DAVIE, ALEXANDER EDMUND BATSON, lawyer and politician; b. 24 Nov. 1847 in the parish of St Cuthbert, Wells (Somerset), England, son of Dr John Chapman Davie and Anne Collard Waldron; m. 3 Dec. 1874 Constance Langford Skinner, and they had three sons and four daughters; d. 1 Aug. 1889 in Victoria, B.C.
Alexander Edmund Batson Davie was educated at Silcoate’s School in Wakefield (West Yorkshire), England. In 1862, leaving his mother, a brother, and a sister behind, Alexander immigrated with his father and three brothers to Vancouver Island; they were among the first to settle in the Cowichan River valley (near present-day Duncan, B.C.). Shortly after his arrival Davie began articling in Victoria with Robert Bishop, and after June 1865 with Robert Edwin Jackson. The chief justice of Vancouver Island, Joseph Needham, enrolled Davie as a solicitor for the island on 25 Nov. 1868, and the following year Matthew Baillie Begbie* enrolled him on the mainland. Davie became active in the Law Society of British Columbia, and was elected its secretary in July 1869. He was called to the bar in February 1873, the first lawyer to have received his complete legal education on Vancouver Island. On 31 March 1874 he was elected a bencher in the law society, a position he held for most of his life.
With a law practice in Victoria and also from about 1870 in the Cariboo, Davie turned to politics. His father had been a member of the Legislative Council for a short time, and his own experience as law clerk to the Legislative Assembly between 1872 and 1874 whetted his appetite for political office. In the provincial election in the fall of 1875 he ran in the Cariboo constituency, there being no seat available in his home, Victoria. He stood as an independent, but like other candidates in the Cariboo agreed with the government of Premier George Anthony Walkem* concerning the pressure it applied on the Canadian government to fulfil three crucial promises made to the province when it joined confederation in 1871: to take over its debt, to lend it money to build a dry dock, and to begin construction on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Walkem reciprocated Davie’s support; without it Davie would not likely have been elected as there was much opposition to him among the miners “on the grounds that that gentleman has no claim on the constituency and has only a very temporary interest in their welfare.” There was also speculation that Davie’s support for Walkem was only feigned. He did vote with Walkem on issues about which they agreed but otherwise he remained an independent. When Walkem lost the confidence of the assembly and Andrew Charles Elliott became premier in February 1876, Davie voted with Elliott, but such shifts were not unusual at a time when political parties were unknown.
In May 1877 Davie accepted Elliott’s offer of the provincial secretaryship, but the necessary by-election, which took place on 22 June 1877, proved to be disastrous for him. He failed to convince the voters that a cabinet minister would best serve their interests, and Walkem was determined to defeat his imagined betrayer. Davie did not run in the 1878 election, having returned to full-time law practice in Victoria with Montague William Tyrwhitt Drake and Robert Edwin Jackson. In 1879 he formed a partnership with Charles Edward Pooley which lasted until his death.
But although he continued to practise law, the lure of politics was too strong. Davie was elected for Lillooet in the provincial election of July 1882. The following January, when William Smithe formed a government, Davie became attorney general, and he was returned by acclamation in the subsequent by-election on 15 Feb. 1883. The appointment recognized his legal ability, and a further honour came in September 1883 when he was made a qc. In 1884 he headed a three-man commission, on which Elliott also sat, to investigate the disturbances at William Duncan*’s mission at Metlakatla (B.C.) caused by the demands of the Tsimshian Indians, which included compensation for their land. The commission did not even consider land claims but recommended the provincial government assert its authority over the land in the area by surveying it.
As attorney general, Davie in 1884 forcefully argued for provincial rights before the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the Canada Temperance Act of 1878, claiming that British Columbia, like the other provinces, had the right under the British North America Act to regulate its own liquor sales; the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the provinces. His most significant contribution, however, was in legal reform. The chaos of the gold-rush era had resulted in many hasty, ill-conceived laws which had to be modernized and consolidated. Davie sponsored a large number of new laws, most of which met with little opposition in the assembly. He also established regular sittings of the various courts.
Premier Smithe died on 28 March 1887, and on 1 April the lieutenant governor, Hugh Nelson*, asked Davie to form a new government. On becoming premier, Davie retained the post of attorney general. His health soon broke down and on 11 October he left Victoria for California and the southwestern United States to recuperate. At the request of the provincial secretary, John Robson*, the assembly granted permission for Davie’s prolonged absence so that he did not have to forfeit his seat. Although Robson ran the government during his absence, Davie attempted to direct policy by outlining his views on current issues in letters to Robson. Government in absentia was unsatisfactory; it was fortunate that Davie’s ministry had a considerable majority and was not faced with any contentious issues. This tranquillity, and Davie’s brief active service, makes it difficult to evaluate his effectiveness as premier.
Upon his return from the United States on 21 May 1888, Davie attempted to be an active premier but it was obvious his health was little improved. In July 1889 he declined the position of justice of the Supreme Court of Canada which had been offered to him on Robson’s advice by Sir John Sparrow David Thompson*, the Canadian minister of justice, and stayed on as premier.
On 1 Aug. 1889 he died of phthisis in Victoria after receiving the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church, which he had joined in 1882. He did not die a wealthy man, leaving an estate of $14,000 and a lot worth $1,500. The Vancouver Daily World paid tribute to him as a “true Christian gentleman” devoted to his family.
© 1982–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Zane H. Lewis, “DAVIE, ALEXANDER EDMUND BATSON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/davie_alexander_edmund_batson_11E.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:
|Author of Article:||Zane H. Lewis|
|Title of Article:||DAVIE, ALEXANDER EDMUND BATSON|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1982|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|