MACBETH, GEORGE, landowner, entrepreneur, and politician; b. 4 Nov. 1825 at the Red River Settlement (Man.), eldest of the eight children of George Macbeth and Catherine Sutherland; d. 3 June 1870 at London, Ont.
George Macbeth’s parents, from Leirobol in Kildonan, Sutherland County, Scotland, were evicted in the Highland clearances and arrived at the Red River Settlement in 1815. In 1838 the family travelled to Upper Canada by canoe, to farm first at Port Talbot, Dunwich Township, and later in Euphemia Township.
About 1839 young George began to work for their neighbour, Colonel Thomas Talbot*, and gradually became what Edward Ermatinger* described as “at once a personal attendant and business and farm manager.” In 1848 Talbot’s nephew, Richard Airey, took over the Port Talbot estate, and Macbeth and Talbot then visited Great Britain and the Continent, returning in 1849. The following year, Talbot and his nephew quarrelled. Talbot then made a settlement with Airey, transferring one-half of his estate to him, and in a will named Macbeth the beneficiary for almost all the remainder, valued at about £50,000. The bequest was not surprising considering Talbot’s split with his family, his high opinion of Macbeth’s character and faithfulness, and Macbeth’s genuine affection for him; nevertheless, the Airey family, which knew of the provisions of the will, was furious and felt that a mere servant had absconded with property rightfully theirs. Since Talbot lived another three years, had constant access to his solicitor, H. C. R. Becher*, and made a second similar will in 1852, the settlement was of his own choosing.
In 1852, after having again accompanied Talbot to England, Macbeth married Anne Gilbert Sanders (d. 1911), daughter of John Sanders who had rented Talbot’s old residence at Port Talbot. The Macbeths shortly moved to London, Canada West, taking Talbot with them. He died at their home in February 1853. Macbeth was now a wealthy landowner with interests in Bayham, Dunwich, London, Malahide, and Southwold townships. About this time he built a large London residence, Bleak House, and became one of the gentry of the region.
When the new riding of Elgin West was established in 1854 in an area which included much of his estate, Macbeth ran successfully as the Conservative candidate against Archibald McIntyre. In 1857 he was re-elected, defeating W. A. McKinnon, editor of the Hamilton Daily Banner. In 1861 he was less lucky; he defeated John Scoble, but was unseated for election corruption on 23 Feb. 1863. He then turned to municipal politics; when Frank Smith* retired as alderman of the sixth ward of London in March 1867, Macbeth was elected to succeed him. He was re-elected in 1869.
With his large land holdings Macbeth was naturally interested in steamboat and railway development. In 1855 he was one of the incorporators of the Amherstburg and St Thomas Railway (and was involved in its consolidation into the Niagara and Detroit Rivers Railway Company in 1859) and of the St Clair, Chatham, and Rondeau Railway, and he was a director of the London and Port Stanley Railway from 1857 until the mid 1860s. In the 1860s he was also connected with numerous other incorporations: the Petroleum Springs Road Company in 1861, the City of London Oil Company, the Bank of London, and the North Shore Transportation Company in 1866, the Canada Chemical Manufacturing Company in 1867, and the Merchants’ Express Company of the Dominion of Canada in 1868. Few can have been profitable.
Macbeth was active in the militia and established in 1866 the 25th Elgin volunteers, of which he held the lieutenant-colonelcy until his death. He joined St George’s masonic lodge in London in 1854 and was on the original board of trustees of St James’ Presbyterian Church in 1860, although he appears to have sometimes supported the Church of England. Macbeth had suffered from liver trouble and had intemperate habits but his death came unexpectedly in 1870. He was buried beside Talbot. His estate was valued at $120,000, and he left six children the eldest of whom, Thomas Talbot Macbeth, was county judge of Middlesex from 1904 to 1930.
George Macbeth remains a controversial person because of the Talbot inheritance. Yet he was of a kind and genial nature, was generally popular in the London and Elgin region, and socially was accepted by the local squirarchy.
London Public Library and Art Museum (London, Ont.), Edwin Seaborn coll., Diaries, diary of William Elliot, III, pp.5226, 5468–69. Middlesex County Surrogate Court (London, Ont.), will of George Macbeth, 28 Nov. 1866; codicil, 2 June 1869; probated 15 June 1870. PAC, RG 9, I, C6, 20, p.63; RG 68, 1, General index, 1841–67, pp. 124, 126–27. UWO, 1 (Sir Richard Airey papers); 10 (H. C. R. Becher papers). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1862, 79–80, 301; 1863, 36; Statutes, 1854–55, c.182; 1861, c.88; 1866, c.90. Can., Statutes, 1868, c.91. Edward Ermatinger, Life of Colonel Talbot, and the Talbot settlement, its rise and progress . . . (St Thomas, [Ont.], 1859), 217–20, 225. “The Richard Airey – Henry C. R. Becher correspondence,” ed. M. A. Garland, Western Ontario History Nuggets (London, Ont.), 36 (1969). Daily Advertiser (London), 3, 6 June 1870. London Free Press, 4, 6 June 1870. George Bryce, The romantic settlement of Lord Selkirk’s colonists, [the pioneers of Manitoba] (Toronto, 1909), 325–27. F. C. Hamil, Lake Erie baron: the story of Colonel Thomas Talbot (Toronto, 1955), 255, 266–68, 273–91. History of the county of Middlesex (Brock), 120, 251–52, 317, 332, 893–94. J. J. Watts, “Political personalities and politics in western Ontario from 1854 to 1867” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Western Ontario, London, 1958), 19, 21–22, 24–25.