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HOLLAND, JOHN FREDERICK, surveyor, army and naval officer, landowner, jp, office holder, politician, and militia officer; b. probably during the winter of 1764–65 at Observation (Holland) Cove, St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, natural first child of Samuel Johannes Holland* and Marie-Joseph Rollet; m. by 1790 Mary Emily Tissable, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 17 Dec. 1845 in Charlottetown.

The circumstances of John Frederick Holland’s upbringing and early career were dictated by the movements of his father, surveyor general of the province of Quebec and the Northern District of North America, 1764–1801. Samuel preferred to have his family close by, and it was during his survey of St John’s Island that John was born. The peripatetic Holland household was the only school known to “St. Johns Jack”: he learned the French language from his mother, Latin besides; and from his father he assimilated the practical skills of army and survey life. With the commencement of the American revolution and Samuel’s escape from Perth Amboy, N.J., to England, John saw the family through a brief imprisonment and eventual evacuation. His charges safe, in 1777 John joined the British navy as a midshipman, and in 1779 was on the Nautilus when it accompanied Sir George Collier*’s squadron to relieve Fort George (Castine, Maine). That year he was commissioned an ensign in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, a unit raised by Sir John Johnson*. Promoted lieutenant in 1781, he was only 19 when he left the army in 1783.

Peace did not inhibit John’s rambling ambitions. With his father now returned to normal duties at Quebec, and with his godfather, Frederick Haldimand*, ensconced as governor there, John obtained a position as an assistant engineer on the team surveying locations for loyalist settlements west of the Ottawa River, and over the winter of 1783–84 he laid out a town site at Cataraqui (Kingston, Ont.). In 1786 he was set to work surveying the boundary between Quebec and New Brunswick.

Samuel Holland’s fond hope had been that his eldest son would succeed him as surveyor general, and he sent John to England in 1789 to seek approval for their joint commission. Instead, on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks*, early in 1790 John was appointed to investigate the rumour of a navigable water-way west of Great Slave Lake which might lead to the Pacific Ocean. Holland’s travels had at some point taken him to Lake Superior, and his skills as a surveyor also made him a likely candidate to establish an overland route. The Nootka Sound controversy [see George Vancouver*] delayed Holland’s departure, and by the time he reached Quebec in the autumn of 1790 news of Alexander Mackenzie*’s discovery that this water-way led to the Arctic Ocean rendered the mission unnecessary.

By this time, like his father and brother Frederick Braham, John had married a French Canadian Roman Catholic, but his career had not been such as to instil domestic habits. He was drawn, rather, to boisterous masculine society in camp and town, and his rude manner began to threaten his career. Initially favoured by the patronage of his father and godfather, Holland was subsequently protected by Prince Edward* Augustus (later the Duke of Kent and Strathearn), who had a high regard for the services of Samuel and his family. Prince Edward commissioned John a lieutenant in his regiment in 1794, and posted him to assist in the construction of the citadel at Halifax. He also consented to be godfather to at least one of John’s children. Regrettably, not even Prince Edward could save Holland from himself. Certain unspecified indiscretions at his new post led to his being dispatched in 1798 to Charlottetown as acting town major, assistant engineer, and barrack master. He went on half pay the following year. With the departure of the Duke of Kent from North America in 1800 and the death of his father in 1801, Holland’s prospects collapsed: his post as assistant engineer was abolished in 1802; he was replaced as acting town major by 1805; and he lost his position as barrack master in 1817.

Holland fell back on the Island property he had inherited from his father, consisting of the eastern half of Lot 28, to which his mother and a sister moved. But John preferred to hold court in Charlottetown, where he was a renowned “Buffo” at many public dinners. Justice of the peace from 1802 and high sheriff in 1809–10, Holland had a reputation for irregularities, including fraud and complicity in a duel. In 1812, “when his wife and family were in an absolute state of distress,” he allegedly “brought a woman from Halifax and lived in notorious intimacy with her in Charlottetown.” One of his sons “asked the Chief Justice leave to shoot her”; no reply has been recorded.

