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RENAUD, JEAN-BAPTISTE – Volume XI (1881-1890)

b. 22 June 1816 at Lachine, Lower Canada


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

PALMER, EDWARD, lawyer, landed proprietor, land agent, politician, and judge; b. 1 Sept. 1809 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., third son among 12 children of James Bardin Palmer* of Dublin and Millicent Jones of London, England; d. 3 Nov. 1889 in Charlottetown.

Edward Palmer’s father, an Irish attorney, came to Prince Edward Island in 1802 as land agent for an absentee proprietor. From 1806 to 1812 the senior Palmer played a pivotal role in Island affairs, as adviser to Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres*. But in 1812 DesBarres was recalled in disgrace, and the Loyal Electors, the political society Palmer led, was stigmatized as disloyal. Palmer was dismissed from the public offices he held, and it appears that he went through difficult years when Edward was a young child. Yet between 1816 and 1820 he was named land agent to several important land claimants or proprietors. Thus, well before he died in 1833, the elder Palmer had been thoroughly integrated into the local élite. He left to his family a claim to Lot One, the 23,700-acre township at the northwestern extremity of the colony.

Edward Palmer completed his education at Alexander Brown’s grammar school in Charlottetown, and studied law in his father’s office. He was admitted to the bar on 1 Nov. 1830, the second of three brothers who became lawyers. Four years later, he successfully contested the Family Compact stronghold of Charlottetown and Royalty. Although he took pains to deny charges “that I come forward under the influence of persons in executive authority,” there could be no doubt that he stood to the right of centre. The politics of the 1830s in Prince Edward Island revolved around the militant Escheat movement [see William Cooper*], which demanded forfeiture of proprietary titles because of non-fulfilment of the conditions of the original grants in 1767. Distraint for non-payment of rent was in these circumstances an extremely controversial procedure leading frequently to assaults upon sheriffs and constables. In his first session as an assemblyman Palmer earned a reputation as a defender of the rights of property by opposing an amendment to the law governing replevin, or regaining possession of distrained goods, which would have benefited tenants. He also displayed solicitude for the rights of creditors in dealing with debtors, and advocated narrowing the franchise in “town and royalty” constituencies. He became identified, as well, as a spokesman for the specific interests and viewpoints of Charlottetown, proposing, for example, increased representation for the capital.

By the end of the 1830s Palmer had established himself as the second most prominent Tory assemblyman, after Joseph Pope*. Indeed, he acted as leader of the minority when Pope missed much of the session of 1840 and all of that of 1841. It was in the latter year that the Palmer family finally arrived at an agreement with Edward Cunard, the rival claimant to Lot One, to divide the township equally, and thus became landlords of some 12,000 acres. But because of the isolation of the township and the lengthy dispute over ownership, the occupiers of the land had become accustomed to paying no rent. According to the testimony of Nicholas Conroy* before the land commission of 1860, Palmer and Solicitor General James Horsfield Peters*, the Cunard family’s land agent, early in 1843 persuaded most occupiers of land on Lot One to acknowledge the Palmer and Cunard claims. The terms were 999-year leases, at an annual rent of 1s. per acre, calculated from 1841. In a colony where, as Palmer had stated in the assembly in 1840, “Many individuals are not possessed of a shilling between January and December,” Lot One, largely populated by Acadians with a sprinkling of Roman Catholic Irish, was notoriously impoverished. Many of those who attorned were unable to meet the terms they had signed, and the result, in the first half of 1844, was organized physical resistance to rent collection and distraint proceedings. Contemporary accounts suggest that the region was in a state close to insurrection. Yet the government, which in the previous year had sent troops to the eastern extremity of the Island to support the Cunard interests there, did not over-react, and the resistance passed. In 1845 Palmer and Peters were apparently able to resume collection of rent, which was often paid in service or in kind.

