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PINHEY, HAMNETT KIRKES, landowner, businessman, office holder, politician, and author; b. 11 Dec. 1784 in Plymouth, England, son of William Pinhey and Mary Townley; m. 12 Dec. 1812 Mary Anne Tasker in London, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 3 March 1857 in Ottawa and was buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, March Township, Upper Canada.

In many ways Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey exemplified the ideal Upper Canadian settler: well educated, vigorous, able, youthful, patriotic, and, most important, wealthy. These attributes virtually guaranteed that he would play a substantial role in the young colony and distinguish himself in a number of important capacities.

The name Pinhey is probably Portuguese and it is possible that Hamnett was a descendant of merchants engaged in the Anglo-Portuguese trade. Certainly his family was well established in England at the time of his birth and had acquired a considerable estate at Totnes. Pinhey was educated in London, to which his family had moved. He entered Christ’s Hospital in 1792 and left in 1799. At an early age he went into trade and appears to have prospered. During the Napoleonic Wars he successfully ran the French blockade to carry dispatches to the king of Prussia, a task for which he was later publicly thanked and voted a sum of money. In 1814, two years after his marriage to the daughter of a London merchant and exporter, Pinhey entered into a partnership with Henry Crosley as ship and insurance brokers. For a number of years it seems that the business was enormously successful in its European trade, but Crosley, who was responsible for the continental end of the operation, appears to have been less than completely open in his dealings with Pinhey and by the end of 1817 the partnership had failed, with the resultant litigation lasting three years. The bitterness of this breakup, the problems attending business in the postwar recession, and doubtless a certain sense of adventure led Pinhey to turn his interests elsewhere. In 1819, at the age of 34, he officially retired from business.

In December of that year, by which time he was a citizen and liveryman of the Company of Grocers and a governor of Christ’s Hospital, Pinhey petitioned Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst for a land grant in Upper Canada. Noting that “I have recently retired with a small independent fortune,” Pinhey announced his intention to “found a commercial establishment in the back-settlements of His Majesty’s Possessions in Canada,” provided he could obtain a grant of 1,500 to 2,000 acres “on the Banks of the Utawa.” The grant was authorized but neither its size nor its precise location had been determined when Pinhey left for British North America in April 1820. He brought with him £300 in gold and silver. His ship, the Lord Exmouth, docked at Quebec on 22 May, 35 days out of Plymouth. Pinhey journeyed to Montreal and then up the Ottawa River to March Township north of Bytown (Ottawa) where, shortly thereafter, he formally took up his land. Eventually, his estate in March Township would amount to more than 2,000 acres.

His was only one of a number of large estates in the region, the others having been established after the War of 1812 by former naval and army officers. At an early date the whole area was reputed to have a settled and prosperous air. By the summer of 1821 Pinhey had brought out his wife and two children, along with personal possessions – more than 50 trunks containing his plate, china, jewellery, and furniture – amounting to a value of £800. Pinhey quickly established himself as a gentleman-farmer and as one of the luminaries of the district. Historian Michael Sean Cross has noted that after the War of 1812 a nascent aristocratic class sprang up among the half-pay officers and gentlemen in the village of Richmond and in March township, a tory élite that also composed the local compact. He suggests further that education, breeding, and background were the cement of this colonial gentry. Pinhey was well suited to the group, but he was far more active in commercial affairs and his opinions, at the outset at any rate, were rather less orthodoxly tory than Cross has suggested.

Pinhey set up the equivalent of a large English farm on his property along the Ottawa and christened the place Horaceville after his eldest son. Within a few years he had built a fine stone house (guests here were to include Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] and John Strachan*), saw- and grist-mills, and the first stone church in the area, St Mary’s, which was consecrated by Anglican bishop Charles James Stewart* in 1834. Pinhey’s business acumen and experience set him in sharp contrast to the military settlers and he soon became the nascent community’s financial adviser and banker. Meticulous in his financial records, Pinhey shows clearly in his files the minutiae of Upper Canadian estate management in an age when transportation was slow and seasonal. By 1827, with only 80 acres of his 1,000-acre grant under cultivation, he reported, in a remark that reveals much about the Upper Canadian economy, “I am not making a fortune but an estate. In truth I never see any money but my own.” Pinhey and his family lived well, employed a large number of servants, travelled, and kept abreast of affairs in England.

Apart from acting as the local agent of the Canada Company, he himself dabbled in real estate. He also interested himself over the years in a number of ambitious development schemes and local philanthropies. Among the former were plans for agricultural societies, road companies, and of course – Pinhey, like others, caught the mania – railways. Some of his enthusiasms were quite successful, for example, the road companies. He appears to have considered education most significant and his philanthropy included sustaining Christ’s Hospital (he used his governorship in the school to sponsor the education of young Canadians and Englishmen) and at least one attempt to create a local equivalent – a proposal for a Royal Union College which would be “most liberal” and attract “all denominations of Christians.” The latter idea was simply not possible in capital-poor Upper Canada but was indicative of the mentality of Pinhey and those in his circle.

