TALBOT, EDWARD ALLEN, inventor, militia officer, jp, schoolmaster, author, and journalist; b. c. 1796 in Ireland, eldest child of Richard Talbot* and Lydia Baird; m. 11 May 1821 Phœbe Smith at Christ Church (Anglican), Montreal, and they had eight children; d. 6 Jan. 1839 in Lockport, N.Y.
Edward Allen Talbot had shown “unmistakable signs of inventive genius” as a child and had been educated with the intent of his entering and advancing in the British army, but the economic upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars and the disbanding of many regiments thereafter led the family to emigrate from Ireland in June 1818. Although Richard Talbot was the leader of a group of settlers who journeyed to Upper Canada on board the Brunswick, Edward had assumed a leadership role almost equal to that of his father’s by the time their destination was reached.
Like his father and brother John*, Edward was totally unsuited for the life of a pioneering farmer, but in his case it was largely because of his scientific and literary interests. Thus, in the spring of 1820, the two brothers set out from the family homestead in London Township to return to Ireland. Stopping in Montreal, Edward renewed acquaintance with the family of Irishman Ralph Smith, stayed in that city for more than a year, and married Smith’s eldest daughter.
Returning to London Township, probably in the summer of 1821, Talbot continued to work on the manuscript of a book that was to describe his travels to and in the Canadas. He also continued, like so many others of his day, to attempt to produce a device which could achieve perpetual motion. In August 1823 he set out for England by way of New York State, having purchased his parents’ residence and the surrounding 100 acres, presumably as a means of providing for his own family should anything happen to him or to his father, who was then in poor health. It is believed that his visit to the United States was prompted by his attempts to achieve a perpetual motion device.
While in England, Edward was unsuccessful in his attempt to receive assistance from the Colonial Office to undertake an emigration scheme similar to that of his father’s in 1818. He did succeed, however, in obtaining a favourable response from the colonial secretary, Lord Bathurst, to his father’s petition for a redress of grievance “received at the hand of the Lieutenant Governor [Sir Peregrine Maitland*]” and in having his manuscript published. This two-volume work appeared during the summer of 1824, but at the Talbot family’s own expense. Five years’ residence in the Canadas reveals the author as a well-read and educated individual, rather conservative in outlook, and quite perceptive regarding life in the Canadas. His thesis is revealing in that he asserted the industrious poor who were willing to spend five or six years of hardship would be well rewarded, but there was little inducement for the gentleman. The work was a financial loss to the family since sales were limited and no royalties were received from the pirated translations which appeared soon after in France and Germany.
On 12 March 1824, while still in the British Isles, Talbot had been commissioned a captain in the 4th Regiment of Middlesex militia. He apparently returned to Upper Canada the following year and, as one of the most influential men in the northern portion of Middlesex County, he played an important role in the successful move to have the centre for the London District transferred from Vittoria in Norfolk County to the town plot of London. On 13 June 1829 he was commissioned a district magistrate. Ironically, London Township’s only other magistrate was Ira Schofield, who, as major of the 4th Regiment, preferred five charges against Talbot that July. At a court martial in March 1830, Talbot brilliantly and successfully defended himself against all but one minor charge. He continued to serve as a militia captain and magistrate, and in January 1833 he chaired the Court of Quarter Sessions. In July 1834 he was one of the government appointees “to form and be a Board of Health for the Town of London”; fortunately the cholera epidemic of that year left London unscathed.
Following his return from the British Isles, Edward had expended much time, energy, and money both on his earlier scheme of perpetual motion and now on an improved steam-engine which could be used by vehicles on water, road, or rail. In July 1834 his plans for “Talbot’s Atmospheric Propelling Engine” became the first invention patented by the government of Upper Canada. The invention, however, proved impractical because of its inventor’s lack of both a basic knowledge of physics and sufficient funds. Two of Talbot’s other schemes, namely, a railway line between the town of London and the head of Lake Ontario and a suspension bridge over the Niagara River, both presumably to be part of a line extending from Michigan to New York State, did see fruition, but not in his lifetime. Earlier, with his youngest brother, Freeman, Edward had “constructed a large strong wooden lathe” and produced all the heavy turning needed, especially for the stairs, in the construction of the court-house and jail at London during 1827–29 [see John Ewart*].
In 1831 Talbot joined forces with Robert Heron, a son of the editor of the Niagara Gleaner, to publish the London Sun. The first Upper Canadian newspaper printed west of Ancaster, the Sun appeared on 7 July and was issued sporadically until December 1833. Heron severed connections with the Sun late in 1832, as did his successor, William Conway Keele, a few months later; Talbot, although a supporter of the government, increasingly exhibited a more liberal political philosophy through his editorials. Talbot also used the newspaper to champion the construction of his envisioned railway line. He drew up the charter for the London and Gore Rail Road Company and his name headed the list of shareholders when the company was incorporated in March 1834.
