BAILLIE, THOMAS, colonial administrator and office-holder; b. 4 Oct. 1796 at Hanwell, Middlesex, England, son of Captain William Baillie of the 51st Light Infantry and magistrate at Hanwell; d. 20 May 1863 during a holiday at Boulogne, France.
Thomas Baillie joined the army in April 1815 as a lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He reached the field of Waterloo with his regiment a few months later, just as Napoleon commenced his flight. For a year following he was stationed at Versailles with the British troops of occupation. He then served at Limerick (Republic of Ireland), where in 1824 he married Elizabeth Hall.
In the same year he entered the Colonial Office where his elder brother, George, was well established as first clerk in the North American Department. Soon after, however, Thomas was appointed commissioner of crown lands and surveyor general of New Brunswick. The appointment of a young, relatively inexperienced man to a post that was second in importance only to that of the lieutenant governor was criticized at the time, and many years later Sir James Stephen, the colonial under-secretary, described it as having been repayment for “the services of his father in elections in England.” Members of Lord Liverpool’s ministry, especially Lord Bathurst, the colonial secretary, were under obligations to Captain Baillie, and on a great many occasions in the future Thomas was to rest his authority in New Brunswick on these bonds. According to his own testimony he was first offered a consulship in Tunis but took the New Brunswick appointment because he preferred a temperate climate.
New Brunswick had enjoyed nearly 20 years of prosperity when Baillie arrived at Fredericton late in 1824. During these years the timber trade had developed at a rapid rate and the whole well-being of the province now depended on its fortunes. Most of the timber exported to Britain was cut on crown lands, whose extent could be estimated only approximately at 14 to 16 million acres because of the uncertain boundary with the United States. Attempts to administer this domain in an orderly way and to extract a revenue from merchants who ignored regulations dated only from 1819. Baillie’s purpose, as defined by the Colonial Office, was to bring efficient control to the timber trade and larger revenues to the crown. These revenues, known as “casual and territorial,” were already enabling the province to facilitate settlement and subsidize schools.
Politically Baillie’s position was a difficult one. Revenues collected by the imperial government from the crown lands were expended within the province but were beyond the control of the legislature. A tax of 1s. per ton was placed on timber without sanction of popular assent. Furthermore, the commissioner of crown lands boasted that his authority came from England and he appeared to enjoy the prospect of humiliating the official community as well as taxing the men of commerce. To the official families of Fredericton the arrival of an outsider in a place of great power was a serious affront. Indeed “the address and manner” in which Baillie settled upon his task at once made his presence almost unbearable. Though approving of the policy of forest management, the lieutenant governor, Sir Howard Douglas, was continually embarrassed by Baillie’s untactful and loquacious declarations of authority. “For to say truth your brother displayed and talked too much,” he wrote to George Baillie.
Self-styled an estate-keeper, Baillie immediately commenced a series of reforms which, to the community at large, seemed tyrannical. A force of forest rangers closely supervised the operations of the timber merchants, keeping them to the limits of their “berths” and ensuring that every “stick” was taxed. Prosecutions for trespassing became numerous. The rivers, Baillie claimed, also came within his keeping; merchants who had erected wharves and booms along river banks were asked to pay rentals on water-lots. As the sale of New Brunswick’s timber increased in Britain new policies for developing “the estate” presented themselves as realistic. In Baillie’s view it would be more profitable and efficient to deal only with a few wealthy capitalists, such as Joseph Cunard of the Miramichi, rather than with the large number of small contractors who sold their produce in Saint John, Chatham, or Bathurst for shipment overseas.
This possibility of a reorganization of the timber trade became imminent in 1829 when the British government accepted the economic philosophy that sale of crown lands would not only increase revenues but would enable the suffering poor of their own islands to settle advantageously in the North American colonies. Unlike his colleagues in similar offices in other colonies, Baillie accepted the plan for selling crown lands with avidity, prophesying the accumulation of an enormous capital sum, the interest on which could pay for the entire costs of government. Throughout the province the prospect alarmed all men of trade for it seemed that a few wealthy outsiders would gain complete control of the economy. Baillie himself set a pattern for this kind of development in 1831 by taking the lead in forming the London-based New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Land Company which purchased 350,000 acres in York County. Superficially the policy of selling land was at first a great success. During eight months in 1835 lands valued at £153,000 passed into private hands, a spectacular indication of complete triumph for the economic thinking behind the policy. Though many sales proved to be spurious when purchasers, after paying first instalments and stripping the land of its timber, defaulted on the balance of the payment, there was enough evidence to show that the sale of crown lands, discredited in other provinces, was working in New Brunswick.
