JEFFERY, THOMAS NICKLESON, office holder, politician, and colonial administrator; b. 1782 in England, eldest son of John Jeffery and Elizabeth — of Poole, Dorset; m. 3 May 1805 Martha Maria Uniacke, daughter of Richard John Uniacke* Sr, in Halifax, and they had four sons and one daughter; d. there 21 Oct. 1847.
Thomas Nickleson Jeffery began his career in 1798 as an audit clerk in London, and through the influence of William Pitt he was appointed collector of customs at Halifax while still a minor. On 13 Sept. 1803 he received his commission and officially assumed his duties. The salary was small but the fees lucrative, and the latter were found very burdensome by merchants, particularly those engaged in the coasting trade. In 1820 a committee of the House of Assembly claimed that “many evils, and violations of Law, do exist in the Halifax Department of the Custom-House.” The evidence supporting the charges was suspect; one important witness had previously been dismissed from the customs service by Jeffery because of fraud. Jeffery was quite correct when he told Lieutenant Governor Sir James Kempt* that “it is the establishment and not the officers that is the object aimed at.” As part of the reform of the trade laws in 1825, fees were abolished, but the assembly always considered Jeffery’s new salary of £2,000 to be too high.
Appointed to the Council on 8 Aug. 1810, Jeffery loyally supported the high-church tory views of his father-in-law, Richard John Uniacke. As administrator of the province from 9 Oct. 1832 to 2 July 1834, after the departure of Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland*, he performed his duties to the approbation of Joseph Howe*, who wrote in the Novascotian, or Colonial Herald that “Mr. Jeffery’s administration has been highly acceptable to all classes,” and praised his desire “on all occasions . . . to preserve the peace and promote the welfare of the country.” Jeffery also received a highly complimentary address signed by 700 citizens. Perhaps Howe would have praised Jeffery less had he known that Jeffery in his correspondence with the Colonial Office had opposed both the separation of the Council into legislative and executive bodies and the union of King’s and Dalhousie colleges. On the former matter, he gave somewhat spurious reasons for his opposition, claiming that “no change would stop dissatisfaction, or silence complaint among those who are already discontented” and that “just discontent” over the precedence of councillors would arise. When the Council was separated in January 1838 Jeffery became a member of the Executive Council. He resigned with four others on 1 Oct. 1840 to allow Lieutenant Governor Lord Falkland [Cary*] to include the leaders of the reform party.
In 1815 Jeffery had been made responsible for the care of the blacks sent to Nova Scotia after the War of 1812. A depot was established on Melville Island and he seems to have carried out his duties with compassion and efficiency. He settled some of the families on his lands near the Shubenacadie River. His salary for this duty was about £1,500 and probably helped finance the building of his Georgian summer residence of Lakelands, 30 miles from Halifax on the Windsor road. Here he engaged in gentlemanly farming; in 1833 the ornithologist John James Audubon found “his house . . . large, good looking, and the grounds . . . in fine order.”
Jeffery from all accounts was of a generous disposition, giving his time and money for the encouragement of public improvements. He was apparently “charitable to profusion,” perhaps more than was wise, since on his death his wife was left with “wholly insufficient” means to sustain her position in society. Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey* unsuccessfully tried to secure her a pension. Collectors of customs were never popular in Nova Scotia but over 40 years Jeffery performed to the general satisfaction of both his fellow Nova Scotians and his superiors. The respect in which he was held was demonstrated at his funeral, the reporter for the Acadian Recorder commenting that “there was a larger concourse than we ever remember to have seen at any funeral at Halifax.” Even in outports such as Pictou, flags flew at half-mast.
PANS, MG 1, 1489; RG 1, 53–54, 112, 119, 214–14 1/2, 229, 420. PRO, CO 217/86, 217/96, 217/139, 217/143, 217/149, 217/155–56; CO 218/31. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1820–21. Acadian Recorder, 30 Oct. 1847. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 3 July 1834. Cuthbertson, Old attorney general. Marion Gilroy, “Customs fees in Nova Scotia,” CHR, 17 (1936): 9–22; “The imperial customs establishment in Nova Scotia, 1825–1855,” CHR, 19 (1938): 277–91.