LANE, AMBROSE, army and militia officer, politician, office holder, and judge; b. in County Tipperary (Republic of Ireland), probably in 1791, son of Colonel John Hamilton Lane; m. 19 Aug. 1817 Mary Smith, and they had six children; d. 7 Sept. 1853 in Charlottetown.
Ambrose Lane began his long military career in 1807 by joining the 99th Foot (renumbered 98th in 1815) as an ensign. He rose to the rank of lieutenant in 1811 and in 1812 was posted to North America. Four years later Lane was given command of a subaltern’s detachment at Charlottetown. With the army reduction of 1818 he went on half pay and settled in Prince Edward Island where he took up the duties of captain in the militia and, in 1819, Charlottetown town major.
Lane quickly established his social and political position in Island society by marrying a daughter of Lieutenant Governor Charles Douglass Smith. His father-in-law was a man of autocratic temperament engaged in a struggle to free himself from dependence on the House of Assembly. Lane shared both the lieutenant governor’s acerbic disposition and his disdain for colonial politicians. In December 1818 Smith appointed Lane to the Council and used him, along with another son-in-law, John Edward Carmichael*, to provide his administration with the independence from political factions he desired. Local politicians objected to this nepotism, which not only reduced their own role in the government but also confirmed their suspicions of executive corruption. For example, as registrar (1818), examiner (1818), and master (1819) of the Court of Chancery, Lane was in the happy position of setting his own fees as registrar and then, as master, ruling on any complaints these fees aroused.
Frustrated by their inability to control the wilful lieutenant governor, Island worthies, including Paul Mabey*, Donald McDonald, John MacGregor, and John Stewart*, formed a committee which held a series of public meetings in the spring and summer of 1823. The meetings resulted in the adoption and circulation of resolutions critical of the propriety and constitutionality of Smith’s conduct. Lane’s lack of qualifications for his judicial posts came under particular scrutiny as a blatant example of undue family influence. The result was the public spectacle of a rigged trial in the Court of Chancery which held the Island’s attention throughout October and November of that year. The committee members who had framed the resolutions were charged with contempt of court for impugning Lane’s behaviour as a court official; their real crime, of course, was political opposition. Smith, as chancellor of the court, found the defendants guilty. It was a Pyrrhic victory: London replaced him with John Ready* in 1824 and the defendants and their allies swept the election of that year.
Lane survived the retribution and inquiries which followed and adapted, not without some discomfort, to the new power of the local politicians. Although he lost his position as master in chancery in 1825, he retained his other military and judicial posts as well as his seat on Council. In fact, as he assimilated into the local élite he became a pillar of the new establishment which developed into the family compact of the 1830s and 1840s. From August 1828 to May 1829 he acted as the Island’s colonial secretary and was appointed an unpaid assistant justice of the Supreme Court in November 1829 under Edward James Jarvis. In 1831 he was promoted to the temporary rank of captain on half pay in the regular army and became, with Coun Douly Rankin, sub-inspector and district adjutant in the local militia, posts he held to his death.
In Council, Lane remained staunchly conservative, opposing advocates of escheat and responsible government and promoting proprietorial interests. When Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy created separate Legislative and Executive councils in March 1839, Lane was excluded from both bodies, but by September, at FitzRoy’s express request, he regained a seat in the Executive Council without loss of rank. From 1842 to 1853 he was the council’s senior member and as such twice served as the Island’s administrator, in September and October 1847 during a temporary absence of Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Vere Huntley*, and from October 1850 to March 1851 between the terms of Sir Donald Campbell* and Sir Alexander Bannerman*. He also served on the Central Board of Health, was a trustee of the Central Academy, and became a founding member of the Central Agricultural Society.
A proud and irascible man, Lane made enemies as much by his character as by his political creed. None the less, as a man of talent and experience, not to mention social weight, he was never without important public office on an island often desperate for men with such qualities.
PAPEI, Acc. 2552/46 (“Report of the committee on the state of the colony, 21 March 1825”); Acc. 2810/25; RG 1, Commission books, 2 Aug. 1828; 18 May, 16 Nov. 1829; RG 6, Court of Chancery, minutes, 27 June, 16 Sept. 1818; 26 May 1819; RG 16, Land registry records, 1814–53. PRO, CO 226/34: 164, 186; 226/36: 79; 226/58: 29–30. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PAPEI). Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, liber 4: f.256 (will of Ambrose Lane, 3 Oct. 1853) (mfm. at PAPEI). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1841: 151. Islander, 9 Sept. 1853. Prince Edward Island Gazette, 7 Aug. 1819. Prince Edward Island Register, 11, 25 Oct., 1, 15 Nov. 1823; 3, 17, 24 Jan., 18 May 1824; 5, 31 March, 11, 27 Oct. 1825; 19 June 1827; 22 April 1828; 22 June 1830. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 3, 24 Jan., 14 Feb., 3 April 1832; 2, 9 April, 14, 21 May 1833; 18 March 1834; 2 Dec. 1835; 12 March, 10 Sept. 1839; 15 March 1842; 28 Sept. 1847; 20 Aug. 1850. Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1875; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 66–67, 108. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 66–96. Frank MacKinnon, The government of Prince Edward Island (Toronto, 1951), 44–48. A. B. Warburton, A history of Prince Edward Island from its discovery in 1534 until the departure of Lieutenant-Governor Ready in A.D. 1831 (Saint John, N.B., 1923), 336–43.