Palmer had become an executive councillor in 1842, and in 1846 he supported Joseph Pope when the latter was suspended from the council by the impetuous lieutenant governor, Sir Henry Vere Huntley*. In the following year Palmer resigned from the council and with Pope was part of a three-man delegation to London whose purpose was to ensure the governor’s recall. Although the decision to replace Huntley had already been made, Palmer claimed in a private letter that the delegation had accelerated the change-over. With the arrival in December 1847 of Sir Donald Campbell*, who was strongly opposed to responsible government, the Family Compact once again had a friend in Government House. Earlier in the same year, Palmer had explained his own position on responsible government, the central political issue of the late 1840s. The tenants, he said, constituted a clear majority of the electorate, and “Entertaining the ideas which I believe the majority of them do with respect to the land question, I cannot think that it would be prudent, or that the project ought to be entertained, of giving them almost the entire government into their hands.” He added that experience had shown him “the danger of yielding to popular clamour, and introducing those measures which lead to constant changes.” He associated responsible government with “the democratical mass,” “the mob,” and “Red Republicans.” In December 1848 Palmer was re-appointed to the Executive Council, and in a dispatch the governor justified his choice by virtue of the need for “an Official organ in the House of Assembly.” He had already named Palmer solicitor general in September, replacing Peters, who was elevated to the Supreme Court. Palmer earlier had been chairman of an assembly committee which advocated the appointment of a second judge to the court, thus creating a position for Peters and opening up a public office for himself.

When Joseph Pope crossed the floor in 1849 and for most purposes voted with the Reformers led by George Coles*, Palmer succeeded him as leader of the Tories in the assembly, a position he held over the next decade. In all but one year from 1850 through 1858 his party formed a minority. He opposed responsible government (conceded in 1851), and most of the leading Liberal measures in the ensuing years. “Free education,” by which school districts were to be relieved of paying for teachers’ salaries, and by which payment was to become sufficient to attract and retain capable teachers, was denounced as “quite preposterous” when outlined by Coles in the assembly a year before its enactment in 1852. Palmer dreaded universal suffrage and argued against the Franchise Bill of 1853 “on the ground that it will give a political ascendancy to men destitute of property over those who possessed it.” With such views, it is little wonder that Edward Whelan*, the leading Liberal journalist, labelled him as forming, along with land agent William Douse* and proprietor James Yeo*, the “extreme proprietary party” in the assembly. Palmer himself stated openly that he “had always been an advocate for the rights of proprietors.”

Personalities were an important ingredient of Island politics, and in these years Palmer quarrelled bitterly with both Coles and Whelan. In 1851, after the granting of responsible government, he and Coles fought a bloodless duel with pistols, the cause of which is no longer known. Less than a year after the duel, Palmer and Whelan became involved in an uncommonly heated exchange in the assembly which led to both men being ordered to apologize for their unparliamentary language. The bad feelings continued, and in 1855, according to the official reporter, Palmer complained in the assembly that “there was a faction banded together for the purpose of injuring his character and standing, not only in political matters, but also in his professional capacity. A very angry discussion ensued.”

The 1850s must have been a frustrating period in Palmer’s career, for it seemed as though the Tories were condemned to a long period in opposition. They were able to take advantage of a delay in the confirmation of the Franchise Bill and temporary public dissatisfaction over the cost of the Free Education Act, to win an election in the summer of 1853, although the new session was not called until February of the next year. The Tory government was led by John Myrie Holl*, a legislative councillor, with Palmer as attorney general. But later in 1854, after the imperial government had approved the Liberals’ Franchise Bill, Lieutenant Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* forced a new election in June upon the protesting Tories. Coles returned to office in July with an 18 to 6 majority in the assembly; even in Charlottetown the extension of the franchise had a dramatic impact upon the relative strength of the two parties, as the majorities of Palmer and his running-mate, Francis Longworth, were greatly reduced. Clearly, a new strategy was called for. In the session of 1855 it became apparent that the Tories were attempting to drive a wedge in the ranks of the government by drawing to the attention of radicals within the Liberal caucus the limitations in legislation on the land question. The result was the strange spectacle of such veteran Escheators as John MacKintosh and William Cooper*, who disputed the proprietors’ claims and objected to the expense of purchasing estates, aligning themselves with ultra-Tories like Palmer.

