READY, JOHN, office holder, army officer, politician, and colonial administrator; b. c. 1777; m. first 18 June 1804 Susanna Bromley in East Grinstead, England, and they had two sons and two daughters; m. secondly 13 Dec. 1836 Sarah Tobin, daughter of Sir John Tobin, in Malew, Isle of Man, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 10 July 1845 in Castletown, Isle of Man.
Nothing is known of John Ready before he entered the British army as an ensign on 6 Jan. 1796 at age 19. By 1813 he had risen to the rank of lieutenant-colonel without purchasing any commissions. It is possible that he advanced his military career through distinguished service, although his subsequent appointments in the colonial administration lend credence to the supposition that he had influential friends. Unsubstantiated family lore has it that the Duke of Wellington stood as godfather to one of Ready’s children. When his battalion was disbanded in 1815 Ready was placed on the Irish half-pay list, and he joined the staff of the Duke of Richmond [Lennox*], lord lieutenant of Ireland, as his secretary. When Richmond was named governor-in-chief of British North America in May 1818 Ready became his military secretary and, shortly after their arrival at Quebec in July, his civil secretary. Ready was appointed commissioner for the management of the Jesuit estates (1818), to the committee charged with overseeing construction of the Lachine Canal (1819) [see François Desrivières*], and, after the death of Richmond in August 1819, curator of his estate.
Richmond’s successor, the Earl of Dalhousie [Ramsay], had met Ready during a visit to Quebec in 1819 and had recorded a favourable impression of him in his private journal. When Dalhousie arrived at Quebec the following year he retained him as civil secretary, subsequently naming him aide-de-camp, acting provincial secretary, and a member of the Executive Council. After beginning to work with Ready he revised his opinion. He recorded in his journal the dissatisfaction occasioned by Ready’s holding so many offices, and Ready’s apparent difficulty in discharging his duties. He also complained that Ready was ignorant of business procedures and law, and could not speak French. However, there is evidence that Ready was on friendly terms with John Neilson and Louis-Joseph Papineau*, leaders in the House of Assembly’s opposition to Dalhousie, and was sympathetic to their political stance. It is possible that this friendship influenced Dalhousie’s antipathy to Ready as much as any perceived incompetence. Whatever the reason, Dalhousie determined early in 1822 to remove Ready who, when approached for his resignation on 29 January, asked that it should appear to have come from him, as a wish to return with his family to England. By November 1822 Ready had settled his affairs and sailed for England. He was replaced as civil secretary by Andrew William Cochran.
In April 1824 Ready was appointed lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island, but his departure was delayed by the ill health of his wife, whom he was obliged to leave behind in Brighton. Favourable reports of Ready’s previous public service had preceded him, and a large crowd, happy that the unpopular Charles Douglass Smith* was being replaced, gave Ready a boisterous reception as he disembarked at Charlottetown on 21 Oct. 1824.
Ready soon dissolved the House of Assembly, which had not sat since 1820, and called an election. The new legislature convened on 14 Jan. 1825. In his opening address Ready indicated that the main reason for summoning the legislators was to renew or to revise acts which had expired or were about to expire, and he suggested that the session deal only with essential measures. The assembly promised to refrain from presenting “any matter which we may conceive either of doubt or difficulty.” Before the session closed on 24 March, the speaker, John Stewart*, stated that the revenue or supply bill, legislation initiated by the assembly to raise money for the government’s use, had been passed because of the assembly’s confidence in Ready, but cautioned that “the Colony looks forward with much anxiety, to the period, when your Excellency will feel yourself at liberty to give your assent to an annual Act, for appropriating the whole produce of the Revenue.” The Novascotian, or Colonial Herald (Halifax) observed that “the main object to which the wishes of the House are bent and which the people will never rest satisfied till they accomplish is the repeal of a permanent revenue act which rendered the late Governor independent of the House.”
At issue were two acts, passed in 1785 and 1795, which imposed duties on distilled and brewed liquor. The funds thus raised were referred to as the permanent revenue, control of which was vested in the lieutenant governor and the Council. When these laws were enacted the Island’s population was small, and the little revenue derived from them barely met the expenses of government. However, by Ready’s time the population was much larger, and the permanent revenue had increased until it amounted to almost two-thirds of total revenue. Ready wrote to Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst to present the assembly’s suggestion for a change in the legislation. Bathurst made it clear that Ready could use all of the income for the benefit of the colony but that there was to be no change in the law. Armed with that reply, Ready summoned the legislature on 12 Oct. 1825 for a short session prior to his planned departure for England. The assembly had been notified of Bathurst’s decision but Stewart, at the close of the session, tenaciously raised the question once again. He suggested that the assembly’s initial confidence in Ready had been justified by his management of the public expenditures to date, and that as long as he was administering them the assembly would not be apprehensive. He reminded the house that Ready would not always be with them, and, because the permanent revenue had been wasted or misused during previous administrations, the assembly was still interested in gaining control of it.
