KINNEAR, WILLIAM BOYD, lawyer, judge, politician, and office-holder; b. 2 Oct. 1796 in Dorchester, N.B., son of Andrew Kinnear, a loyalist and a member for Westmorland County in the first assembly in New Brunswick, and Letitia Boyd, both natives of County Derry (Northern Ireland); m. in 1830 Janet Muir of Edinburgh, Scotland; d. 22 Feb. 1868 in Saint John, N.B.
William Boyd Kinnear’s Anglo-Irish, Anglican, loyalist background guaranteed him a role in the public affairs of New Brunswick. His first position, at age 17, was in the military pay office in Saint John. Three years later he began to read law in the Saint John office of Charles Jeffery Peters*, and was admitted to the bar in 1819. In 1827, during a visit to Halifax, he left the Church of England in favour of the Baptist faith [see James Walton Nutting]. He was later cited by the Baptists as both a valuable prize and an irreplaceable asset.
His success as a barrister gained for him respect and influence. In 1828 he was appointed recorder of the city of Saint John and in 1830 was elected to the assembly for the city of Saint John, taking his seat two years later. As a member of the assembly Kinnear was a consistent supporter of the governor, even though he was increasingly involved with the success of the Baptist movement. He became active in the founding of the Baptist Seminary in Fredericton, and Acadia College in Wolfville, N.S. In 1833 Kinnear became a judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty and he was named to the Legislative Council in 1839. He resigned from the assembly at that time.
Seven years later he was appointed solicitor general of the province, whereupon he relinquished the offices of recorder and judge and moved to Fredericton. Kinnear served as solicitor general with a distinction admitted by all shades of political opinion. He was displeased with the chaotic state of New Brunswick law, which made the administration of government difficult and often worked to the disadvantage of the ordinary citizens of the province. In the summer of 1851 Kinnear was appointed chairman of a special law commission with Charles Fisher* and James Watson Chandler as members. It was charged with the revision of the statutes of New Brunswick, and the simplification of judicial procedure in the courts of the province. After two years’ work the commission concluded that “the practice of the law must . . . be founded more on the principle of common sense than on ancient precedent,” and recommended sweeping re forms in the civil law and in its practice and regulation; although all of the proposals were not adopted, the report of the commission served as a basis for legal reform. Soon afterward Kinnear revised the statutes themselves into three com prehensive volumes.
The work of Kinnear as solicitor general, and his contribution as chairman of the law commission, fully justified his elevation to a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. He expected such an appointment, but politics overtook him. When the “smashers” gained power in 1854 [see Charles Fisher], they were determined to pursue their own ideas of responsible government. Kinnear lost his position as solicitor general, despite his pledge to work within the principle of responsibility. He also lost any chance he might have had for an appointment to the Supreme Court.
His public career at an end, Kinnear returned to Saint John, where he served as clerk of the peace and judge of probate. He devoted his later years to education, and his numerous and wideranging lectures to the mechanics’ institute were well attended and well received. Although he was a member of the Senate of the University of New Brunswick, his primary interest remained the Baptist Education Society.
As a public figure Kinnear had brought common sense to government and its function. As a religious leader, he brought to the Baptist movement respectability and energy.
N. B. Museum, Kinnear family papers. N. B., Report of the commissioners for revising and consolidating the laws of the province of New Brunswick (3v., Fredericton, 1853–54); The revised statutes of New Brunswick . . . (3v., Fredericton, 1854–55). I. E. Bill, Fifty years with the Baptist ministers and churches of the Maritime provinces of Canada (Saint John, N.B., 1880). Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton).