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POPE, JOSEPH, businessman; office holder, militia officer, and politician; b. 20 June 1803 in Turnchapel, England, son of Thomas Pope and Ann Hase; m. first 19 Aug. 1824 Lucy Colledge (d. 1828), probably in Charlottetown, and they had two sons, William Henry* and James Colledge*, his only children; m. secondly 18 Feb. 1830 Eliza Campbell, likely in Bedeque, Prince County; m. thirdly 21 Nov. 1848 Eliza M. Cooke in Liverpool, England; d. 3 Sept. 1895 in Charlottetown.

Joseph Pope was the son of a merchant and shipbuilder at Plymouth and his brother and half-brothers either chose the mercantile life or became Methodist clergymen. Joseph was educated at West Hore, Plymstock, and in 1819 he joined his brother William and his half-brother John Pope on Prince Edward Island, where the two had established a business as early as 1817. The Popes were among the West Countrymen who had entered the timber business on the Island to take advantage of business opportunities created by the Napoleonic blockade of the Baltic ports. Most of the family’s activities were centred on Bedeque, on the south shore, and the Popes became leading figures in this small, predominantly Methodist community by combining the cutting and shipping of timber with the servicing of the growing agricultural community on Bedeque Bay. John returned to England in 1823, and by the time William followed, in 1828, Joseph had taken over the family’s affairs in the colony and was on his way to becoming the most important merchant west of Charlottetown. In 1828 he became agent to Horatio Mann, who held land near Bedeque, and he retained the position until he left the Island in 1853. He was succeeded by his son James, who purchased Mann’s property three years later. Joseph was also involved in shipbuilding; registers show him as owner and builder of four vessels launched between 1838 and 1850.

Even before becoming involved in politics Pope began to gather commissions and appointments that reflect his leadership in the community. A list compiled in 1838 identifies 18 positions he had held over the years, including major in the Prince County militia, receiver of land tax, and collector of impost and excise. The fees that many of these posts entailed added to Pope’s increasing wealth.

Pope’s participation in politics had begun in the autumn of 1830 when he was elected as one of the Prince County representatives in the House of Assembly, succeeding his father-in-law, Alexander Campbell. He was re-elected continuously until his departure from the Island in 1853. In the house he was an active supporter of local concerns, such as the need for sub-collectors of customs at outports (Pope was the first to fill the post at Bedeque after its creation in 1832). When he opposed the escheat group elected in 1834 Pope began to emerge as a spokesman for property interests. One of his earliest major speeches occurred in 1836 following the presentation to the house of a petition from tenant farmers in Prince County demanding escheat of lands. Pope had been present at the meeting at which the petition had been drawn up and he now claimed that those attending had been misled and deceived by a few skilful speakers from outside the county. He rejected the petition as not at all representing the feelings of the county’s residents. The next year he led a move by a group in the house to dissociate itself from the inflammatory resolutions of the Hay River meeting of 20 Dec. 1836, at which William Cooper* had played a large part. Pope termed the escheators “a few disaffected, designing and ignorant persons,” and there is no doubt that his comments quickened the passion of the debate (at one point Cooper, John Windsor LeLacheur, and John MacKintosh* were ousted from the chamber).

In 1838 Pope was one of the Island delegation chosen to meet with Lord Durham [Lambton*] in Quebec. A note of introduction from Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy* described him as a “very shrewd hard headed man.” The opinions regarding the Island that Pope and the other representatives, including George R. Dalrymple*, Robert Hodgson*, and George Wright*, presented to Durham were in accordance with those already put forward by FitzRoy, and the delegation had little effect on Durham’s findings with respect to the colony.

Pope’s stature as a politician grew in 1839 when FitzRoy appointed him to the Executive Council. Yet the honour also paved the way for more criticism by the populist assembly. The continued opposition of council to the Escheat party’s proposals for reform of land tenure resulted in greater conflict between the two bodies. In 1841 a resolution passed by the assembly enumerated the family relationships linking members of the Executive and Legislative councils. Although some of the linkages were close, Pope was shown to be only distantly related through marriage to one other council member, Wright. However, the resolution identified him as a “government partisan” and “a proprietary agent.” One of the leading spokesmen for landed interests, he may have derived some satisfaction from the latter epithet. In 1836 he had defended his stance on the land question by challenging the assembly to answer whether there was anyone in it who “would refuse a land-agency” if one were offered. Indeed, as a land agent Pope belonged to a definite interest group in Island political life. Seldom possessing substantial real property in their own right, the agents had much to lose were significant changes to be made in the landholding system. After the collapse of the Escheat party in the 1842 election, Pope’s leadership of the conservative group in the assembly was confirmed by his election as speaker in 1843.