What must be described as Baillie’s arrogant exercise of power was made the more difficult for local inhabitants to accept by an unnecessary display of wealth. There is a Fredericton tradition that Baillie drove from his home, the Hermitage, on the outskirts of the town, in a coach and four with outriders, and that he outraged local egalitarian pride by attempting to dress the clerks of his office in uniforms with brass buttons. His scorn for the colonial aristocracy resulted in successful attacks upon his fees and salary, which at first had been so high that Governor Douglas intervened with the Colonial Office to secure a downward adjustment, though the reduction was not sufficient to gratify Baillie’s enemies. When Charles Simonds*, speaker of the assembly, was fined by Baillie’s officials for trespass in Saint John in 1827 he became Baillie’s leading adversary. Political and commercial opinion was mobilized to the point of view that, although immense sums were accruing in the treasury, most of the proceeds were absorbed by Baillie’s increasing office establishment and by salaries for his “harpies,” as the deputy surveyors were called. The Crown Lands Office became so all-engrossing that other public offices were secondary to it, especially that of the receiver general, George Pidgeon Bliss, whose numerous family connections now formed the nucleus of a popular party opposed to Baillie. To the commissioner the receiver general’s office was unnecessary and in 1832 he succeeded in convincing the Colonial Office that it should be abolished, along with that of the auditor general, a triumph that proved fleeting when in face of an enraged public opinion Lieutenant Governor Sir Archibald Campbell* persuaded the Colonial Office to reverse its decision. Within the safety of the assembly chamber it was alleged that Baillie was embezzling funds from the casual revenue.
The Colonial Office was impressed by Baillie’s bold planning and pleased with the prospect that the province would soon relieve the mother country of the parliamentary grant that paid for the civil list. But the times would no longer tolerate the authoritarian practice of which Baillie was such a zealous proponent. New Brunswickers were not eloquent in abstract expression of discontents, but control of a huge revenue by a single individual immune to criticism in the legislature was galling. Encouraged by Reform activity in the Canadas, a legislative delegation consisting of Edward Barron Chandler* and Charles Simonds carried a brief to London in 1833 exclusively directed against Baillie. Newspapers, especially the New Brunswick Courier where Robert Gowan*, under the nom de plume of John Gape, conducted witty and vindictive propaganda, depicted him as “a fourth branch of government,” more powerful than the lieutenant governor, and as the architect of a Siberian tyranny. His promotion to the senior position in the newly constructed Executive Council was an additional insult to natives of the province who had given long service to government.
Spirited action of the assembly in 1833 almost resulted in a British decision to turn the crown lands over to control of the assembly, but negotiations with Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley broke down on detail. Baillie was now a source of embarrassment to both the British government and the lieutenant governors at Fredericton; they were compelled not only to support his policies but also to apologize for his eccentricities. Stanley attempted to meet the difficulty by offering Baillie the position of postmaster general of Jamaica in 1833. Characteristically, Baillie refused, holding to a faith in his labours and to an appreciation of a healthy and invigorating climate where his sons were growing to sturdy manhood. Though Baillie was ever compelled by the envy of his neighbours to regard himself as “a stranger,” he was an ardent champion of the province and its prospects. His An account of the province of New Brunswick, published when he was at the height of his influence, lauded the climate and natural resources of New Brunswick and proclaimed it a good country for grain and grazing.
But a posture such as that taken by Baillie could no longer be maintained in British North America. While the British Liberals grappled with problems of the Canadas, they could not afford to contemplate a discontented New Brunswick. A new colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, was eager to make great concessions to bring tranquillity to the province. In 1836 he readily reached agreement with a second delegation from the assembly for the surrender of the crown lands, with all their accumulated and potential revenues, to the custody of the assembly. By reason of this bargain, put into effect in 1837, Baillie lost his seat in the Executive Council and his entire power, though he continued as surveyor general. His second marriage in 1833 to Elizabeth Odell, daughter of William Franklin Odell*, the provincial secretary, had improved his local stature, but the surrender of 1837 reduced him from the most important executive functionary in the province to a simple instrument of legislative decision. His triumphant adversaries would have deprived him of his office, but he was protected by the Civil List Act of the same year, part of the bargain with Lord Glenelg.
