CALLBECK, PHILLIPS, office-holder and administrator of St John’s (Prince Edward) Island; b. c. 1744; m. in 1772 Ann Coffin; d. 21 Feb. 1790 at Charlottetown, St John’s Island.
Little is known of the early life of Phillips Callbeck, although family tradition suggests that he was born and educated in Ireland. He came to St John’s Island from England about 1770 and in September of that year was appointed to Governor Walter Patterson’s first council. In the same year he became attorney general and surrogate general and judge of probate. He had a law practice as well, and Patterson, writing after the death of Chief Justice John Duport in May 1774, noted that Callbeck’s appointment to the position could not be allowed since it would leave the island without a single lawyer. Callbeck also ran a mill and a store.
As senior councillor, Callbeck became administrator in 1775 when Patterson left for England to fight for a commitment to funding the island government. He had occupied this post for only four months when the colony was attacked in November by New England privateers. Charlottetown was looted and Callbeck, together with Surveyor General Thomas Wright*, was taken prisoner. Released in Salem, Massachusetts, Callbeck was in Halifax by January 1776.
After his return to the island in May, Callbeck attempted to improve the defensive state of the colony. He raised an independent company of militia and, as engineer, attended to the fortifications of the island. But he overstepped his authority in the construction of defence works (his bill for £14,000 was later rejected by the British military officials) and was never able to raise the full complement of 100 men for the company. According to Chief Justice Peter Stewart* all this activity made for him “an independent fortune”: in addition to his salaries as administrator and attorney general and profits made as the colony’s principal merchant and shopkeeper, Callbeck collected perquisites as acting engineer and militia colonel.
Patterson returned to the colony in 1780 and the next year seized several townships for arrears in quitrents. Callbeck was among those who supported the action and who purchased land at the auction which followed in November 1781. The reaction of such proprietors as Robert Clark and Captain John MacDonald* was strong, and they pressured the British officials to reverse the move. Probably in the fall of 1783 Patterson received a draft bill from Lord North, secretary of state for the Home Department, providing for the land’s return to the original proprietors. Patterson put off introducing this legislation until he could secure an assembly more sympathetic to his own views. In the election of March 1784 he was opposed by the Country party, led by John Stewart*, son of the chief justice. Callbeck ran unsuccessfully for an assembly seat in the election, which resulted in a victory for the Country party. A new election in March 1785 resulted in a more compliant assembly, and Callbeck assisted Patterson in forcing defeat of the draft bill in November 1786. Patterson then introduced a private bill which returned all land to its original proprietors save that bought by Callbeck, Thomas Desbrisay*, and Peter Stewart, provided that the 1781 purchasers were compensated. In the same month, however, Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning* arrived to serve as acting governor in the place of Patterson, who was summoned by the Home secretary to explain his actions. Patterson clung to office until June 1787, when he returned to England. Fanning, now governor, set about establishing his own faction.
Callbeck had no real place in the new government. He attended meetings of council infrequently and, when present, obstructed the passage of its motions and the conduct of its business. Dropped from the council by Fanning as a result, Callbeck was reinstated the same year, but he did not attend any more meetings. The summer of 1787 saw the election of an anti-Fanning assembly led by Captain Alexander Fletcher. Callbeck, who had been elected as a member of Fletcher’s party, was voted speaker in January 1788. In London, the last of the series of events begun in 1781 was being played out before the Privy Council. Criminal charges against Patterson and the members of his administration were maintained, and in July 1789 Callbeck was removed from his seat on council and dismissed as attorney general. His death followed within a year.
Callbeck’s career had been ruined by the land question, which would destroy many more before it was settled. He, like Patterson, has been judged harshly by historians, but he appears to have had a dedication to the struggling colony’s interests as well as to his own. After his death the assembly voted to place a monument on his grave as a “grateful Tribute to the General Benefactor of this Island.”
PRO, CO 226/1, pp.15, 29; 226/6, pp.18, 76–83; 226/7, pp.34–35, 60–66, 71–73; 226/12, pp.53–54, 185; 227/1, pp.4, 71–73; 227/2, pp.61, 63–73, 81; 227/4, p.3. Public Archives of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), accession 2541/35, diary; MacDonald papers, Captain John MacDonald to Nelly MacDonald, 12 Sept. 1789; Smith-Alley coll., M. J. Young to George Alley, 4 Dec. 1894; RG 5, Executive Council, Minutes, 19 Sept. 1770, 18 April, 23 May, 29 Sept . 1787. Island of St John’s (P.E.I.), House of Assembly, Journal, 3 April 1790. [John MacDonald?], Remarks on the conduct of the governor and Council of the Island of St. John’s, in passing an act of assembly in April 1786 to confirm the sales of the lands in 1781 . . . (n.p., [1789?]).