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SHERWOOD, HENRY, office holder, militia officer, lawyer, businessman, politician, and judge; b. 1807 in Augusta Township, Upper Canada, eldest son of Levius Peters Sherwood* and Charlotte Jones, daughter of Ephraim Jones*; m. 22 July 1829 Mary Graham Smith, daughter of Peter Smith* of Kingston, Upper Canada, and they had 18 children; d. 7 July 1855 in Kissingen (Bad Kissingen, Federal Republic of Germany).

Henry Sherwood was of loyalist descent through both parents. Members of the Sherwood and Jones families formed a large part of the local élite which dominated affairs in the Johnstown District. Through Henry’s father and his uncle Jonas Jones* in particular, they had close connections with the controlling élite at York (Toronto) and made a sustained, influential contribution to provincial politics and the judiciary. In consequence, Henry Sherwood grew up in close familiarity with the governing system, absorbing attitudes and experiences which were reinforced by his education at the Home District Grammar School under the Reverend John Strachan*.

After articling at York in the law office of his uncle, Solicitor General Henry John Boulton*, Sherwood was admitted to the bar of Upper Canada in Michaelmas term 1828. He went into practice in Prescott and perhaps also in Brockville, his place of residence. He soon developed a broad range of economic interests. Like so many of his class, he speculated in wild lands, advertising for sale on a single occasion 3,274 acres scattered widely throughout eastern Upper Canada. In 1830 he was active in efforts to establish a branch of the Bank of Upper Canada in Brockville and, when that initiative appeared to have failed, he joined in the movement to establish an independent bank there. In 1832 this tilt at York achieved the object originally desired. Sherwood then became the Bank of Upper Canada’s local solicitor, having failed to obtain the more lucrative post of cashier. He was also involved in attempts to develop the forwarding trade and to secure Brockville’s place in it. Among other things, this activity led to his appointment as a director of the Saint Lawrence Inland Marine Assurance Company, a Prescott organization chartered in 1833. Sherwood also served as the first secretary of the district agricultural society. In short, he proved an enthusiastic promoter of the general prosperity of the Johnstown District as well as of his own welfare. The latter was assisted by his enjoyment of public office: while yet a law student, he had received appointment as clerk of assize on the western circuit, where his father, on occasion, presided, and in 1830 he was gazetted one of the three commissioners of customs for the Johnstown District. It was a short step from this sort of activity to involvement in local government. He was perhaps the foremost proponent of the establishment of a board of police in Brockville, contending forcefully against Andrew Norton Buell*, a reformer, for open voting and the division of the town into wards and against legislative stipulation of the market site. An enactment on these issues very much along the lines desired by Sherwood became law in 1832. That year he was elected one of the board’s first members.

From his teens Sherwood had been involved in politics. Naturally, in view of his background, his opinions were tory. He took part in the infamous type riot of 8 June 1826 when the presses of the Colonial Advocate and other printing equipment of the radical York newspaperman William Lyon Mackenzie* were destroyed by a mob. In November 1827 he was among a group opposing Mackenzie at the nomination meeting for the constituency of York, and in 1828 he fell foul of the quarrelsome, dissident judge, John Walpole Willis*, who accused Sherwood of threatening his life and being drunk in the streets. Later his political conduct became more conventional. He stood for the riding of Leeds at the general election of 1830 but ended up at the bottom of the poll. In 1834 he was a candidate for Brockville, where traditional tory interests predominated. The contest developed into a factional struggle between the families of Ephraim and Solomon Jones*, Sherwood representing the former. He lost to David Jones by one vote.

Now Sherwood’s attention began to shift to Toronto. On 29 July 1835 he and his eminent brother-in-law, John Elmsley*, were elected to the first board of the Farmers’ Joint Stock Banking Company. The initial months of this private Toronto bank were marked by controversy, during which the reformers on the board and Captain George Truscott, head of the banking firm of Truscott, Green and Company, were forced out. In these manœuvres Sherwood appears to have played an active role but only hints of his course appear in the evidence. At about the same time attempts were being made to further plans for the projected railway between Toronto and Lake Simcoe. Sherwood also showed a significant interest in this concern. Finally, he took up residence in the city and in November 1835 established his law office in the south corner of the market buildings.

