JOSEPH, JOHN, public servant; b. c. 1801 in England; m. 19 July 1837 Anne Elizabeth Hagerman, daughter of Christopher Alexander Hagerman*, and they had one son; d. 28 or 29 May 1851 in Toronto.
John Joseph’s early life is obscure though there is reason to believe that he was related in some way to Samuel Joseph, a well-known 19th-century English sculptor. As a young man John was befriended by the famous British abolitionist, William Wilberforce, who was in the habit of paying for the education of promising young men. Joseph probably lived with him for a time and served as a kind of private secretary to Wilberforce, who in old age was nearly blind. No doubt through the close relationship between Wilberforce and the Stephen family, Joseph obtained a clerkship in the Colonial Office, to which James Stephen was permanent counsel. William Lyon Mackenzie* visited the Colonial Office in 1833 and later recollected Joseph as “an awkward and loutish lad who opened the door and handed a chair.”
In December 1835 Joseph resigned his Colonial Office position to accompany Sir Francis Bond Head* to Upper Canada as his private secretary and civil secretary of the province, his appointment dating from 25 Jan. 1836. Although his salary was only £208 per annum, he supplemented it by collecting “fees on Marriage, Medical, and Surveyor’s Licences, Certificates, Commissions, and all Instruments, &c. under the Seal of the Governor’s office,” and he later estimated that he received “between nine and ten hundred pounds a year.” He was a conscientious and industrious official who handled his work efficiently. He did not seek nor was he permitted by Head to take any important role in public affairs, but, with his good connections and “distinguished and gentlemanly appearance,” he quickly became a part of the local political and social establishment through both his marriage and his close friendship with John Beverley Robinson* and his family.
When Head was recalled in 1838, Joseph was reappointed on 26 March as secretary by the new lieutenant governor, Sir George Arthur, on the recommendation of Stephen and the Wilberforce family. Joseph’s relationship with Arthur was not as close and congenial as that with Head and, since the new lieutenant governor did not “see many things in the same light” as Head, Arthur found the relationship “productive of inconvenience & of some unpleasantry.” Deciding he needed a secretary who was prepared to accept more independent responsibility, he arranged for Joseph to be transferred to the clerkship of the Legislative Council on 16 June 1838 and replaced him with John Macaulay. Joseph was happy to accept. Although his income was to be less, the “calamity” of his wife’s sudden death on 14 June led him to prefer a “more retired” situation.
At the time of the union of the Canadas in February 1841, Joseph found himself without a job, the clerkship of the Legislative Council of the new united parliament having been given to James FitzGibbon*. The new governor-in-chief, Lord Sydenham [Thomson*], promised Joseph a job as soon as a suitable position became available. This promise was repeated by Sydenham’s successors, Sir Charles Bagot* and Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*, but Joseph did not obtain a permanent appointment until 1847. In the mean time he was “dependent on precarious employment” as a clerk of assize, arranged by John Beverley Robinson. He accompanied Robinson on his judicial circuits throughout the province, while continuing his search for “justice” by writing numerous petitions and applying for a variety of vacant registrarships, collectorships, and other positions. Finally on 20 May 1847 Lord Elgin [Bruce*] appointed him clerk of the Executive Council at an annual salary of £500.
On 2 May 1851 he applied for two months’ sick leave, which was granted, but his health deteriorated rapidly and he died later that month of “Chronic asthma.” At the time of his death he was living at the home of John Beverley Robinson* Jr, who had married a younger sister of his deceased wife. Joseph’s only son, Frank John, followed a similar career, serving as assistant law clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
ACC-T, St James’ Cathedral (Toronto), Reg. of marriages, 19 July 1837. PAC, RG 5, C1, 107, file 5612; 195, file 15860; 322, file 675; 333, file 1246; C2, 7: 164. St James’ Cemetery and Crematorium (Toronto), Record of burials, 31 May 1851. Arthur papers (Sanderson). Constitution (Toronto), 26 July 1837. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, 8, 37. Toronto directory, 1850–51. “Cars telescoped . . . ,” Globe, 9 Feb. 1895: 13.