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Lord Elgin
Chapter X - Farewell to Canada


Lord Elgin assumed the governor-generalship of Canada on January 30th, 1847, and gave place to Sir Edmund Head on December 19th, 1854. The address which he received from the Canadian legislature on the eve of his departure gave full expression to the golden opinions which he had succeeded in winning from the Canadian people during his able administration of nearly eight years. The passionate feeling which had been evoked during the crisis caused by the Rebellion Losses Bill had gradually given way to a true appreciation of the wisdom of the course that he had followed under such exceptionally trying circumstances, and to the general conviction that his strict observance of the true forms and methods of constitutional government had added strength and dignity to the political institutions of the country and placed Canada at last in the position of a semi-independent nation. The charm of his manner could never fail to captivate those who met him often in social life, while public men of all parties recognized his capacity for business, the sincerity of his convictions, and the absence of a spirit of intrigue in connection with the administration of public affairs and his relations with political parties. He received evidences on every side that he had won the confidence and respect and even affection of all nationalities, classes, and creeds in Canada. In the very city where he had been maltreated and his life itself endangered, he received manifestations of approval which were full compensation for the mental sufferings to which he was subject in that unhappy period of his life, when he proved so firm, courageous and far-sighted. In well chosen language--always characteristic of his public addresses--he spoke of the cordial reception he had met with, when he arrived a stranger in Montreal, of the beauty of its surroundings, of the kind attention with which its citizens had on more than one occasion listened to the advice he gave to their various associations, of the undaunted courage with which the merchants had promoted the construction of that great road which was so necessary to the industrial development of the province, of the patriotic energy which first gathered together such noble specimens of Canadian industry from all parts of the country, and had been the means of making the great World's Fair so serviceable to Canada; and then as he recalled the pleasing incidents of the past, there came to his mind a thought of the scenes of 1849, but the sole reference he allowed himself was this: "And I shall forget--but no, what I might have to forget is forgotten already, and therefore I cannot tell you what I shall forget."

The last speech which he delivered in the picturesque city of Quebec gave such eloquent expression to the feelings with which he left Canada, is such an admirable example of the oratory with which he so often charmed large assemblages, that I give it below in full for the perusal of Canadians of the present day who had not the advantage of hearing him in the prime of his life.