Sherwood maintained his interests in the Johnstown District; he retained his property there; his activity in local administration and politics continued; and in June 1836, claiming to have been forced to remove to Toronto by the hope of increasing his practice, he came out again as a candidate for Brockville. He received the nomination of the recently formed Brockville Constitutional Association, defeating his uncle Jonas Jones, another prominent tory James Morris*, and the sitting member David Jones. The latter threatened to divide the conservative vote but withdrew before the poll, leaving Sherwood an easy contest against another tory, lawyer John Bogert. Although the evidence is by no means conclusive, it appears that Sherwood’s success was the product both of the eclipse of the Solomon Jones family, a process which had been gathering pace during the 1830s, and of the support given him by Ogle Robert Gowan*, the leader of the Orangemen who were settling in large numbers around and in the constituency.

Sherwood’s first session in parliament, between November 1836 and March 1837, set much of the pattern of his later career. He rapidly learned the basics of procedure and debate; his exertions as a local member were constant; he spoke effectively and often on general issues. Many of the questions that concerned him then absorbed him throughout his career. For example, he showed great interest in improving the administration of justice and in raising the standards of his profession. Subsequently he would attempt to regulate the medical profession [see Christopher Widmer]. As chairman of a select committee, he drew up an able, if condescending, critique of the stand taken by the Lower Canadian House of Assembly in support of Louis-Joseph Papineau*’s 92 Resolutions of 1834. This hostility to a program, a people, and a leader he considered inimical to the British connection drove Sherwood to a more extreme attitude than that of other tories on the port of entry question: when the Upper Canadian assembly voted by a huge majority in favour of annexing Montreal, Sherwood stood forth as the advocate of appending to the imperial address a strong statement against legislative union with Lower Canada, a reform which, in the last resort, many of his closest political associates were prepared to contemplate. He was strongly opposed to responsible government and an elective legislative council, yet he rejected imperial interference in the internal affairs of the province, justifying this stand by reference to the Constitutional Act of 1791. If dividing the clergy reserves among all the Christian sects would achieve religious harmony, he was prepared for the step. His bill to establish a chartered bank in Brockville, together with his support for the establishment of chartered and joint-stock banks elsewhere, demonstrated his continuing opposition to a centralized financial system whether in the form of the tory- and Toronto-dominated Bank of Upper Canada or of William Hamilton Merritt*’s proposed provincial bank. With Allan Napier MacNab* he unsuccessfully advocated the appointment of a provincial emigration agent. Sherwood thus combined a pragmatic concern for economic growth and social harmony with an unusual degree of ideological commitment.

Ensuing sessions of the legislature were somewhat overshadowed by outside events. When Mackenzie and his supporters rose in revolt early in December 1837, Sherwood, who had been commissioned lieutenant in the West York militia in 1827, was at once appointed as one of the provincial aides-de-camp to Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head* together with Jonas Jones, James McGill Strachan*, and John Beverley Robinson*. On 7 December he marched in the force that attacked and dispersed the rebels at Gallows Hill just north of Toronto. Sherwood was appointed Queen’s Counsel on 23 Jan. 1838 and in that capacity was employed in numerous trials arising from the rebellion and from the subsequent Patriot incursions into Upper Canada; he also acted as judge advocate in the court martial of 44 prisoners including Joshua Gwillen Doan* at London from 27 Dec. 1838 to 19 Jan. 1839. His conduct of these proceedings was praised not only by Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur and the members of the court but also by the prisoners.

Though he remained a figure of the second rank, Sherwood was increasingly prominent in parliament. In 1838, as chairman of the select committee on the political state of Upper and Lower Canada, he had brought down a report which ably and fully expressed tory indignation at the recent uprisings. When the question of legislative union of the Canadas arose in December 1839, Governor Charles Edward Poulett Thomson* (later Lord Sydenham) paid considerable attention to him. Sherwood was now prepared to consider such a union but only on the stringent conditions laid down by the assembly in March 1839. In particular, despite all the influence brought to bear upon him, he pressed hard but in vain for unequal representation of the provinces in the common legislature, in order to secure a pro-British majority. On the other hand, like other ultra-tories, he repeatedly declared that he was not an opponent of Thomson’s new regime. Indeed, he voted for the governor’s clergy reserves bill even though he believed the Church of England’s claims to the whole of the reserves to be legally, if not politically, sound.

