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BULL, GEORGE PERKINS – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 5 Dec. 1847 in Hamilton, Upper Canada


Responsible Government

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From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

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The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

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Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Original title:  Photograph Hamilton H. Killaly, Montreal, QC, 1862 William Notman (1826-1891) 1862, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process 8 x 5 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. I-3796.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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KILLALY, HAMILTON HARTLEY, engineer and civil servant; b. in Dublin, Ireland, in December 1800, son of John A. Killaly and Alicia Hamilton; d. at Picton, Ont., 28 March 1874.

Hamilton Hartley Killaly graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, ba 1819 and ma 1832. He learned engineering from his father, a prominent engineer who worked on the extension of the Grand Canal in Ireland.

In 1831 he came into contact with Edward George Stanley and John Fox Burgoyne, who were to form good opinions of him and to influence the course of his life. In that year Stanley, as chief secretary for Ireland, formed the Board of Works, and he appointed Burgoyne as chairman: “Determined honesty,” Stanley told Burgoyne, “and decision to check all jobbing (no very easy task in Ireland) are the first requisites.” Killaly served the board “principally as a consulting Engineer” from its inception until 1833 by which time he had become discouraged by the proclivity of Burgoyne, a military engineer, for employing officers of the Royal Engineers. He was himself later to resist similar tendencies in Canada since he thought they would inhibit growth of its engineering profession. Nonetheless, Stanley stated that Burgoyne considered Killaly to be “a very clever Engineer, and a steady man of excellent character.” Stanley was “at all times my [Killaly’s] steady friend,” and his good opinion was, according to Killaly, “above all” responsible for his receiving senior engineering employment in Canada. He was to need such a powerful imperial ally.

In 1833 Killaly married Martha Jane Handy and in the following year they moved to the New World, where they were to have three sons and two daughters who lived to maturity. The Killalys passed some time in New York State and in the Niagara peninsula before settling in the township of London in 1835. Though he kept possession of his land until November 1848, Killaly tried his hand at farming only until 1837, when he secured an engineering post.

Killaly’s arrival in Upper Canada coincided with lively consideration of the merits of railways, giving year-round service, versus water routes, which might be iced for about five months of the year. Many engineers of the day believed that railways were unsuited to the terrain of North America and to long hauls. In the mid–1820s, the provinces north of New York had responded to the Erie Canal by investigating the potentialities of railways. By the late 1830s, a number of railway inventors had elaborated a railway technology. In 1840 the United Kingdom had 1,331 miles of railway, the United States had 3,328 miles, and the Canadas had “our solitary famed fourteen miles between Laprairie and St Johns” in Lower Canada. This line was constructed by two engineers of New York – William R. Casey and Robert R. Livingston – and was opened for traffic in July 1836. The Upper Canada legislature had incorporated a company in 1834 to construct a line from Burlington Bay through the town of London to the navigable waters of the Thames River giving access to Lake St Clair, but when the line was begun in 1836 it was to run from Burlington Bay to Port Dover on Lake Erie to “divert a portion of the trade from that job of all jobs – the Welland Canal,” as a newspaper put it.

Both military and commercial men in the Canadas desired to move material quickly to and from the Atlantic and the lakes, but their opinions sharply clashed over the use of the St Lawrence route, most of which formed the frontier with the United States. In view of the experience of the War of 1812, and of the Richard Rush–Sir Charles Bagot* agreement, few soldiers and no sailors believed that Britain could maintain a naval supremacy on the lakes by use of the St Lawrence route. Army extraordinaries had financed, and military engineers had built, an alternative to the St Lawrence route. This alternative followed the Ottawa and Rideau rivers to Kingston (a section completed in 1832) and contemplated that supplies in wartime would pass into the Bay of Quinte and go by the Trent River to Lake Simcoe. From Lake Simcoe, the contemplated route might have three branches: to Lake Huron by the Severn River, to Lake St Clair by the Thames, and to Lake Erie by the Grand River. In 1819 Wellington had expressed a preference for linking Lake Simcoe by railroads or canals direct to the Rideau’s confluence with the Ottawa River. Another alternative to the St Lawrence route would follow the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers and Lake Nipissing to Lake Huron. Killaly, who was to be largely concerned with the building and improvement of canals, was to support for some 30 years the development of the St Lawrence route. This preference was to bring him into conflict with military men.

