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FAIRBANKS, SAMUEL PRESCOTT, lawyer, politician, and civil servant; b. 31 Jan. 1795 at Halifax, N. S., son of Rufus Fairbanks and Ann Prescott, and brother of Charles Rufus Fairbanks*; m. 28 Sept. 1820 Charlotte Ann Newton, a granddaughter of Simeon Perkins*, and they had several children; d. 7 Dec. 1882 at Darmouth, N.S.

Samuel Prescott Fairbanks attended King’s College, at Windsor, N.S., to which he matriculated on 3 Sept. 1810, a classmate of Thomas Chandler Haliburton*. Fairbanks was admitted to the bar at Halifax in 1818, and then moved to Liverpool, N.S., where he practised until 1845. He built a large double house and was active in the affairs of Trinity Church (Anglican) as vestryman and later warden. From 1836 to 1845 he represented Queens County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly as a Conservative; he acted as registrar of the court of probate from 8 Nov. 1842 to 1847 and was appointed a qc on 1 May 1845.

In 1845 Fairbanks was asked by Lord Falkland [Cary], lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, to become provincial treasurer, and he accepted on condition that the office not become a political appointment. Fairbanks thus was guaranteed the security of his appointment regardless of which party controlled the assembly. Falkland, however, had no justification for extending any promise about the nature of the appointment. In October 1839 Colonial Secretary Lord John Russell had written Governor Sir Colin Campbell* explicitly singling out the office of provincial treasurer as one which was to be dependent upon the confidence of the assembly.

The Liberals won the election of 1848 and no Tory appointee could hope for magnanimity from them. The matter of the provincial treasurer was aired in the legislature, the Colonial Office, and the Nova Scotia and British press. On 1 April 1848 the assembly gave third reading to a bill to abolish the post of provincial treasurer and create instead the two offices of financial secretary and receiver general. Fairbanks ceased to be provincial treasurer in July 1848, but he persistently petitioned the Executive Council for redress of what he considered a breach of faith on the part of government, and sought an appointment to some other public but non-political office.

The Liberal Acadian Recorder (Halifax) led the press in the fight against Fairbanks, boldly declaring in January 1849 that Fairbanks’ appointment in March 1845 had been conceived in the mind of the Conservative leader James William Johnston* “in his anxiety to destroy Responsible and Departmental Government, and fasten his friends on the Treasury for Life.” From the Colonial Office Earl Grey, in a dispatch of 1852, agreed that Fairbanks had been victimized but stated that any compensation was the responsibility of the provincial legislature. Thus, without becoming directly involved, Grey upheld the principle of responsible government while at the same time counselling, by implication, an end to the problem through magnanimous provincial action. Replying in September 1852 to a petition from Fairbanks presented by Sir John Harvey*, the Executive Council passed a motion declaring that while it did not “admit that any wrong has been done to Mr. Fairbanks” it was “disposed should a suitable opportunity offer to make provision for him.” But the provincial secretary, Joseph Howe*, was unsympathetic, and Fairbanks met with little success. He was to wait a full decade before he could look to the provincial government for an appointment.

In 1857 the Conservatives were returned to office under J. W. Johnston, and on 31 December Fairbanks was appointed commissioner of crown lands with a salary of £500 per annum. In addition, he received an annual stipend of £400 as commissioner of mines, an arrangement which the colonial secretary, Henry Labouchere, viewed with “much gratification.” The remainder of Fairbanks’ career seems to have been relatively tranquil. In 1859 he applied for an increase in his stipend as commissioner of mines, saying that correspondence during his tenure had amounted to some 12,000 letters. On 26 August of the same year he was given added responsibility as commissioner for the protection and disposal of Indian lands. When he retired in 1872 the Liberal government granted him an annuity of $1,200 “during his life.” A decade later he died at his Dartmouth home.

Fairbanks’ career could hardly be termed colourful, yet it provides an interesting example of a man who was caught in the transition from executive to responsible government and who reacted in a very human way. Despite the Acadian Recorder his complaint seems sincere, and he himself must have realized there could be no turning back of the clock for he never asked to be reinstated as provincial treasurer. The fact that he served as a civil servant under three Liberal governments, one of them led by Howe, would seem to vindicate him in the face of those who initially opposed his requests for compensation.

John G. Leefe

Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Liverpool, N.S.), Registers (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 1, 102, 198–203a, 214 1/2 G; RG 5, GP, 2. Private arch., Seth Bartling (Liverpool), R. J. Long, “The annals of Liverpool and Queen’s County, 1760–1867” (1926) (typescript at Dalhousie Univ. Library, Halifax; mfm. at PANS). [John Inglis], Memoranda respecting Kings College, at Windsor, in Nova Scotia; collected and prepared for the purpose of making evident the leading object in suggesting and establishing that institution (Halifax, 1836), 25. Acadian Recorder, 29 Jan., 30 April 1849. Directory of N.S. MLAs, 114. Dominion annual register, 1882: 196. T. B. Akins, “History of Halifax City,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 8 (1895); repub. as History of Halifax City (Belleville, Ont., 1973), 151, 234.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John G. Leefe, “FAIRBANKS, SAMUEL PRESCOTT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fairbanks_samuel_prescott_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fairbanks_samuel_prescott_11E.html
Author of Article:   John G. Leefe
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   December 4, 2023