"I wish I could address you in such strains as I have sometimes employed on similar occasions--strains suited to a festive meeting; but I confess I have a weight on my heart and it is not in me to be merry. For the last time I stand before you in the official character which I have borne for nearly eight years. For the last time I am surrounded by a circle of friends with whom I have spent some of the most pleasant days of my life. For the last time I welcome you as my guests to this charming residence which I have been in the habit of calling my home.[23] I did not, I will frankly confess it, know what it would cost me to break this habit, until the period of my departure approached, and I began to feel that the great interests which have so long engrossed my attention and thoughts were passing out of my hands. I had a hint of what my feelings really were upon this point--a pretty broad hint too--one lovely morning in June last, when I returned to Quebec after my temporary absence in England, and landed in the coves below Spencerwood (because it was Sunday and I did not want to make a disturbance in the town), and when with the greetings of the old people in the coves who put their heads out of the windows as I passed along, and cried 'Welcome home again,' still ringing in my ears, I mounted the hill and drove through the avenue to the house door, I saw the drooping trees on the lawn, with every one of which I was so familiar, clothed in the tenderest green of spring, and the river beyond, calm and transparent as a mirror, and the ships fixed and motionless as statues on its surface, and the whole landscape bathed in that bright Canadian sun which so seldom pierces our murky atmosphere on the other side of the Atlantic. I began to think that persons were to be envied who were not forced by the necessities of their position to quit these engrossing interests and lovely scenes, for the purpose of proceeding to distant lands, but who are able to remain among them until they pass to that quiet corner of the garden of Mount Hermon, which juts into the river and commands a view of the city, the shipping, Point Levi, the Island of Orleans, and the range of the Laurentine; so that through the dim watches of that tranquil night which precedes the dawning of the eternal day, the majestic citadel of Quebec, with its noble tram of satellite hills, may seem to rest forever on the sight, and the low murmur of the waters of St. Lawrence, with the hum of busy life on their surface, to fall ceaselessly on the ear. I cannot bring myself to believe that the future has in store for me any interests which will fill the place of those I am now abandoning. But although I must henceforward be to you as a stranger, although my official connection with you and your interests will have become hi a few days matter of history, yet I trust that through some one channel or other, the tidings of your prosperity and progress may occasionally reach me; that I may hear from time to time of the steady growth and development of those principles of liberty and order, of manly independence in combination with respect for authority and law, of national life in harmony with British connection, which it has been my earnest endeavour, to the extent of my humble means of influence, to implant and to establish. I trust, too, that I shall hear that this House continues to be what I have ever sought to render it, a neutral territory, on which persons of opposite opinions, political and religious, may meet together in harmony and forget their differences for a season. And I have good hope that this will be the case for several reasons, and, among others, for one which I can barely allude to, for it might be an impertinence in me to dwell upon it But I think that without any breach of delicacy or decorum I may venture to say that many years ago, when I was much younger than I am now, and when we stood towards each other in a relation somewhat different from that which has recently subsisted between us, I learned to look up to Sir Edmund Head with respect, as a gentleman of the highest character, the greatest ability, and the most varied accomplishments and attainments. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I have only to add the sad word--Farewell. I drink this bumper to the health of you all, collectively and individually. I trust that I may hope to leave behind me some who will look back with feelings of kindly recollection to the period of our intercourse; some with whom I have been on terms of immediate official connection, whose worth and talents I have had the best means of appreciating, and who could bear witness at least, if they please to do so, to the spirit, intentions, and motives with which I have administered your affairs; some with whom I have been bound by the ties of personal regard. And if reciprocity be essential to enmity, then most assuredly I can leave behind me no enemies. I am aware that there must be persons in so large a society as this, who think that they have grievances to complain of, that due consideration has not in all cases been shown to them. Let them believe me, and they ought to believe me, for the testimony of a dying man is evidence, even in a court of justice, let them believe me, then, when I assure them, in this the last hour of my agony, that no such errors of omission or commission have been intentional on my part. Farewell, and God bless you." Before I proceed to review some features of his administration in Canada, to which it has not been possible to do adequate justice in previous chapters of this book, I must very briefly refer to the eminent services which he was able to perform for the empire before he closed his useful life amid the shadows of the Himalayas. On his return to England he took his seat in the House of Lords, but he gave very little attention to politics or legislation. On one occasion, however, he expressed a serious doubt as to the wisdom of sending to Canada large bodies of troops, which had come back from the Crimea, on the ground that such a proceeding might complicate the relations of the colony with the United States, and at the same time arrest its progress towards self-independence in all matters affecting its internal order and security.

This opinion was in unison with the sentiments which he had often expressed to the secretary of state during his term of office in America. While he always deprecated any hasty withdrawal of imperial troops from the dependency as likely at that time to imperil its connection with the mother country, he believed most thoroughly in educating Canadians gradually to understand the large measure of responsibility which attached to self-government. He was of opinion "that the system of relieving colonists altogether from the duty of self-defence must be attended with injurious effects upon themselves." "It checks," he continued, "the growth of national and manly morals. Men seldom think anything worth preserving for which they are never asked to make a sacrifice." His view was that, while it was desirable to remove imperial troops gradually and throw the responsibility of self-defence largely upon Canada, "the movement in that direction should be made with due caution." "The present"--he was writing to the secretary of state in 1848 when Canadian affairs were still in an unsatisfactory state--"is not a favourable moment for experiments. British statesmen, even secretaries of state, have got into the habit lately of talking of the maintenance of the connection between Great Britain and Canada with so much indifference, that a change of system in respect to military defence incautiously carried out, might be presumed by many to argue, on the part of the mother country, a disposition to prepare the way for separation." And he added three years later:

"If these communities are only truly attached to the connection and satisfied of its permanence (and as respects the latter point, opinions here will be much influenced by the tone of statesmen at home), elements of self-defence, not moral elements only, but material elements likewise, will spring up within them spontaneously as the product of movements from within, not of pressure from without. Two millions of people in a northern latitude can do a good deal in the way of helping themselves, when their hearts are in the right place."