Holland’s political activities were just as effervescent as his social life. First elected to the House of Assembly in 1803, he soon found common cause with another recent arrival, James Bardin Palmer*. Both men employed opposition tactics in order to secure recognition and preferment from the entrenched élite. They were elected for Charlottetown in 1806 and, when the new house met, Palmer nominated Holland as speaker, only to see him lose to Robert Hodgson*. The two allies fell out later that same year when Palmer was appointed adjutant general of militia, a position coveted by Holland, who had to settle for the office of clerk of ordnance stores. Thus, when Palmer became closely connected with a new political faction known as the Loyal Electors, Holland joined their opponents, the “old party.” In order to thwart the ambitions of Palmer and his associates, Holland in 1810 ensured the invalidation of the victories of two Loyal Electors in by-elections held under his supervision as high sheriff. At the general election two years later Holland attempted to use his influence over the Charlottetown garrison to carry the royalty, but lost the ensuing riot as well as his seat.

He had also joined a campaign in 1811 to paint the Loyal Electors as a secret club of Jacobins intent on usurping the legitimate government. Although the Electors specifically denied Holland’s “most wanton unprovoked and ignorant” accusations, his and like insinuations were accepted in London. In October 1812 Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres*, who had supported the Loyal Electors, received notice of his recall: William Townshend* was appointed administrator; Palmer was immediately dismissed from his various offices; and before the year was out Holland was adjutant general of militia. At an unspecified date he attained the militia rank of colonel.

The new lieutenant governor, Charles Douglass Smith*, was quickly convinced of the seditious intent of the Loyal Electors. By default he was drawn towards the “cabal,” as the “old party” was called by its enemies, and specifically to Holland, recommended to him by none other than the Duke of Kent. Indeed, with the Loyal Electors in disgrace and the leaders of the “cabal” deceased, aged, or ill, Holland unexpectedly emerged as a “Major domo” among Island politicians. He was appointed to the Council on 3 Jan. 1815 and acted as collector of customs, controller, and naval officer. Between Smith and Holland there was something of a meeting of minds: both were military men by temperament as well as vocation, and when Smith decided in October 1815 to stiffen the enforcement of militia laws he had Holland’s full support. Within a month this program had resulted in a near mutiny, and Smith credited his adjutant general of militia with quelling the disturbance

In the aftermath of the militia incident Holland wrote two important letters to Smith detailing the moribund state of the “cabal” and raising the spectre of a resurgent Loyal Electors. Holland anticipated being called upon to act as Smith’s confidant and adviser, but he had misread his man. Smith, like Holland, had a will of his own, and he chose to build his own party of compliant functionaries, including three of his sons and two sons-in-law. Holland was among many Islanders upset at being isolated from power, and by 1818 he and Attorney General William Johnston* had deserted Smith. Thereafter, under the guidance of John Stewart*, Holland helped to fashion a new oppositional alliance. Smith responded by removing Holland and Johnston from Council on 4 Jan. 1819, hinting darkly at a secret conspiracy centred on the masonic lodge in Charlottetown, of which Holland was a member from 1810 to 1827. In fact, with the notable exception of Palmer, who once again bucked a trend and shifted his support to Smith, the lieutenant governor came to be opposed by almost every faction on the Island as well as by the proprietors in London, and in 1824 he was replaced by John Ready.

Holland did not reap any reward from the change in government: he did not stand again for the assembly, he was not invited back into the Council, and he did not receive any new administrative post. The neglect of Holland was, apart from his reputation for personal instability, due to his rigorous enforcement of the unpopular militia law even after Smith had dropped him from the Council. When the new assembly met in 1825 it demanded a reorganization of the militia. It also investigated Holland’s expenses as adjutant general and as a justice of the peace. Holland survived this inquisition but found the duties of adjutant general greatly reduced under Ready. When the militia act was amended in 1833 Holland was dropped from his post in favour of an old Smith protégé, Ambrose Lane*. After two futile attempts to be re-elected to the assembly in 1834, Holland withdrew from active political life.

The assembly’s crack-down on Holland’s expenses took its financial toll. In December 1826 he had begun renting his Charlottetown home, Holland Grove, as a gubernatorial residence. The following July he sold his interest in his late father’s farm near Quebec, and in April 1835 he and the other heirs sold 29 200-acre lots in Kingsey Township in Lower Canada. Holland’s eldest son, Samuel John, who had been wounded in 1813 at the battle of Crysler’s Farm, died in England in 1822, and in July 1831 he also lost his long-suffering wife. He resigned as a justice of the peace on 25 June 1841.

