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PENNEFATHER, RICHARD THEODORE, office-holder; b. c. 1830, son of Edward Pennefather, a judge, and Suzan Darby; d. late in 1865 in Ceylon.

Richard Theodore Pennefather was the offspring of an Anglo-Irish family of soldiers and clerics. From 1848 to 1854 he was the private secretary of Sir Edmund Walker Head, lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, then came with him, still as private secretary, to the Province of Canada, when Head was made its governor general in 1854. A rather introverted, genteel young man, Pennefather was trusted by Head but never liked or understood by him. “He is young-about 21 – well-informed and a gentleman,” wrote Head shortly after his arrival in Canada, “but I cannot say that he is particularly agreeable to me as he is so shy and reserved.” Pennefather did not enhance his reputation with Head by marrying a young lady who, though respectable enough, was not considered at all pretty by the governor general. In September 1860, during the visit of the Prince of Wales to North America, Pennefather attracted a great deal of attention by falling into the river at Detroit as the royal vessel left the dock. The picture that results from all this is that of a fairly serious, aloof young man with a penchant for making faux pas.

In February 1856, Pennefather became the governor general’s civil secretary and superintendent-general of Indian affairs in the Province of Canada. During his tenure the Indian Department was still in a state of change and the administrative confusions of the early 1840s had not yet disappeared. Indian affairs in Lower and Upper Canada had been administered separately after 1830, but in 1841 the Indians in the Province of Canada were placed under the authority of the governor general. In 1842, with the appointment of a royal commission to investigate the Indian Department, there had begun a wholesale change in the organization of the department. Indian affairs in the Province of Canada were then placed under the civil secretary who was ex officio superintendent-general; in Canada West superintendents and agents became directly responsible to the governor general through the civil secretary, but in Canada East responsibility for Indian affairs, although nominally in the charge of the civil secretary remained the concern of the military secretary (it was to him that Duncan Campbell Napier, the chief Indian affairs official in Canada East in the 1840s and 1850s, reported). Questions of jurisdiction were further complicated by the fact that British officials had been making it clear from as early as the 1820s that they hoped Canadian authorities would eventually assume the running of the Indian Department. The “little England” sentiment of the 1840s and 1850s strengthened this feeling; by the end of the 1850s, Britain informed Canada that the transfer must occur.

Pennefather, as superintendent-general, was the official head of the Indian Department, but its day-to-day affairs were largely in the hands of superintendents and agents, especially in Upper Canada. At the beginning of his service Pennefather was fortunately served by experienced officials, notably Napier in Canada East and Thomas Gummersall Anderson* in Canada West. They were, however, to resign in 1857 and 1858 respectively.

Pennefather’s greatest contribution to Canada was his chairmanship of a three-man commission which conducted an inquiry from 1856 to 1858 into the Indian Department’s operations. The report of 1858 provided a complete picture of the department and of the Indian bands of the province through use of a massive number of statistics. It was noted with surprise that efforts to “civilize” the Indians were still piece-meal despite almost 30 years of such a policy. Because the Indians did not respond to attempts at “civilization,” and because of the lack of organization and funding in the department, conditions among the Indians were not good in the late 1850s [see George Ironside]. The commission urged compassionate and effective treatment for the Indians’ social ills. Feeling that administrative confusion was still responsible for many of their problems, it urged the establishment of a centralized Indian Department with its own permanent head. This step was finally taken by the Canadian government in 1862, two years after the relinquishing of imperial control.

The transfer to Canadian authority in 1860 meant that Pennefather reverted to his position as Head’s private secretary. He left Canada in 1861 when Head’s term of office expired. He went to Ceylon where he was executive councillor and auditor-general from 1862 until his death in 1865.

Douglas Leighton

PAC, RG 10, vols.116–18, 270–72, 714, 752–60. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1858, VI, app.21. Macdonald, Letters (Johnson and Stelmack), I. John Ferguson, Ceylon in 1883: the leading crown colony of the British empire; with an account of the progress made since 1803 under successive British governors (London, 1883), 243. Hodgetts, Pioneer public service, 205–25. D. G. G. Kerr, Sir Edmund Head, a scholarly governor (Toronto, 1954), 57. E. W. Watkin, Canada and the States; recollections, 1851 to 1886 (London and New York, [1887]), 502.

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Cite This Article

Douglas Leighton, “PENNEFATHER, RICHARD THEODORE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 14, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pennefather_richard_theodore_9E.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/pennefather_richard_theodore_9E.html
Author of Article:   Douglas Leighton
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   April 14, 2024