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McVICAR, KATE – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 18 June 1886 at Hamilton, Canada West


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THOM, ADAM, teacher, journalist, lawyer, and public servant; b. 30 Aug. 1802 at Brechin (Tayside), Scotland, son of Andrew Thom, merchant, and Elizabeth Bisset; m. first a Miss Bisset; m. secondly Anne Blachford, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 21 Feb. 1890 in London, England.

Adam Thom studied at King’s College (University of Aberdeen) from 1819 until 1823, receiving the degree of ma on 31 Aug. 1824; in 1840 he was awarded an lld by the same institution. After graduating, he taught briefly at Udny Academy in Aberdeenshire before moving to Woolwich (now part of London) where he continued teaching. During this period he prepared a Latin grammar, The complete gradus.

In late 1832 Thom immigrated to Montreal . Here he began articling in the law office of James Charles Grant, and on 1 Jan. 1833 he became editor of the Settler, or British, Irish and Canadian Gazette (Montreal). Originally intended to inform new immigrants of the problems they would face in British North America, the paper became a vehicle for Thom’s antagonism to French Canadian views. His stated aim was to make Lower Canada a British province in fact as well as in name, an objective he felt was thwarted by anti-commercial and pro-democratic tendencies of the French Canadians. The response of the French Canadian press to the Settler and its editor was predictable, and the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser (Montreal) [see Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan*] dubbed them the “Slop-Pail” and “Dr. Slop” respectively.

Publication of the Settler ceased on 31 Dec. 1833. Thom then turned to teaching classics, mathematics, and science at the Montreal Academical Institution while writing a pamphlet entitled Letter to the Right Hon. EG. Stanley, . . . secretary of state for the colonies, published in 1834 under the pseudonym “An emigrant.” On 1 Jan. 1835 Thom assumed editorship of the Montreal Herald and continued his journalistic assault on the French Canadians, at the same time intensifying his attacks on the British government’s policy of “conciliation.”

His editorial stance was buttressed by three series of letters, written by Thom but published in the Herald under different pseudonyms. Beginning on 20 April 1835, “Remarks on the petition of the convention, and on the petition of the constitutionalists by Anti-Bureaucrat” illustrated for all loyal Britons the groundless nature of the French Canadian grievances contained in the 92 Resolutions. A series “On the Canada Committee of 1828,” commencing 30 July 1835, attacked the findings of the select committee of the House of Commons on the civil government of Canada, chaired by Thomas Frankland Lewis. The members of the committee had “strongly express[ed] their opinion, that the Canadians of French extraction should in no degree be disturbed in the peaceful enjoyment of their religion, laws and privileges. . . .” Thom saw here the origin of what he considered the imperial government’s foolish policy of conciliation toward the French Canadians, a policy responsible for the exacerbation of the political and economic problems of the British in the province. The “Anti-Gallic letters” addressed to Governor General Lord Gosford [Acheson*] by Camillus, begun on 1 Oct. 1835, were prompted as much by Thom’s fears of Gosford’s pro-French-Canadian sentiments as by Thom’s desire to inform the British public once again of the lamentable state of affairs in Lower Canada.

In 1836 the letters of Anti-Bureaucrat and of Camillus were published under the title Canadian politics. In the preface Thom publicly admitted his authorship and acknowledged as supporters of his views George Moffatt*, Peter McGill [McCutcheon*], and James Charles Grant, three powerful members of the Montreal English community. Thom had established himself with the English business élite in Montreal soon after his arrival in Lower Canada, and as early as November 1833 had been named secretary of the Beef-Steak Club, an association of some 30 leading merchants of the city.

The rebellion of 1837–38 reinforced Thom’s arguments against French Canadians, for in his view the outbreak of violence proved their disloyalty beyond all doubt. He was pleased by the resultant recall of Lord Gosford and the appointment of Lord Durham [Lambton*], however, and while not totally enthusiastic about Durham’s reputation as a liberal he did feel that the new governor general would take the time necessary to assess the Lower Canadian situation intelligently. Thom, who had been admitted to the bar in 1837, lost no time in offering his assistance to Durham, and on 25 Aug. 1838 was named an assistant-commissioner of the municipal commission, under Charles Buller*. The reaction of the French Canadian press to the appointment of “this irreconcilable enemy of the Canadiens . . . this hateful fanatic” was understandably hostile, but Buller received assurances from Stewart Derbishire*, another member of Durham’s staff, that Thom was unaware that his manner of expression was offensive. On his part, Buller felt that “it was a great thing to show the violent parties in Canada that their denunciations should not succeed as heretofore in excluding men of ability from the public service.”