The assembly, to exert pressure in this matter, then decided that if it was not to have control of the permanent revenue, it would prevent the Council from interfering in the disposition of the remaining one-third of the Island’s revenue, which was under the assembly’s control. Accordingly, it declined to give the Council the opportunity to deliberate separately on each item in the appropriations bill, in which the assembly specified how the revenue was to be used. The Council reluctantly passed the bill but sent a resolution to the assembly which stated that in future it would refuse to assent to any appropriations bill unless each item had been “previously submitted by the House of Assembly in separate resolutions . . . and shall have severally received their assent.” Debate on the issue then came to a temporary halt. Ready prorogued the legislature on 27 Oct. 1825 and sailed for England on 10 December to attend to family affairs, his wife having died there in March. George Wright administered the colony in his absence.
While in England, Ready, along with Stewart, who was also on a visit, and C. D. Smith, the former lieutenant governor, was interviewed by a committee of the House of Commons on the subject of immigration to the British North American colonies, and he was presented at court. He returned to Prince Edward Island on 10 Dec. 1826, bringing his two daughters, one of whom survived only a few months. In the spring word was received that his elder son had died in January in England.
The session of the legislature which opened on 20 March 1827 presented the assembly with its first opportunity of responding to the Council’s resolution of October 1825, and it lost no time informing the Council that supply bills originated with the assembly and were not to be altered by the Council. At the end of the session the assembly included an appropriation clause as part of each revenue bill so that the Council would be forced to “take all or reject all.” The Council passed some of the bills and rejected others, leaving a shortfall of revenue. The legislature was prorogued on 7 May 1827 without a supply bill having been passed.
Ready, when he wrote to Bathurst for instructions, indicated that his sympathies were with the assembly which, he said, was adhering to “invariable usage . . . from the time of the first Session to the present.” He further suggested that, although it was accepted practice in Nova Scotia, where the councillors were able and respected, to allow them “a voice in the Appropriation,” he had a much lower opinion of the ability and integrity of the Island’s councillors and doubted the wisdom of giving them “the right to interfere in the appropriation of what additional Revenue may be raised, (particularly as the whole of the permanent Revenue is at the disposal of the Governor and Council alone.)”
In reply, William Huskisson, the new colonial secretary, indicated his support for the assembly’s position and his regret that the Council “have thought fit now, for the first time, to act upon a claim of at least doubtful right.” However, in a private letter to Ready, Huskisson suggested that as a matter of courtesy the assembly might allow the Council to deliberate on the separate items in the appropriations bill as was the custom in Nova Scotia. Ready was left to his own resources and at the opening of the legislature on 20 March 1828 he could only appeal to both bodies to reconcile their differences for the good of the colony. Nevertheless, the assembly stood firm in its refusal to concede to the Council but did submit the appropriations bill separately from the revenue bills. Since the Council was not permitted to alter any of the revenue bills to which it objected, it refused to pass the appropriations bill. The session then came to an end on 5 May.
Ready wrote to Huskisson on 27 May suggesting that no solution to the impasse could be expected without changes in the Council. He admitted that the assembly was not entirely blameless and recommended that either the Council or the assembly, or both, be dismissed. In Britain there had been another cabinet change, and Ready’s letter was answered on 3 July by the second under-secretary of the Colonial Office, Robert William Hay, who suggested that giving in to the assembly would lead to “very great inconvenience.” Hay probably felt that the assembly’s stand was to be discouraged lest it prompt similar claims in neighbouring colonies. He went on to say that the Council could not be dismissed because its members had been appointed by the king for life. Ready responded in September that it was the considered opinion on the Island that since members of the Council had been appointed by lieutenant governors they could be removed by a lieutenant governor.
Still the Colonial Office refused to sanction wholesale dissolution of the Council but agreed, at Ready’s suggestion, to remove one of the antagonists, Samuel George William Archibald, the chief justice and president of Council, and replace him with Edward James Jarvis*, who was sworn into office on 30 Aug. 1828. By rewarding those on Council who cooperated and by getting rid of Archibald, Ready achieved a realignment which made the Council more amenable to compromise. The appropriations bill for 1829 was passed, and harmonious relations were restored between the two bodies for the remainder of Ready’s term.
The quitrents levied by the British government continued to be of prime concern during this period as during previous administrations. Ready dutifully forwarded petitions for their remission but succeeded only in obtaining leave to use the derived income for the welfare of the Island.
In June 1830 Ready learned that his term of office was to expire shortly, and news of his departure became generally known by April 1831. The assembly, concerned that his successor might not be as prudent in disbursing the permanent revenue, determined in May to petition the king to repeal the permanent revenue acts. It also approved spending £400 for the purchase of plate as a parting gift to Ready in gratitude for his benevolent administration. When word was received in August that Ready’s successor, Sir Murray Maxwell, had died before leaving Britain, a petition was circulated requesting that Ready be permitted to remain. Before the petition could be forwarded the announcement arrived that Aretas William Young* had been appointed in Maxwell’s place, and Ready prepared to leave.
