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PORTER, CHARLES, Church of England clergyman and educator; b. 1779 or 1780 in Manchester, England, elder son of Thomas Porter, fustian calender; m. in 1808 Eleanor Wallace, daughter of Michael Wallace*, treasurer of Nova Scotia, and they had four sons and four daughters; d. 25 Nov. 1864 in Exeter, England.

Charles Porter received a classical education at Manchester Grammar School and proceeded in 1799 to Brasenose College, Oxford, taking his ba in 1803, ma in 1805, a bd in June 1815, and receiving a dd in June 1816. He became a private tutor in the university, and in November 1805 was appointed vice-principal of St Alban Hall, an old residential hall in Oxford. He was ordained deacon at Lincoln in June 1806.

In 1789 the legislature of Nova Scotia had enacted a statute providing for the foundation of a college at Windsor, N.S., to be named King’s College, with a requirement that the president be a clergyman of the established Church of England. Prospects from England failing, the board of governors in 1790 chose as president William Cochran*, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and the recently appointed head of the Halifax Grammar School. In 1802 a royal charter established a board of governors with authority to frame statutes for the college, conferred power to grant degrees, and appointed the archbishop of Canterbury as patron and the bishop of Nova Scotia as visitor. When, in 1803, the statutes were adopted, they prescribed that the president be a regular graduate of Oxford, Cambridge, or King’s College itself. Cochran was thus displaced from the presidency. The first president under the charter, proposed by Archbishop John Moore as patron, was the Reverend Thomas Cox, dd, of Worcester College, Oxford. Cox arrived in Nova Scotia in October 1804, but died in October 1805.

In September 1806 the new archbishop, Charles Manners-Sutton, nominated Porter as Cox’s successor on the recommendation of the principal of Brasenose College. Against the advice of friends, Porter accepted the position, was ordained priest by the archbishop in March 1807, and arrived in Nova Scotia in July. Cochran, who had been almost continuously president since 1790, now found himself subordinated to an inexperienced man half his age. Porter became professor of divinity, Hebrew, and mathematics, while Cochran continued as professor of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Instruction of the tiny student body in Greek and Latin was presumably divided between the two. Writing to the archbishop in January 1808, the bishop of Nova Scotia, Charles Inglis*, who had earlier favoured Cochran for the presidency, said of Porter that “he appears to be a modest, sensible, and worthy young man.”

In November 1814 Porter went to England on six months’ leave with a commendatory testimonial from the board. In July 1815, before returning, he wrote to the colonial secretary, Lord Bathurst, telling of the sacrifice he had made in going to Nova Scotia and the privation he had suffered, and suggesting “remuneration” for persons undertaking offices of importance and responsibility abroad.

Relations between Porter and Cochran, which may previously have been difficult, became embittered after Porter returned disappointed. In September 1817 the lieutenant governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], attended the annual meeting of the governors at Windsor and recorded in his diary that because the two were “at open violent war with each other . . . the proceedings are in general a discussion of complaints and recrimination, extremely indecorous and unpleasant.” Porter he described as “a strict disciplinarian, and rather an ill-tempered man,” and Cochran as mild and amiable, with great appeal to the students. Dalhousie may have failed to note that Porter necessarily resided in the dilapidated college building and would thus be more immediately concerned with student discipline, while Cochran enjoyed a house in town.

In 1818 Porter also became rector of Newport, a missionary parish of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel 14 miles from Windsor, a position he held, to the detriment of his health, until 1836. In November 1825 Porter went to England for his health, again with a commendatory testimonial. He requested from the under-secretary for the colonies, Robert John Wilmot-Horton, first, a pension, on the ground of ill health caused by arduous duties during 18 years, and then preferment in England. Both requests were denied, and he was again compelled to return to Nova Scotia.

After his return, student indiscipline, which finally brought stern intervention by the visitor, Bishop John Inglis*, was a great trial for both Porter and Cochran. Then in July 1831 financial problems became especially serious. As part of its effort to reduce the financial burden which the colonies placed on the British treasury, the British government announced its intention to reduce by half the £1,000 annual grant to the college, and in March 1832 decided to terminate the grant altogether after 1833–34. Moreover, as a further economy, the same government was pressing for the union of the college with the non-denominational Dalhousie College, to be located in Halifax, but not as yet in actual existence. Porter was authorized by the governors to go to England to urge the case of the college in person. In England he found that any appeal on behalf of the college would fail. This left him with “no resources but to prefer his own personal claims.” In June 1834 he returned to Nova Scotia, where he was subsequently informed of the grant of a pension by the British government, to begin on 1 April 1835. At the end of March 1836 he resigned the presidency, effective 1 October; as his successor the governors elected the Reverend George McCawley*, a former student under Porter.

In June 1837 Porter dispatched to England a medical certificate that he was suffering from a recurrent disabling affection of the larynx and trachea, and a recommendation from Bishop Inglis that he receive a pension for his service in the Newport parish. This additional pension was approved by the Treasury in September 1837.

Early that month, he and some of his family sailed from Halifax to Liverpool, and to seemingly inactive retirement in England. He first settled, perhaps for reasons of health, in the village of Alphington, on the outskirts of Exeter, and later moved to Exeter, where he died.

C. P. Wright

PANS, MG 1, 479–80 (transcript of letterbooks and journals of Bishop Charles Inglis). PRO, CO 217/97; 217/145, pp.547–48; 217/146, pp.857–59; 217/155, pp.915, 953, 957, 961–65; 217/164, pp.249–54. University of King’s College (Halifax), Board of Governors, minute books. The admission register of the Manchester School with some notices of the more distinguished scholars, ed. J. F. Smith (4v., Manchester, Eng., 1866–74), II. Brasenose College register, 1509–1909 (Oxford, 1909). T. B. Akins, A brief account of the origin, endowment, and progress of the University of King’s College, Windsor, Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1865). H. Y. Hind, The University of King’s College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, 1790–1890 (New York, 1890). F. W. Vroom, King’s College: a chronicle, 1789–1939, collections and recollections (Halifax, 1941).

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Cite This Article

C. P. Wright, “PORTER, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/porter_charles_9E.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/porter_charles_9E.html
Author of Article:   C. P. Wright
Title of Article:   PORTER, CHARLES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   September 28, 2023