankeedom.” The imperial connection had to remain intact if British Columbia was to retain its British character. There was more to his opposition to confederation than a sentimental attachment to Britain and a fear of being superannuated, however. These deeper concerns were made explicit after 1871. Political union and responsible government raised the question of the extent to which the provincial legislature could dictate the rules under which British Columbia’s judges and its Supreme Court could act. The province attempted to regulate the county courts first – with little success – and then tried to bring the Supreme Court and its judges to heel.
The central thrust of the province’s efforts was aimed at getting its judges to reside in their districts rather than in the more pleasant capital city which most of them preferred. Although the dominion government disallowed all three provincial acts respecting the county courts, it proved reluctant to declare ultra vires the Legislative Assembly’s 1878 attempt to regulate the Supreme Court. In the opinion of the British Columbia government, confederation had reduced this tribunal to a provincial court, subject to regulation by the local legislature. The Supreme Court judges, on the other hand, considered that they and the institution over which they presided came under dominion, not provincial, jurisdiction. Privately, Crease regarded the province’s actions as “communistic.” The 1878 act rendered “the Supreme Court and its Judges subservient to the varying current of the ever shifting politics of a young province, passing for the first time through the seething caldron of Responsible Government with all its prejudices and passions at fever heat, and wielding an authority based upon the unreasoning and levelling tendencies of universal suffrage,” he wrote. Despite Crease’s dire warnings about the “reign of terror, official terror,” that the province had embarked on, Ottawa was unmoved. In response, he and his fellow judges simply decided to ignore the rules and residence requirements framed by the province. By doing so, they effectively brought the judicial machinery to a grinding halt. In 1881 the provincial government of George Anthony Walkem fashioned new rules of court and passed another act aimed at ending the deadlock. Instead, its actions served to bring the conflict to a head. In the Thrasher case Crease and his fellow Supreme Court judges ruled that the province’s attempts at regulation were unconstitutional and that the tribunal was under dominion jurisdiction only.
Hoping to reinforce the Supreme Court’s position, Crease solicited the support of parliamentary librarian and constitutional expert Alpheus Todd*. Unsuccessful, he then sent two anonymous letters to the editor of the Canada Law Journal, taking issue with Todd’s position, mocking his ability to comment on constitutional matters, and praising his own legal acumen. Todd, he said, “gets at his conclusion crab-fashion, i.e. backwards,” incapacitated by “blinkers” and “shutting his eyes” to relevant issues. Even before Todd’s restrained response, Crease was driven to further flights of rhetorical excess in the pages of the Daily Colonist, portraying his opponent as a self-styled “Sir Oracle.”
Though the Supreme Court of Canada overturned Thrasher and affirmed the status of the British Columbia Supreme Court as a provincial body in 1883, Crease managed to put his distaste for that ruling aside and served for another 13 years. The lack of judgement he had shown in the case manifested itself again in his older years and caught the concerned attention of the federal minister of justice, Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper*, who asked the province’s chief justice, Theodore Davie*, to use “friendly diplomacy” to “induce Judge Crease to apply for superannuation.” Crease retired six months later, on 20 Jan. 1896.
During his years on the Supreme Court bench, Crease had been revising officer for Vancouver, a member of three royal commissions, and a deputy judge in admiralty of the Exchequer Court of Canada. Knighted on 6 Jan. 1896, he died almost ten years after his retirement, at the age of 82.
Henry Crease was drawn from that very self-conscious English middle class who aspired to gentility and the everyday aesthetics that went along with it but who did not have the economic means to sustain their aspirations without migrating to the colonies. Finances were a constant worry for Crease and his family. The uncertainty continued after their emigration, exacerbated by spells of doubt about the prospects for Crease’s career and the fact that his parents and siblings in England depended on him for assistance. The Creases’ sense of themselves found material expression in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Their paintings, the houses they lived in, their community involvement, and their choice of schools for their children were all evidence of the strength and nature of the English middle-class values to which they clung. Despite the fact that his jurisprudence was strongly influenced by the potentially levelling tendencies of laissez-faire individualism, Crease’s political attitudes also bore the imprint of his social class. His response to the province’s attempts at judicial reform points to his deep distrust of universal suffrage and his abiding faith in the better judgement of those who ruled, not because they had the electoral imprimatur of a frontier rabble, but because they possessed the habit of authority.
BCARS, Add. mss 54; Add. mss 55; A/E/C86/C86; GR 1372, F 58–72; GR 1727. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 29 March 1882. “Administration of justice in British Columbia,” Canada Law Journal, 18 (1882): 26–29, 127–30, 151–53. K. A. Bridge, “Two Victorian gentlewomen in the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Eleanor Hill Fellows and Sarah Lindley Crease” (ma thesis, Univ. of Victoria, 1984). G. R. Elliott, “Henry P. Pellew Crease: confederation or no confederation,” BC Studies, no.12 (winter 1971–72): 63–74. Hamar Foster, “The struggle for the Supreme Court: law and politics in British Columbia, 1871–1885,” Law & justice in a new land: essays in western Canadian legal history, ed. L. A. Knafla (Toronto, 1986), 167–213. Christina Johnson-Dean, “The Crease family and the arts in British Columbia” (ma thesis, Univ. of Victoria, 1981); The Crease family archives: a record of settlement and service in British Columbia (Victoria, 1982). D. R. Williams, “. . . The man for a new country”: Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Sidney, B.C., 1977).