A lengthy association with the Welland Canal, an integral part of the St Lawrence route, began for Killaly in 1837. The Welland, opened in 1835 by the efforts of William Hamilton Merritt*, was now experiencing difficulties because of an urgent need for deepening and for repairs that could not be financed by private investors. The government of Upper Canada, preparing to step in, ordered a re-survey by (in the words of the act) “two scientific and practical Engineers.” Nicol Hugh Baird* and Killaly reported early in 1838, whereupon Killaly again was unemployed. On 15 May of that year Killaly was appointed engineer of the Welland Canal Company, a post he kept until Lord Sydenham [Thomson*] appointed him chairman of the reorganized Board of Works of Lower Canada early in 1840. Killaly speedily prepared for Sydenham a master plan for public works in the two Canadas which he incorporated in a memorandum dated at Kingston on 12 August 1841. As early as May 1840 Sir George Arthur* was objecting to his scheme.

Killaly had become an executive councillor on 17 March 1841 and was also a member of the assembly. George Jervis Goodhue* had persuaded him to seek election in London and he had defeated John Douglas in the first union election on 8 April. Killaly professed to be out of his own milieu “politics, politics – I had rather be a mason’s attendant than have my brain confined in it – & every moment occupied in a manner so wholly contrary to my inclination,” he wrote to Baird on 2 June 1841. Nor was his master plan for public works politically balanced: “You say I may expect a rowing for disposing so summarily of the Trent & Ottawa. I care not a cent for a rowing – nor do I consider how any report of mine will be received, favourably or otherwise. I act conscientiously – while I feel I do so, I care not what the world says.” However, the major weakness of Killaly’s master plan was that it under-estimated costs of construction, as was common before precise costing techniques were developed. It became known only in 1845 that his estimates fell far short of the costs.

On 17 Aug. 1841 royal assent was given to the statute by which the union Board of Works was established. Killaly fully understood that the act would centralize decision-making: “The truth is . . . now is a critical time for the profession in this country,” he informed Baird on 23 July 1841, “for recollect I tell you that the establishment of the district councils & their district Engineers or Surveyors at 2 or 300 a year will use up all the business ex officis, which heretofore has been done by jobs and which has been some of the most profitable employment.” Under the act only the board’s chairman and secretary were salaried and they were forbidden to perform in other professions or callings. It was originally intended that the board would be composed of the principal officers of the government who would provide information “relating to the general bearing of the works,” and the act authorized the governor general to appoint up to five persons to the board, one of whom would be chairman. Killaly acted as chairman even before his formal appointment on 29 Dec. 1841, along with Samuel Bealey Harrison* and John Davidson. All three were members of both the assembly and the Executive Council. Killaly’s salary was lower than that of most of his council colleagues but the statutory basis of his post rendered him somewhat immune from politics. The secretary of the board was Thomas A. Begley. When the government assumed full control of the Welland Canal, Killaly, Harrison, and Dominick Daly* were appointed a board of directors on 16 Feb. 1842. Daly refused to serve and Davidson was appointed in his place. Finally, on 4 March 1842, the three were named commissioners for superintending and maintaining the Lachine Canal.

That October, a large loan guaranteed by the imperial government was made available for Canadian public works, including the six St Lawrence canals west of Lachine; these were, in Killaly’s words about the Cornwall Canal, “so much exposed to annoyance from the American side, that it would not be possible, in the face of the enemy, to work a Boat . . . .” The St Lawrence canals competed with the four pre-existing canals on the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, and the strategists agreed that in wartime the St Lawrence canals would have to be destroyed to prevent them from falling to the Americans. Their value depended upon continuing peace.

Killaly’s selection of the south side of the river St Lawrence for the Beauharnois Canal was one of the principal grounds of attack on Bagot’s government in 1842; his tempo of work drew criticism in 1843 from his former patron, E. G. Stanley, now secretary of state for the colonies (“Lord Stanley thinks we are going too fast!!!”).

In 1843, the governor general, Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*, appointed Melchior-Alphonse d’Irumberry* de Salaberry to be aide-decamp for Canada East without having first asked the opinion of his Executive Council. On plea of sustaining their influence by their having the final say on matters of patronage, and in furtherance of responsible government, on 27 Nov. 1843 Killaly and all other councillors except Dominick Daly officially resigned. Killaly did not resign as chairman of the Board of Works, however. During the time that he was in the Executive Council, Killaly seems to have been regarded not as a politician but, in the words of a naval officer, Captain Williams Sandom*, as “a talented and persevering engineer.” It was in that character that Metcalfe retained his services as chairman of the board. He did not stand for election thereafter.

