HILL, THOMAS, newspaperman, playwright, and publisher; b. 13 June 1807 in Cornwall, England; d. 13 Oct. 1860 in Fredericton.
The only evidence concerning Hill’s early years is his testimony during a libel trial he had initiated in 1858. He stated that he had come to Montreal in 1831, but left the city shortly thereafter to settle temporarily in Grand Falls, N.B., before moving to Maine. Among his occupations at that time were those of a joiner and a musician. According to his further testimony, he had married and had three children before he relocated in Woodstock, N.B., in the late 1830s, having left his family behind. Some believed that while in the United States Hill had joined the army, from which he subsequently deserted. In fact, it was a charge of desertion which appeared in a letter printed in James Hogg*’s New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser on 12 March 1858 that led to the libel suit. Although Hill argued that he had been a civilian who had so strongly opposed the American position in the “Aroostook war” [see Sir John Harvey] that he had voluntarily left the United States, the court ruled in favour of Hogg.
By 1842, in partnership with James Doak, a printer, Hill was the editor of the weekly Saint John Loyalist; during the next ten years, the newspaper, which adopted several banners, moved to Fredericton for approximately three years before returning to Saint John. On 25 May 1844 Hill set out a statement of principles, advocating a conservatism which would preserve British constitutionalism and a hereditary monarchy and opposing radicalism and republicanism. Under Hill’s editorship the Loyalist was an outspoken champion of the imperial connection and Orangeism, and an opponent of responsible government.
Two editorials by Hill on the debate in the House of Assembly about responsible government appeared in the Loyalist on 23 Feb. 1844. The first questioned the loyalty of those in the house who had spoken in favour of it and the second directly attacked one of the movement’s leaders, Lemuel Allan Wilmot*, in the following words: “Let [those members] at the next election tell the hound who fawningly crept into their confidence and then bit the hand which fed them that they have no further need of his services – that being loyal themselves they will no longer be represented by a rebel and a coward, and drive him back to the kennel from which he emerged to poison with his foetid breath the atmosphere of New Brunswick.” Hill and Doak sent copies of the paper to the house to be placed on the desks of the members, who were scandalized. In a motion of 26 February, which made use of the term “libellous,” they called Hill and Doak to the bar of the house to answer for their editorials. The representatives decided to imprison the partners “during pleasure” by using a speaker’s warrant, and it was a week before they were released on a writ of habeas corpus by Judge James Carter*.
Doak and Hill immediately returned to the galleries of the assembly, which roused the ire of the legislators. The house committee on privileges met straight away in response to their release, but the next issue of the Loyalist continued the attacks. On 26 March the committee issued a report reaffirming the assembly’s right to imprison those responsible for such flagrant contempt. But it took no further action. Meanwhile Hill and Doak had begun a court action against John Wesley Weldon, the speaker, and George Gardner, the serjeant-at-arms, for false imprisonment. At a jury trial on 16 Oct. 1845 the case was resolved in favour of Hill and Doak, who were awarded more than £220 in damages. The Supreme Court upheld the decision, stating that the House of Assembly had acted beyond its powers. In effect, through the efforts of Hill and Doak, freedom of the press from parliamentary control was established in New Brunswick.
The relationship of Hill and Doak had its difficult times. In February 1845 Hill, presumably drunk, broke into Doak’s house “with all the ferocity of a savage” and beat his partner until he was exhausted. Their association was dissolved on 25 February, but apparently all was forgiven and in July 1846 the partnership was resumed.
Hill’s publishing interests were not confined to the Loyalist. In September 1842 he had initiated the tri-weekly Aurora (Saint John), but it died after one issue. Three years later, in Fredericton, he and Doak started the Wreath, which also lasted for only one issue. In 1846 they were planning to issue a children’s publication, the Young Aspirant, but in the end it was Hogg who produced it. Hill was involved in Saint John with the Commercial Times in 1847, the Satirist in 1848, and the Lancet in 1849; in each case either publication did not occur or only one issue appeared. During the 1840s Hill was the key legislative reporter in the province. Reports from the House of Assembly which appeared in newspapers other than the Loyalist were often credited to him. Moreover, in this decade published reports of assembly debates frequently carried the imprint of Doak and Hill, publishers.
