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STAYNER, THOMAS ALLEN, soldier and postmaster general; b. 16 Dec. 1788 at Halifax, son of John Stayner and Mary Allen; d. 23 June 1868 at Toronto, Ont.

Thomas Allen Stayner, a descendant of a New England Puritan family, joined the British army and in 1808 was working as a clerk to the military secretary at Halifax. During the War of 1812 he was in Montreal. On 15 May 1817, at Champlain, N.Y., he married Louisa, younger daughter of Daniel Sutherland*; they were to have 16 children. Stayner remained in the regular army probably until 1823. The following year he was appointed postmaster at Quebec.

In 1827 Stayner succeeded his father-in-law as postmaster general of Upper and Lower Canada, where there were then more than 80 post offices. Since 1821 the Houses of Assembly of the two provinces had been challenging London’s right to control postal services, fix rates, and have the benefit of the receipts. They regularly asked that this right be yielded to them. The real struggle began under Stayner. A few months after taking office, Stayner increased the number of post offices and added numerous couriers in recently settled regions. However, he acted without the authorization of his immediate superior, the British postmaster general, who criticized him for these excessive expenditures.

Stayner also incurred the wrath of the assemblies of the two Canadas and then of the Province of Canada, both at that time and until 1851. They denounced as illicit the profits he obtained by fixing the rates on Canadian newspapers; the postmaster general was allowed to keep revenue from that source, and Stayner thus received almost as large a salary as the governor general. The commissions of inquiry regularly set up by the assemblies recommended provincial post offices be established under the assemblies’ control so that the postal revenues would be paid to Canada rather than to England.

Stayner also became the target for businessmen and for newspapers such as the Colonial Advocate of York (Toronto) and the Montreal Gazette. He was blamed for high rates, slow service, and dispatch of receipts to England. For some time he could count on the support of London and of political friends who held the executive power in Canada. Eventually, however, he could no longer satisfy both the British minister and the Canadian Houses of Assembly. Consequently, he gradually lost his prerogatives. In 1844 the right of the postmaster to retain the proceeds from the newspaper rates was abolished; as compensation, London granted Stayner an annual income of £2,500, although his successors were to receive only £1,500. That same year the central office was moved to Montreal, and the governor assumed the right to appoint and dismiss postmasters and to fix rates. Finally, on 6 April 1851, the assembly of the Province of Canada acquired full power over postal services [see James Morris]. The services had improved under Stayner’s direction: between 1845 and 1851 the speed of service had increased and hundreds of post offices had been opened so that by 1851 there were 853. Stayner knew how to win the esteem of his British superiors but he lost his popularity in Canada. Hence in 1851 he retired disappointed, but not poor.

In addition to his duties as postmaster general, Stayner was appointed a member of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning in 1834, justice of the peace for Quebec district in 1838, and justice of the peace for Trois-Rivières district in 1839. Little is known about the last years of his life. After having lived in Montreal from 1844 until at least 1851, Stayner settled in Toronto and apparently became a director of the Bank of Upper Canada, and its vice-president in 1860.

André Martineau

PAC, RG 3, 1, 1–14; 9, 5; RG 8, I (C series), 117, 122, 131, 226, 1169, 1203 1/2 E and F. PANS, Vertical mss file, “Allen family of Dartmouth, N.S.,” comp. C. St C. Stayner. PRO, CO 42/441 (mfm. at PAC). Colonial Advocate, 19 Sept. 1833, 2 Oct. 1834. Globe, 25 June 1868. Pilot and Journal of Commerce (Montreal), 2 Aug. 1844. Quebec Gazette, 5 June 1817. William Smith, The history of the Post Office in British North America (Cambridge, Eng., 1920), 153–273.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

André Martineau, “STAYNER, THOMAS ALLEN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 16, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/stayner_thomas_allen_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/stayner_thomas_allen_9E.html
Author of Article: André Martineau
Title of Article: STAYNER, THOMAS ALLEN
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 16, 2014