Meanwhile, the imperial government’s interest in Canadian defence and in development of colonial communications forced a review of Killaly’s work. His memorandum of 12 Aug. 1841 had discouraged work on the Trent, saying that it would cost much more than the current estimate and would never be of more than local importance. Just a few months earlier, on 31 March 1841, the Duke of Wellington had, on the other hand, stated that “Its completion will facilitate, if not render certain, all military operations . . . .” The two conflicting opinions were to be resolved, it was imagined, by a military and naval commission appointed confidentially to determine “the best mode of protecting the general line of communication and rendering it available in case of war for military purposes.” In June 1844, Metcalfe directed Killaly to give the commission all information and assistance in his power. It consisted of Captain (later rear-admiral) Edward Boxer and Lieutenant-Colonel William Cuthbert Elphinstone Holloway. Boxer and Killaly quarrelled. Echoing others, Boxer though that “our only safety valve” was uniting all the British North American provinces under one government; and he was “decidedly of opinion that our safety depends entirely on a Railroad from Halifax to Port Sarnia.” If Boxer’s view ultimately prevailed, it was largely because Killaly’s works and the later railways running across the international border at many points rendered Canadian defence so expensive that the British could not afford to maintain their guarantee of it.

Killaly grew unhappy in his job: “I would most cheerfully tomorrow take a permanent situation of 400 a year in any line or in any part of the Province,” he wrote to Baird on 15 July 1844, predicting that, once the loan money for public works ran out, civil engineers would have a hard time making a decent livelihood in Canada. While the loan lasted, Killaly’s operations employed many notable engineers including Charles Atherton, Alfred Barrett, George W. Cattley, Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski*, John Jackson, Samuel Keefer*, James Lyons, John B. Mills, and Freeman Talbot.

Dissatisfaction with the Board of Works finally led to a commission of inquiry, gazetted on 6 Sept. 1845, and consisting of William Cayley*, Frédéric-Auguste Quesnel*, George Sherwood (who had earlier opposed Killaly’s works and who did not sign the commission’s report), Moses Judah Hays* and John Redpath*. The commission in effect recommended that the chairman be a politician to whom all engineers would be decidedly subordinate. On 9 June 1846, the soldier-governor Charles Murray Cathcart* assented to a statute which abolished the board and created instead the Department of Public Works. William Benjamin Robinson took over from Killaly, who had only sporadic appointments until June 1848, when Étienne-Paschal Taché*, chief commissioner of the department, invited him to accompany him on a tour to select projects for deletion in an economy drive. Though the measures taken included a reduction in staff, Taché recommended that Killaly take over superintendence of the Welland Canal from Samuel Keefer, Killaly’s former subordinate in the Board of Works, who was now appointed to the departmental headquarters in Montreal. Killaly moved to St Catharines and sold his farm in London Township. In June 1849 and again in September Killaly took a leading part in founding the Canadian Institute (incorporated 5 November 1851) in the Toronto office of the architect Kivas Tully*.

On 15 Feb. 1851, Killaly was appointed assistant commissioner of public works and became virtually the department’s permanent deputy head with no seat in the legislature or in the council. In 1858–59 he served under chief commissioners Louis-Victor Sicotte* and John Rose*, both of whom felt it necessary to reassert political supremacy; Killaly’s position was abolished by legislation assented to on 26 March 1859. His competence as an engineer was widely recognized, but his judgement on matters of policy was open to fair criticism and his capacity for financial administration may be inferred from his remark in 1850 about the audit procedure (there was a departmental pre-payment audit followed by a post-payment audit by non-departmental auditors): “What earthly use there is in this Roundabout I never could see.”

In consequence of the departmental reorganization of 1859, Samuel Keefer, of the Board of Railway Inspectors, was appointed deputy commissioner on 6 May 1859. Killaly’s only public office was that of inspector of railways, but he seems to have devoted little time to this office for Keefer reported that during the years 1859 and 1860 he had himself inspected 149 miles of line (including the Victoria Bridge) while Killaly and the assistant inspector, A. De Grassi, had together inspected a total of less than 132 miles. Nonetheless, Killaly kept close records of changes in the system of transportation within the province, and referred to himself as “general Inspector of Railways.”

In 1855, Killaly had taken up residence in Toronto in a commodious dwelling on Wellington Place. The property had been part of the ordnance lands, ownership of which was a contentious issue between the imperial and Canadian governments so that he never had clear title.

