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FitzROY, Sir CHARLES AUGUSTUS, colonial administrator; b. 10 June 1796 in England, the eldest son of General Lord Charles FitzRoy, second son of the 3rd Duke of Grafton, and Frances Mundy, who died a year after he was born; m. first 11 March 1820 Lady Mary Lennox (d. 1847), eldest daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond and Lennox [Lennox*] and Charlotte, daughter of the 4th Duke of Gordon, and they had three sons and one daughter; m. secondly 11 Dec. 1855 Margaret Gordon Hawkey, née Milligan; d. 16 Feb. 1858 in London.

Charles Augustus FitzRoy went to Harrow and in April 1812 a commission was purchased for him as an ensign in the Royal Horse Guards. After promotion to lieutenant in October 1812 he served at Waterloo and then accompanied the Duke of Richmond to Lower Canada in 1818. Born into one ducal house, FitzRoy, by marrying Richmond’s daughter Lady Mary Lennox in March 1820, connected himself to two more. The following month he became a captain and in June 1825 a major, but was then placed on half pay. In October 1825 he became a lieutenant-colonel and was appointed to the Cape of Good Hope as deputy adjutant general of the forces. He also held a number of minor posts at the Cape and for a time edited the Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette (Cape Town). He liked South Africa but went deeply into debt after his position as deputy adjutant general was abolished. In 1831 he returned to England and was elected to the House of Commons for Bury St Edmunds, a seat controlled by the Duke of Grafton, and one his father had held. Beyond voting for the Reform Bill of 1832 he appears to have played little part in politics and gave up the seat that year when it was required for his brother-in-law. In 1833 he retired from the army, probably selling his commission to pay off his debts, and waited for his connections to find him employment. They succeeded on 19 March 1837 when he was appointed lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island. Prior to his departure he was given the kh (civil division) and was knighted by William IV at St James’s Palace.

FitzRoy arrived in Prince Edward Island and assumed control of the government from the administrator George Wright* on 25 June 1837. Although he was aware that the colony had been disturbed by a popular movement which wanted the confiscation by the crown of the vast proprietorial estates into which the Island had originally been divided, FitzRoy had been led by the dispatches of his predecessor, Sir John Harvey, to believe that the agitation was subsiding. He was soon disillusioned. In parts of the Island it was increasingly difficult to collect rents. The situation in the northern section of Kings County was particularly disturbing. During the summer of 1837 the sheriff was twice prevented from seizing the property of recalcitrant tenants and he was “driven off by a body of armed persons, who cruelly mutilated his horses.” News of this incident reached FitzRoy while he was on an extended tour of the Island and he promptly repaired to Bear River in Kings County where he received a petition from a large public assembly recommending escheat.

FitzRoy’s response was predictable. Scion of one of the great aristocratic families of England, even if only a poor cousin, he set his face against escheat “upon the broad basis of the security of all property.” The existing assembly, which met in January 1838, was opposed to wholesale escheat, and both in his opening and in his closing addresses to the legislature FitzRoy reiterated his opposition to any measure which threatened to deprive the landlords of their property. Sir John Harvey had toyed with the idea of establishing a court to investigate the proprietors’ titles, but FitzRoy rejected this proposal as “holding out hopes which could not be realized, and thereby increasing the discontent.” He strongly supported a revised election law passed in 1838 dividing the counties into smaller units and increasing the number of seats because he hoped it would frustrate the Escheat party. In fact, the party swept to victory in the 1838 elections winning 18 of the 24 seats in the assembly, and William Cooper*, its leader, was elected speaker.

While maintaining good relations with the new assembly FitzRoy assiduously worked behind the scenes to undermine the Escheat party. When Cooper carried a petition to the Colonial Office in 1839, FitzRoy ensured that it was rejected “in decided terms.” In dividing the appointed council into separate executive and legislative bodies in March 1839 he selected a number of men for both councils who were not associated with the local compact, but he also packed both bodies with men opposed to escheat. For the next three years virtually every measure passed by the assembly was opposed or mutilated beyond recognition by the Legislative Council. Shrewdly, FitzRoy also appointed to the latter “the only man of Education” among Cooper’s supporters, Charles Young, thus removing him from the assembly and limiting his effectiveness as an advocate of escheat. Partly because of FitzRoy’s actions the Escheat party collapsed in the elections of 1842.

