COVENTRY, GEORGE, journalist and antiquarian; b. 28 July 1793 at Wandsworth (now part of London), England; his father was a ward of Baron Dimsdale of Thetford and his mother was Elizabeth Thornbarrow; d. unmarried on 11 Feb. 1870 at Toronto, Ont.
George Coventry’s mother died when he was three years old and he was educated at various boarding schools in England until he began working in his father’s merchant firm in London. He demonstrated his interest in literary pursuits by publishing a book on the letters of Junius in 1825 and in 1830 a work on the revenues of the Church of England. Coventry immigrated to Upper Canada in 1835 and settled in the Niagara District, where he probably worked as a clerk. He witnessed the occupation of Navy Island by rebels led by William Lyon Mackenzie in the winter of 1837 and the burning of the American ship Caroline by government forces under Andrew Drew*. Coventry wrote an account of these events which was in many ways inaccurate and showed his Tory prejudices.
In 1838 he assisted in the inspection of the Grand River when the directors of the Grand River Navigation Company were promoting the sale to the provincial government of privately held company stock. In the same year he served as a clerk for William Hamilton Merritt in his milling business at St Catharines, and in 1840 was employed as a clerk on the Welland Canal. In December 1846 Coventry became editor of the Prince Edward Gazette at Picton, which he co-owned with J. O. Dornan. The newspaper, “a bad concern” from which Coventry suffered financially, ceased publication in April 1847. He returned to the employ of Merritt and probably helped him write his report of 1850 as commissioner of public works and his study of the Welland Canal published in 1852. In 1857 Coventry was working as a customs broker at Cobourg, but seems always to have lived on the edge of poverty.
Coventry’s major Canadian work resulted from his appointment in 1859 by the legislature of the Province of Canada to gather and transcribe documents relating to the early history of Upper Canada. The appointment, which was gained through Merritt’s influence, ended in 1863. The papers gathered by Coventry are now housed in the Public Archives of Canada, but have largely been superseded by more complete and better copies. In 1861 Coventry had also taken a leading part, along with Merritt, Egerton Ryerson*, and John George Hodgins*, in the formation of an Upper Canadian historical society. The members hoped to collect and publish historical documents and the reminiscences of early settlers.
Coventry lived in Cobourg after 1849 and often contributed to the Cobourg Sentinel poems typical of the newspaper verse of the period. Flower and vegetable gardening was his hobby and he was active in the local horticultural society. He was dignified in appearance, polite, and urbane, and was able to read and write French.
PAC, MG 24, K2 contains about 2,600 pages of George Coventry’s miscellaneous correspondence, notes, poems, drafts of letters, sermons, accounts, historical notes, and the prospectus and subscription lists of his newspaper. [George Coventry], “A contemporary account of the Navy Island episode, 1837,” ed. W. R. Riddell, RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XIII (1919), sect.ii, 57–76; “A contemporary account of the rebellion in Upper Canada, 1837,” ed. W. R. Riddell, OH, XVII (1919), 113–74. J. P. Merritt, Biography of the Hon. W. H. Merritt . . . (St Catharines, Ont., 1875). Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 83. “George Coventry – a pioneer contributor to the history of Ontario, 1793–1870,” OH, XIX (1922), 5. J. J. Talman, “Some precursors of the Ontario Historical Society,” OH, XL (1948), 13–21.