Similar confusion existed about the naval reserves – lands set aside for naval defence. The Admiralty had decided before the American Civil War broke out to investigate the status of its long-neglected naval reserves. However, its representative, Captain Richard Collinson*, R.N., did not arrive in Canada until after the war had erupted. The War Office’s representative was Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Whittingham, R.E., and on 18 July 1861 the Canadian government appointed Killaly to represent it on the commission of inquiry. To Killaly the officers “appeared . . . to consider themselves confined strictly to reporting upon the simple matters of the Titles under which each Naval Reserve was held – its situation and extent – and its value; upon most of those ordinary points, full information could have been furnished, in a few hours, from the Crown Land Office here, without the appointment and expense of any Special Commission.” Consequently, Killaly induced the officers to join him in a wide-ranging inquiry that took the three into the United States and its waters. Collinson submitted the information on naval reserves to the Admiralty; Killaly submitted his own report on defence to the Canadian government which was not, however, prepared to expend funds for this purpose (an imperial responsibility). Killaly’s report nevertheless served to alert the government of Canada to the deplorable state of colonial defence.

Late in 1861 the Trent affair made relations between the United States and Great Britain especially tense. The commander of the forces in British North America, Sir William Fenwick Williams*, made a hurried trip to inspect the virtually non-existent defences west of Kingston. The Executive Council placed Killaly’s services at Williams’ disposal. The general’s aide, Captain Francis W. De Winton, noted Killaly’s usefulness to the hero of Kars: “no man knows the country better; he has a strong, clear, practical head.” A number of erroneous deployments were made, but fortunately for British rule in North America the crisis cooled.

On 6 Feb. 1862, Lord Charles Stanley Monck* appointed a royal commission to report on a system of fortification and defence. Colonel John William Gordon, R.E., was chairman, the members being Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lynedoch Gardiner, R.A., and Killaly. Captain William Crossman, R.E., was secretary. Colonel Edward R. Wetherall (Williams’ chief of staff) and Captain John Bythesea, R.N., were added on 31 March. Killaly was included because a civilian’s presence would, according to the secretary of state for war, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, “be of value in conciliating the feelings of the colonists towards the commission and giving them confidence in its recommendations,’.’ the adoption of which (according to the imperial authorities only) “must in the main be matter for consideration and decision of the Provincial Authorities.” Besides a fleet of 72 gunboats on Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence, the commission’s report of 6 September recommended a new naval base to replace Kingston, 18,000 effectives in Canada East and 47,000 in Canada West, enlargement of canals and an Intercolonial Railway, and so many fortifications that one official asked: “What is the good of all these little forts? They can detain an enemy for a very short time, must eventually fall. Why waste troops to defend them and money to build them?” But the last word ought, perhaps, to be left to J. F. Burgoyne, then inspector-general of fortifications. When he read the Gordon report, Burgoyne concluded that the loss of Canada was certain. Loyally, he did not blame Killaly’s canals. His analysis was that “the perpetual bugbear of the invasion of Canada” had induced imperial diplomacy to surrender “the most advantageous military positions” to the United States in order to placate the “arrogant bullying system” of the Americans.

From 1862 until 1874 Killaly seems to have lived in quiet retirement. He sold “his” house on Wellington Place and was making arrangements to build a new residence near Picton in March 1874, when he died and was buried in Toronto. The bane of John Langton*’s life as auditor-general, he was also a vividly remembered personality, a genial gentleman, and a superlative engineer.

Geo. Mainer

PAC, RG 4, B29, 6, 15 Sept. 1861; RG 7, G9, 38, pp.140–41; G19, 31; G21, 74, G. C. Lewis to W. F. Williams, 15, 28 Feb. 1862; 165, T. C. Weir to Sidney Herbert, 11 Feb. 1860, Newcastle to Head, 26 April 1860. PAO, W. H. Merritt papers, 13 May 1843, 1 April 1850. PRO, CO 42/492, 228–29, 230, 243–44, 253, 309; 42/496, 138–40, 202–5, 208–31, 288; 42/498, 1, 37; 42/504, 134; 42/509, 542; 42/524, 187–232; 42/532, 389, 395–405; 42/533, 378; WO 1/540; 55/1/551. [J. F. Burgoyne], Life and correspondence of Field Marshal Sir John Burgoyne, Bart., ed. George Wrottesley (2v., London, 1873), I, 389–90; II, 405–7. Chronicle and Gazette and Weekly Commercial Advertiser (Kingston), 5 March, 31 Aug. 1836; 25 Jan. 1837. Examiner (Peterborough), 22 Jan. 1943. Examiner (Toronto), 16 March 1842. Pilot and Journal of Commerce (Montreal), 22 July 1848. Weekly Dispatch (Peterborough), 7 Oct. 1847. A catalogue of graduates who have proceeded to degrees in the University of Dublin . . . with supplements to December 16, 1868, ed. J. H. Todd (Dublin and London, 1869), 320.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Geo. Mainer, “KILLALY, HAMILTON HARTLEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/killaly_hamilton_hartley_10E.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/killaly_hamilton_hartley_10E.html
Author of Article:   Geo. Mainer
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   December 5, 2023