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REILLY, EDWARD, journalist and politician; b. 1839 or 1840 in Prince .Edward Island; d. 29 March 1872 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

After a brief career as a teacher in the rural schools of Prince Edward Island, Edward Reilly became a journeyman printer in Charlottetown in the offices of David Laird*’s Protestant and Edward Whelan*’s Examiner. On 17 Oct. 1862 he founded the militantly ultramontane Vindicator, which was to provide an alternative to other Island newspapers – reading matter “of a dangerous character, filled with moral poison.” Although Reilly was the publisher of the Vindicator, in later years he denied having been the editor; it was widely suspected at the time that this position was held by Father Angus MacDonald*, rector of St Dunstan’s College. The Vindicator, a weekly, specialized in vitriolic denunciations of various public figures, such as William Henry Pope, David Laird, the Reverend George Sutherland*, and the lieutenant governor, George Dundas. In 1864, Joseph Webster, master of the Normal School, brought Reilly to court for an article which suggested that Webster had had improper relations with his female students. The case ended with a full apology by Reilly in October 1864. He discontinued publication of the Vindicator at that time, but one week later founded another weekly, the Herald, of which he was both editor and publisher. In 1870 he took partners into the venture, one of whom appears to have been John Caven, a professor at St Dunstan’s.

Although Reilly remained sympathetic to the demands of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in educational matters, he began to seek a wider base of support. He adopted a vigorously pro-tenant position on the land question, and denounced the Quebec resolutions of 1864 as a “scheme of spoliation” for the Island. He claimed that union would make Islanders pay for expenses such as continental defence and the Intercolonial Railway without commensurate benefits. In particular, he objected to the failure of the confederation proposals to provide for the liquidation of leasehold tenure, agreeing with George Coles and others that resolution of the land question was a sine qua non of entry.

Reilly’s adamant opposition to confederation brought him into conflict with Edward Whelan, the leading Roman Catholic public man of the colony, who ardently supported the Quebec plan. The two men also clashed on the explosive subjects of Fenianism and the Tenant League. Whelan utterly condemned both movements, but Reilly was non-committal. The younger man was clearly challenging Whelan’s hold on the Catholic population, particularly those who were tenants, or Irish immigrants, or both. When a general election took place in February 1867, Reilly ran against Whelan in Kings County, Second District, although both were Liberals; Reilly lost, but greatly reduced Whelan’s majority. After the election, which the Liberals won, Whelan was appointed queen’s printer and was obliged to face the electorate again in a by-election. This time, Reilly dealt Whelan his first defeat in 21 years of politics. Eight days after Whelan’s death on 10 Dec. 1867, Reilly succeeded him as queen’s printer; he won the by-election called in early 1868.

Reilly remained queen’s printer until 1870, when the Liberals split over the school question. He then followed George Howlan* and all but one of the Roman Catholic Liberal assemblymen into a coalition led by Conservative James Colledge Pope*. The basis of the alliance was a mutual self-denying pledge signed by the Catholic Liberals and the Conservative leaders, some of whom were confederates: nothing would be done on the school or confederation questions until they were submitted to the people at the polls. In the change of government, Reilly lost the queen’s printership because a prominent Tory, Frederick de St Croix Brecken*, threatened to resign should he retain the office. A year later, Reilly left the coalition and returned to the Liberals in protest against the government’s railway policy. Although he had supported the legislation when it was first introduced, he now feared it would be the means of forcing the Island into confederation. As it turned out, he was correct, although he did not live to see his prophecy fulfilled. On the morning of 29 March 1872 at his house in Charlottetown he died suddenly of heart disease, leaving his wife Hannah.

Edward Reilly was a controversial person, particularly in his early years as a journalist. After entering the assembly, he became more restrained and employed milder language in the Herald editorials. When he died, at the age of 32, he was one of the most effective debaters in the assembly, as well as a prominent journalist. On the day before he died, he had been nominated for the election of 4 April, which his party won. There can be no doubt that had he lived he would have been a leading public figure for many more years.

Ian Ross Robertson

Prince Edward Island, Supreme Court, Estates Division, will of Edward Reilly. Prince Edward Island, House of Assembly, Journals, 1867–72; Debates and proceedings, 1867–72. Examiner (Charlottetown), 9 Jan., 24 July 1865. Herald (Charlottetown), 1864, 1866–68, 1870–71. Island Argus (Charlottetown), 2 April 1872. Patriot (Charlottetown), 30 March, 4 April 1872. Vindicator (Charlottetown), 1862–64. MacMillan, Catholic Church in PEI, 219–20, 260–61, 271–75. Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in PEI,” chapt. 6–8.

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Cite This Article

Ian Ross Robertson, “REILLY, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/reilly_edward_10E.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/reilly_edward_10E.html
Author of Article:   Ian Ross Robertson
Title of Article:   REILLY, EDWARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   February 24, 2024