Thom worked with fellow assistant commissioner William Kennedy to produce a paper that was incorporated into Lord Durham’s Report; it reiterated, albeit more diplomatically, Thom’s concern over the lack of internal improvements in Lower Canada and advocated control of municipal government by the “educated” and “propertied” men of the province. Thom became a spokesman for Durham and in December 1838 returned to England to help prepare the final draft of the report. He was credited by some with authorship of this document, but this rumour probably stemmed from Lord Brougham’s campaign to discredit Durham.

Meanwhile a letter from Governor George Simpson* of the Hudson’s Bay Company, dated 5 Jan. 1838, had informally offered Thom the newly created judicial post of recorder of Rupert’s Land. The governor and committee of the company, despite being warned about Thom’s francophobia, subsequently confirmed the offer, and Thom accepted the appointment and its salary of £500 sterling plus a living allowance of £200 per annum. In 1839 Thom journeyed to Red River (Man.) and commenced the second phase of his British North American career.

Prior to Thom’s appearance, the administration of justice in the settlement had been informal and marked, according to Sheriff Alexander Ross*, by a “simple honesty.” The HBC, however, in the course of a general administrative reorganization of the territory, decided “to establish as early as convenient a more regular and effectual administration of Justice.” The recorder, functioning as legal organizer, adviser, magistrate, and councillor, was to be responsible for this rationalization and formalization of the judicial system.

Thom’s reorganization was completed on 4 July 1839 and greatly pleased the governor and committee of the company. He also prepared a code of laws for the Council of Assiniboia in 1841 which was to prove of lasting value in that it formed the basis of a more comprehensive code written in 1862. Despite these efforts, however, the citizens of Red River were suspicious of their new judge. They were familiar with his Lower Canadian reputation, and their anxiety about his racial attitudes was compounded by their fears that as a salaried employee of the HBC Thom would not be objective in his judicial capacity. He did nothing to allay these fears. Apart from his pedantry and his refusal to speak French (knowledge of which was a prerequisite for the post) his actions in the court served to alienate the Métis population of the settlement. In 1842 he entered into a controversy with John Smithurst* over the authority of the Anglican bishop of Montreal in Rupert’s Land. His “rediscovery” of the charter of 1670 and his insistence, enunciated in A charge delivered to the grand jury of Assiniboia, 20th February, 1845, that the chartered privileges of the company equalled the law of the land marked the beginning of an attack, on behalf of the company, on free trade in the settlement, and he believed that Alexander Ross was involved in the trade. In the same year he exceeded the limits of his legal authority, which stipulated that all capital cases were to be tried in Upper Canada, by sentencing a Saulteaux Indian, Capineseweet, to death, and further antagonized the settlement by attempting to increase the duty on American imports.

Armed with his interpretation of the charter, Thom encouraged the governor of Assiniboia, Alexander Christie*, to attack the illicit trade in furs that was common in the settlement. The assault began with the proclamation of a series of repressive measures, formulated by Thom, that included mail inspection and required the declaration by all importers that they were not involved in free trade [see Andrew McDermot]. This battle continued until the trial of Pierre-Guillaume Sayer* on 17 May 1849, in which Thom and Christie’s successor, Major William Bletterman Caldwell, sought to make an example of some Métis who possessed a few illicit furs. The hearing was complicated by the fact that the courthouse was surrounded by hostile Métis threatening violence against Thom. Although a verdict of guilty was brought in, the company did not sentence Sayer; he was not only unconditionally released but was allowed to keep the furs. The crowd, led by Louis Riel* Sr, assumed that trade was therefore free and Thom, while legally vindicated, was practically defeated. It was at this point that Thom became a focal point for Métis discontent.

