DOUSE, WILLIAM, land agent and politician; b. 19 May 1800 in England; m. Esther Young, and they had 12 children; d. 5 Feb. 1864 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
After immigrating to Prince Edward Island from Devizes, Wiltshire, in the early 1820s William Douse took up farming, shipbuilding, brewing, and auctioneering, and eventually pursued with some success the buying and selling of seed and produce. In 1833 he was named land agent by the 6th Earl of Selkirk and given power of attorney over the huge Island estate which had been assembled in 1803 in southern Queens County for the colonization scheme of the 5th Earl of Selkirk [Douglas*]. With more than 100,000 acres it was second in size only to that of Samuel Cunard and his brother Edward. Douse remained land agent until the estate was purchased by the government in 1860. Late in 1833 Douse attempted to expand his control to other estates. A legal battle to be named land agent to John Stewart*, in which Douse and H. D. Morpeth, the former agent, both claimed to be Stewart’s properly authorized agent, ended only when Stewart was declared insane in 1834 and the court decided in favour of Morpeth.
Douse had a long career in the assembly. He was first elected in 1834 in Queens County and with two exceptions won every election he contested until his retirement in 1862. He was an uninspired member of the house and spoke only on routine business affecting his district. As an agent he was strongly identified with the proprietors; yet probably because he obtained many local improvements, he managed to retain the support of tenants, which was necessary since his district covered much of the Selkirk estate. Edward Whelan suggested in the Examiner in 1850 that Douse’s tenants dared not refuse their votes because of rent-roll power he held over them, but this charge was not substantiated. Two incidents of vandalism in 1836 and 1841 directed against Douse’s property in the district indicate, however, that he was not universally popular.
When Douse first entered the house the Escheat movement, headed by William Cooper, was gaining momentum. Selkirk’s tenants had not been as active as those of other landowners, for the estate was known for long-term leases and reasonable arrangements to purchase, the two chief deficiencies complained of on other estates. However, in the fall of 1837, Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy* published a circular letter calling on all proprietors to grant to their tenantry better terms and conditions of settlement. By February 1838 Douse was complaining to Selkirk that tenants who had shown no previous sympathy for escheat (confiscation) were now refusing to pay their rents. Douse did not run in the 1838 election and was defeated in an 1840 by-election, but in 1842 when it had become obvious that the Escheat party had failed in its bid to make changes in the land system he was again returned.
Douse’s important group of supporters from the Selkirk estate were largely Scots, and in 1846 strong national feelings added to political and religious differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics brought them into conflict with the Irish in the same district. Owing to several incidents of violence at the polls the assembly declared the election void. The by-election which followed in March 1847 was the bloodiest in Island history. At least three were killed in a riot in the Belfast district and the Irish, it was alleged, had dragged their dead away to be buried secretly. Douse and his running mate, Alexander Maclean, finally entered the assembly after being unopposed in a second by-election.
Douse became a landowner as well as agent in 1855 when he purchased 14,000 acres of the Selkirk estate, a move which may have been prompted by inquiries about possible purchase by the government of the whole estate.
On Douse’s death Edward Whelan noted in the Examiner both Douse’s extreme conservative views as a land agent and his popularity with the tenants for his fairness. It was significant that his funeral procession was one of the largest in the history of the colony.
William Douse was the author of A reply to the Hon. Charles Young’s last will and testament bequeathed to his late constituents, the electors of the third electoral district of Queen’s County (Charlottetown, 1840). P.E.I., Supreme Court, Estates Division, liber 6, f.328 (will of William Douse) (mfm. at PAPEI). PAC, MG 19, E1, ser.1, 50, pp.19056–313. PRO, CO 226/71, pp.546–56. Abstract of the proceedings before the Land Commissioners’ Court, held during the summer of 1860, to inquire into the differences relative to the rights of landowners and tenants in Prince Edward Island, reporters J. D. Gordon and David Laird (Charlottetown, 1862). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1855, 1857, 1860–61; Journal, 1833–62. Examiner (Charlottetown), 15, 22 June, 11, 27 July 1850; 5 Oct. 1857; 8 Feb. 1864. Islander, 15 Feb. 1845; 1, 8, 15 May, 21, 28 Aug. 1846; 8 Jan., 9, 16, 23 March 1847; 2 June 1854. People’s Journal (Charlottetown), 10, 24 Oct. 1857. Prince Edward Island Register (Charlottetown), 30 Oct. 1824, 23 Oct. 1826, 14 Aug. 1827, 11 May 1830. Protestant and Evangelical Witness, 6 Feb. 1864. Ross’s Weekly (Charlottetown), 11 Feb. 1864. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 2 Nov. 1830 – 23 May 1841, 14 Feb. 1843.