Before two decades of years had passed away, the foresight of these suggestions was clearly shown. Canada had become a part of a British North American confederation, and with the development of its material resources, the growth of a national spirit of self-reliance, the new Dominion, thus formed, was able to relieve the parent state of the expenses of self-defence, and come to her aid many years later when her interests were threatened in South Africa. If Canada has been able to do all this, it has been owing to the growth of that spirit of self-reliance--of that principle of self-government--which Lord Elgin did his utmost to encourage. We can then well understand that Lord Elgin, in 1855, should have contemplated with some apprehension the prospect of largely increasing the Canadian garrisons at a time when Canadians were learning steadily and surely to cultivate the national habit of depending upon their own internal resources in their working out of the political institutions given them by England after years of agitation, and even suffering, as the history of the country until 1840 so clearly shows. It is also easy to understand that Lord Elgin should have regarded the scheme in contemplation as likely to create a feeling of doubt and suspicion as to the motives of the imperial government in the minds of the people of the United States. He recalled naturally his important visit to that country, where he had given eloquent expression, as the representative of the British Crown, to his sanguine hopes for the continuous amity of peoples allied to each other by so many ties of kindred and interest, and had also succeeded after infinite labour in negotiating a treaty so well calculated to create a common sympathy between Canada and the republic, and stimulate that friendly intercourse which would dispel many national prejudices and antagonisms which had unhappily arisen between these communities in the past. The people of the United States might well, he felt, see some inconsistency between such friendly sentiments and the sending of large military reinforcements to Canada.

In the spring of 1857 Lord Elgin accepted from Lord Palmerston a delicate mission to China at a very critical time when the affair of the lorcha "Arrow" had led to a serious rupture between that country and Great Britain. According to the British statement of the case, in October, 1856, the Chinese authorities at Canton seized the lorcha although it was registered as a British vessel, tore down the British flag from its masthead, and carried away the crew as prisoners. On the other hand the Chinese claimed that they had arrested the crew, who were subjects of the emperor, as pirates, that the British ownership had lapsed some time previously, and that there was no flag flying on the vessel at the time of its seizure. The British representatives in China gave no credence to these explanations but demanded not only a prompt apology but also the fulfilment of "long evaded treaty obligations." When these peremptory demands were not at once complied with, the British proceeded in a very summary manner to blow up Chinese forts, and commit other acts of war, although the Chinese only offered a passive resistance to these efforts to bring them to terms of abject submission. Lord Palmerston's government was condemned in the House of Commons for the violent measures which had been taken in China, but he refused to submit to a vote made up, as he satirically described it, "of a fortuitous concourse of atoms," and appealed to the country, which sustained him. While Lord Elgin was on his way to China, he heard the news of the great mutiny in India, and received a letter from Lord Canning, then governor-general, imploring him to send some assistance from the troops under his direction. He at once sent "instructions far and wide to turn the transports back and give Canning the benefit of the troops for the moment." It is impossible, say his contemporaries, to exaggerate the importance of the aid which he so promptly gave at the most critical time in the Indian situation. "Tell Lord Elgin," wrote Sir William Peel, the commander of the famous Naval Brigade at a later time, "that it was the Chinese expedition which relieved Lucknow, relieved Cawnpore, and fought the battle of December 6th." But this patriotic decision delayed somewhat the execution of Lord Elgin's mission to China. It was nearly four months after he had despatched the first Chinese contingent to the relief of the Indian authorities, that another body of troops arrived in China and he was able to proceed vigorously to execute the objects of his visit to the East. After a good deal of fighting and bullying, Chinese commissioners were induced in the summer of 1859 to consent to sign the Treaty of Tientsin, which gave permission to the Queen of Great Britain to appoint, if she should see fit, an ambassador who might reside permanently at Pekin, or visit it occasionally according to the pleasure of the British government, guaranteed protection to Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, allowed British subjects to travel to all parts of the empire, under passports signed by British consuls, established favourable conditions for the protection of trade by foreigners, and indemnified the British government for the losses that had been sustained at Canton and for the expenses of the war.

