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HUMPHREYS, THOMAS BASIL, politician, gold seeker, conveyancer, and auctioneer; b. 10 March 1840 in Liverpool, England, son of John Basil Humphreys and Mary Elizabeth Morgan; m. 3 Nov. 1873 Caroline (Carrie) Watkins, and they had a son and three daughters; d. 26 Aug. 1890 in Victoria, B.C.

Thomas Basil Humphreys was educated at Walton-on-the-Hill (now part of Liverpool) but other details of his early life are vague. Although his obituary claims he had served in the East India Company there is no reference to him in the company’s surviving records. Humphreys arrived in British Columbia from California aboard the steamer Oregon on 26 July 1858. He later described himself as having “come out as a needy adventurer.” Success in the gold-fields seems unlikely for he was hired in March 1859 as a constable at Fort Hope (Hope, B.C.) at a salary of $80 a month. He was soon transferred to Port Douglas (Douglas, B.C.) where he remained until he resigned on 4 Dec. 1860. As a constable Humphreys displayed the independence of authority and intemperance of language which were to characterize his political career. Following his resignation, “couched in a vile and libelous manner,” as an official noted, he returned to mining until August 1864, then became an auctioneer and conveyancer at Port Douglas; within a year he moved to Lillooet where he combined auctioneering with mining. Despite this variety of occupations Humphreys was listed on the electoral rolls as a labourer for his entire life. Business was clearly secondary to politics in Humphreys’ life. T. B. Humphreys and Company, auctioneers, ceased to advertise after 1874, and the last ten years of Humphreys’ life were a period of almost continual financial difficulty.

In November 1868 Humphreys was elected to the Legislative Council of British Columbia for Lillooet as a pro-confederation candidate, holding the seat until 1871 when British Columbia entered confederation and the council was abolished. He was a strong supporter of responsible government and during the confederation debates his chief concerns were its immediate introduction and the retention of as many offices as possible in the hands of British Columbians. But his views and means of advancing them brought him into conflict with the other members of the Legislative Council. At a public meeting on 11 April 1870 he accused Joseph William Trutch*, the chief commissioner of lands and works, of fiscal mismanagement, implying that $500,000 had been embezzled; he also denounced the Legislative Council as an “infamous, rascally arrangement” and stated that he had no confidence in the executive. As a result of this speech Humphreys was suspended from the council for breach of privilege on 19 April. A petition calling for his reinstatement gathered 160 signatures, but neither it nor Humphreys’ letter of apology produced the desired result. As a further show of support, a public meeting in Victoria on 13 May, chaired by Amor De Cosmos*, presented Humphreys with a gold watch and chain. In November the constituents of Lillooet returned him to the Legislative Council.

Following confederation Humphreys represented Lillooet in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1871 to 1875. He was one of the most vocal opponents of the government of John Foster McCreight* and moved the non-confidence motion which brought De Cosmos to power in December 1872. But De Cosmos did not give Humphreys a cabinet post, despite their long association, and he immediately joined the opposition. From September 1875 to July 1882 Humphreys sat for the riding of Victoria District. When Andrew Charles Elliott formed a government in February 1876 he did not repeat De Cosmos’ mistake but gave Humphreys the finance and agriculture portfolio. On 26 July, however, Humphreys resigned because of a disagreement with the rest of the cabinet over financial matters and again crossed the floor, supporting George Anthony Walkem* with as much vigour as he had previously attacked him. Following Walkem’s return to power in June 1878 Humphreys served as provincial secretary and minister of mines, portfolios he retained when Robert Beaven* succeeded Walkem as premier in June 1882.

In the general election the following month, Humphreys lost his seat and spent the next several years in the political wilderness. He unsuccessfully contested a by-election in Yale in October 1882, and in July 1886 he was defeated in his old riding of Victoria District. The following February he unsuccessfully sought election to the Canadian House of Commons from Victoria. Finally, in December 1887 he was returned to the Legislative Assembly for Comox in a by-election but his health began to fail. He went to San Francisco in August 1889 for medical consultation but his condition continued to decline. Unable to attend the 1890 session of the legislature, he died on 26 Aug. 1890.

An acid-tongued demagogue, the “Destroyer of Governments,” Humphreys was one of the earliest professional politicians in British Columbia. He played an important role in the provincial legislature of the first decades after confederation, especially in the struggle for responsible government.

Michael F. H. Halleran

City of Victoria Arch., British Columbia Land and Investment Company, Limited, Letterbooks outward, 1872–92. PABC, Colonial corr., T. B. Humphreys corr.; C. S. Nicol corr., C. S. Nicol to R. C. Moody, 17 March 1859; Petitions, 18 April 1870; GR 224, 6, 8; T. B. Humphreys, Notes for election speech at Comox. B.C., Legislative Assembly, Sessional papers, 1875–90 (list of voters, Victoria City and Lillooet); Legislative Council, Journals, 1870. Cariboo Sentinel, 21 Nov. 1868, 19 Nov. 1870. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 12 April 1870; 4 Nov. 1873; 5 July 1874; 27 July 1876; 24 July, 24 Oct. 1882; 17 Feb., 7 July, 4 Dec. 1886; 4 Jan., 29 April 1888; 8, 23 Aug. 1889; 24 Jan., 27, 28 Aug. 1890. Gazette (Victoria), 28 July 1858. Government Gazette–British Columbia (Victoria), March, May 1870 J. B. Kerr, Biographical dictionary of well-known British Columbians, with a historical sketch (Vancouver, 1890). The year book of British Columbia . . . , comp. R. E. Gosnell (Victoria), 1911.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Michael F. H. Halleran, “HUMPHREYS, THOMAS BASIL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/humphreys_thomas_basil_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/humphreys_thomas_basil_11E.html
Author of Article: Michael F. H. Halleran
Title of Article: HUMPHREYS, THOMAS BASIL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: October 1, 2014