Over the next 14 years Baillie’s tenacity can be a cause for wonder. The vengefulness of his enemies, Charles Simonds, William Henry Robinson, the Bliss family connections, young Lemuel Allan Wilmot*, everyone involved in the New Brunswick timber trade whom he had allegedly persecuted, never relented. In the legislature his accounts were rigidly scrutinized and there is ample reason to suspect that, however imposing his plans had been, the details of his administration were untidily managed. His subordinates in the Crown Lands Office apparently enjoyed freedom to take commissions on their own and to make use of privileged information in private investment. Baillie had to take responsibility for a great many alleged irregularities and to face charges of dishonest practices by himself. He invariably retorted by challenging his critics to take him to court. This they never ventured to do, and, in reports to the Colonial Office, successive lieutenant governors, Campbell, Sir John Harvey*, and Sir William Colebrooke, gave the opinion that the charges could not be sustained.
The fall from grace was the more abject when, late in 1839, Baillie’s private affairs dissolved into ruin. All his resources, including his real property and that of his wife, and all the credit he could muster had been pledged to the fortunes of Duncan Barbour and Company, a private firm for the development of the peat moss industry. When it became bankrupt his enemies rejoiced for it appeared inevitable that the man they regarded as a public enemy would be driven from the province. While the case was reviewed, he was suspended from office, his place being filled by John Simcoe Saunders*. Nearly two years later he was restored but half his salary was impounded to satisfy his creditors.
In vastly reduced financial circumstances and public stature, Baillie remained a man of big ideas, still declaring his support for strong management of the public domain and protesting that “the humble squatter was the chief engineer of the Province.” But he was powerless: the legislature renounced the sale of crown lands except for purposes of settlement and the forests he had once ruled as an emperor were opened to exploitation by the timber trade which made small return to the treasury. It seemed that public policy had become that of encouraging industry by depriving the province of revenue. Baillie’s autocratic administration appears in a much better light when contrasted with the first four years of legislative control of the crown lands. In 1837 the province was financially prosperous, without debt and with an overflowing treasury. In spite of general prosperity, by 1841 the provincial coffers were bare with a deep and permanent debt in sight.
Not only tenacity but resiliency marked Baillie’s last years in New Brunswick. He at last learned that political power must rest on public support. In 1846 he won election to the assembly for York County and became a member of Sir William Colebrooke’s last government. Sir Edmund Walker Head’s introduction of responsible government early in 1848, however, compelled his resignation from the Executive Council. Moreover, the lieutenant governor wanted the surveyor general ship for a salaried member of his new government. Yet Baillie was not compelled to relinquish his office until 1851 when the assembly complied with British terms and agreed to a pension of £500. After he retired in that year to reside at Budleigh Salterton in Devonshire, England, the British government granted an additional £250. Ironically the same kind of influence which had secured Baillie’s appointment in 1824 was employed with the British Liberals in 1851: in supporting his brother’s plea for a higher pension, George Baillie reminded Earl Grey that his father, Captain William Baillie, had supplied the first Earl Grey with the plan of battle at Minden (Federal Republic of Germany) in 1759 which the first earl had published.
When he died in 1863, Baillie left two sons by his first marriage and three children by his second.
Thomas Baillie wrote An account of the province of New Brunswick including a description of the settlements, institutions, soil and climate of that important province, with advice to emigrants (London, 1832). His Case of Thomas Baillie, esquire, late commissioner of crown lands and forests, and surveyor-general of New Brunswick (n.p., n.d.), The memorial of Thomas Baillie . . . (n.p., n.d.), and Summary of the case of Mr. Thomas Baillie, late chief commissioner of crown lands and forests, and surveyor general of New Brunswick (London, n.d.), may be found at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (London). N.B. Museum, Ganong ms coll., Memoranda. PRO, CO 188/30–116; 188/123; 193/3. Fenety, Political notes and observations, 53–55. Hannay, History of N.B., II, 34–35, 61–62. MacNutt, New Brunswick, 193–314.
© 1976–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
W. S. MacNutt, “BAILLIE, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 6, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baillie_thomas_9E.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:||W. S. MacNutt|
|Title of Article:||BAILLIE, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1976|
|Year of revision:||1976|
|Access Date:||June 6, 2023|