When Simpson arrived in the settlement shortly after the trial of Sayer the Métis presented him with a petition expressing their grievances against Thom and calling for his dismissal. A compromise was reached at a special meeting of the Council of Assiniboia on 31 May 1849 when Thom agreed to use French in his official duties. Simpson also persuaded Thom voluntarily to abstain from acting as recorder. But Thom refused to be intimidated by Métis threats and insisted on appearing in two court cases in 1850, which further damaged his reputation. In February he appeared as the defendant in Matheson v. Thom, a minor civil suit, in which he demanded an entirely English-speaking jury. He was overruled, but before leaving the room in a rage had insulted Cuthbert Grant*, the presiding official. Then in the Foss v. Pelly libel suit, resulting from Augustus Edward Pelly’s accusation that Christopher Foss had committed adultery with Sarah McLeod*, the wife of Chief Factor John Ballenden*, Thom played a dominant role. He advised Foss, chief witness against Pelly, and Mrs Ballenden before the trial. When he was called into court to assist Governor Caldwell, the president of the court, he did everything in his power to obtain Pelly’s conviction, including testifying on behalf of Foss. Pelly was ordered to pay Foss £300 in damages, but Foss and Mrs Ballenden took up residence together soon after and made ridiculous Thom’s defence of them in court.

By this time Thom had lost much of his support within the company as well as in the Red River community. Simpson wrote of his “unfortunate temper [and] . . . overbearing manner” while the new governor of Rupert’s Land, Eden Colvile*, noted that “the people like honesty and common sense quite as well as all Thom’s long dissertations on General Principles.” When Louis Riel, again acting as a spokesman for the Métis, announced in the fall of 1850 that his people would no longer tolerate Thom’s presence in the court, the governor and committee decided to revoke his appointment as recorder. Thom was served notice of this decision on 10 April 1851, but was retained by the company as clerk of the Court of Assiniboia at his former salary of £700.

During his years in Red River Thom had spent his leisure time writing The claims to the Oregon Territory considered (1844), a precise argument against American demands for control of the west coast, and Chronology of prophecy (1848), a treatise on the Bible which marked a new outlet for his literary and critical abilities. Also, as clerk of the court, he cooperated with John Bunn* and Louis-François Laflèche* to write a report that called for an updating of the legal system of the colony.

In 1854 Thom left Red River and returned to Edinburgh where he lived until 1865. He then moved to London, and in 1885 published another religious work, Emmanuel: both the germ and the outcome of the Scriptural alphabets. . . . a pentaglot miniature. He died in 1890 and his will left an estate of £5,310 to his only surviving son, Adam Bisset Thom.

Adam Thom represented a unique link between Lower Canada and Rupert’s Land in that his unyielding racial attitudes earned him the enmity of French Canadians and Métis alike. Thom’s unsympathetic response to the Métis, combined with his advocacy of the assimilation of the French Canadians, reinforced the Métis’ determination to survive as a culture. This determination, first manifested against Thom during the Sayer trial of 1849, found its ultimate expression in the violent response of the Métis to central Canadian imperialism in 1869–70.