None the less, it would be wrong to see FitzRoy as concerned simply with protecting the interests of the landed proprietors. He frequently condemned the “unfortunate policy” of alienating the whole Island to proprietors and he probably understood the tenants’ problems more clearly than did any of the governors of the period. He pointed out that, although rents in Britain might be higher, “this Rent bears much more heavily upon the Tenant in this Island” since “it is the labour alone of the settlers which renders Wilderness land of any value.” The Charlottetown Royal Gazette, reflecting the expectations of the colony’s élite, hailed FitzRoy as “not likely to be biased by fear or favour, or by any of the proprietors” and anticipated that “through his own family and connexions” he would be able to act at the Colonial Office as a countervailing influence to the absentee landlords. FitzRoy did his best to live up to these expectations. In October 1837, shortly after the Bear River meeting, he issued a circular letter to the proprietors which criticized them for not offering longer leases and lower rents to their tenants. The letter, published without FitzRoy’s approval in the Royal Gazette, unleashed a storm of protest from the proprietors. But FitzRoy did not retreat and ultimately he persuaded a number of the proprietors that it was in their own interest to deal with their tenants more leniently. When the proprietors advanced a claim to the fishery reserves attached to coastal lots he insisted that these reserves should be opened to the public. In 1837 the assembly’s land assessment bill, designed to encourage settlement and raise funds for the colony, prompted intense opposition from the Prince Edward Island Association, which represented a number of the absentee landlords in Britain. Nevertheless, in 1838, FitzRoy, with the assistance of Lord Durham [Lambton*], persuaded the Colonial Office to allow the bill to go into effect and reproached his superiors in London for delaying its implementation. The following year he even suggested both an imperial loan to allow the local government to purchase undeveloped estates and a severe penal tax on wilderness land to coerce the landlords into selling. Neither suggestion was approved by Lord John Russell, the colonial secretary.

In the short run FitzRoy’s actions, particularly his circular letter of 1837, may well have encouraged the escheat movement, as several of the proprietors and their agents claimed. But over the longer run his efforts at ameliorating the conditions under which the tenants laboured helped to defuse a potentially explosive situation. Escheat was, as FitzRoy maintained, a “hopeless” cause because it advocated a policy to which the British government would never agree. By encouraging their followers to withhold the payment of rent and to resist the enforcement of the law, the escheat leaders, whether aware of the implications of their actions or not, were encouraging a confrontation with the government. Fortunately, FitzRoy acted circumspectly. While insisting that “Loyalty implies obedience to the laws, and resistance with violence is an act of rebellion,” and while increasing the size of the provincial garrison, he warned the proprietors in his circular letter not to “expect that, in the remote parts of the Island, the Government can be prepared at all times, and on all occasions with an armed force to support your officers.”

Prince Edward Island was on the verge of a serious outbreak of violence by 1838 but FitzRoy did not over-react. Although he was determined to see that the law was “promptly and duly supported,” he used only the modicum of force that was essential to maintain order. To some extent FitzRoy was simply acting as an astute representative of the land-owning class, maintaining the status quo by using his authority circumspectly and by tempering force with benevolence. But compassion should never be dismissed so cynically. FitzRoy, the most aristocratic governor ever sent to Prince Edward Island, was distinctly unsympathetic to proprietors who seemed to regard their estates solely as an investment and who refused to accept the social obligations that to a true scion of the aristocracy were assumed to accompany the ownership of property. His sympathy for the tenants was genuine; he was motivated by altruism, or at least by a deep-rooted sense of paternalism, as well as by self-interest. Moreover, his compassion extended both to individuals and to distressed groups such as the Indians, whose survival had become precarious [see Thomas Irwin*]. Because he was concerned to convince the people of Prince Edward Island that “the Crown takes an interest in their Welfare,” violence on the Island continued to be a localized phenomenon, directed against land agents and the proprietors rather than against the government. FitzRoy’s personal popularity never waned, particularly among the Island’s resident élite. Many of the latter, although opposed to escheat, shared FitzRoy’s disdain for those proprietors who had failed to populate their estates and who wished to avoid contributing to the development of the colony. FitzRoy particularly relied for advice and support upon officials such as Thomas Heath Haviland* and Robert Hodgson*, whose claims for advancement he promoted.

