DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


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

CARY, GEORGE HUNTER, lawyer and politician; b. 16 Jan. 1832 in Woodford, Essex, England, the eldest of the ten children of William Henry Cary and Elizabeth Malins; m. Ellen Martin on 6 Nov. 1858; d. 16 July 1866 in London, England.

The son of a surgeon, George Hunter Cary was educated at St Paul’s School and King’s College, London. Following in the footsteps of his uncle, Sir Richard Malins, a distinguished barrister, judge, and Conservative mp, Cary was called to the bar of the Inner Temple on 13 June 1854 and moved to Lincoln’s Inn where he “practised regularly & with some success in the Equity Courts.” Early in 1859 Cary was recommended to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, British colonial secretary, for the post of attorney general for British Columbia by a former instructor, Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns, solicitor general of England, who had himself been a pupil of Malins. Bulwer-Lytton was responding to Governor James Douglas*’ appeal for “gentlemen of the best education and ability” to assist him in administering the new gold colony on the mainland.

Cary arrived in Victoria, Vancouver Island, on 26 May 1859. Douglas was impressed with his background, intelligence, and energy and appointed him also acting attorney general of Vancouver Island in August 1859; one week later Cary announced his candidacy to represent Victoria Town in the second House of Assembly for Vancouver Island. In the ensuing contest, which was marked by charges of irregularity and foul play, Cary defeated Amor De Cosmos*, an antigovernment “reformer.” Cary went on to serve as Douglas’ de facto minister of finance in the Vancouver Island assembly from 1860 to 1863. When in 1861 the Colonial Office required British Columbia officials to reside on the mainland, Cary refused to move from Victoria and gave up his appointment as attorney general of British Columbia, whereupon Douglas appointed Henry Pering Pellew Crease* to the post while Cary remained attorney general for Vancouver Island. Instead of seeking re-election to the assembly in 1863, Cary obtained a three-month leave of absence from the attorney generalship and set off for the Cariboo goldfields, officially to recover from a “general nervous debility” but in reality, according to Edward Graham Alston*, in an attempt “to return with enough of the ready to live for the rest of his days in serene leisure.”

Controversy had attended Cary wherever he went. He had not been in Victoria long before he was arrested for “riding furiously” across the James Bay bridge; six weeks later, when charged with disturbing the peace, he went to jail rather than post the required bond. In 1861 he provoked a public outcry by covertly attempting to purchase the springs providing the town’s main water supply, which were widely regarded as public property. His brawling in the town and intemperate conduct in court became a matter of public comment; he once assaulted a defendant on the street with a horsewhip only to emerge from the encounter with a “much damaged” face. In June 1863 Douglas was describing him as “excitable and overbearing in manner” and as a person whose actions “provoked hostility and made many personal enemies; defects which detract from his general usefulness as a member of the administration.”

On Vancouver Island Cary had aspired to the life of a country gentleman. By 1861, in addition to one or two houses in England, he owned about 400 acres of land in and around Victoria and over 1,400 acres on Sallas (Sidney) Island. Two years later he began construction of “Cary Castle,” a spacious residence commanding a magnificent view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in which he planned to spend the rest of his days. Unfortunately his ambition far exceeded his financial resources and he was forced to sell the mansion before it was completed.

Cary’s sojourn in the Cariboo goldfields in 1863 resulted in both financial and professional setbacks and markedly affected the state of his health. To a long-standing eye affliction and recurrent attacks of rheumatism were added new signs of increasing mental instability. During the summer of 1864 Douglas’ successor as governor of Vancouver Island, Arthur Edward Kennedy*, accused Cary of taking excessive legal fees from the government for out-of-court services and of other financial irregularities. Rather than defend himself against Kennedy’s charges, Cary resigned.

By 1865 it was apparent to all that Cary was mentally unbalanced. Early in September his relative, Arthur Stanhope Farwell, reported seeing him in his garden sowing “peas among potatoes at 12 at midnight with a candle.” A week later Dr John Ash* certified him to be insane, and Farwell, Dr John Sebastian Helmcken*, and others persuaded him to return to England by contriving a telegram announcing that he was to be appointed lord chancellor at a salary of £15,000 per annum. Escorted by Robert Burnaby*, Cary and his wife left Victoria on 16 Sept. 1865. He died the following July in London at the home of an aunt, attended by his youngest brother.

Truculent, vain, and eccentric, Cary was nevertheless a person of some consequence in colonial Vancouver Island. Even his enemies respected his powers of articulation and considerable intellectual ability. The great tragedy of his career was the gradual derangement of his mind. He played a leading role in shepherding government legislation through the island’s second House of Assembly, a contribution that looms larger when contrasted with the utter paralysis of the third and final house when there was no comparable spokesman. His most lasting legacy to the island and the province was Cary Castle; it was acquired by the government in 1865 and, until its destruction by fire in 1899, served as the official residence for the queen’s representative.

James E. Hendrickson

PABC, Henry Maynard Ball, Journal, 1865; B.C., Governor, Despatches to London, 12 Oct. 1858–25 Oct. 1859, 25 Oct. 1859–14 Sept. 1863, 14 Sept. 1863–31 Dec. 1867 (letterbook copies); Colonial correspondence, Colonial secretary correspondence (B.C.), 1858–63; Crease coll., Henry Pering Pellew Crease; Crease legal papers; Arthur Stanhope Farwell, Diary, 10 Jan. 1864–25 Jan. 1867; John Sebastian Helmcken, “Reminiscences” (5v., typescript, 1892); Vancouver Island, Governor, Despatches to London, 10 Dec. 1855–9 June 1859, 8 June 1859–28 Dec. 1861, 12 Jan. 1862–12 March 1864 (letterbook copies); Vancouver Island, House of Assembly, Minutes, 2 Aug. 1859–5 March 1860, 1 March 1860–6 Feb. 1861, 26 June 1861–27 Feb. 1863. PRO, CO 60/1–17 (mfm. at PABC); CO 305/1–20 (mfm. at PABC). [J. S. Helmcken], The reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken, ed. Dorothy Blakey Smith ([Vancouver], 1975). Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, 1859–66. Law Times (London), 17 June 1854, 28 July 1866. New Westminster Times (Victoria), 17 Sept. 1859. Victoria Gazette, 17 Sept. 1859.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

James E. Hendrickson, “CARY, GEORGE HUNTER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cary_george_hunter_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cary_george_hunter_9E.html
Author of Article:   James E. Hendrickson
Title of Article:   CARY, GEORGE HUNTER
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 17, 2024