It was over the Bible question that Palmer achieved his greatest success in dividing the Liberals, and especially their supporters at the mass level. Palmer, an Anglican, wholeheartedly backed the Protestant clergy in their campaign to place the “open Bible,” with as few restrictions as possible, in publicly funded educational institutions. During the session of 1857 he declared that “education to be useful and safe to the people, should be based on the christian religion.” He accused the Coles government of desiring “the total exclusion of the Scriptures from the schools.” In an election held in 1858, Protestant voters deserted the Liberals in large numbers and when deadlock in the assembly led to a subsequent election in 1859 the Tories won decisively, forming an all-Protestant government led by Palmer, amid allegations that they had pandered to the religious prejudices of the Protestant majority.

The Tories had strongly criticized the Liberal (and indeed conventional) version of responsible government in which legislators held such paid offices as those of colonial treasurer and registrar of deeds. In its stead, they offered a system they called “non-departmentalism,” which excluded paid officials from the assembly and Legislative Council. This innovation, conceptually linked to American doctrines concerning the separation of powers (for which Palmer had once professed strong admiration), would supposedly protect the “independence of the Legislature.” Although critics, including Lieutenant Governor Sir Dominick Daly*, pointed out that it also implied a diminution of the responsibility of public officials to the assembly, and a consequent undermining of the fundamental principles of responsible government, this objection sat lightly with Palmer, who as late as 1857 had declared publicly that “it would be much better if there was no Responsible Government.” But the new system meant less spoils for elected politicians, and there is evidence that Palmer lacked the unqualified enthusiasm of some non-elected Tories for it. Apparently it was commonly believed in 1859 that for financial reasons he would soon retire as assemblyman and premier to become the paid attorney general. The Tory experiment with “non-departmental” government was quietly discarded late in January 1863.

The most stubborn problem facing any Island administration in the colonial era was the land question. In opposition, Palmer and the Tories had criticized the details and implementation of the Coles government’s policy, but in deference to public opinion had usually not voted against Liberal legislation. Once in office, Tory leaders were confronted with an especially delicate situation since, while politically accountable to an electorate strongly committed to abolition of leasehold tenure, in their private capacities they were often, like Palmer himself, proprietors or land agents. Their response to this dilemma was to appoint in 1860 a three-man commission to investigate differences between landlord and tenant and to make recommendations for their resolution. In the course of extensive hearings throughout the Island, Palmer’s own name came up several times as an example of a landlord or lawyer, usually in a context that was politically embarrassing. Consequently, when the premier appeared before the commission, he did so primarily in order to answer criticism of his behaviour as a private individual. His government did not advocate the cause of the tenantry before the commission, leaving that task to two lawyers it retained on the tenants’ behalf. The commissioners unanimously reported in favour of giving tenants the right to purchase the lands they occupied, with the value to be established by arbitration, if necessary. At the urging of Sir Samuel Cunard* and other large proprietors, the imperial government in 1862 disallowed Island legislation attempting to implement the recommendations of the commissioners. Thus the land commission had come to naught.

The government was more successful in resolving the Bible question. In 1860 a moderate “Bible clause” was added to existing legislation, giving the Scriptures the statutory basis in the schools desired by most Protestants, yet protecting against the compulsion and controversial interpretations feared by the large Roman Catholic minority. The educational system was further modified in the same year by conversion of the Central Academy, a government-supported grammar school in Charlottetown, into Prince of Wales College. This proved to be the Palmer government’s most enduring achievement: the college soon earned an enviable academic reputation and for more than a century served as the apex of the Island’s public education system. In 1862 the Legislative Council was made elective, a reform Palmer had advocated when in opposition in the 1850s, though a £100 property qualification for voters was also instituted. He himself had moved to the Legislative Council in 1860 (after winning 11 consecutive elections), as part of a manoeuvre to counteract Liberal strength there.

