KNELLER, HENRY, lawyer and attorney general; d. March 1776 in England.
Henry Kneller came to Canada shortly after the conquest, in 1763 or the following year. On 2 Oct. 1764 he was appointed clerk of the crown, on 3 November he took his oath as deputy clerk of the Council, and on 13 November he was appointed register of the Court of Chancery. On 23 March 1765 Kneller obtained a commission as an attorney, which (with that given to Williams Conyngham) is the earliest known to have been issued in Quebec. He had apparently obtained permission to practise law before this date, however, since the Quebec Gazette announced on 28 Feb. 1765 that he had been admitted to practise in the Court of King’s Bench at its first sitting (as were Conyngham, Jeremy Condy Russell, and John Burke) and had taken the required oaths. Kneller resigned as deputy clerk of the Council on 11 June 1765 because of his many activities Shortly thereafter he ceased being register of the Court of Chancery; after August 1765 his signature is not on any of its documents. On 22 July 1767 he was commissioned a barrister.
Kneller was held in high regard by governors James Murray and Guy Carleton*. When the latter gave Francis Maseres* a year’s leave of absence to return to England in the autumn of 1769, he appointed Kneller acting attorney general, that is, acting king’s attorney. This appointment was confirmed by the king early in 1770. Carleton also recommended that, should it prove impossible to find a qualified jurist who knew French, Kneller should be given the permanent post.
At the Council’s request, Kneller drew up an ordinance, passed on 1 Feb. 1770, to make the administration of justice more efficient and to regulate the civil courts of the province. This decree resulted from the report of a committee which had been established to investigate the work of the justices of the peace, in response to numerous complaints about their incompetence and irregularities. The ordinance abolished the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace in matters of property, established a court of common pleas in the district of Montreal independent of the one in Quebec, decreed that in future these courts would sit throughout the year, and reduced the severity of rules governing execution of judgements. It was ill received by the English merchants. Many of them were justices of the peace and were disappointed at losing their powers in matters of private property. They also complained that the measure enabled their business creditors to hound them all year round and gave their debtors too much protection. Their protests, however, had no effect.
In October 1771 Kneller was appointed advocate general in the Court of Vice-Admiralty, succeeding George Suckling. According to the Quebec Gazette he was given official appointment as attorney general in 1772. Kneller returned to England in 1775 and died there in March the following year.
PAC, MG 11, [CO 42], Q, 7, p.1; 8, p.83; MG 23, GII, 1, ser.1, 2, p.190; RG 1, E1, 1, p.56; 2, pp.9–10; RG 4, B8, 28, p.86. PRO, CO 42/2, pp.98, 100; 42/3, p.136; 42/6, p.213 (PAC transcripts). Doc. relatifs à l’hist. constitutionnelle, 1759–91 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921), I, 376–96; II, 703. Rapports sur les lois de Québec, 1767–1770, W. P. M. Kennedy et Gustave Lanctot, édit. (Ottawa, 1931). Quebec Gazette, 28 Feb., 20 June 1765, 1 Oct. 1772. P.-G. Roy, Les avocats de la région de Québec, 232. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary, 373. Brunet, Les Canadiens après la Conquête, 227–29. Burt, Old prov. of Que. (1968), I, 156–58. Neatby, Quebec, 97–99. L’Heureux, “L’organisation judiciaire,” Revue générale de droit, 1, 288–90, 294–95, 314–16, 318, 322. W. R. Riddell, “The first court of chancery in Canada,” Boston University Law Rev. (Boston, Mass.), II (1922), 241.