UNIACKE, NORMAN FITZGERALD, militia officer, lawyer, office holder, politician, judge, and jp; b. c. 1777, probably in Halifax, son of Richard John Uniacke* and Martha Maria Delesdernier; m. 23 Nov. 1829 Sophie Delesdernier in Vaudreuil, Lower Canada; d. 11 Dec. 1846 in Halifax.
The eldest son of Nova Scotia’s attorney general, Norman Fitzgerald Uniacke was one of 12 children, several of whom were to become famous in the province. On 1 July 1796 he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd Halifax Militia Regiment. After being called to the Nova Scotia bar, he left for London in 1798 to finish his law studies and cultivate connections that would be useful in his career. Late in 1805 he entered Lincoln’s Inn, the second Nova Scotian to be admitted to the English bar.
In 1807 Uniacke’s father tried to have him appointed provincial secretary of Nova Scotia. The effort failed, but on 25 Aug. 1808 he was named by Lord Castlereagh to succeed the attorney general of Lower Canada, Jonathan Sewell, who had become chief justice of the province. However, Governor Sir James Henry Craig*, who had not been informed of the appointment, issued a temporary commission to Edward Bowen* on 10 Sept. 1808. Bowen was obliged to resign, and Uniacke was able to take up his post officially on 20 June 1809.
Craig sought to get rid of the new attorney general. On 17 May 1810, through his secretary Herman Witsius Ryland, he consulted the judges of the Court of King’s Bench about Uniacke’s competence. Sewell, Jenkin Williams*, Pierre-Amable De Bonne*, and James Kerr replied that his acquaintance with criminal law was very superficial and his knowledge of civil law often inadequate; in addition, his French was extremely poor. The other judges, James Reid, James Monk*, Pierre-Louis Panet*, and Isaac Ogden, declared that they had had little or no opportunity to form an opinion. Craig suspended Uniacke on 31 May, granting him leave to go to England, and again gave a temporary commission to Bowen, recommending his appointment to Lord Liverpool. Bowen therefore held office in an acting capacity from 1810 to 1812. On 7 Feb. 1812 the new governor, Sir George Prevost*, sent Liverpool a petition from Bowen asking for the attorney generalship of Lower Canada, and he suggested that Uniacke receive a similar appointment for Upper Canada. But shortly afterwards Uniacke was reinstated, primarily through his father’s influence.
Uniacke was elected to the House of Assembly for William Henry on 28 Aug. 1824. He remained a member only a short time, however, since on 1 Feb. 1825 Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay] persuaded him to accept appointment as a judge in the Court of King’s Bench in the district of Montreal. On 24 May 1827 he was called to replace the judge in the district of Trois-Rivières, Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, during the latter’s absence. Uniacke received commissions as justice of the peace in different districts in the years between 1826 and 1833, and in the period 1827–33 he held commissions of oyer and terminer and general jail delivery. He retired in August 1834 and returned to Nova Scotia, where he was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1838.
The charge of incompetence brought against Uniacke was probably in large part justified. But the antipathy to him in the upper levels of government was also the result of various stands he took: he favoured civil recognition of Catholic parishes set up after the conquest, whereas their legal existence was contested, particularly by Sewell, because the Catholic bishop had never been officially recognized; furthermore, early in 1825 he supported Louis-Joseph Papineau* for the speakership of the House of Assembly, thus provoking the wrath of the English party. Such behaviour could only bring him animosity and resentment.
PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. L.-J. Papineau, “Correspondance” (Ouellet), ANQ Rapport, 1953–55: 221. Quebec Gazette, 15 Sept. 1808, 22 June 1809, 4 June 1827, 21 Oct. 1830. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada”; “Procureurs généraux du Bas-Canada,” BRH, 39 (1933): 276. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” ANQ Rapport, 1932–33: 208. Desjardins, Guide parl. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Lucien Lemieux, “Juges de la province du Bas-Canada de 1791 à 1840,” BRH, 23 (1917): 88. Ouellet, “Inv. de la saberdache,” ANQ Rapport, 1955–57: 131. “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1893: 16, 29, 32, 40–44, 49, 56, 62. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec. F.-J. Audet, Les juges en chef de la province de Québec, 1764–1924 (Québec, 1927). Buchanan, Bench and bar of L.C., 62–64. F.-X. Garneau, Histoire du Canada depuis sa découverte jusqu’à nos jours, Alfred Garneau, édit. (4e éd., 4v., Montréal, 1882–83), 3: 111, 211. F.-J. Audet, “Les juges de Trois-Rivières,” BRH, 6 (1900): 246. N.-E. Dionne, “Le juge Bédard,” BRH, 5 (1899): 250–52. Mary Liguori, “Haliburton and the Uniackes: Protestant champions of Catholic liberty (a study in Catholic emancipation in Nova Scotia),” CCHA Report, 20 (1953): 37–48. L. G. Power, “Richard John Uniacke: a sketch,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 9 (1895): 82–83.