Despite the disappearance of the contentious Bible question, the Conservatives failed in several attempts to mend their political fences with the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, these failures and the resulting recriminations, along with polemical battles in the press between William Henry Pope* and Father Angus McDonald, combined to embitter sectarian relations as never before. In January 1863 the Tories won the general election for the assembly exclusively on the basis of support in Protestant constituencies, while all Roman Catholic constituencies voted Liberal. Palmer was personally acclaimed for Charlottetown on 11 February, in the first elections for the Legislative Council. But in less than a week he was faced with a cabinet crisis, which began when Lieutenant-Colonel John Hamilton Gray, leader of the government in the assembly since 1860, resigned from the Executive Council. By 2 March Gray had gathered sufficient support within the Conservative party to wrest the premiership from an indignant and humiliated Palmer. Personalities and matters of style appear to have been more important than policy differences in the intra-party struggle; the stiff, unbending Palmer represented the old Tory party, and did not mix easily with the aggressive “new men” of Island conservatism, such as the two sons of Joseph Pope, William Henry and James Colledge. Yet, as a veteran politician of considerable prestige, whom Edward Whelan had once described as having “keen perception – no small share of cunning – inexhaustible force of character,” Palmer was allowed to retain the attorney generalship, which he had assumed in late January, and he remained within the cabinet. Whelan shrewdly predicted that there would be dissension on the Executive Council in the future. Perhaps it was partially a desire to keep Palmer out of trouble which led to his being sent, instead of Gray, with W. H. Pope, the colonial secretary, on a fruitless delegation to England concerning the land question in the autumn of 1863.

Differences between Gray and Palmer surfaced publicly in November 1864 over the question of union of the British North American colonies. Gray strongly advocated confederation, and it is as an anti-confederate, particularly as the most obstructive delegate at the Quebec conference, that Palmer is best known to Canadian historians. Palmer first put his views on the general question of union on record at the end of April 1864 when the Legislative Council debated a resolution to appoint delegates to the Charlottetown conference, called to discuss a union of the three Maritime colonies. He stated that while he could envisage benefits for the British government in Maritime union, he could see none for the Island. “We would submit our rights and our prosperity, in a measure, into the hands of the General Government, and our voice in the united Parliament would be very insignificant.” Given the seasonal isolation of the Island, there would be difficulty in ensuring effective participation in a government located elsewhere, and he expected little sympathy for any proposal to make Charlottetown the seat of government. He also predicted that union would result in increased taxation, and a portion of the liability for any expensive public projects undertaken in the future, like railway building, regardless of their value to Islanders. In summation, Palmer argued that “unless we can see that our position will be improved or our prospects brightened by a union, we had better let well alone and remain as we are” – a cautious position not inconsistent with his general political principles.

Although Palmer’s remarks referred specifically to Maritime union, they also represented well his objections to a general British North American federation, as they were to emerge. Palmer himself attended both the Charlottetown and the Quebec conferences. There is little precise information on what was said at the Charlottetown conference, but a few months later, in the midst of his public dispute with Gray, Palmer claimed to have spoken out then against the principle of union and particularly representation by population as the basis for allocation of seats in the federal lower chamber; Charles Tupper*’s recently discovered minutes appear to bear out this claim. For the Quebec conference in October 1864, documentation is ample, and it is clear that from start to finish Palmer was a thorn in the flesh of those committed to union. He opened by moving that each provincial delegation, including the Canadians, have only one vote, he generally presented dissenting views, and at the end he successfully insisted that Resolution 72 be reworded so as not to imply assent on the part of the delegates to “the principles of the Report.”

As soon as the Island delegates returned home and declared themselves on the question of union, it became apparent that Gray and Palmer could not continue long in the same cabinet. On 20 December Gray presented his resignation to the Executive Council, accusing Palmer of undermining the government by inconsistency over confederation. Palmer had spoken favourably of it at a banquet in Toronto, but had subsequently excused his remarks because of the requirements of civility on a festive occasion. Certainly at no other time did he endorse the plan. But in refuting Gray’s charge of deliberate duplicity, Palmer made counter-allegations containing mis-statements which W. H. Pope, the Island’s most determined confederate, pounced upon to force his resignation from the cabinet. A new administration, led by James Pope, who had supported Gray in both February–March 1863 and December 1864, but whose own position on confederation was ambiguous, took office on 7 January 1865. Palmer remained attorney general, though neither he nor Gray was a member of the reconstituted Executive Council.

