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KELLY, WILLIAM MOORE, businessman and politician; b. 1827 in Moncton, N.B., son of J. M. Kelly; m. first Eliza Ann Long of Cocagne, N.B.; m. secondly Margaret Fraser of Chatham, N. B.; five sons and two daughters were born of the two marriages; d. 12 Dec. 1888 in Montreal, Que.

William Moore Kelly’s father immigrated from Belfast to New Brunswick in 1798 and settled at the Bend of Petitcodiac (Moncton). The eldest of a large family, William while still in his teens operated a stage-coach line between Moncton and Chatham. After the death of his first wife in 1856, he moved to Chatham where he expanded his business by extending his coach line into the Miramichi River valley and by obtaining contracts to deliver mail there.

Kelly’s political career began in June 1867 under powerful auspices. When John Mercer Johnson* resigned from the provincial legislature to enter the first dominion parliament, he nominated Kelly as his successor in the two-member riding of Northumberland County. Kelly was elected by acclamation, but another aspirant charged that Kelly’s influential supporters, Johnson and Peter Mitchell*, had pressured the county sheriff to close nominations early. In the brief election campaign, Kelly, a Conservative who favoured confederation, had proposed such policies as free education, the improvement of roads, and the construction of the Intercolonial Railway. In April 1869 Kelly became chief commissioner of public works in the cabinet of Andrew Rainsford Wetmore*, a post he held until 1878. He was re-elected in the 1870, 1874, and 1878 general elections.

Kelly became deeply involved, in both his official capacity as a dispenser of subsidies and as a private investor, in the railway construction then occurring in New Brunswick. In 1870 he introduced legislation to incorporate the Chatham Branch Railway Company which planned to link Chatham with the Intercolonial Railway; as a shareholder and director of the railway, Kelly supported the company’s successful request for additional provincial government aid in 1873. Criticism of his business dealings first arose in 1871 when Kelly answered opposition demands that he not accept mail contracts from the government while he held office by arguing that he had as much right to continue his long-standing business as did the lawyers who also served in the government.

For the most part, Kelly was able to avoid involvement in the bitter debate on the Common Schools Act of 1871 which divided Roman Catholics and the advocates of non-denominational education [see George Luther Hatheway*]. However, in July 1873 Jabez Bunting Snowball*, one of the province’s most powerful lumbermen, who had nominated Kelly in the 1870 general election and who opposed the schools act, publicly criticized him for circulating a petition which pledged the signers to support direct taxation for the maintenance of public schools. A few weeks later Kelly was criticized in the Chatham press for supporting subsidies for rail lines in the western counties in preference to similar requests for lines in his own Miramichi area. In retreat from criticism, Kelly repeatedly failed to appear at public meetings called in the ensuing months to discuss public works and other government undertakings.

In March 1878 Henry O’Leary*, an opposition member of the legislature, accused Kelly and Robert Young* of having used their positions as chief commissioner of public works and president of the Executive Council respectively to make an improper deal in 1874 with Joseph Cameron Brown, the railway contractor who had built the Chatham line. It was alleged that Brown gave Kelly $13,000 and relinquished certain claims against Kelloung, and the Chatham Branch Railway in return for promises that he would receive the construction contract for the Kent Northern line and that he would be paid a balance owing him of more than $16,000. Brown, who got the contract but not the $16,000, revealed the details of the deal. A special legislative committee exonerated Young of wrongdoing, but a minority report severely criticized Kelly for in effect extracting a kickback. None the less, Kelly was re-elected at the general election held in June of the same year. He had, however, resigned as chief commissioner prior to the election.

During his first years as commissioner Kelly had been regarded as the most influential and popular member of the government. His later political decline mirrors the stormy years of the early 1870s when New Brunswickers argued vehemently, sometimes violently, over the Common Schools Act and were divided by jealousies aroused during frenzied railway construction. Shortly after the legislative criticism of his railway dealings and his re-election in 1878, Kelly retired to the seclusion of the Legislative Council, where he sat until, suffering from ill health, he moved to Toronto in 1882. He died in 1888 while visiting a son in Montreal.

Richard Wilbur

PANB, Williston family mss., Chatham Branch Railway; “N.B. political biog.” (J. C. and H. B. Graves), XI: 47. N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1867–78; Reports of the debates, 1867–71; Synoptic report of the proc., 1874–78. Daily Sun (Saint John, N.B.), 13 Dec. 1888. Gleaner and Northumberland Schediasma (Chatham, N.B.), 1867–73. New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 15 Dec. 1888. Canadian biog. dict., II: 668. CPC, 1878.

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Cite This Article

Richard Wilbur, “KELLY, WILLIAM MOORE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kelly_william_moore_11E.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/kelly_william_moore_11E.html
Author of Article:   Richard Wilbur
Title of Article:   KELLY, WILLIAM MOORE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   October 4, 2023