Holland’s career was colourful rather than distinguished. His early years read like a novel by G. A. Henty: a life of stirring boyhood adventure, against a backdrop of great events, culminating in recognition by eminent patrons. Holland proved to be temperamentally ill equipped to deal with middle age and the mundane affairs of peace-time. The fact that he was for a time in the front rank of politicians on Prince Edward Island says more about the quality of the local élite than it does about Holland’s abilities. As Island society grew and matured his rambunctious character was increasingly out of place. It was typical of the man that when he ran in 1830, at age 66, for the position of churchwarden at St Paul’s Church in Charlottetown, he was elected “amidst much clamour, and the conflict, not of tongues alone, but of blows.”

M. Brook Taylor

[Researchers have not been able to confirm the date of John Frederick Holland’s birth given in Willis Chipman, “The life and times of Major Samuel Holland, surveyor-general, 1764–1801,” OH, 21 (1924): 11–90. This article, citing unspecified family records, advances the date 27 Oct. 1764.  m.b.t.]

ANQ-Q, CN1-284, 14 oct. 1800 (copy at P.E.I. Museum). BL, Add. mss 21728: 252–62; 21730: 17–19; 21737, pt.i: 281–82; 21745, pt.i 42; 21784, pt.ii: 34–37; 21877: 157–61 (copies at PAC). PAPEI, Acc. 2541/127; Acc. 2825/59–60; Acc. 2849/3; 2849/6: 103; 2849/10; 2849/39; 2849/124–25; 2849/135; Acc. 2881/46, “The Scool Room”; RG 1, commission books, 13 Oct. 1806, 11 May 1810; RG 16, land registry records, conveyance reg., liber 6: ff.36, 41, 45; liber 7: f.84; liber 13: f.347. P.E.I. Museum, File information on Holland family. PRO, CO 226/19; 226/20: 17, 85; 226/21: 70, 95, 112, 115; 226/26: 11, 60; 226/27: 25, 82–88; 226/28: 3–6, 20–22, 26; 226/29: 67–77; 226/30: 7, 116, 131–39; 226/31: 12–33, 72–77; 226/32: 43; 226/35: 3–5, 15, 71, 166–67; 226/36: 52–53; 226/37: 109–10. Royal Arch., Windsor Castle (Windsor, Eng.), Add. 7/72–7/414 (mfm. at Can., Parks Canada, Halifax Defence Complex, Halifax). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, esp. 23 Dec. 1799 (mfm. at PAPEI). Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, liber 4: f.229 (will of J. F. Holland) (mfm. at PAPEI). [Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of] Selkirk, Lord Selkirks diary, 1803–1804; a journal of his travels in British North America and the northeastern United States, ed. P. C. T. White (Toronto, 1958; repr. New York, 1969). “North-western explorations,” PAC Report, 1889: 29–38. Islander, 20 Dec. 1845. Prince Edward Island Gazette, 16 Feb. 1818. Prince Edward Island Register, 6 Sept., 11 Oct. 1823; 18 Sept. 1824; 8 Jan., 5, 17 Feb., 18, 31 March, 15 April, 13 Sept. 1825; 26 Sept. 1826; 1 May, 3 July 1827; 12 July, 19 Aug. 1828; 13 April 1830. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 19 July 1831; 4, 7 Feb., 17 April, 30 Oct. 1832; 2, 9 April, 14 May 1833; 7 Jan., 4, 11, 18 Feb., 4 March, 14, 28 Oct., 16 Dec. 1834; 20 Jan. 1835; 31 July 1838; 29 June 1841; 23 Dec. 1845. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 9 Feb., 31 Aug. 1811. G.B., WO, Army list, 1796–1818. N.S. vital statistics, 1813–22 (Punch), no.2697. Morton, Hist. of Canadian west (Thomas; 1973), 401–2, 410, 412. I. L. Rogers, Charlottetown: the life in its buildings (Charlottetown, 1983). D. W. Thomson, Men and meridians: the history of surveying and mapping in Canada (3v., Ottawa, 196669), 1: 222. Glyndwr Williams, The British search for the northwest passage in the eighteenth century (London and Toronto, 1962), esp. 25052.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

M. Brook Taylor, “HOLLAND, JOHN FREDERICK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/holland_john_frederick_7E.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/holland_john_frederick_7E.html
Author of Article:   M. Brook Taylor
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   December 2, 2023