Lord Elgin then paid an official visit to Japan, where he was well received and succeeded in negotiating the Treaty of Yeddo, which was a decided advance on all previous arrangements with that country, and prepared the way for larger relations between it and England. On his return to bring the new treaty to a conclusion, he found that the commissioners who had gone to obtain their emperor's full consent to its provisions, seemed disposed to call into question some of the privileges which had been already conceded, and he was consequently forced to assume that peremptory tone which experience of the Chinese has shown can alone bring them to understand the full measure of their responsibilities in negotiations with a European power. However, he believed he had brought his mission to a successful close, and returned to England in the spring of 1859.

How little interest was taken in those days in Canadian affairs by British public men and people, is shown by some comments of Mr. Waldron on the incidents which signalized Lord Elgin's return from China. "When he returned in 1854 from the government of Canada," this writer naively admits, "there were comparatively few persons in England who knew anything of the great work he had done in the colony. But his brilliant successes in the East attracted public interest and gave currency to his reputation." He accepted the position of postmaster-general in the administration just formed by Lord Palmerston, and was elected Lord Rector of Glasgow; but he had hardly commenced to study the details of his office, and enjoy the amenities of the social life of Great Britain, when he was again called upon by the government to proceed to the East, where the situation was once more very critical. The duplicity of the Chinese in their dealings with foreigners had soon shown itself after his departure from China, and he was instructed to go back as Ambassador Extraordinary to that country, where a serious rupture had occurred between the English and Chinese while an expedition of the former was on its way to Pekin to obtain the formal ratification of the Treaty of Tientsin. The French government, which had been a party to that treaty, sent forces to cooeperate with those of Great Britain in obtaining prompt satisfaction for an attack made by the Chinese troops on the British at the Peilo, the due ratification of the Treaty of Tientsin, and payment of an indemnity to the allies for the expenses of their military operations.

The punishment which the Chinese received for their bad faith and treachery was very complete. Yuen-ming-yuen, the emperor's summer palace, one of the glories of the empire, was levelled to the ground as a just retribution for treacherous and criminal acts committed by the creatures of the emperor at the very moment it was believed that the negotiations were peacefully terminated. Five days after the burning of the palace, the treaty was fully ratified between the emperor's brother and Lord Elgin, and full satisfaction obtained from the imperial authorities at Pekin for their shameless disregard of their solemn engagements. The manner in which the British ambassador discharged the onerous duties of his mission, met with the warm approval of Her Majesty's government and when he was once more in England he was offered by the prime minister the governor-generalship of India.

He accepted this great office with a full sense of the arduous responsibilities which it entailed upon him, and said good-bye to his friends with words which showed that he had a foreboding that he might never see them again--words which proved unhappily to be too true. He went to the discharge of his duties in India in that spirit of modesty which was always characteristic of him. "I succeeded," he said, "to a great man (Lord Canning) and a great war, with a humble task to be humbly discharged." His task was indeed humble compared with that which had to be performed by his eminent predecessors, notably by Earl Canning, who had established important reforms in the land tenure, won the confidence of the feudatories of the Crown, and reorganized the whole administration of India after the tremendous upheaval caused by the mutiny. Lord Elgin, on the other hand, was the first governor-general appointed directly by the Queen, and was now subject to the authority of the secretary of state for India. He could consequently exercise relatively little of the powers and responsibilities which made previous imperial representatives so potent in the conduct of Indian affairs. Indeed he had not been long in India before he was forced by the Indian secretary to reverse Lord Canning's wise measure for the sale of a fee-simple tenure with all its political as well as economic advantages. He was able, however, to carry out loyally the wise and equitable policy of his predecessor towards the feudatories of England with firmness and dignity and with good effect for the British government.[24]

In 1863 he decided on making a tour of the northern parts of India with the object of making himself personally acquainted with the people and affairs of the empire under his government. It was during this tour that he held a Durbar or Royal Court at Agra, which was remarkable even in India for the display of barbaric wealth and the assemblage of princes of royal descent. After reaching Simla his peaceful administration of Indian affairs was at last disturbed by the necessity--one quite clear to him--of repressing an outburst of certain Nahabee fanatics who dwelt in the upper valley of the Indus. He came to the conclusion that "the interests both of prudence and humanity would be best consulted by levelling a speedy and decisive blow at this embryo conspiracy." Having accordingly made the requisite arrangements for putting down promptly the trouble on the frontier and preventing the combination of the Mahommedan inhabitants in those regions against the government, he left Simla and traversed the upper valleys of the Beas, the Ravee, and the Chenali with the object of inspecting the tea plantations of that district and making inquiries as to the possibility of trade with Ladak and China. Eventually, after a wearisome journey through a most picturesque region, he reached Dhurmsala--"the place of piety"--in the Kangra valley, where appeared the unmistakable symptoms of the fatal malady which soon caused his death.

