DALRYMPLE, GEORGE R., apothecary, businessman, and politician; b. in Scotland, probably in 1790; m. 14 Sept. 1825 Eliza Webster, and they had one child; d. 6 Feb. 1851 in Charlottetown.
George R. Dalrymple drifted to Prince Edward Island in 1821 after wandering extensively in America. A hardworking Presbyterian Scot and trained apothecary, he opened a “Cheap Medicine Store” in Charlottetown and married the daughter of an early Island resident and proprietor, John Webster. In 1827 he petitioned for a grant of land at the head of the North River creek (probably Ellens Creek) in Charlottetown Royalty to run a carding-mill, opened it in 1828, and later added a fulling-mill, a flour-mill, and a kiln, thereby creating an establishment known as Dalrymple’s Mills. He incurred great expense in bringing his machines in and remained in the forefront of Islanders working toward the improvement of local agricultural and business practices.
Dalrymple regarded political reform as a natural extension of his commitment to progress. In 1828 he took an uncontested by-election for a Kings County seat in the House of Assembly. Avoiding “the malignant influence of party spirit,” he ran on a platform of “public utility” which stressed the need for agricultural improvement and tenant relief. Dalrymple lost his seat in the general election of 1830 but was returned in an 1831 Queens County by-election. From 1828 to 1830 he had laboured to promote and pass such reform measures as bills for the relief of Roman Catholics and for the establishment and support of schools, and by 1830 the assembly’s progressive members were deferring to him as their leader. While directing the agitation for the secularization of glebe lands and the reduction of the assembly’s term from seven to four years, Dalrymple avoided public demonstration or mob violence, resting content with patience, respect for the law, and adherence to constitutional principle. These methods were slow but effective: a quadrennial bill was passed in 1833, followed four years later by royal assent for an 1835 act allowing for the sale of glebe lands.
As the 1830s progressed, politics on the Island focused on the single issue of escheat, whose advocates desired the establishment of a court to investigate whether the conditions of the original land grants of 1767 had been met. Because practically all landholders had failed to meet these conditions the result would have been the redistribution of land from large, mostly absentee, proprietors to the local tenant farmers. Dalrymple proposed a bill to establish a court of escheat in 1832 because he felt that the rights of private property had been forfeited by the implied breach of contract. He took some time to realize that escheat was not just another in a series of reforms but was nothing short of a social revolution. His methods of patience and constitutional propriety were unlikely to satisfy the tenants’ violent discontent and were probably incapable of achieving concessions from the proprietors. Loath to adopt radical measures, Dalrymple lost his leadership of the reformers to William Cooper*, who was only too willing to use tenant agitation “out of doors” to influence British policy by usurping the power of the assembly. Dalrymple won re-election in 1834 and was chosen speaker – under the circumstances an appropriate post.
The Hay River tenant meeting of 1836, at which Cooper advised tenants to withhold payment of rent, led to Dalrymple’s open break with the escheat leader and his followers. Convinced that “one of the best causes has been ruined by the violence and ignorance of its pretended friends,” Dalrymple fell out of step with electors and lost his seat in the November 1838 election. His last duty as speaker had been to act as one of the Island’s delegates (along with Thomas Heath Haviland* and Joseph Pope*) to the meeting Lord Durham [Lambton*] convened at Quebec in September 1838 to discuss a federation of British North American colonies.
Dalrymple was appointed in March 1839 to the Legislative Council after Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy restructured it and he sat there until his death. These were frustrating years for Dalrymple because he continued to work for progressive measures and for the assembly’s rights in a body which demonstrated little sympathy for either. He found more fulfilment as a member of the Island’s Board of Education (appointed 1834), a trustee of the Central Academy in Charlottetown (appointed 1834), and president of the Highland Society (elected 1841). He also lectured on scientific topics before the Charlottetown Mechanics’ Institute, of which he was president in 1839. Perhaps satisfied to concentrate on his political and social activities as well as on his store in Charlottetown, Dalrymple sold his mills in 1844.
Although, while acting as agent for the Greenwich estate in 1830, he had threatened to use “coercive measures” to collect unpaid rents, he maintained a moderate and constitutional approach to reform and escheat which was legitimately consistent with his role as a friend to improvement. When Cooper’s methods had been tried and failed, Dalrymple may have gained a measure of satisfaction from observing the moderate and dogged pace of the new age of Island Reformers led by George Coles*.
PAPEI, RG 1, Commission books, 15 May 1834; RG 5, Petitions, 21 July, 6 Oct. 1827; RG 16, Land registry records, conveyance reg., liber 29: f.205. PRO, CO 226/39: 16. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PAPEI). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 3, 11 Feb., 6 April 1831; 26 Jan. 1835; Legislative Council, Journal, 1839–51. Prince Edward Island Gazette, 22 Aug. 1821. Prince Edward Island Register, 10 June, 20 Sept. 1825; 12 June, 14 Aug., 30 Oct. 1827; 3 June, 1, 29 July, 5 Aug. 1828; 10, 17, 24, 31 March, 7 April 1829; 23 March, 6, 13, 27 April, 22 June 1830. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 3, 10, 24 Jan., 7, 14 Feb., 3 April 1832; 15, 29 Jan., 5, 19, 26 Feb., 19 March, 2 April, 21 May, 25, 26 Nov. 1833; 1 April, 13 May, 23 Sept., 25 Nov., 9, 23 Dec. 1834; 27 Jan., 31 March 1835; 14 Feb. 1837; 3 April, 27 Sept., 20 Nov. 1838; 8, 29 Jan., 12 March 1839; 11 Feb., 21 April 1840; 21 Sept. 1841; 14 Feb. 1843; 30 April, 14 May, 3 Sept. 1844; 15 June 1847; 11 Feb. 1851. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 95–114. D. C. Harvey, “Glebe and school lands in Prince Edward Island,” CCHS, Journal, 10 (1968): 120–47.