WALLER, JOCELYN (also known as Jocelyn Macartney Waller), office holder, jp, publisher, and editor; b. c. 1772 in Newport, County Tipperary (Republic of Ireland), fourth son of Robert Waller and Catherine Moore; m. Elizabeth Willis, widow of Dr Cullen, and they had eight children; d. 2 Dec. 1828 in Montreal.
Jocelyn Waller, an able, well-educated man, was connected with influential families in Ireland. His father, created baronet in 1780, had been an mp. Waller was resident in Lower Canada in December 1817 when he was commissioned clerk of the crown. The following month he became clerk of the Court of Oyer and Terminer but he did not hold either post for long. The colonial secretary, Lord Bathurst, on learning that Waller, who was well known in Britain for his reformist views, had been nominated clerk of the crown, instructed Governor Sir John Coape Sherbrooke to remove him from the post and reassign it to its former occupant, Gilbert Ainslie. Sherbrooke was reluctant to dismiss Waller, noting that he and his “large” family were in “distress” after having lost all their belongings in a shipwreck on their voyage to British North America, but Bathurst’s instructions prevailed. Waller retired to a country home, probably at Saint-Gilles, near Quebec, living on an inherited income of about £200 per year. In June 1821 he was named a justice of the peace for the district of Quebec and commissioner for the summary trial of small causes in Saint-Gilles.
In 1822 Waller was asked to become a writer for the Montreal Gazette. His independent views and outspoken articles are said to have brought him into disfavour with the owners of the newspaper, with the result that he left journalism and returned to his country home. In that same year Edward Ellice* persuaded the British government to introduce a bill in parliament to unite Upper and Lower Canada. Opposition to the bill developed rapidly among French Canadians and Waller was asked to present the arguments against union to the English-speaking population of Lower Canada. Le Spectateur canadien was transformed into the Canadian Spectator in October 1822 and Waller probably became its editor at that time. In 1824 the reform paper, aimed especially at the Irish inhabitants of Montreal, displayed his name as editor and in January 1825 he became its publisher. Late in 1826 Ludger Duvernay* would become the Spectator’s printer.
Although the bill for the union of the Canadas had been temporarily abandoned in 1823 as a result of opposition in the House of Commons, by 1825 the proposals for union were being urged more strongly than ever and Waller renewed his journalistic campaign against it. As a friend of Denis-Benjamin Viger*, Louis-Joseph Papineau*, Amable Berthelot*, and Augustin Cuvillier*, Waller was aware of the reasons for French Canadian opposition to union but his own editorial stand derived from the British tradition of self-determination and from opposition to changes in the Constitutional Act of 1791 made without the colonists’ knowledge or consent. Waller’s editorial writing, witty, learned, and energetic, was based on logic and example rather than on personal attack or prejudice. His articles were admired and republished in Upper Canada, the United States, and England. They aroused the hostility of the governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], of the tory faction, and in particular of James Stuart*, attorney general of Lower Canada.
The Canadian Spectator was one of a group of newspapers opposed to union. Like others such as the Canadian Freeman, published in York (Toronto) by Francis Collins, and the British Colonist and St. Francis Gazette, published by Silas Horton Dickerson* in Stanstead, Lower Canada, it deplored the alien bill of 1826 [see John Rolph*] and the sudden prorogation of the House of Assembly by Dalhousie on 7 March 1827. The editors of these papers would all be charged at one time or another with libel or contempt of court and would serve time in prison during their battles for political reform.
In the Canadian Spectator Waller supported the efforts of the lieutenant governor, Sir Francis Nathaniel Burton, to reach an agreement with the assembly over its control of colonial revenues. He attacked the official government organ, the Quebec Gazette, Published by Authority [see John Charlton Fisher*], and criticized Dalhousie’s refusal on 21 Nov. 1827 to sanction the election of Papineau as speaker of the House of Assembly. He also approved of judge John Walpole Willis*’s conduct during the trial for libel of Francis Collins in the spring of 1828. In addition, he wrote general editorials on the essential right of British subjects to meet and discuss public affairs and on the necessary balance between executive and legislative powers.
After the paper called Dalhousie’s prorogation speech of 22 Nov. 1827 “extraordinary, unsuitable, unwarrantable; [it] . . . ought never to have been issued,” Waller and Duvernay were arrested on 18 December for libel against the government by order of the attorney general. Waller had been on his way to address a constitutional meeting convened to prepare for the colonial secretary a list of complaints against the government. Bail was instantly procured. Waller’s arrest was said to have given greater impetus to the protest movement, and he read with “active and excited feelings . . . the various charges brought by the country, against the infamous government of the day.” A true bill was found against him, but the special jury assembled for his trial in September 1828 was declared to have been illegally constituted and was dismissed. The case was held over until March 1829. But Waller, overcome by “sickness, weariness, hostility and worries,” died on 2 Dec. 1828, while charges were still pending and the questions of colonists’ rights and of union were far from settled. After his death, his ideas were perpetuated in La Minerve by Duvernay and in the Irish Vindicator and Canada General Advertiser, founded on 12 Dec. 1828 by fellow Irishman Daniel Tracey.
Jocelyn Waller’s death was followed within a year by the deaths of his two older brothers in Ireland; his eldest son, Edmund, succeeded to the baronetcy and to a considerable fortune of £6–7,000 a year. Waller’s death was mourned by both French- and English-speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada. A committee to erect a monument was chaired by young Augustin-Norbert Morin*, who had been among the law students participating in the journalist’s funeral rites. Waller had been much admired as a firm advocate of liberalism, a spokesman for French Canadians, and “an able and talented political writer” with an “amiable and virtuous character.”
ANQ-M, CE1-63, 4 déc. 1828. ANQ-Q, P1000–41–757. PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. PRO, CO 42/178: 66, 322 (copies at PAC). British Colonist and St. Francis Gazette (Stanstead, Que.), 23 Aug. 1827. Canadian Spectator (Montreal), October 1822-December 1828. Quebec Gazette, 15 Jan. 1818; 5, 9 July 1821; 19 Sept. 1822. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, vol.1. Burke’s peerage (1826). H. J. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis; Sketches of celebrated Canadians. J. G. Barthe, Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire contemporaine (Montréal, 1885). Ægidius Fauteux, “Jocelyn Waller,” BRH, 26 (1920): 307–10.
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Cite This Article
Elizabeth Waterston, “WALLER, JOCELYN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/waller_jocelyn_6E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Elizabeth Waterston|
|Title of Article:||WALLER, JOCELYN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|