Palmer had the satisfaction of knowing that a divided Conservative party could not lead the colony into confederation, which was extremely unpopular on the Island in the mid 1860s. The Charlottetown Monitor (to which Palmer himself was reputedly an occasional editorial contributor) commented at the height of the cabinet crisis that he had never had more public support than over his opposition to confederation. Although the near-unanimity of public sentiment makes it questionable to assign responsibility to any individual, it is noteworthy that pro-confederate politicians on the Island tended to blame Palmer in particular for thwarting the union movement. Charles Tupper carried confederation in Nova Scotia in defiance of public opinion and perhaps the same might have been done in Prince Edward Island had not individuals, Palmer being crucial because of his place in the government, forced the issue. But the question of his motives is somewhat complicated. There is every likelihood that he welcomed the opportunity to confront and unseat Gray, who had recently usurped his position as premier; no doubt the public acclaim because of his anti-confederacy was gratifying to a man who had never before been a popular hero; but it is also likely that at the base of his opposition to confederation was the belief, shared by most Islanders, that the colony had nothing to gain from union in the 1860s.

The confederation issue dominated Palmer’s career after 1864. He kept in touch with anti-confederates in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick until the cause was lost on the mainland, he favoured making a separate agreement for renewal of reciprocity with the United States, he criticized the British government for exerting pressure in favour of union, and he opposed the “better terms” of 1869. He rarely missed an opportunity to prod the Legislative Council into declaring itself on confederation, and he left few stones unturned in adducing reasons not to join. Indeed he appears to have become almost single-minded over the issue; in considering the results of the assembly election of 1867, his pleasure at the overwhelming rejection of confederation seems to have outweighed any concern over the defeat of the Tory government. The party remained divided in the late 1860s, and when Palmer was defeated (for the only time in his political career) in an attempt to re-enter the assembly for Charlottetown in July 1870, W. H. Pope openly rejoiced.

With the Conservative party firmly in the grip of the Popes after 1870, Palmer changed political allegiance. On 22 April 1872, less than two months after winning a by-election for a rural constituency in the Legislative Council, he joined the Liberal and anti-confederate government formed by Robert Poore Haythorne*, who had been attempting to recruit him since mid 1869. On 3 June he succeeded his younger brother Charles as attorney general, probably by prior arrangement. The new administration had been elected in the midst of public alarm over the financial and, ultimately, political implications of the railway building by James Pope’s second government. The electorate probably believed that if anyone could stave off union with Canada, it was solid anti-confederates like Haythorne, Palmer, and David Laird*, another ex-Tory who had changed parties over the issue. But when the legislature met, it was discovered that in order to hold a majority in the assembly, Haythorne and Palmer would have to meet the demands of the northern and eastern sections of the Island for immediate commencement of railway branch lines. Their representatives held the balance of power, and if Haythorne and Palmer would not do their bidding, Pope would. As Palmer, who had opposed building a railway from the start, despairingly said, “there is, therefore, no alternative but to undertake those branches and add to the vast amount of debt which the country has already incurred.” The Island’s financial position steadily deteriorated, and in early 1873 the government, including Palmer, conceded defeat and sent Haythorne and Laird to Ottawa to negotiate terms. In April 1873 the Haythorne government was replaced by James Pope’s Tories who promised to secure “better terms.” Pope was successful and confederation became a reality for Prince Edward Island on 1 July 1873.

Confederation meant the end of one career for Palmer and the beginning of another. In the last session of the Island legislature preceding union, the Pope government created three county judgeships in the knowledge that Ottawa would be paying the salaries. On 20 June Palmer, a qc since 1856 and a strong supporter of the measure in the Legislative Council just eight days earlier, was named judge of the new Queens County Court. The following year he was named chief justice, a controversial appointment of Alexander Mackenzie*’s government by which two well-respected sitting justices, J. H. Peters and Joseph Hensley*, were passed over. As a jurist, Palmer proved competent, although not greatly concerned with questions of legal principle. His decisions are not notable for the logical development of arguments, but some display at least a broad acquaintance with the authorities. It was probably predictable that he would be highly conservative and respectful of the rights of property. He himself had remained a landed proprietor until 31 March 1870, when he and the other members of his father’s family sold their interest in Lot One to the Liberal government for 12s6d. per acre; this was one of the highest rates of payment received in the colonial era, despite the mediocre quality of the land, which had led to the rent on much of the estate being reduced from 1s. to 8dper acre. His remarks in the legislature over the years also make it clear that he took a rather severe view of “crime and punishment.” Palmer was still chief justice when he died at age 80 in 1889, after several months as an invalid. He was survived by eight of nine children, and by his wife, Isabella Phoebe Tremain, whom he had married in Quebec on 22 Sept. 1846. She would live to see Herbert James*, the elder of their two sons, become Liberal premier in 1911. The family was left a substantial estate, consisting largely of cash and urban real estate, but the amounts involved, and comments Palmer made over the years, do not suggest that at any time he could be described as wealthy.