At the first general election for the united Legislative Assembly in 1841, Sherwood came forward for the prestigious seat of Toronto. The decision to abandon his safe Brockville constituency was perhaps rash. However, his prospects were encouraging. He ran in tandem with a well-established merchant and alderman, George Monro*, against two Sydenhamite candidates, John Henry Dunn and Isaac Buchanan*. Sherwood again claimed not to be an opponent of the governor-in-chief but increasingly spoke like one, particularly in relation to public expenditure. In the event, though the municipal corporation, Bishop Strachan of Toronto, and the Orange order were strong in their cause, he and his partner were defeated. Over-optimism, government influence, and poor support among merchants, professionals, and non-resident property owners were the principal causes.

Sherwood now faced the difficult task of resuscitating his political career and probably also his personal finances. As was common among people of his background, he was used to taking a leading role in society. He had been a founding member of the Upper Canada Club (Toronto Club) in 1837 and a member of its second committee of management in 1838–39, and he later served as steward of the Toronto Turf Club. He also gave generously to church organizations. This costly style of life and his large family placed demands on him which his income could barely support. In 1838 he had claimed to be very hard up. Three years later he appears to have had difficulty in paying his election expenses and in posting security for his appeal against the election result. To add to his problems, he was now deprived of legal business for the crown because of the political stand he had taken towards the government. However, he kept himself before the public with some well-publicized court appearances, notably a successful defence of one Thomas Kelly, who had been accused of committing murder during the Toronto election, and a prosecution of Francis Hincks*, the editor of the reform Examiner, for a libel on Archibald McNab. By 1843 he could claim to be in comfortable circumstances. Indeed 10 years later prominent lawyer Philip Michael Matthew Scott VanKoughnet* would state that Sherwood had had “the best professional practice of any lawyer in Toronto.”

Desperate to return to politics, Sherwood set about strengthening his base of support in Toronto. Having made much of the issue during the election, he continued to agitate in favour of Toronto again becoming the seat of government, at least alternately with Quebec. In January 1842 he was elected alderman for St David’s Ward and at the ensuing meeting of the city council he was chosen mayor of Toronto, defeating Captain John Simcoe Macaulay. Sherwood was to remain mayor for three terms (1842–44) and an alderman until 1849. He promoted the rapid extension of sidewalks, sewerage drains, schools, and other services, kept taxes as low as possible, and adopted a vigorous, hard-headed approach to raising the loans necessary to fund the resulting deficits. His administration of the affairs of this conservative city appears to have been both energetic and popular.

Meanwhile, Sir Charles Bagot*, the new governor-in-chief, had been trying to strengthen his tottering Executive Council. In particular, he sought a conservative solicitor general to balance the appointment of the reformer Francis Hincks as inspector general of public accounts. After John Solomon Cartwright* had declined the post, Sherwood was offered it. Surprisingly, he accepted. In doing so, he explicitly put aside a personal repugnance towards Hincks, on which Cartwright had mainly grounded his refusal, and asserted the need for moderation in politics. At the same time he reaffirmed his adherence to conservative principles, which many of his former political associates thought a contradiction. There had previously been signs that a few conservatives were hostile towards Sherwood but this acceptance of office greatly augmented that feeling. Only in Toronto was there any party support for his action, and that did not come on the whole from the tory establishment. Nor were the costs of his action balanced by comparable benefits, for Sherwood’s tenure of office was short. Sworn in on 23 July 1842, during the next ministerial reconstruction he was absent from the seat of government on public business and took no part in the negotiations which led to his loss of office on 15 Sept. 1842, and the formation of the first government to be headed by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*.