Inevitably, in such a small community, a man like Pinhey would become enmeshed in politics. He was temperamentally a tory if not a committed one upon his arrival in Upper Canada. Rather aloof from the whole political prospect in the 1820s, by 1832 he was ready to take the plunge for office. In a by-election that year he was returned for Carleton County in a race against another tory, George Lyon. The difficult fight proved to be more a display of tory factionalism than a manifestation of conservative political ideology. “I might have a rotten borough seat in the Imperial Parliament, for one half the sum this very enviable one has cost me,” he wrote to James FitzGibbon*, and added, “It is a seat, I suspect that rather takes from than adds to the dignity of the gentleman who condescends to take it.”

Pinhey had little time to find out. He was unseated in 1833 because of irregularities; it seemed not all the freeholders who supported him actually owned land. Pinhey moved his political enthusiasms now largely behind the scenes, and for the next two decades, under such pen-names as Vesper and Poor Correspondent, he composed piquant verse, essays, and letters for the Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser, edited by his friend Alexander James Christie*, and for the Alymer Times. He emerges in these pieces as a curmudgeon, not just ready to maul reformers, radicals, and potential or real rebels, but to criticize, wittily and often eloquently, all sides. He also shows himself to be as much a spokesman of the propertied middle classes as anything, although his toryism becomes more extreme on constitutional questions such as the granting of responsible government. Special venom is always reserved for the “refractory, turbulent, and insulting” William Lyon Mackenzie*, but his attack seems to be more on the man’s deficient character than on his politics.

Much of the material relating to Pinhey’s activities during the rebellions of 1837–38 appears to have been destroyed but one can assume that he was an active tory supporter. In the 1840s he turned his considerable wrath against the notion of responsible government. His concerns revolved not so much around the principle as around problems posed by the poverty – both intellectual and pecuniary – of elected officials in the Canadas and his consequent fears of placing the public trust in their corruptible hands. At this time a chief villain seems to have been, for Pinhey, Francis Hincks*.

A certain amount of patronage was granted Pinhey. He served as local reeve, warden of Dalhousie District Council and later of Carleton County Council, deputy superintendent of schools for Carleton County, and eventually in 1847 as legislative councillor, a position he held until his death in March 1857. His estate, Horaceville, remained in the family until 1959 when it became the first property to pass under the control of the National Capital Commission. Like the reputation of its builder, it requires restoration.

Roger Hall

[Manuscript material relating to Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey includes his papers at the AO (MU 2322–25) and various items in volumes 9–11 of the PAC’s Hill collection (MG 24, I9). The Pinhey family papers at the PAC (MG 24, I14) are a miscellaneous collection of original documents and photocopies from a number of sources; original material includes Pinhey’s “notebooks” or diaries for 1821–29 and 1837. His diaries for 1829–40 are available in AO, MS 199.

Biographical material relating to Pinhey can be found in the F.-J. Audet papers (PAC, MG 30, D1), volume 24: 841–44, and in the H. T. Douglas collection at the AO (MU 934–44, especially in MU 937). The Douglas collection also contains a photograph of Pinhey taken around 1850, in MU 940. A room in the Historical Society of Ottawa’s Bytown Museum is devoted to Pinhey memorabilia.

No full-scale biography of Pinhey exists. A reference of uncertain reliability is [M.] N. Slater Heydon, Looking back . . . pioneers of Bytown and March: Nicholas Sparks and Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey; their antecedents and their descendants (Ottawa, 1980). Some further information can be found in Lucien Brault, Ottawa old & new (Ottawa, 1946). An early work with references to Pinhey is M. H. Ahearn, “The settlers of March Township,” OH, 3 (1901): 97–102. It should be supplemented by M. S. Cross, “The age of gentility: the formation of an aristocracy in the Ottawa valley,” CHA Hist. papers, 1967: 105–17.  r.h.]

AO, RG 1, C-I-3, 96: 133; C-I-5, 1: 475; 2: 294; 14: 55; C-III-3, 1: 136; 2: 313; C-III-4, 10: 55. State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library (Sydney, Australia), ms 338, geneal. information on the Pinhey family, copied from H. K. Pinhey’s Bible (photocopies in PAC, MG 24, I14). Bathurst Courier, 26 Oct. 1834, 13 Feb. 1835, 1 July 1836. Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser, 1836–45. Ottawa Citizen, 14 March 1857. Quebec Gazette, 22 May 1820, 20 Aug. 1821. Historical sketch of the county of Carleton, ed. C. C. J. Bond (Belleville, Ont., 1971). Harry Walker and Olive [Moffatt] Walker, Carleton saga (Ottawa, 1968).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Roger Hall, “PINHEY, HAMNETT KIRKES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pinhey_hamnett_kirkes_8E.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/pinhey_hamnett_kirkes_8E.html
Author of Article:   Roger Hall
Title of Article:   PINHEY, HAMNETT KIRKES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   December 2, 2023