Edward Palmer played a prominent role in the public life of Prince Edward Island for more than half a century. It is as a politician that he particularly deserves to be remembered, and as such he was, for most of his career, primarily a parliamentarian rather than a popular tribune. His strengths within the legislature were rooted in his legal training, experience, and knowledge. In debate he displayed considerable ability to find apparent inconsistencies in opponents’ arguments, a forensic skill no doubt intimately related to his frequent litigation work. When he died, it was said that he had been involved, on one side or the other, in virtually every important case in the Supreme Court and Court of Chancery between the mid 1840s and his elevation to the bench in 1873. For most of his early years in the assembly he was the only member who was a lawyer, and his speeches reflect an awareness of colonial and imperial law and precedent, parliamentary usages, and the importance of due process, a consideration sometimes forgotten in the overheated political atmosphere of the Island. Yet his legalism, or emphasis on proper procedure and form, proved also to be his weakness as leader of the opposition in the 1850s; when he did not get his own way and the Coles government did not recognize the importance of his procedural points, he tended to sulk and withdraw from the debate.

Palmer’s lack of spontaneity contributed to his image as a dogged, humourless defender of the status quo. A tall, gaunt, ungainly man not given to mirth and not gifted with easy eloquence, he was a natural target for Edward Whelan’s satiric pen. “He has been in opposition,” wrote Whelan in 1854, “to every free and enlightened opinion of the age. . . . His never-failing and never-forgotten objection to every innovation, (for every change with him is an innovation) is that the time is not yet arrived for entertaining the proposition. . . . We have never seen him in joyous, happy, rollicking spirits. . . .” Yet Whelan admitted in the same article that Palmer was endowed with uncommon energy, perception, and determination, and without Palmer, he wrote, after responsible government “the [Tory] party would . . . have completely tumbled to pieces.” In the later 1850s Palmer did more than hold his party together: he redirected its rhetorical assaults from Reform legislation to those who, allegedly, would exclude the Bible from the schools, and he diluted its ideology to the extent that the Tories could present themselves as having something more positive to offer than a return to the days before responsible government. In short, Palmer displayed sufficient strategic and tactical flexibility to propel the Family Compact back into power.

For the years prior to 1864 and the emergence of the confederation issue, Palmer can be summarized as a faithful and consistent spokesman for his class, the local oligarchy which owned much of the land in the colony and acted as an intermediary between the absentee proprietors who owned most of the remainder, and the Island population. From 1835 until 1870 he continuously represented Charlottetown, the centre of Family Compact power, in one branch or the other of the legislature, and reflected accurately the capital’s views and fears, particularly its fear, especially apparent from the 1830s until the late 1850s, of “the democratical mass” in the countryside. In keeping with the Compact’s tradition of vindictiveness, he several times acted as a lawyer in quasi-political prosecutions of leading Reformers, particularly Whelan, whom the Compact evidently wished to silence. Yet after 1864 there is a new dimension to Palmer’s career. For the first time he acquired an Island-wide constituency in a personal sense, and transcended the limits of his party, class, and town. The explanation for his position on confederation is probably quite straightforward – like most Islanders, he could see no advantage in it for his native colony. It is difficult to dismiss his unease as the product of blind parochialism. He was a son of a member of the Dublin bar, and had travelled to the United Kingdom at least twice; in George Brown*’s words, Palmer was “a person of good sense & ability who has seen much of the world.” His pre-eminent position among Island anti-confederates can be attributed to his being a recent premier, and particularly to the catalytic role he played in thwarting the unionist plans of Gray and W. H. Pope in November-December 1864. Thus the two most striking achievements of Palmer’s political career, his resuscitation of his party in the late 1850s and his prevention of its taking action on confederation in the mid 1860s, came before and after his premiership. By contrast, his years as premier were relatively barren, especially concerning the main problem in Island public life, the land question – a record of failure which can be traced to the commitments he shared with other members of his party and his class.