The closing scenes in the life of the statesman have been described in pathetic terms by his brother-in-law, Dean Stanley.[25] The intelligence that the illness was mortal "was received with a calmness and fortitude which never deserted him" through all the scenes which followed. He displayed "in equal degrees, and with the most unvarying constancy, two of the grandest elements of human character--unselfish resignation of himself to the will of God, and thoughtful consideration down to the smallest particulars, for the interests and feelings of others, both public and private." When at his own request, Lady Elgin chose a spot for his grave in the little cemetery which stands on the bluff above the house where he died, "he gently expressed pleasure when told of the quiet and beautiful aspect of the place chosen, with the glorious view of the snowy range towering above, and the wide prospect of hill and plain below." During this fatal illness he had the consolation of the constant presence of his loving wife, whose courageous spirit enabled her to overcome the weakness of a delicate constitution. He died on November 20th, 1863, and was buried on the following day beneath the snow-clad Himalayas.[26]

If at any time a Canadian should venture to this quiet station in the Kangra valley, let his first thought be, not of the sublimity of the mountains which rise far away, but of the grave where rest the remains of a statesman whose pure unselfishness, whose fidelity to duty, whose tender and sympathetic nature, whose love of truth and justice, whose compassion for the weak, whose trust in God and the teachings of Christ, are human qualities more worthy of the admiration of us all than the grandest attributes of nature.

None of the distinguished Canadian statesmen who were members of Lord Elgin's several administrations from 1847 until 1854, or were then conspicuous in parliamentary life, now remain to tell us the story of those eventful years. Mr. Baldwin died five years before, and Sir Louis Hypolite LaFontaine three months after the decease of the governor-general of India, and in the roll of their Canadian contemporaries there are none who have left a fairer record. Mr. Hincks retired from the legislature of Canada in 1855, when he accepted the office of governor-in-chief of Barbadoes and the Windward Islands from Sir William Molesworth, colonial secretary in Lord Palmerston's government, and for years an eminent advocate of a liberal colonial policy. This appointment was well received throughout British North America by Mr. Hincks's friends as well as political opponents, who recognized the many merits of this able politician and administrator. It was considered, according to the London Times, as "the inauguration of a totally different system of policy from that which has been hitherto pursued with regard to our colonies." "It gave some evidence," continued the same paper, "that the more distinguished among our fellow-subjects in the colonies may feel that the path of imperial ambition is henceforth open to them." It was a direct answer to the appeal which had been so eloquently made on more than one occasion by the Honourable Joseph Howe[27] of Nova Scotia, to extend imperial honours and offices to distinguished colonists, and not reserve them, as was too often the case, for Englishmen of inferior merit. "This elevation of Mr. Hincks to a governorship," said the Montreal Pilot at the time, "is the most practicable comment which can possibly be offered upon the solemn and sorrowful complaints of Mr. Howe, anent the neglect with which the colonists are treated by the imperial government. So sudden, complete and noble a disclaimer on the part of Her Majesty's minister for the colonies must have startled the delegate from Nova Scotia, and we trust that his turn may not be far distant." Fifteen years later, Mr. Howe himself became a lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, and an inmate of the very government house to which he was not admitted in the stormy days when he was fighting the battle of responsible government against Lord Falkland.

Mr. Hincks was subsequently appointed governor of British Guiana, and at the same time received a Commandership of the Bath as a mark of "Her Majesty's approval honourably won by very valuable and continued service in several colonies of the empire." He retired from the imperial service with a pension in 1869, when his name was included in the first list of knights which was submitted to the Queen on the extension of the Order of St. Michael and St. George for the express purpose of giving adequate recognition to those persons in the colonies who had rendered distinguished service to the Crown and empire. During his Canadian administration Lord Elgin had impressed upon the colonial secretary that it was "very desirable that the prerogative of the Crown, as the fountain of honour, should be employed, in so far as this can properly be done, as a means of attaching the outlying parts of the empire to the throne." Two principles ought, he thought, "as a general rule to be attended to in the distribution of imperial honours among colonists." Firstly they should appear "to emanate directly from the Crown, on the advice, if you will, of the governors and imperial ministers, but not on the recommendation of the local executive." Secondly, they "should be conferred, as much as possible, on the eminent persons who are no longer engaged actively in political life." The first principle has, generally speaking, guided the action of the Crown in the distribution of honours to colonists, though the governors may receive suggestions from and also consult their prime ministers when the necessity arises. These honours, too, are no longer conferred only on men actively engaged in public life, but on others eminent in science, education, literature, and other vocations of life.[28]