The arrival of Sir Henry Vere Huntley* in 1841 had introduced a period in which Pope, filling the dual role of member of the Executive Council and, from 1843 to 1849, speaker of the assembly, came into direct conflict with the lieutenant governor. From the speaker’s chair Pope supported the assembly in its attempt to obtain control of crown revenues and blocked a proposal to increase Huntley’s salary, a move hardly consistent with his role on council as one of the lieutenant governor’s advisers. Pope’s relationship with Huntley has been characterized by historian Walter Ross Livingston as an integral part of the struggle for responsible government in the colony, and the picture of Pope trying to wrest control of the administration from the lieutenant governor has been the view commonly accepted. Yet a reading of the correspondence directed to the Colonial Office by the two reveals an animosity as much personal as constitutional. In 1845, amid concerns about the precarious state of the colony’s finances and its dependence on treasury notes, a bill to increase the number of such notes passed both the assembly and the Legislative Council, and Pope was of the opinion that Huntley had agreed to recommend its acceptance to London. The following year it was learned that Huntley had instead advised against royal assent and had commented favourably on a petition opposing the bill which he had forwarded to the Colonial Office. Pope severely criticized Huntley’s actions during a debate in the assembly. After reading in the Islander of Pope’s strongly worded comments, Huntley suspended him from the Executive Council. The fact that Huntley had acted without consulting its other members, as he was required to do, was to prove fatal to his relations with both Pope and the Colonial Office. The House of Assembly backed Pope and stated that the lieutenant governor’s action in suspending him fettered the freedom of debate in the house. The conflict between Pope and Huntley became the focus of the dissatisfaction with the lieutenant governor that had led to an agreement between conservatives and reformers to seek his recall.

William Ewart Gladstone, the colonial secretary, refused to sanction an alteration in the make-up of the council without its members having discussed the matter. His successor, Lord Grey, after reading the voluminous correspondence on the subject, accepted the Colonial Office opinion that the whole tempest was an “idle and nonsensical affair” and ordered Huntley in September 1846 to reinstate Pope. No sooner had Huntley done so when Pope resigned. His 19-page letter of resignation was so vicious – he accused Huntley of having “a disordered mind or a most malignant and wrongful disposition” – that the Colonial Office did not hesitate to agree to his departure. In the summer of 1847, Pope, Andrew Duncan, and Edward Palmer*, all leading conservatives, crossed the Atlantic to urge Huntley’s recall. On returning in December they were accompanied by the new lieutenant governor, Sir Donald Campbell*; although they claimed credit for the appointment, it had been put in train before their arrival in England. As the movement to secure responsible government gained momentum, Pope, possessing an instinct for political survival, abandoned the conservatives and voted on the reform side on a number of questions during the 1849 session of the assembly. By the election of February 1850 he had been replaced as tory leader by Palmer. Although Pope was not in the Executive Council, or cabinet, announced by George Coles* in April 1851, the first under responsible government, he was asked that month to join as colonial treasurer.

Pope had obviously contemplated making a major change in his life as early as 1850, when he offered all of his property for sale. At the time, he possessed a large farm in Bedeque, on which were located the shipyard and store that had provided most of his livelihood. Although not a large landowner, he did have other properties, including some 1,000 acres of wilderness land and at least six additional farms. He had, however, few illusions about the lot of a farmer without resources to fall back on and had advised his son William in 1842 to avoid a “life of drudgery and toil” by entering upon the study of the law. In late July 1853 Pope resigned his seat on the Executive Council, declined to run in that summer’s general election, and gave up the many petty offices he had accumulated. He and his wife left the Island in mid August aboard a schooner he had fitted out “in elegant style” with the intention of removing to Australia. His wife’s seasickness forced a premature end to the voyage at Liverpool, where Pope remained for 15 years. His brother William was by then surveyor at Liverpool for Lloyd’s of London and there may have been other relatives in the city. Pope appears in city directories as shipbuilder and merchant. In Liverpool, he supervised the English end of a transatlantic ship-brokerage and trade business for which his son James was the primary Prince Edward Island connection. Joseph placed Island-built ships on the Liverpool market, many of them constructed in James’s shipyards.