It was apparently after the demise of the Sun that Talbot and his wife opened a school for a short period in London. Both proved to be excellent and well-educated teachers and attracted the children of some of the area’s most prominent residents. Then, apparently after Edward’s unsuccessful petition for the 500-acre grant of land to which he had originally been entitled, the family removed to Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). There Talbot is said to have “conducted” a newspaper and pursued his theory of the invention of perpetual motion. By late 1835 his years of experiments, on which he had expended so much money and time to the exclusion of almost everything else, ended in failure. Suffering from acute alcoholism, he returned to London “a sickly-looking man, broken down in health and resources, with a very shabby appearance and a very large dependent family, very poor and poorly found,” and again opened a school at his residence.
In the spring of 1836 a group of London-area moderates purchased the press of London’s radical Wesleyan Advocate, which had been published from October 1835 to April 1836, and installed Talbot, an Anglican, as the editor of the Freeman’s Journal. As with the Sun, he supported the government but advocated moderate reform. Despite his growing moderation he remained an enthusiastic supporter of the Orange order; indeed he was a member of the grand committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America for the year 1835. All this changed during the elections in the summer of 1836.
The manipulations of Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head* in the Middlesex riding as well as the London riots and their aftermath deeply wounded Talbot’s sense of justice. Until the Journal’s demise that autumn, he used the paper to attack violently both Head and the Orange order. As a result, he was not re-commissioned a justice of the peace in December 1836 and was stripped of his militia captaincy at about the same time. The removal from the magistracy was to weigh particularly heavily on him
On the evening of 8 Dec. 1837 some of the reformers in Middlesex, genuinely fearing an assault on their property and lives by the local tories and Orangemen, met at Flannagan’s Tavern in London to form a plan of defence. The meeting was chaired by William E. Niles* and both Edward and John Talbot attended. Although Edward had been confined to his room with dropsy for the previous eight months, he drafted the resolution of constitutional defence and acted as secretary of the meeting.
In early January 1838, on the day Edward and his family had intended to remove to Ypsilanti, Mich., where he expected to take on the editorship of a newspaper offered to him some six months earlier, he was arrested and his papers were searched. He was subsequently examined, bound over as a witness against London reformer Charles Latimer, and then released. Talbot publicly took leave of London on 13 May, stayed a short time in Detroit, and then removed to Ohio. By this time both his mind and his body were in an advanced state of deterioration. He took a dislike to the people and the climate of Ohio, and it was with relief that in July he accepted what was probably a pure act of charity on the part of the printer of the Lewiston Telegraph; he moved to Lewiston, N.Y., to co-edit that paper. Under Talbot’s influence, the Telegraph dropped its support of the Patriots, but it soon fell “into a state of hopeless, drivelling somnolency,” a by-product of Edward’s diseased mind.
Just a few weeks before his death in January 1839, Talbot left the paper to seek medical assistance in nearby Lockport. His family, which had not accompanied him to the United States but had probably remained with his parents in London Township, was apparently notified of his imminent death. After sending his wife what little he still possessed, Edward voluntarily admitted himself to Lockport poor-house/hospital as an indigent. Subsequent to his death there, his remains were interred, undoubtedly in a pauper’s grave, in the Cold Springs Cemetery.
Probably London’s first mind of potential genius, Edward Allen Talbot was “an original thinker and a great projector of new schemes” who claimed a “high literary reputation” in both the Canadas and the British Isles and was “in every sense the gentleman.” He had, however, no conception of the value of money and property, had been over impulsive, had consciously ruined his health, and for years had all but neglected his family.
Edward Allen Talbot’s Five years’ residence in the Canadas: including a tour through the United States of America, in the year 1823 (2v., London, 1824) was reprinted in one volume in East Ardsley, Eng., and New York in 1968.
PAC, RG 9,I, B8, 1. Private arch., D. J. Brock (London, Ont.), F. C. Hamil to Fred Landon, 25 July 1961 (copy). Christian Guardian, 4 May 1836, 6 Feb. 1839. Freeman’s Advocate (Lockport, N.Y.), 11 Jan. 1839. Gazette (London, [Ont.]), 27 July 1836, 2 March 1839. D. J. Brock, “Richard Talbot, the Tipperary Irish and the formative years of London Township, 1818–1826” (ma thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1969). F. T. Rosser, London Township pioneers, including a few families from adjoining areas (Belleville, Ont., 1975). D. J. Brock, “London’s first newspaper: researcher discovers long-sought copy of London Sun,” London Free Press, 3 July 1971: 8M. Fred Landon, “Some early newspapers and newspaper men of London,” London and Middlesex Hist. Soc., Trans. (London), 12 (1927): 26–34.