DE BLAQUIÈRE, PETER BOYLE, militia officer, politician, office holder, and university official; b. 26 April 1783 in Dublin, fifth son of Sir John Blaquiere and Eleanor Dobson; m. first 13 Sept. 1804 Eliza O’Brien (d. 1814) of Newcastle (Newcastle West, Republic of Ireland), and they had four sons and three daughters; m. secondly 26 Nov. 1818 Eliza Roper of Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin (Republic of Ireland), and they had three sons and five daughters; d. 23 Oct. 1860 in Yorkville (Toronto), Upper Canada.
Peter Boyle de Blaquière’s Canadian career clearly owed much to the reputation and rank of his father. John Blaquiere, son of a French émigré who had settled in London, became secretary of legation in France and accompanied Lord Harcourt to Ireland as chief secretary on the latter’s appointment as lord lieutenant in 1772. When Harcourt resigned four years later, Blaquiere remained in Ireland. He was elected to the Irish parliament, was made a baronet in 1784, and was created Baron de Blaquiere of Ardkill, County Londonderry (Northern Ireland), in 1800. His eldest son, John, succeeded him to the peerage in 1812. Thus, when Peter Boyle de Blaquière emigrated to Upper Canada in 1837, he was the son and brother of a peer and the prefix “Honourable” was attached to his name in his own right. A half-century later his grandson William would inherit the family title, which became extinct in 1920.
Yet little is known of the first half-century of de Blaquière’s life. He served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman on the Director, commanded by Captain William Bligh of Bounty fame. During the mutiny at the Nore in May and June of 1797, Bligh and three midshipmen, including de Blaquière, were forced off their ship, but they were able to return and were present at the battle of Camperdown that October when the Dutch fleet was destroyed. After de Blaquière left the navy, he maintained a residence in Southampton, where baptismal, marriage, and other records from the 1820s and 1830s relating to him and his family survive. He served as an honorary burgess, was an active tory in both local and national politics, strongly supported the Church of England, and was interested in railway promotion. In these respects his Canadian career was foreshadowed.
In Upper Canada de Blaquière was received as a person of considerable consequence. He came in 1837 with his large family, apparently with some means, and bought property in the recently founded village of Woodstock in Oxford County. Here he was in the midst of a remarkable settlement of gentry, half-pay officers from Great Britain who had begun taking up land earlier in the decade and had acquired influence over all aspects of local government. Among the best known of his neighbours were former naval officers Rear-Admiral Henry Vansittart and Commander Andrew Drew*. The latter called upon de Blaquière within months of his arrival to collect pikes for the attack on the Caroline. As lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Oxford militia, de Blaquière himself played an active role in suppressing the rebellion. Held high in local regard, in 1838 he was selected churchwarden at St Paul’s, the first Anglican congregation in Woodstock [see William Craddock Bettridge*], and in 1842 he was appointed warden of the Brock District.
In 1837 Sir Francis Bond Head* had recommended that de Blaquière be appointed to the Legislative Council. The lieutenant governor described him as “a very intelligent man, a good speaker,” adding, “he is besides almost the only Irishman I can name” (undoubtedly a reference to de Blaquière’s social standing and tory views). He did in fact become a legislative councillor in 1839, and two years later he was continued in the Legislative Council of the United Province of Canada. In the council de Blaquière appears not to have been a figure of the first importance. A man of strong tory instincts, he found it difficult to accept the transition to responsible government although he was on good personal terms with reform leaders Robert Baldwin and Francis Hincks*. Perhaps his convictions were too firm to allow him to engage in the game of party politics and to approve the policy of bringing French Canadians into the government. At any rate, he was passed over by Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe* both for the speakership of the Legislative Council in 1843 [see René-Édouard Caron*] and for a place in the Executive Council the following year. In 1850 Lord Elgin [Bruce*] wrote that de Blaquière had “maintained a kind of huffy seclusion for the last four years because Lord Metcalfe did not make him Speaker of the Legislative Council.” The journals of the council reveal that for several years after 1844 de Blaquière was frequently absent, sometimes for an entire session. In 1856, however, he made a point of being present to lead ten members in a dissent against the measure to make the council elective, since it would give “undue preponderance to the popular element” and tend to “the separation of Canada from the Parent State.” Yet near the end of his life he voted in favour of making the speakership of the council elective. The Toronto Globe suggested in 1860 that de Blaquière had been “an exception to the rule” that men become more conservative with age.