Although without brilliant abilities, Edward Palmer was a major force in Island politics during a generation in which there were such exceptionally talented figures as Coles, Whelan, and the Popes; his longevity and success are tributes to his perseverance and the good use he made of his talents and education.

Ian Ross Robertson

[Two collections of papers in the PAPEI contain significant material on Edward Palmer: the Edward Palmer papers which are chiefly of value for the delegation of 1847 and his ousting as premier in 1863; and the Palmer family papers which include commissions, correspondence from the 1830s to the 1870s, and a typescript genealogy. Unfortunately, a notation on the back of item 199 in the latter collection, initialled EP and dated March 1876 mentions “burning old useless Papers.” Several of his written legal judgements as chief justice are included in Reports of cases determined in the Supreme Court, Court of Chancery, and Vice Admiralty Court of Prince Edward Island . . . , comp. F. L. Haszard and A. B. Warburton (2v., Charlottetown, 1885–86), II. The author is indebted to Mr Michael J. W. Finley for his commentary on the quality of Palmer’s written legal judgements.

The best sources for Edward Palmer’s views over the years are the reports of the proceedings of the legislature. For the House of Assembly debates, see Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 1835–53; Islander, 1845, 1854; P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1858–59. For the debates in the Legislative Council, see P.E.I., Legislative Council, Debates and proc., 1860–61; 1863–70; 1872–73; Examiner (Charlottetown), 1862. It was believed by many, including Edward Whelan, that Palmer contributed editorials to the Monitor (Charlottetown), published as a weekly from 1857 until 1865; a good collection for 1857–64 survives at the PAPEI.

Information on Palmer’s career will be found in: Examiner, 14 Aug. 1847; 6, 13 March, 10, 17 April, 5, 26 June 1854; 23 Jan. 1860; 16, 23 Feb., 2, 9 March, 31 Aug. 1863; 9 May 1864; 27 Feb., 10 April 1865; 28 June 1869; 15 Jan., 26 Feb., 11, 25 March 1872; 3, 10 Aug. 1874; 4 Nov. 1889; Herald (Charlottetown), 24 July, 6 Nov., 11 Dec. 1889; Island Argus (Charlottetown), 20 Feb. 1872; 28 July 1874; Island Farmer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 9 May, 7 Nov. 1889 (available only at the office of the Journal-Pioneer, Summerside); Island Guardian and Christian Chronicle (Charlottetown), 7 Nov. 1889; Islander, 7 July 1843; 9, 16 Oct. 1846; 22 June 1853; 3, 10 March, 4 Aug. 1854; 20 Jan. 1860; 25 June, 2 July 1869; 22 July, 7 Oct. 1870; Palladium (Charlottetown), 29 March 1845; Patriot (Charlottetown), 26 June 1869; 14 July 1870; 9 March, 6, 13 April 1872; 4, 6 Nov. 1889; 19 May 1890; Protestant and Evangelical Witness (Charlottetown), 12 Nov., 24 Dec. 1864; Royal Gazette, 9 Nov. 1830; 5 March 1833; 21 Jan., 2, 16 Dec. 1834; 14 March 1837; 9, 16, 30 Oct., 6, 13 Nov. 1838; 24 March 1840; 11 June “Extra,” 28 June, 12 July 1842; 4, 11, 25 June, 3 Sept. 1844; 11 Aug. 1846; 23 Nov. 1847; 10 Oct., 28 Nov., 5 Dec. 1848; 29 Jan. 1850; 5 March “Extra,” 8, 15 March 1852; 14, 21 March “Extra,” 20 June, 11 July 1853; 4 Dec. 1856; 11 June 1857; 31 Jan. 1860; 23 June “Extra” 1873; Summerside Journal and Western Pioneer (Summerside), 24 June 1869, 7 Nov. 1889; Vindicator (Charlottetown), 27 March 1863.