Though now indelibly tainted by the charges of excessive ambition and betrayal of his party, Sherwood was more determined than ever to resume his career in provincial politics. In the by-election held for Toronto in March 1843 he stood again and was again opposed by Macaulay. Sherwood had the powerful Toronto corporation and Orange influence on his side, together with most officers of a neutral provincial government, three-quarters of the Catholics, and many of the reformers who voted. Macaulay, solidly supported by the old tory élite which included the Gamble, Boulton, and Jarvis families, attacked Sherwood for his acceptance of office in 1842 but, by injudicious professions of fervent toryism, alienated the reformers and adherents of the Church of Scotland who had been tempted to support him. Although the contest was bitter and expensive, Sherwood’s victory was overwhelming. He returned to parliament with a vengeance, attacking the La Fontaine–Baldwin government on almost every conceivable issue and in terms of indignation often indistinguishable from those of ultra-tories. In particular, he made much, as time went by, of the allegedly sectional character of the government’s legislation.

During the crisis of 1843–44 Sherwood was active in rousing public opinion in support of Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*. He also appears to have intrigued for his own advancement. On 7 Oct. 1844 he was gazetted solicitor general west, though without a seat in the Executive Council. Metcalfe wrote that, despite Sherwood’s reputation, his principles were “liberal” and therefore befitting this moderate “no-party” administration. Indeed, after his victory in the general election of 1844 Sherwood himself declared publicly that he was “not for any ultra or proscriptive policy.”

The first session of the new parliament which convened late in November 1844 was critical for this important ministry. Its majority was slim. Much depended on the tact and debating skills of the leaders. Here Sherwood was outstanding. Moreover, he was almost the only minister to wield substantial influence in the assembly. However, after the Christmas break difficulties surfaced between him and the executive. Full of prickly self-importance, Sherwood took offence at the cabinet’s refusal to consult either him or its other supporters before introducing legislation which they were expected to support. The general breakdown of communication was highlighted by the university question. William Henry Draper*, the government leader, proposed to establish a single university in Upper Canada that would encompass the existing denominational colleges, though these would continue to function as centres of religious instruction and would be supported from the endowment formerly attached to the Anglican King’s College (University of Toronto). Sherwood, who favoured this quasi-federal compromise, did in fact vote for the first and second readings of Draper’s bill but he was under pressure from his constituents, particularly the Anglican bishop, John Strachan. In deference to their wishes, he urged and was instrumental in obtaining a postponement. Draper, who had committed himself to the measure, was furious.

During the next session, in the spring of 1846, these difficulties multiplied. Sherwood objected to Draper’s inordinate delay in reintroducing the university bill and to the presenting of it, when the measure was revived, as an open question. Consequently he voted with the ultra-tories, helping to defeat the scheme once again but at the same time raising further doubts as to his own sincerity. Sherwood was also incensed at the revelation of Draper’s secret negotiations with René-Édouard Caron*, which had for their object the introduction of a substantial French Canadian element into the ministry. The precise grounds of his objection increased the suspicion with which he was now viewed: it was not the attempt to gain added French support but the apparent bartering of offices without the knowledge of the existing incumbents which he condemned. Lesser disputes occurred over the civil list and tariffs. In 1845 Sherwood had considered resigning his office because of his disagreements with the cabinet. However, his tory friends had urged him not to do so, as this would have weakened, perhaps destroyed, an already shaky regime. Now he stuck with that decision but increasingly absented himself from important divisions on which he could not conscientiously support the government. As soon as the session ended, Draper asked for his resignation. It was accepted on 30 June 1846.

Sherwood was soon back in office and, moreover, at the head of the administration. This sudden reversal occurred amid a welter of internal dissension. Sherwood’s hatred of Draper was widely shared by Upper Canadian ministerialists. Draper fully reciprocated the feeling. Sir Allan Napier MacNab and Sherwood had been on poor terms since the latter’s acceptance of office in 1842, and events of 1846, including Sherwood’s opposition to MacNab’s railway legislation, had greatly worsened that relationship. MacNab had also fallen out with Draper over the adjutant generalship of the militia. Many others were discontented and anxious for change. In the end, Draper retired to the bench. MacNab’s image was too extreme to allow of his heading the administration at this stage; in any case, he may not have wanted such a dubious honour. Although Sherwood had politicked hard for the post, it was largely by default that on 29 May 1847 he acceded to the attorney generalship west and the leadership of the government.