Although a prominent and unswerving layman of the Church of England, de Blaquière was quite prepared, if necessary, to break a lance with the redoubtable bishop of Toronto, John Strachan*. On 31 Jan. 1850, from Rockwood, his residence near Kingston where he had moved when the provincial capital was located there, de Blaquière wrote a public letter proposing a drastic reorganization of the Church of England: election of two more bishops and triennial convocations in which the clergy and laity would share power with the bishop. At the same time he submitted a draft bill on the subject which he proposed to introduce in the Legislative Council. For de Blaquière to make this public proposal without consulting the bishop was regarded as outrageous, and a storm of abuse descended upon him. In fact, as events in the next half dozen years would show, the church was moving in this direction. In 1856, when Strachan was ready to ask for enabling legislation to prepare the way for synodical government, he asked de Blaquière to pilot the bill through the council.
A much more serious difference between the two men arose out of the university question. In 1849 the legislature passed a bill transforming the Anglican-oriented King’s College into the secular University of Toronto and transferring the substantial endowment of the former to the latter. Bishop Strachan regarded this action as a monstrous act of betrayal and spoliation. He expected faithful members of the Church of England to support him in his denunciations of the “godless” University of Toronto and in his efforts to raise money, in Canada and England, to found a new church university, Trinity College. It was soon clear, however, that not all Anglicans in Canada supported the bishop; in particular, when the first senate of the University of Toronto was announced early in 1850, the list of 25 names was headed by that of the Honourable Peter Boyle de Blaquière. Soon afterward the convocation of the university proceeded to the election of a chancellor and, when Chief Justice James Buchanan Macaulay declined the honour, it was offered to and, on 4 May 1850, accepted by de Blaquière. He had recently moved from Kingston to Toronto “for the express purpose of affording to my son the inestimable advantage of academical education,” and he was to reside just north of the city in Yorkville for the remainder of his life.
Meanwhile the 72-year-old Strachan had sailed for England where he spent several months raising money, seeking a royal charter for Trinity College, and denouncing the University of Toronto as “Anti-Christian” and “Impious.” Word of the bishop’s activities led Chancellor de Blaquière into vigorous and lengthy defences of the university, and on Strachan’s return the two men engaged in a bitter exchange of views which was published in the newspapers. Strachan insisted that the Church of England had a right to form, with its own funds, a church university to replace the “suppressed” King’s College. With equal vehemence, de Blaquière insisted that there must be but one university in Upper Canada receiving public support, and that the Church of England should limit itself to the founding of a divinity school. He further charged that Strachan had acted without consulting “our Church, as such,” and Strachan retorted that de Blaquière, “in a most unkind spirit,” had issued “a slanderous Paper.”
To some extent, the contest was a draw. The establishing of Trinity College in 1851–52 shook but did not destroy the University of Toronto. A half-century later the college federated with the university. As for de Blaquière, he resigned the chancellorship in October 1852 in protest against Francis Hincks’s bill, made law in 1853, that reorganized the University of Toronto along lines similar to the University of London.
Peter Boyle de Blaquière was obviously not a typical Upper Canadian of his time, but he was an outstanding representative of a fairly large number of upper class and upper middle class emigrants from the “Parent State” who offered political, educational, and social leadership in the land of their adoption.
[The assistance of Miss S. D. Thomson, City Archivist, in providing information on Peter Boyle de Blaquière from records held in the Southampton City Record Office (Southampton, Eng.) is gratefully acknowledged. g.m.c.]
AO, MS 35; MU 2863, Andrew Drew to [de] Blaquière, 23 Dec. 1837. MTL, Robert Baldwin papers. PAC, RG 7, G14, 9: 3986–96. Arthur papers (Sanderson). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Council, Journals, 1841–61. Doc. hist. of education in U.C. (Hodgins), vols.9–10. Elgin–Grey papers (Doughty). British Colonist (Toronto), 1839–40. Chronicle & Gazette, 5 Oct., 21 Dec. 1839; 25, 29 Jan. 1840; 2, 23 Feb., 28 Sept. 1842; 30 Sept., 18 Oct. 1843; 25 May 1847. Church, 14, 21 Feb., 14 March, 25 April, 6, 27 June, 4 July 1850. Cobourg Star, 4 May 1859. Globe, 1 May 1850; 7, 9, 11 Jan. 1851; 25 Oct. 1860. Pilot (Montreal), 12 Aug. 1844. DNB (biog. of John Blaquiere). L. G. Pine, The new extinct peerage, 1884–1971: containing extinct, abeyant, dormant & suspended peerages; with genealogies and arms (London, 1972). Brian Dawe, “Old Oxford is wide awake!” pioneer settlers and politicians in Oxford County, 1793–1853 (n.p., 1980). J. A. Froude, The English in Ireland in the eighteenth century (3v., New York, 1873–74). George Mackaness, The life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, R.N., F.R.S. (2v., Sydney and London, 1931; rev. ed., 1v., 1951). Read, Rising in western U.C. Arthur Sweatman, A sketch of the history of the parish of Woodstock ([Woodstock, Ont., 1902?]).