In 1870 Sir Francis Hincks returned to Canadian public life as finance minister in Sir John Macdonald's government, and held the office until 1873, when he retired altogether from politics. Until the last hours of his life he continued to show that acuteness of intellect, that aptitude for public business, that knowledge of finance and commerce, which made him so influential in public affairs. During his public career in Canada previous to 1855, he was the subject of bitter attacks for his political acts, but nowadays impartial history can admit that, despite his tendency to commit the province to heavy expenditures, his energy, enterprise and financial ability did good service to the country at large. He was also attacked as having used his public position to promote his own pecuniary interests, but he courted and obtained inquiry into the most serious of such accusations, and although there appears to have been some carelessness in his connection with various speculations, and at times an absence of an adequate sense of his responsibility as a public man, there is no evidence that he was ever personally corrupt or dishonest. He devoted the close of his life to the writing of his "Reminiscences," and of several essays on questions which were great public issues when he was so prominent in Canadian politics, and although none of his most ardent admirers can praise them as literary efforts of a high order, yet they have an interest so far as they give us some insight into disputed points of Canada's political history. He died in 1885 of the dreadful disease small-pox in the city of Montreal, and the veteran statesman was carried to the grave without those funeral honours which were due to one who had filled with distinction so many important positions in the service of Canada and the Crown. All his contemporaries when he was prime minister also lie in the grave and have found at last that rest which was not theirs in the busy, passionate years of their public life. Sir Allan MacNab, who was a spendthrift to the very last, lies in a quiet spot beneath the shades of the oaks and elms which adorn the lovely park of Dundurn in Hamilton, whose people have long since forgotten his weaknesses as a man, and now only recall his love for the beautiful city with whose interests he was so long identified, and his eminent services to Crown and state. George Brown, Hincks's inveterate opponent, continued for years after the formation of the first Liberal-Conservative administration, to keep the old province of Canada in a state of political ferment by his attacks on French Canada and her institutions until at last he succeeded in making government practically unworkable, and then suddenly he rose superior to the spirit of passionate partisanship and racial bitterness which had so long dominated him, and decided to aid his former opponents in consummating that federal union which relieved old Canada of her political embarrassment and sectional strife. His action at that time is his chief claim to the monument which has been raised in his honour in the great western city where he was for so many years a political force, and where the newspaper he established still remains at the head of Canadian journalism.

The greatest and ablest man among all who were notable in Lord Elgin's days in Canada, Sir John Alexander Macdonald--the greatest not simply as a Canadian politician but as one of the builders of the British empire--lived to become one of Her Majesty's Privy Councillors of Great Britain, a Grand Cross of the Bath, and prime minister for twenty-one years of a Canadian confederation which stretches for 3,500 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. When death at last forced him from the great position he had so long occupied with distinction to himself and advantage to Canada, the esteem and affection in which he was held by the people, whom he had so long served during a continuous public career of half a century, were shown by the erection of stately monuments in five of the principal cities of the Dominion--an honour never before paid to a colonial statesman. The statues of Sir John Macdonald and Sir Georges Cartier--statues conceived and executed by the genius of a French Canadian artist--stand on either side of the noble parliament building where these statesmen were for years the most conspicuous figures; and as Canadians of the present generation survey their bronze effigies, let them not fail to recall those admirable qualities of statesmanship which distinguished them both--above all their assertion of those principles of compromise, conciliation and equal rights which have served to unite the two races in critical times when the tide of racial and sectional passion and political demagogism has rushed in a mad torrent against the walls of the national structure which Canadians have been so steadily and successfully building for so many years on the continent of North America.


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