WILKINS, LEWIS MORRIS, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 24 May 1801 in Halifax, N.S., son of Lewis Morris Wilkins* and Sarah Creighton; d. 15 March 1885 at Windsor, N.S.
Born into an influential loyalist and Church of England family, Lewis Morris Wilkins was educated in Windsor at King’s Collegiate School and at King’s College, graduating ba in 1819. He was noted for his quick temper, and once attacked his college roommate, Thomas Chandler Haliburton*, with a poker. After graduating, he read law with William Fraser of Windsor, was admitted to the bar in 1823, and practised in that community until 1856. On 30 Jan. 1828 Wilkins married Sarah Rachel Thomas, reputedly the most beautiful young lady in the province at that time; their three children all predeceased him.
In 1833 Wilkins stood as the Tory candidate for Windsor Township; the outcome of the election was disputed, but a legislative committee speedily awarded him the seat. A staunch Tory, Wilkins became one of Joseph Howe*’s most eloquent foes after the latter’s entry into the assembly in 1837. Their verbal antipathy entertained the legislature for years, as Howe taunted “the stately bird of Hants” who was over six feet tall. On 25 Jan. 1838 Wilkins was appointed a member of the Legislative Council. The following year, with Alexander Stewart*, he represented the council in London during negotiations over responsible government. Unlike the assembly delegates, Herbert Huntington* and William Young, Wilkins and Stewart were supported by both Lieutenant Governor Sir Colin Campbell* and the Tory party. In London Wilkins argued forcibly for a strong, independent Legislative Council, while denouncing the federal union proposed by Lord Durham [Lambton*].
Wilkins made little political progress during the following years because the centre of political action was clearly becoming the elective assembly; in 1843 he resigned from the council to run for an assembly seat for Hants County as a reformer who supported Howe. Once elected, however, he reverted to his former conservatism, denouncing the movement towards responsible government and labelling Howe “essentially a low blackguard.” On 19 June 1846 Wilkins became a minister without portfolio in the Conservative government of James William Johnston* but lost the 1847 election in Hants and entered a political decline. He expected to inherit his father’s seat on the Supreme Court in 1848, but despite his being a qc and having Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey*’s recommendation that he possessed “natural talent, professional knowledge . . . eloquence, high principle and a remarkably calm . . . temper,” the vacancy went to Edmund Murray Dodd*.
In 1852 Wilkins, whose brother Martin Isaac was also an mla, was re-elected as the Tory member for Windsor Township, subsequently becoming one of the leading Conservatives in opposition to the Liberal government of Howe and James Boyle Uniacke*. Although his party supported a policy of privately financed railway construction, Wilkins no doubt saw the political and economic expediency of supporting Howe’s proposal to build a publicly financed line from Halifax to Windsor. In early 1854 his sudden reversal to support Howe shocked the Tories, and his appointment as provincial secretary in the Liberal cabinet on 4 April was denounced as payment for services rendered to the Liberal cause. On 14 Aug. 1856 he replaced T. C. Haliburton as a puisne judge of the Supreme Court, and his vacant assembly seat went by acclamation to the recently defeated Howe. The Acadian Recorder, in a scathing editorial, denounced Wilkins’ political opportunism, stating that his “long, long struggle over a foul, dark and crooked way . . . [had] only sufficed to make [him] an assistant judge of the Supreme Court in a third rate British colony.”
Wilkins weathered these attacks and continued as a judge until lie retired in 1876. He was reputed to be the last member of the provincial bench to quote Latin orators in his decisions, but although capable, he was not brilliant. It was generally conceded that he lacked correctness in his legal procedures and that he had “really a genius for words, or he never could utter so many to express so little.”
Wilkins repeatedly proclaimed himself a dedicated Tory, but his political vacillation and undisguised quest for high office remained permanent stains on an otherwise blameless, but dull, career. Few honours were accorded him in later life other than a dcl from King’s College in 1874. After retiring, he wrote and published three religious treatises. Although Wilkins and his wife had a reputation for lavish entertaining and he carried himself with a dignity bordering on pomposity, his career had brought him little financial gain, since his estate yielded only $31,000.
Lewis Morris Wilkins was the author of An aspect of the facts, which presents a harmony of the narratives of the Synoptists, who relate Our Lord’s miracle of giving sight to the blind, on the occasion of His passing through Jericho (n.p., n.d.); Is there sufficient evidence to show, that St. John designed to declare or to intimate, in his gospel, that the Synoptists were mistaken when they related that Jesus at the last supper kept the Jewish Passover? (n.p., ); and The “Lord’s Supper” as He instituted it (Halifax, 1881).
PANS, MS file, Wilkins family, Geneal.; RG 5, R, 18. Howe, Speeches and letters (Chisholm). Acadian Recorder, 26 April, 6 Sept. 1856. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Beck, Government of N.S. W. R. Livingston, Responsible government in Nova Scotia: a study of the constitutional beginnings of the British Commonwealth (Iowa City, 1930). F. W. Vroom, King’s College: a chronicle, 1789–1939; collections and recollections (Halifax, 1941).
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Cite This Article
Lois K. Kernaghan, “WILKINS, LEWIS MORRIS (1801-85),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wilkins_lewis_morris_1801_85_11E.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:||Lois K. Kernaghan|
|Title of Article:||WILKINS, LEWIS MORRIS (1801-85)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1982|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||May 30, 2023|