As a reward for his effective service FitzRoy was appointed lieutenant governor of the Leeward Islands and departed for Antigua on 28 Sept. 1841, leaving George Wright as administrator until the arrival of Sir Henry Vere Huntley*. In Prince Edward Island FitzRoy, who enjoyed the good life but lacked a private income, had bitterly complained of the inadequacy of his salary and had fallen once again into debt, but in the Leewards, where his salary was more substantial and his expenses lower, he was able to pay off his creditors. Lord Stanley, the colonial secretary, in 1845 offered him the post of governor of New South Wales, which he assumed in August 1846. On 7 Dec. 1847 FitzRoy’s wife, who had been a perfect consort on Prince Edward Island, managing Government House and participating in charitable activities in the community, was killed in a carriage accident while he was driving. After her death he acquired a reputation as a philanderer, became the subject of continuous gossip, and seems to have lost some of his vitality as an administrator. Nevertheless, in 1851 he became the first governor general of the Australian colonies and in 1854 he was appointed a kcb. He returned to England in 1855 and married Margaret Gordon Hawkey, the widow of an Australian land agent, on 11 December, in London, where he died on 16 Feb. 1858.

In Australia FitzRoy had presided over a number of important developments. He was an effective conciliator and a competent administrator, although the colonial secretary, Lord Grey, objected to several of his decisions and described him as “a most incapable Governor of so important a Colony.” He was less than outstanding when compared to his successor, Sir William Thomas Denison, and has frequently been dismissed as an aristocratic idler. This judgement is unfair, as is that of James Stephen, permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, who compared FitzRoy to his ancestor, Charles II, to whom FitzRoy apparently bore an uncanny physical resemblance: “indolent, good humoured, rather pleasant, & having ready credit for talent.” The historian John M. Ward has concluded that FitzRoy was “at least the equal of any Australian governor of his time”; the same and more could be said of him during his earlier career on Prince Edward Island.

Phillip Buckner

PAC, MG 24, A17, ser.ii, 3: ff.384–87, 477–87; 4: ff.1371–78; B13, 1: ff.1286–339. PRO, CO 226/54–62; CO 227/8; CO 229/9–10; WO 25/758: 125. Australia, Parl., Historical records of Australia (ser.1, 26v., Sydney, 1914–25), 25: ix–xiv; 26: v–xvii. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), June 1837–September 1841. ADB. Boase, Modern English biog., 1: 1063. Burke’s peerage (1967), 1076. DNB. Dictionary of South African biography, ed. W. J. de Kock et al. (4v. to date, Pretoria, South Africa, 1968–), 2: 238–39. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 107–14. S. G. Foster, Colonial improver: Edward Deas Thomson, 1800–1879 (Melbourne, Australia, 1978), 84–106. J. M. Ward, Earl Grey and the Australian colonies, 1846–1857; a study of self-government and self-interest (Melbourne, [1958]), 281. T. J. Barron and K. J. Cable, “The diary of James Stephen, 1846,” Hist. Studies (Melbourne), 13 (1969): 518.

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Phillip Buckner, “FitzROY, SIR CHARLES AUGUSTUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fitzroy_charles_augustus_8E.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/fitzroy_charles_augustus_8E.html
Author of Article:   Phillip Buckner
Title of Article:   FitzROY, SIR CHARLES AUGUSTUS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   April 17, 2024