DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

DEVAU, Retor, CLAUDE – Volume IV (1771-1800)

d. 14 April 1784 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade, Que.)


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

The Colonial Office and British North America, 1801–50 (cont.)


Every student of 19th-century British North America will be aware of the value of the Colonial Office files housed in the Public Record Office in London and duplicated on microfilm in the Public Archives of Canada. Particularly valuable are the letters between the secretaries of state and the governors contained in CO 42 and CO 43 (Canada), CO 188 and CO 189 (New Brunswick), CO 194 and CO 195 (Newfoundland), CO 217 and CO 218 (Nova Scotia and Cape Breton), and CO 226 and CO 227 (Prince Edward Island). Less well known are the various files of miscellanea relating to British North America, especially CO 47 and CO 325 which consist largely of précis and memoranda written by the staff of the Colonial Office, CO 380 which contains copies of the commissions and instructions sent to the governors, CO 537 which holds several volumes of supplementary correspondence, and CO 880 where one finds the confidential prints circulated to the British cabinet. Particularly important for the period before 1836 are the private letters between the under-secretaries and officials in the colonies found in CO 323 and CO 324. These series also contain the reports of the legal adviser to the Colonial Office, many of which deal with British North America, and considerable information about the internal organization of the department. More details on the latter subject can be found in CO 325, CO 537, CO 854, and CO 885. The best overview of the archival resources of the Colonial Office and their organization is R. B. Pugh’s The records of the Colonial and Dominions offices (London, 1964). For materials in the PAC readers should consult its General inventory, manuscripts, volume 2, MG 11–MG 16 (Ottawa, 1976).

The indispensible source for understanding how the Colonial Office operated is D. M. Young’s The Colonial Office in the early nineteenth century ([London], 1961). Paul Knaplund’s James Stephen and the British colonial system, 1813–1847 (Madison, Wis., 1953), Helen Taft Manning’s British colonial government after the American revolution, 1782–1820 (New Haven, Conn., 1953), and R. B. Pugh’s “The Colonial Office,” The Cambridge history of the British empire, ed. J. H. Rose et al. (8v., Cambridge, Eng., 1929–59), 3: 711–68, are still useful, although dated. The best recent overview is contained in R. C. Snelling and T. J. Barron, “The Colonial Office and its permanent officials, 1801–1914,” Studies in the growth of nineteenth-century government, ed. Gillian Sutherland (London, 1972), which should be supplemented by D. J. Murray, The West Indies and the development of colonial government, 1801–1834 (Oxford, 1965), J. S. Galbraith, Reluctant empire: British policy on the South African frontier, 1834–1854 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963), and J. W. Cell, British colonial administration in the mid-nineteenth century: the policy-making process (New Haven and London, 1970). H. [W.] Parris, Constitutional bureaucracy: the development of British central administration since the eighteenth century (London, 1969), and George Kitson Clark, “‘Statesmen in disguise’: reflexions on the history of the neutrality of the civil service,” Hist. Journal (Cambridge), 2 (1959): 19–39, are useful on the emergence of the modern civil service in the 19th century.

The vast secondary literature dealing with British imperial policy and the North American colonies is assessed at considerable length in Phillip Buckner, “Britain and British North America before confederation,” A reader’s guide to Canadian history, 1: Beginnings to confederation, ed. D. A. Muise (Toronto, 1982). Of the earlier works C. B. Martin’s Empire & commonwealth: studies in governance and self-government in Canada (Oxford, 1929), Aileen Dunham’s Political unrest in Upper Canada, 1815–1836 (London, 1927; repr. Toronto, 1963), and Adam Shortt’s Lord Sydenham (Toronto, 1908) are the most useful but must be supplemented by Taft Manning’s “The colonial policy of the Whig ministers, 1830–37,” CHR, 33 (1952): 203–36, 341–68, and Revolt of French Canada. Ged Martin’s The Durham report and British policy: a critical essay (Cambridge, 1972) and the chapters he wrote for Ronald Hyam and Ged Martin, Reappraisals in British imperial history (London, 1975) contain a stimulating but controversial interpretation which is supported by J. M. Ward in Colonial self-government: the British experience, 1759–1856 (Toronto, 1976) and rejected by Phillip Buckner in The transition to responsible government: British policy in British North America, 1815–1850 (Westport, Conn., 1985). Of the many recent articles on British policy the most useful are Peter Burroughs, “The determinants of colonial self-government,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Hist. (London), 6 (1977–78): 314–29; Philip Goldring, “Province and nation: problems of imperial rule in Lower Canada, 1820 to 1841,” ibid., 9 (1980–81): 38–56; Peter Burroughs, “The Canadian rebellions in British politics,” Perspectives of empire: essays presented to Gerald S. Graham, ed. J. E. Flint and Glyndwr Williams (London, 1973), 54–92; and Ged Martin, “Confederation rejected: the British debate on Canada, 1837–1840,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Hist., 11 (1982–83): 33–57, and “Launching Canadian confederation: means to ends, 1836–1864,” Hist. Journal (Cambridge), 27 (1984): 575–602. p.b.


Professor of history, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick. 


Phillip Buckner, “The Colonial Office and British North America, 1801–1850, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8. University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1985, http://admin.biographi.ca/en/special.php?project_id=49&p=36.


Previous page

Back to top

◀◀  35 36 37 38 39 40 41  ▶▶