During Ready’s years on the Island there was no resolution to the problem of the quitrents or the permanent revenue acts. However, in three key areas directly affecting the daily life of the average settler there were dramatic improvements for which Ready was largely responsible: agriculture, road building, and education. He had promoted an agricultural society which continued for many years to support and encourage the farmer. He had imported at his own expense valuable pedigree livestock which gradually improved the local stocks. His promotion of road building projects resulted in “mere bridle paths” being converted into good roads; the outcome was an extensive network which greatly facilitated inland communication. He supported the assembly’s interest in extending educational opportunities until there was a schoolhouse in almost every community. Probably most appreciated was his allocation of a large part of the permanent revenue to finance these projects.
For months prior to Ready’s departure on 10 Oct. 1831, the pages of Charlottetown’s Royal Gazette contained tributes to his administration and to him. The editor, James Douglas Haszard*, observed that “perhaps no public officer ever retired from so elevated a station, more unfeignedly and generally regretted. “
In 1832 Ready was appointed lieutenant governor of the Isle of Man, and was sworn in at Castletown on 11 December. An address of welcome mentioned the favourable reports that had preceded him. In November 1841 he was promoted major-general. For the last nine months of his life Ready was seriously ill and unable to attend to his public duties. Two medications were prescribed: morphine, and atropine for external use. On 10 July 1845 he was given atropine internally, and he died within hours. A coroner’s inquest determined that the poisoning was accidental. Ready was buried with full military honours at Malew on 17 July. His obituary in the Manx Sun stated that he had been highly esteemed there as a just administrator who had remained impartial and aloof from party factions, and as a gentleman who was unfailingly generous, kind, and courteous.
[The historical record is silent on the identity of Ready’s parents and the place and date of his birth. The usual sources for such information are so unyielding that a professional searcher engaged by the author remarked: “I get the impression that this man did not want any record kept of his background.” An item in Ready’s army records (PRO, WO 25/772: 94), using data supplied by the subject, suggests a birth date of c. 1777, and is in contrast with his obituary in the Manx Sun (see below) which places the event some five years earlier. The entry in Lord Dalhousie’s diary for 11 May 1828 records his belief that Ready, who “was supposed to be a natural brother of Earl Bathurst,” was more probably his son. Simple arithmetic renders the latter highly unlikely (Bathurst was ten years old in 1772), and the fact that Dalhousie made a similar comment about Sir John Harvey* in the same entry invites scepticism. e.v.]
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. PAC, MG 24, B1, 5: 98–101. PRO, CO 226/42: 7, 41, 315, 363, 569; 226/43: 12; 226/44: 98–99, 103, 197; 226/45: 47, 53, 71–72, 118, 188–89, 191, 205, 301–2, 371, 431; 226/46: 253; 226/47: 145; 226/48: 241; CO 227/7: 237, 257–58, 261, 302 (mfm. at PAPEI); WO 42/39: 66. West Sussex Record Office (Chichester, Eng.), East Grinstead, reg. of marriages, 18 June 1804. Annual reg. (London), 1845: 288. P.E.I., Acts of the General Assembly . . . , 1773–1834 (Charlottetown, 1834), 90, 222; House of Assembly, Journal, 27 Oct. 1825, 27 May 1827, 10 May 1831; Legislative Council, Journal, 20–21 March 1827, 2 May 1828, March–April 1829. Ramsay, Dalhousie journals (Whitelaw), 1: 153, 173; 2: 26, 29, 62, 113–15, 118–23, 132–33, 141, 186; 3. Manx Sun (Douglas, Isle of Man), 18 Dec. 1832; 2 Sept. 1836; 12, 19 July 1845. Montreal Gazette, 17 Nov. 1818. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 11 May 1825, 8 June 1826. Prince Edward Island Register, 24 July, 28 Aug., 23 Oct., 13 Nov. 1824; 20 Jan., 31 March, 11, 20 May, 20 Oct., 8 Nov., 20 Dec. 1825; 12 Dec. 1826; 13 Feb., 27 March, 1, 8 May, 6 Nov. 1827; 25 March, 6 May, 28 Oct. 1828; 31 March, 9 May 1829. Quebec Gazette, 30 July, 3 Aug. 1818; 5 Aug. 1819; 27 June 1820; 4 Jan. 1821. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 11 Jan., 19 April, 16, 23 Aug., 6 Sept., 11 Oct. 1831 (copies available at PAPEI). Desjardins, Guide parl. Elinor Vass, “The agricultural societies of Prince Edward Island,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.7 (fall–winter 1979): 31–37.
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Cite This Article
Elinor Vass, “READY, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ready_john_7E.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:
|Author of Article:||Elinor Vass|
|Title of Article:||READY, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|