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WYATT, CHARLES BURTON, office holder; b. c. 1778 in London, son of James Wyatt, a renowned architect, and Rachel Lunn; m. 29 March 1805 Mary Rogers, and they had five children; divorced 1811 by Scottish decree on grounds of cruel conduct on his part; remarried; d. 4 Sept. 1840 in Barston, England.

Charles Burton Wyatt spent his childhood in London and at the country estate of his distinguished family. From 1799 to 1801 he served as a writer with the East India Company. In May 1804, partly through his father’s influence, he was appointed surveyor general of Upper Canada, succeeding David William Smith. His new position was worth £300 annually plus fees. The latter, however, had been diminished prior to his arrival with the suspension on 13 Jan. 1804 of the surveyor general’s commission on surveys. Wyatt was already in financial difficulty and he feared that “my marriage without my father’s consent, may be the means of depriving me of that ample supply of money, which, had the matter been otherwise I should have enjoyed on my arrival in America.” None the less, his father financed his purchase of Smith’s house in York (Toronto) for £750.

In November 1806 Wyatt complained to Colonial Secretary William Windham about the reduction in his fees. Within his own office, he accused William Chewett, the deputy surveyor general, of having made a poor survey of the tract purchased from the Mississaugas in 1805 [see Kineubenae*]. Moreover, he raised the ire of Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore* by bringing the issue before the House of Assembly rather than the executive. In September 1806 Wyatt’s other assistant, clerk Thomas Gibbs Ridout*, had expressed dissatisfaction with his position. Wyatt first sought to replace him and ultimately, in defiance of Gore and the Executive Council, dismissed him on 31 December. Gore, on the advice of the council, ordered his reinstatement, but Wyatt refused, insisting “it is incompatible with my Commission, my own Security, and that of the Public.” On 19 Jan. 1807 Wyatt was suspended by Gore and, in due course, was removed. He left the province early in February.

Wyatt’s struggle with Gore involved a clash in interpretation of the prerogatives inherent in crown commissions. Wyatt believed there was a right vested in his commission which put him at liberty to conduct the affairs of his office without prior executive approval. Gore, the council, and Solicitor General D’Arcy Boulton* thought that his power was indeed restricted by his commission and that he could not replace clerks in his office who had been appointed by the crown or its representatives. The specific issue took on political interest since it was believed that Wyatt had dismissed Ridout for voting against Mr Justice Robert Thorpe in the by-election to replace William Weekes*. Wyatt was properly identified with a number of the administration’s strongest critics, including Thorpe and Joseph Willcocks*.

As surveyor general, Wyatt had also been directly involved with the legacy of protest arising from an attempt early in the decade by Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter* to limit loyalist claims for land. Sympathizing with Hunter’s critics, he believed that successive governors had overturned imperial policy. His own suspension was, he thought, a similar example of imperial policy being thwarted by local, and improper, action. Yet he had only “a sincere and zealous desire to the best of my judgment & ability to do the duties intrusted to me with fidelity benefit & honor to myself & my employers as well as the public.”

Wyatt immediately returned to England to fight the suspension and to seek redress. His family had better connections than Gore and he expected, and got, its help in his complaint through official channels. The suspension had been based on the broad charge “of general opposition” and the specific one of having erased a name from a land location book in order to insert his own. The former proved too sweeping for him to handle. As for the latter, he had taken all the necessary steps to check the ownership of the lot and on this charge he was vindicated.

Describing himself as a victim of “colonial despotism” unable to obtain redress officially, Wyatt brought a law suit against Gore in England in June 1814. He charged that Gore had suspended him “maliciously, and without probable cause,” had sent “false representations to the government,” and had libelled him with claims of “disaffection . . . and general misconduct in his office.” On 11 July 1816 the presiding judge ruled that Wyatt had not proved his case with respect to the suspension; however, he found Gore guilty of libel and awarded Wyatt damages of £300. Two years later Thorpe also won damages in a similar suit against Gore.

During the early 1830s Wyatt lived in pecuniary distress in Essex. He moved to Warwickshire in 1836, to live in retirement with his “amiable wife.” He had long been troubled by a disease of the bladder and spent his final five months “in great pain.” Historians have generally agreed that Wyatt was a man who overestimated both his influence and his security, and who misunderstood his position. Yet as historian Gerald Marquis Craig observes, “Perhaps his greatest offence had been his friendship with the malcontents, especially Thorpe.” Other difficulties arose from Wyatt’s concern that his department’s practices with respect to both Indians and loyalists were at variance with imperial policy. In the final analysis, his political connections were not strong enough to sustain him on either side of the Atlantic.

Elwood H. Jones

AO, MS 88. MTRL, W. D. Powell papers; D. W. Smith papers. PAC, RG 1, E3, 93. PRO, CO 42/350. W. W. Baldwin, “A recovered letter: W. W. Baldwin to C. B. Wyatt, 6th April, 1813,” ed. J. McE. Murray, OH, 35 (1943): 49–55. [Richard Cartwright], Letters, from an American loyalist in Upper-Canada, to his friend in England; on a pamphlet published by John Mills Jackson, esquire: entitled, “A view of the province of Upper Canada” (Halifax, [1810]). Joseph Farington, The Farington diary, ed. James Greig (8v., London, [1923–28]). Clement Gatley, Gatley on libel and slander, ed. R. [L.] McEwen and P. [S. C.] Lewis (7th ed., London, 1974). [J. M. Jackson], A view of the political situation of the province of Upper Canada . . . (London, 1809). “Political state of U.C.,” PAC Report, 1892: 32–135. John Strachan, The John Strachan letter book, 1812–1834, ed. G. W. Spragge (Toronto, 1946). Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth). H. M. Colvin, A biographical dictionary of English architects, 1660–1840 (2v., London, 1954). Antony Dale, James Wyatt, architect, 1746–1813 (Oxford, 1956). Derek Linstrum, Sir Jeffry Wyatville (Oxford, 1972). H. H. Guest, “Upper Canada’s first political party,” OH, 54 (1962): 275–96. G. [H.] Patterson, “Whiggery, nationality, and the Upper Canadian reform tradition,” CHR, 56 (1975): 25–44.

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Cite This Article

Elwood H. Jones, “WYATT, CHARLES BURTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 31, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wyatt_charles_burton_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wyatt_charles_burton_7E.html
Author of Article: Elwood H. Jones
Title of Article: WYATT, CHARLES BURTON
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 31, 2014