Sherwood’s cabinet was not strong. Although it was far from being entirely his creation, the Upper Canadian section contained a balanced representation of conservatives. William Cayley* and John Hillyard Cameron* were ultras, William Morris and John A. Macdonald* moderates. But in Lower Canada the cabinet was extremely weak, owing to the refusal of influential French Canadians to accept the offers which Draper, Sherwood, and even Governor Lord Elgin [Bruce*] had made to them. Apart from Denis-Benjamin Papineau, who continued as commissioner of crown lands, the other Lower Canadian members were British: the stolid William Badgley* and Peter McGill, president of the Bank of Montreal. Dominick Daly* continued as provincial secretary.

Short on ability, internal harmony, and popular respect, this cabinet also suffered the disadvantage of having a parliamentary majority of barely more than two. Nor could it be sure of controlling its supporters. Nevertheless, it carried a number of useful measures. The most significant was a reform of the provincial tariff, which eliminated imperial preference by placing an average duty of seven and a half per cent on both British and American manufactured goods. Bonding and warehousing privileges were extended, and conditional provision was made for reciprocity of tariffs with the United States. This enactment represented a first declaration of Canadian fiscal autonomy. Minor amendments were also made to mercantile law, to the criminal code, to municipal law in Lower Canada, and to the Upper Canadian Common Schools Act. The government’s only attempt at controversial legislation was on the university question. Here another compromise was attempted, one more acceptable than Draper’s to the high tories in that it abandoned the concept of a unified, non-sectarian provincial university in favour of four clerically organized and managed colleges, each to be supported from the original endowment of King’s College but with that institution gaining a greater share of the funds than the others. This legislation, however, was defeated by the combined opposition of a unified reform party and two defecting conservatives, Walter Hamilton Dickson and John Wilson*. The defeat was a considerable blow. The government’s handling of the problems presented by the large Irish emigration in 1847 also lacked vigour, while the onset of economic depression in the spring further tarnished its image. There were increasing signs of discontent within its own ranks. After only eight weeks the session was brought to a close.

This situation could not continue. Following some procrastination, the cabinet decided on an early election, simultaneously trying to strengthen its position by the appointment of François-Pierre Bruneau as receiver general and Joseph-Édouard Turcotte* as solicitor general east. The campaign spanned December 1847 and January 1848. Sherwood himself was returned for Toronto but his government was trounced in both sections of the province.

Although Sherwood was by no means entirely to blame, the result of this election discredited him. After it the leadership of Upper Canadian conservatives reverted to Sir Allan Napier MacNab, though Sherwood took a lively part in the enraged tory opposition to the Rebellion Losses Bill in 1849 and at last gained the house’s support for having the seat of government alternate between Toronto and Quebec. The crisis of 1849 tended at first to obscure the divisions between moderate and extreme tories. However, the formation of the British American League [see George Moffatt*] in the summer of that year was essentially the work of the moderates, and Sherwood became one of its more prominent figures. He took up its program with vigour in 1850 and 1851, forcefully advocating in particular the federative union of British North America. In 1850 he explicitly accepted responsible government as then understood, announced his support for an elective legislative council but clashed acrimoniously with William Henry Boulton* over the latter’s more extreme proposals for constitutional reform. While apparently working towards the formation of a liberal conservatism, Sherwood still opposed change in the clergy reserves settlement of 1840. Through the almost defunct City of Toronto and Lake Huron Rail Road Company, of which he had been a director from 1846 to 1848, he also had a small stake in the railway politics of the early 1850s.

Sherwood’s career was now near its close. At the general election of 1851, over-confidence, division of the tory vote, and, in the last hours of polling, a sudden rush by reformers to support one of his conservative opponents, George Percival Ridout*, deprived him unexpectedly of his seat. Although he regained it late in April 1853, he was to serve only a further 15 months, during which parliament sat little. Moreover, his health was poor. He ran a weak campaign for re-election in July 1854 and was again defeated, a harsh blow to his spirits. To restore both health and humour, he undertook a European tour but died in Bavaria on 7 July 1855.