Hill’s desire for further publications took him temporarily to Boston, where in 1851 he planned to produce a monthly dealing with the Maritime provinces. It was to be entitled the British American Review, but there is no record that it ever appeared. In 1852 came the demise of the Loyalist. Two years later Hill started the semi-weekly United Empire, which lasted for four months and advocated an imperial federation. Hill then spent the remainder of his life on the editorial board of the Fredericton Head Quarters.
In 1845 Hill wrote a play entitled the Provincial Association: or, taxing each other. Billed as a tragi-comedy, it took its theme from the recently founded Provincial Association which had been formed to combat government policy on free trade. At the planned opening on 31 March in Saint John, supporters of the association prevented its showing. In fact performance of the play was disrupted several times before it was actually presented. Once it was staged, the controversy it stirred up carried over into the newspapers. Hill published the play, but no copy of it exists today.
While in Fredericton Hill compiled two other works. The first, in 1845, was The constitutional lyrist, a collection of national songs . . . adapted to the use of the loyalists of New Brunswick and the second, five years later, of which one copy exists, was entitled A book of Orange songs. Although active in the Orange order, having been a founding member of the provincial grand lodge in 1844, Hill is rumoured to have married, possibly bigamously, the daughter of Roman Catholic innkeepers Jane and John McDowal in the late 1840s.
Hill lived in a controversial period of New Brunswick’s history, during which he often fuelled controversies with his own editorials and writings. He was an adept writer with strongly held and ably articulated opinions. It is unfortunate that so much of his material has been lost. He had, in the words of William Godsoe MacFarlane, given “evidence of a nature of fire that flamed at times into vivid flashes of genius and again into the consuming fires of debauchery.” In October 1860 he died in Fredericton and was given a pauper’s burial.
Thomas Hill is the author of two poems which appeared in New Brunswick newspapers. “The bluenose boys” was printed anonymously in his Loyalist and Conservative Advocate (Fredericton) on 18 July 1844, and “The emigrant’s Christmas song” was published under his name in the New-Brunswick Courier on 26 Dec. 1844. His play, Provincial Association: or, taxing each other, issued as a pamphlet in Fredericton in 1845, is lost, but copies of the two song collections which he compiled, A book of Orange songs (Fredericton, ) and The constitutional lyrist . . . (Fredericton, 1845), appear to have survived. All three are cited in W. G. MacFarlane, New Brunswick bibliography: the books and writers of the province (Saint John, N.B., 1895).
Enough issues of Hill’s main newspaper, the weekly Loyalist, survive to allow us to trace most of its publishing history. The paper appeared in Saint John from May 1842 to May 1843, and continued in Fredericton under the title Loyalist and Conservative Advocate between 1844 and 1845 and once again as the Loyalist around 1846. After ceasing publication for a time, it returned to Saint John from 1848 until its demise in 1852 under the title Loyalist and Protestant Vindicator. The other newspapers and journals that Hill initiated, many of which died in the planning stages or saw only a single issue, are listed in J. R. Harper, Historical directory of New Brunswick newspapers and periodicals (Fredericton, 1961). The Fredericton Head Quarters is the only one of which copies are known to have survived.
N.B. Hist. Soc., N.B. Hist. Soc. papers, J. E. Sereisky, “The mystery of Thomas Hill” (typescript, n.d.). Hill v. Hogg,  9 N.B.R. 108. Hill v. Weldon,  5 N.B.R. 1. N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1844: 103–4, 110; app., 231–40. New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 1844–60. James Hannay, History of New Brunswick (2v., Saint John, 1909), especially 2: 95–97 D. K. Hazen, “The development of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in New Brunswick” (typescript, n.d.; formerly at N.B. Museum, but since withdrawn). MacNutt, New Brunswick. M. E. Smith, Too soon the curtain fell: a history of theatre in Saint John, 1789–1900 (Fredericton, 1981). J. E. Veer, “The public life of Lemuel Allan Wilmot”
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Cite This Article
Eric L. Swanick, “HILL, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hill_thomas_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:
|Author of Article:||Eric L. Swanick|
|Title of Article:||HILL, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|