The following manuscript sources are of value in such areas as Palmer’s legal career, his position as a landowner and land agent, his status as a member of the Family Compact: ANQ-Q, État civil, Anglicans, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Quebec), 22 Sept. 1846; N.B. Museum, Tilley family papers, box 5, packet 3, no.59; box 6, packet 2, nos.18, 20 (photocopies at PAPEI); PAPEI, John Mackieson, Diaries, 25 June 1851; “Scrapbook containing papers relating to Joseph Pope, W. H. Pope, and J. C. Pope,” Joseph Pope to W. H. Pope, 10 Feb. 1842; RG 1, Commission books, I: 291; RG 5, Minutes, 4 Aug. 1842; 26 Dec. 1848; 24 April 1851; 17, 18 Feb. 1854; 3 June 1872; RG 6, Court of Chancery, Minutes, 27 May 1831; Supreme Court, Minutes, 1 Nov. 1830, 23 Feb. 1831; Minutes, Prince County, 2, 3 Oct. 1844; RG 15, Cunard estate rent book, Lot 1, 1841–66; Palmer estate rent books, 1862–69; RG 16, Land registry records, Conveyance registers, liber 24: f.859; liber 25: f.41; liber 27: f.70; liber 33: f.522; liber 45: f.123; liber 46: f.55; liber 49: ff.266, 352; liber 51: ff.183, 562; liber 67: f.244; liber 92: f.758; Land title docs., Lot 1, no.251–54, 1 July 1841. PRO, CO 226/63: 329–32; CO 226/69: 167, 172, 317–18, 320–21, 323–24; CO 226/71: 420–31; CO 226/72: 111–18, 131–33, 139–41, 143–48, 150; CO 226/74: 111–14, 117–18, 157–58; CO 226/80: 213–60, 620–23; CO 226/87: 321–23; CO 226/90: 94–104, 110–38, 157–60; CO 226/91: 309–14; CO 226/92: 29, 463–66; CO 226/98: 139, 150–52; CO 226/100: 468–69; CO 226/105: 399–400; CO 226/109: 144, 184; Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, Estates Division, liber 4: f.16 (will of James Bardin Palmer, 2 Jan. 1830); liber 12: f.333 (will of Edward Palmer, 5 Feb. 1889) (mfm. at PAPEI); Westmorland Hist. Soc. (Dorchester, N.B.), Dorchester Penitentiary, Classification records (mfm. at PAPEI).

Printed primary sources useful for illuminating aspects of Palmer’s life include the following: 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), 1, 39–40, 45, 47, 49–53, 67, 71, 74, 82, 104, 126, 152–53, 215, 229, 242–43, 247–48, 311; “Charles Tupper’s minutes of the Charlottetown conference,” ed. W. I. Smith, CHR, 48 (1967): 106, 112; P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1840, 130–31, app.P; 1841, 9; 1852, 87–89, 92–94, 98–104, app.R;1862, app.B, warrant no.443; 1870, app.X; 1875, app.E; P.E.I., Legislative Council, Journal, 1860, 72–73; 1880, app.7, p.23; Report of proceedings before the commissioners appointed under the provisions ofThe Land Purchase Act, 1875,” reporter P. S. MacGowan (Charlottetown, 1875), 126–28; The union of the British provinces: a brief account of the several conferences held in the Maritime provinces and in Canada, in September and October, 1864, on the proposed confederation of the provinces . . . , comp. Edward Whelan (Charlottetown, 1865; repr. Summerside, 1949), 181–83.

See also: F. W. P. Bolger, Prince Edward Island and confederation, 1863–1873 (Charlottetown, 1964); MacKinnon, Government of P.E.I.; W. S. MacNutt, “Political advance and social reform, 1842–1861,” Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 115–34; Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.”; David Weale and Harry Baglole, The Island and confederation: the end of an era (n.p., 1973); D. C. Harvey, “Dishing the Reformers,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 25 (1931), sect.ii: 37–44; “The loyal electors,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 24 (1930), sect.ii: 101–10; I. R. Robertson, “The Bible question in Prince Edward Island from 1856 to 1860,” Acadiensis, 5 (1975–76), no.2: 3–25; “Party politics and religious controversialism in Prince Edward Island from 1860 to 1863,” Acadiensis, 7 (1977–78), no.2: 29–59.  i.r.r.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Ian Ross Robertson, “PALMER, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/palmer_edward_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/palmer_edward_11E.html
Author of Article:   Ian Ross Robertson
Title of Article:   PALMER, EDWARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 22, 2024