Kathryn M. Bindon

[Adam Thom published, under the pseudonym “An emigrant,” Letter to the Right Hon. EG. Stanley, his majestys principal secretary of state for the colonies (Montreal, 1834). Letters which he signed “Anti-Bureaucrat” and “Camillus,” first published in the Montreal Herald in 1835, were published as Remarks on the petition of the convention, and on the petition of the constitutionalists (Montreal, 1835) and Anti-Gallic letters; addressed to his Excellency, the Earl of Gosford, governor-in-chief of the Canadas (Montreal, 1836), before being issued together in 1836 as Canadian politics (Montreal). As “Ararat,” he published Cubbeer burr, or the tree of many trunks (Montreal, 1841), and as “Septuagenarian Tory,” Queen alone, in every heart . . . (London, 1876). He wrote the following under his own name: The complete gradus; comprising the rules of prosody, succinctly expressed and rationally explained, on a new plan; and a comprehensive view of middle syllables (London, 1832); Review of the report made in 1828 by the Canada Committee of the House of Commons (Montreal, 1835); The claims to the Oregon Territory considered (London, 1844); A charge delivered to the grand jury of Assiniboia, 20th February, 1845 (London, 1848); Chronology of prophecy: tracing the various courses of Divine Providence from the flood to the end of time; in the light as well of national annals as of Scriptural predictions (London, 1848); A few remarks on a pamphlet, entitledA few words on the Hudsons Bay Company”; in a letter to Alexander Christie . . . (London, 1848); Barrow in furnace; no.I: a letter to the subscribers to the Common Law Fund in Overend, Gurney & Co., Limited (no.II: a letter to the hero of the story) (London, 1869); Overend and Gurney prosecution; in its relation to the public as distinguished from the defendants (London, 1869); The prosecutors protest against judicial despotism and forensic monopoly: addressed to the lord chief justice of England (London, 1869); Bane and antidote together . . . , a letter from an octogenarian advocate of inspiration (Lon don, 1884); Emmanuel alone, for His own sake through time and space alike (London, 1885); and Emmanuel: both the germ and the outcome of the Scriptural alphabets, and the metallic image; with an appendix of individual analogues: a pentaglot miniature (London, 1885), a work translated into several languages.  k.m.b.]

General Register Office (Edinburgh), Register of births for the parish of Brechin, September 1802. General Register Office (London), Death certificate, Adam Thom, 22 Feb. 1890. PAC, MG 24, A27, ser.2, 25–32, 50. PAM, HBCA, A.6/25, 4 March 1840; A.11/95, 31 Dec. 1844; A.12/3, 28 Oct. 1847; A.12/4; D.4/23, 5 Jan., 24 April 1838; D.4/25, 4 July 1838; D.4/44, 10 Dec. 1851 (mfm. at PAC). Begg, Red River journal (Morton), 1–148. Charles Buller, “Sketch of Lord Durham’s mission to Canada in 1838,” PAC Report, 1923, app.B: 341–69. Canadian North-West (Oliver). Donald Gunn and C. R. Tuttle, History of Manitoba from the earliest settlement to 1835 . . . and from 1835 to the admission of the province into the dominion . . . (Ottawa, 1880). J. J. Hargrave, Red River (Montreal, 1871). HBRS, XIX (Rich and A. M. Johnson). [J. G. Lambton], LordDurhams report on the affairs of British North America, ed. C. P. Lucas (3v., Oxford, 1912; repr. New York, 1970), 111. Mactavish, Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod). “Recorder AdamThom,” Western Law Times (Winnipeg), 1 (1890-91): 43–47; 2 (1891): 71–72. A. Ross, Red River Settlement. Canadian Courant (Montreal), 1832–34. La Minerve, 1832–38. Montreal Gazette, 1832–38. Montreal Herald for the Country, 1832–38. Settler, or British, Irish and Canadian Gazette (Montreal), 1833. Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser (Montreal), 1832–37. Roll of alumni in arts of the University and Kings College ofAberdeen, 1596–1860, ed. P. J. Anderson (Aberdeen, Scot., 1900), 130. Wallace, Macmillan dict. K. M. Bindon, “Journalist and judge: Adam Thom’s British North American career, 1833–1854” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1972). George Bryce, A history of Manitoba; its resources and people (Toronto and Montreal, 1906). A. W. P. Buchanan, The bench and bar of Lower Canada down to 1850 (Montreal, 1925). Essays in the history of Canadian law, ed. D. H. Flaherty (1v. to date, Toronto, 1981–  ). [R.] D. and Lee Gibson, Substantial justice: law and lawyers in Manitoba (Winnipeg, 1972). Marcel Giraud, Le Métis canadien, son rôle dans lhistoire des provinces de lOuest (Paris, 1945). R. St G. Stubbs, Four recorders of Ruperts Land; a brief survey of the Hudsons Bay Company courts of Ruperts Land (Winnipeg, 1967). E. M. Wrong, Charles Buller and responsible government (Oxford, 1926). F-J. Audet, “Adam Thom (1802–1890),” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 35 (1941), sect. i: 1–12.

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Kathryn M. Bindon, “THOM, ADAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thom_adam_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thom_adam_11E.html
Author of Article:   Kathryn M. Bindon
Title of Article:   THOM, ADAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 18, 2024