In 1868 Pope returned to a Prince Edward Island in which the politics of confederation was the dominant issue. Both his sons were pro-confederates and played leading roles in the debate, and he apparently was not long in lending his support. At the beginning of 1870 the Union Association of Prince Edward Island was formed and Joseph became a vice-president. In September James became premier of the Island and appointed his father colonial treasurer and manager of the government Savings Bank, in Charlottetown. Joseph was thereafter seldom far from financial administration. After the union with Canada in July 1873, his position at the bank fell under dominion jurisdiction and he was made auditor and manager. The appointment was formalized early in November but was cancelled by the incoming government of Alexander Mackenzie only a week later. Following this dismissal he became provincial treasurer and two years later commissioner of crown and public lands. Restoration of the Conservatives in Ottawa in 1878 resulted in Joseph being returned to his former dominion positions in 1880. In 1879 James, then a federal cabinet minister, had attempted to get the lieutenant governorship of the Island for his father; instead, the post went to Thomas Heath Haviland. Finally, in 1883, at age 80, Joseph retired; he lived peacefully until his death 12 years later, surviving both his children.

Unlike his son William Henry, who enlivened newspaper columns as both editor and contributor, Pope seldom appeared in the press except in the reporting of assembly debates; indeed, he had protested in 1836 that “he had no turn for scribbling.” However, his debating skills were much more formidable and on his resignation from the assembly the Royal Gazette referred to him as one of the best speakers and most experienced statesmen who had been seen in the house. His performance there had not always been decorous, especially early in his career. In 1836, for example, he was called on to apologize for his conduct towards the speaker and when he refused to comply with the terms of the apology as dictated by the house he spent more than a week in the custody of the sergeant-at-arms before recanting. Although intensity and vituperation in debate were not rare characteristics in the colonial assembly, Pope emerges as a particularly forceful character, prone to violent dislikes. In his later years his political importance was overshadowed by that of his sons. He outlived almost all of those with whom he had been associated in politics and at the end of his life he appears to have insulated himself from provincial legislative squabbles. His obituaries were relatively brief and noted his connection with significant political events nearly half a century earlier.

The longevity and political acrobatics of Joseph Pope have served to enhance his reputation. The ease with which he abandoned the tories and became a member of the reformers’ first ministry under responsible government suggests that he may well merit an identification similar to that given by James Murray Beck to Nova Scotia’s Joseph Howe*, “conservative reformer.” Yet it may also indicate the pragmatic approach Pope brought from his mercantile activities into politics. Having subsequently absented himself from the meanness of local political life for almost 15 years, he was able to return as a senior statesman and to benefit from the patronage provided by his son.

H. T. Holman

Devon Record Office (Exeter, Eng.), 694/5 (Turnchapel, reg. of births, marriages, and burials, 1789–1812). NA, MG 24, A27, 19: 624; MG 26, A: 15600. PAPEI, Acc. 2574; RG 9, 2; RG 16, land registry records. P.E.I. Museum, File information concerning Joseph Pope and his family. PRO, CO 226/70: 171, 208, 296. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 17–23 Feb. 1836, 3 Feb. 1837, 23 April 1841; app., 1840–41. Charlottetown Herald, 4 Sept. 1895. Daily Examiner (Charlottetown), 3 Sept. 1895. Daily Patriot (Charlottetown), 3 Sept. 1895. Examiner (Charlottetown), 18 Dec. 1848. Haszard’s Gazette (Charlottetown), 2 Sept. 1851, 27 Jan. 1852. Islander, 28 Jan. 1870. P.E. Island Agriculturist (Summerside), 7 Sept. 1895. Prince Edward Island Register (Charlottetown), 23 Feb. 1830. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 29 March 1836. Canadian biog. dict. Gore’s directory of Liverpool and its environs . . . (Liverpool), 1855, 1857, 1862. Bolger, P.E.I. and confederation, 205. G. A. Leard, Historic Bedeque; the loyalists at work and worship in Prince Edward Island: a history of Bedeque United Church (Bedeque, 1948). W. R. Livingston, Responsible government in Prince Edward Island: a triumph of self-government under the crown (Iowa City, 1931).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

H. T. Holman, “POPE, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pope_joseph_12E.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/pope_joseph_12E.html
Author of Article: H. T. Holman
Title of Article: POPE, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: September 21, 2014