DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

JURY, ALFRED FREDMAN – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 28 Sept. 1916 in Liverpool, England


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

OGILVIE (Ogilvy), JAMES, army officer and colonial administrator; b. c. 1740, possibly in Scotland; m. Penelope–; d. 14 Feb. 1813 in London, England.

James Ogilvie began his military career as an ensign in the lst Foot on 21 Sept. 1756, but in March 1757 transferred to the 4th Foot. He received his lieutenancy on 20 December of the latter year, and from 1759 to 1762 served in the West Indian campaigns of the British army. After his return to Britain, he was appointed captain on 30 March 1764. The 4th was sent to Boston, Mass., in June 1774, and Ogilvie saw a considerable amount of service during the American revolution, including participation in the battles of Long Island, Brandywine, and Germantown. In 1778 his ship was captured by the French off St Lucia, and Ogilvie was taken prisoner to France, returning to his regiment in Ireland in 1780. On 20 Nov. 1782 he was appointed colonel in the army.

The 4th was posted to Halifax, N.S., in 1787, and upon arrival Ogilvie was made brigadier commanding the Nova Scotia district. Little is known about his relations with Lieutenant Governor John Parr*, but those with Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth were strained, largely because their jurisdictions overlapped. After hostilities broke out between Britain and France in 1793, Ogilvie, acting on instructions from London, organized an expedition against Saint-Pierre and Miquelon consisting of members of the 4th and 65th Foot and the Royal Artillery on transports, accompanied by a frigate and several armed vessels. In concert with a force from Newfoundland, on 14 May they attacked the ill defended French colony, which surrendered without firing a shot. Ogilvie returned to Halifax on 20 June with 570 officials, troops, and fishermen as prisoners; the remaining inhabitants of the islands were deported to Nova Scotia and the Channel Islands the next year. On 12 Oct. 1793 Ogilvie was advanced to major-general by the normal process of seniority.

In 1794 Prince Edward Augustus became commander-in-chief of the Nova Scotia military district, and Ogilvie served under him for four years (being promoted lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1798) until the spring of 1798, when he received the order appointing him the administrator of Cape Breton. In order to placate Ogilvie, the Duke of Portland, the Home secretary, described the island as an “important Outpost of His Majesty’s North American Possessions.” Ogilvie left for Sydney, the capital, on 20 June 1798, but the wreck of his ship off Scatarie Island meant that he did not reach there until the 29th.

Upon his arrival Ogilvie replaced David Mathews* and became the second administrator of Cape Breton in the absence of Lieutenant Governor William Macarmick. The colony, founded in 1784, had experienced much political infighting and slow economic growth. Mathews had exacerbated a difficult political situation by alienating and imprisoning members of the Executive Council such as William McKinnon, Ranna Cossit, and Ingram Ball. Ogilvie’s mandate was to investigate and put an end to these disputes. He immediately started an inquiry which lasted throughout his one-year term, and soon came to the conclusion that Mathews was the prime cause of the discontent. He was unable to prove Mathews guilty of misdeeds, and released all the imprisoned councillors except McKinnon, whose case required a lawyer for the defence. However, Mathews was the colony’s only lawyer, and refused to act for him. Ogilvie was unable to hire a solicitor general in Nova Scotia, who might have acted for the defence, but McKinnon arranged to switch his political support to Mathews in return for Mathews’s dropping the charges. Ogilvie was bewildered by these events and sought to leave the colony as soon as possible.

Ogilvie’s chief contributions to the development of Cape Breton were his bringing 150 troops to protect the colony, undefended since 1793; his organization of the colonial militia after Macarmick’s failure to do so (although this achievement appears to have been largely on paper); his improvement of the Sydney harbour defences; and his development of the coal mines. Mathews had harassed James Miller, the superintendent of mines, during his commencement of a new level at the mines, and had gone so far as to imprison him. Ogilvie released Miller, and despite a labour shortage authorized the digging of the level.

Following the appointment of his successor, Brigadier-General John Murray*, in May 1799 Ogilvie returned to Halifax, where he functioned as interim commander-in-chief until the return of the Duke of Kent [Edward Augustus] in September. He then retired from active service, but he was appointed colonel of the 89th Foot on 28 March 1801, exchanging this colonelcy for that of the 32nd Foot on 4 Sept. 1802 and receiving an automatic promotion to general three weeks later.

James Ogilvie’s career in Canada reveals him to have been an honest but unimaginative soldier. Wentworth believed him to be dilatory and unenterprising; Harry Piers considers him to have been “a cautious man and not popular, and to have lacked the great influence and constructive genius of his successor [Edward Augustus].”

R. J. Morgan

PRO, CO 217/113–21; WO 25/747 (mfm. at PANS). Harry Piers, The evolution of the Halifax fortress, 1749–1928, ed. G. M. Self et al. (Halifax, 1947). Akins, Hist. of Halifax City, 123. T. W. Smith, “Halifax and the capture of St. Pierre in 1793,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 14 (1909): 80–105.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

R. J. Morgan, “OGILVIE, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ogilvie_james_5E.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/ogilvie_james_5E.html
Author of Article:   R. J. Morgan
Title of Article:   OGILVIE, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   September 28, 2023