MOUNT, ROSWELL, surveyor, politician, militia officer, jp, and office holder; b. 1797 in Delaware Township, Upper Canada, the son of Moses Mount and Jane Burtch; m. c. 1820, he had one son and one daughter; d. 19 Jan. 1834 in York (Toronto).
Roswell Mount grew up in an isolated township with few educational opportunities, a disadvantage which, according to his obituary, he overcame “in a great degree” by applying his natural talents. He trained as a deputy surveyor under Mahlon Burwell* and early in 1820 qualified to receive his licence. As Burwell’s assistant and from about 1825 until 1833 on his own, Mount made surveys and laid out roads in several townships of the province’s western districts. He also acquired land, both as a surveyor and by purchase, and showed more than a surveyor’s interest in roads, development, and politics.
Mount was chosen as one of the two members for the riding of Middlesex in the general election of 1830. In a dull contest among three tories he held second spot in the polls behind Burwell. The Christian Guardian reported that during the first two sessions of the legislature he voted with the government on all important issues. It may be less than coincidence that in this period he rose from captain to colonel in the Middlesex militia and became a justice of the peace, a road commissioner, and, in 1832, crown land agent for the Western District. He had been known to the commissioner of lands, Peter Robinson*, since 1827 when they met in England while giving evidence before a parliamentary select committee on emigration.
Land agents normally encountered a range of problems in the performance of their duties but the peculiar circumstances of 1832 exacerbated the difficulties and increased their magnitude. That year over 51,000 immigrants arrived in Quebec, many bringing cholera with them. Harried agents having only vague instructions and acting, for the most part, on their own authority were forced to hurry the indigent and perhaps sickly immigrants through the towns and settle them on the land. Several hundred were sent to Kettle Creek (Port Stanley) and then on to Mount at Caradoc for location in Adelaide and Warwick, two completely uninhabited townships. Fear of cholera inhibited the local community from providing assistance or shelter. Thus, in a wet and difficult season, Mount became the only source of rations, wages, medical aid, and shelter. In July 1832 he assisted 400 immigrants, from Petworth in West Sussex; in August, another 800–1,000 newcomers arrived all at once; still others, according to a later memorial on Mount’s behalf, “poured in on him week after week.” Personally ambitious, he responded to all demands and ignored Robinson’s warnings of the limits of the immigration fund. When autumn came Mount blithely delegated his authority to assistants and left for the parliamentary session at York.
Mount had allowed his local ambitions to colour his interpretation of his instructions. With larger responsibilities, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* faced the administrative implications of a totally unexpected expenditure which only came to his attention in the early months of 1833. Whereas a total of £5,000 had been allotted for the relief and settlement of immigrants in 1832, £13,286 had actually been spent, a staggering £7,588 by Mount. Robinson immediately dispatched a more experienced agent, Alexander McDonell*, to investigate. His subsequent report allayed officialdom’s worst fears. Mount had overspent, far more so than was necessary, but McDonell faulted him only for mismanagement resulting from inexperience. He had been badly used by local suppliers who had taken advantage of him and the situation, but there had been no “undue or intentional misconduct” by Mount’s too numerous assistants or, by implication, Mount himself.
Colborne emphasized Mount’s difficulties in his reports to the Colonial Office, noting the progress he himself had witnessed in Adelaide. Mount and his local supporters had already defended his efforts, pointing to the results. In 1833 Adelaide and Warwick had a population numbering more than 2,000. There were some 3,796 acres cleared, of which nearly one-third were cultivated, 53 miles of road, and the beginnings of a village. In fact, the benefits of Mount’s expenditures had even spilled over into neighbouring townships. None the less, changes were forthcoming. Robinson, who had formerly left much to individual “discretion,” warned all agents in May 1833 that expenditures could be incurred only with prior authorization. Unfortunately, too, Colborne was forced to reduce drastically the amount – of aid available to immigrants for 1833.
Although Mount’s agency seemed secure, the settlement of his accounts dragged on, to be completed only after his death. Robinson was understanding of Mount’s alarm at the effect the delays would have on his personal credit. But Colborne and Anthony Bewden Hawke*, agent at York, were more struck by Mount’s seeming arrogance and disregard of his superiors. All appeared unaware of Mount’s ill health. By the summer of 1833 much of the work of the agency was beyond him; his sudden death at York in January 1834 came as a shock to officials.
Archdeacon John Strachan* conducted the funeral in St James’ Church. Later Burwell appealed to Robinson for cash to pay the expenses. Mount had long operated at or beyond the limits of his resources, whether physical or financial. One obituary noted obliquely a “family difficulty” which had an “unfortunate influence upon his domestic and social relations.” Mount’s career demonstrated both the possibility of emerging from the backwoods to penetrate the York hierarchy and the stresses that might attend such ambition.
AO, ms 524; RG 1, A-I-4, 2; A-I-6: 6133, 11035, 11153, 11274. PAC, RG 5, A1: 70234, 70416, 70483, 70487, 70491, 70493, 70495, 70498, 70504, 71116, 72004, 74828. PRO, CO 42/414: 464; 42/415: 94, 118. Canadian Emigrant, and Western District Advertiser (Sandwich [Windsor, Ont]), 1832–33; 1 Feb. 1834. Christian Guardian, 15 Feb. 1832. H. I. Cowan, British emigration to British North America; the first hundred years (rev. ed., Toronto, 1961). History of the county of Middlesex . . . (Toronto and London, Ont., 1889; repr. with intro. D. [J.] Brock, Belleville, Ont., 1972), 72, 187–89, 471. Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.” Wendy [Stevenson) Cameron, “The Petworth emigration committee: Lord Egremont’s assisted emigrations from Sussex to Upper Canada, 1832–37,” OH, 65 (1973): 231–46.