Henry Sherwood was a man of intense egotism and ambition. He had considerable abilities, particularly as a public speaker, but he lacked the skill necessary to disguise self-advancement and the changes of view inevitable during his career under a cloak of principle. In consequence, he was distrusted by conservatives and reformers alike, except in Toronto. Clever but without restraint, affable but unloved, he was soon forgotten even there. Yet his influence on events, even when negative, was by no means nugatory. As an exemplar of toryism’s internal tensions, its progression from a predominantly ultra party to moderate conservatism, and its preoccupation with the professions, business, and the church, Sherwood’s career has much significance.

Donald Robert Beer

Henry Sherwood protested the allegations made against him by Justice J. W. Willis in a pamphlet To the public, probably printed at York (Toronto) around 1828. His other publications include Federative union of the British North American provinces (Toronto, 1850) and two committee reports issued under his signature as chairman: U.C., House of Assembly, Committee on the resolutions of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, Report (Toronto, 1837), and the Report of the Select committee on the political state of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada (Toronto, 1838); the latter also appears in the App. to the journals, 1837–38: 257–77.

AO, MS 35, unbound papers, alphabetical list of students, 26 Nov. 1827; letter-book 1844–49: 64, 67. BNQ, Dép. des mss, mss-101, Coll. La Fontaine, 2: 356–57; 5: 1289–99 (copies at PAC). MTL, Robert Baldwin papers, J. Elliott to Baldwin, 17 Oct. 1840; George Ridout to Baldwin, 6 March 1843; J. H. Cameron papers, Dominick Daly to Cameron, 27 June 1846; W. H. Draper to Cameron, 22 June, 8 July 1846. PAC, MG 24, A13; B30, 1: 390–91; B101 (transcript); D16, 58: 46369–83; 105: 69486, 69554–57; E1: 2855–56; I65. PRO, CO 42/430–594; CO 537/140–43. Arthur papers (Sanderson). Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.). Elgin–Grey papers (Doughty). Town of York, 1815–34 (Firth). British Colonist (Toronto), 1838–54, especially 28 July 1846. Brockville Gazette (Brockville, [Ont.]), 1829–32. Brockville Recorder, 1836. Daily Leader (Toronto), 1854–55, especially 4 Sept. 1855. Montreal Gazette, 3 Aug. 1855. Toronto Patriot, 1832–47. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. Toronto directory, 1843–44, 1846–47. Wallace, Macmillan dict. D. R. Beer, “Transitional toryism in the 1840’s as seen in the political career of Sir Allan MacNab” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1963). Careless, Union of the Canadas. D. [G.] Creighton, John A. Macdonald, the young politician (Toronto, 1952; repr. 1965). J. C. Dent, The last forty years: Canada since the union of 1841 (2v., Toronto, [1881]). G. P. de T. Glazebrook, Sir Charles Bagot in Canada: a study in British colonial government (Oxford, 1929). F. J. K. Griezic, “An uncommon conservative; the political career of John Hillyard Cameron, 1846–1862” (ma thesis, Carleton Univ., Ottawa, 1965), 10–33. George Metcalf, “The political career of William Henry Draper” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1959). Middleton, Municipality of Toronto. D. R. Beer, “Sir Allan MacNab and the adjutant generalship of militia, 1846–47,” OH, 61 (1969): 19–32. George Metcalf, “Draper conservatism and responsible government in the Canadas, 1836–1847,” CHR, 42 (1961): 300–24. E. M. Richards [McGaughey], “The Joneses of Brockville and the family compact,” OH, 60 (1968): 169–84. Hereward Senior, “Ogle Gowan, Orangeism, and the immigrant question, 1830–1833,” OH, 66 (1974): 193–210.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Donald Robert Beer, “SHERWOOD, HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sherwood_henry_8E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sherwood_henry_8E.html
Author of Article:   Donald Robert Beer
Title of Article:   SHERWOOD, HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   February 21, 2024