ROUBEL, WILLIAM, lawyer and politician; b. c. 1775, probably in England; d. in or after 1834, probably also in England.
William Roubel was the son of P. Roubel of London. Educated at Westminster School, he was “regularly bred” to the law, and admitted an attorney at the Court of King’s Bench, Westminster, in November 1801. His practice did not flourish, however. Disappointed in hopes of inheriting the family property and feeling the “Want of Capital,” he answered an advertisement from John Hill*, a proprietor of land on Prince Edward Island, for an attorney to supervise his properties. Arriving on the Island in June 1808, the newcomer inevitably found most of his legal employment among the local opponents of the colony’s leading men, and soon gravitated in the direction of the Society of Loyal Electors, a nascent political party led by James Bardin Palmer, which he formally joined in June 1809.
By his own admission Roubel felt himself superior to those “whose knowledge Study and practice in the Law, had been confined” to the Island, an attitude which undoubtedly won him few friends among the entrenched interests there. His letters to John Hill in England were full of criticism of the legal administration and support for the pretensions of Palmer. The unguarded remarks to Hill would come back to haunt Roubel. Hill apparently quoted Roubel’s strictures on the legal situation in correspondence with Captain John MacDonald* of Glenaladale, who on 28 Feb. 1810 turned excerpts over to the Island’s chief justice, Cæsar Colclough.
Following the death of Attorney General Peter Magowan* in June, Roubel solicited the post through his father. But Charles Stewart*, backed by the proprietors, eventually got the job instead, although Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres had written favourably of Roubel. Roubel settled for being returned to the House of Assembly for Charlottetown Royalty in a by-election, and was chosen secretary of the Loyal Electors.
In 1811 the controversy between the “old party,” led by Charles Stewart, and the Loyal Electors moved into high gear. That spring Roubel was forced by Colclough to apologize publicly for the remarks he had made to Hill. This humiliation did not chasten Roubel, but made him even more outspoken. A few months later, in August, he delivered a lengthy speech to the Loyal Electors which excoriated the absentee proprietors, particularly the Earl of Selkirk [Douglas*]. Shortly thereafter Roubel prepared one of five affidavits for DesBarres justifying the activities of the Loyal Electors. He insisted upon the society’s loyalty to the crown. The Loyal Electors were devoted, he wrote, to the consideration “of proper Measures, for the Introduction of upright independent Men, and persons of unimpeached Characters into the House of Assembly, with a view of counteracting a dangerous Influence . . . possessed by a Set of persons (either personally or by their unprincipled Agents) engaged in monstrous Speculations in Land, to the infinite discouragement of the active and industrious Settler, and consequent Check to the Settlement and prosperity of this Island.” He went on to accuse Charles Stewart of attempting his ruin by means “as extraordinary and unprecedented as illegal, and unconstitutional,” and claimed he could prove these allegations unless certain documents not in his possession had been “improperly destroyed.” Roubel also complained that the Island’s judges were too involved in party politics, singling out James Curtis* (an unpaid assistant judge of the Supreme Court) as a man who “constantly interferes with Elections in this Island.”
Colclough and his colleagues Curtis and Robert Gray obtained copies of Roubel’s statement and the other affidavits from DesBarres’s secretary, and Charles Stewart filed them in the Supreme Court in its October 1811 session. When Roubel refused to apologize for his remarks about the judges, the court accused him of contempt and struck his name from the list of attorneys qualified to practise before it. In the elections of April 1812 Roubel was defeated in Charlottetown Royalty, and later claimed that barrack master John Frederick Holland* had flooded the polls with soldiers. Further troubles ensued. His efforts to replace Stewart as solicitor general failed. In August 1812 he was attacked by Captain George Shore* of the 104th Foot, apparently as a result of the allegations he had made about the polling in April. Soon afterward he headed for Nova Scotia on his way back to England, threatening to bring charges of misconduct against Colclough and the other judges of the Supreme Court.
At the Colonial Office in 1813, Roubel did his best to substantiate his accusations of “a total defect of the administration of Justice in Prince Edward Island,” and made a nuisance of himself by demanding many old documents from a reluctant colonial secretary. The result was a lengthy list of charges against Colclough (most of which the Colonial Office instantly dismissed as frivolous) and a shorter list against Gray and Curtis. In the end Roubel could make no better case against Curtis than to resurrect old accusations of perjury made in 1784 and heard by the Privy Council in 1792. Unable to persuade the British government of the legitimacy of his complaints (the colonial secretary refused to allow his charges to be taken to the Privy Council or to restore him to the attorneys’ roll on the Island), he was ultimately reduced to circulating printed copies of his complaint against Colclough in Newfoundland, where the chief justice had been transferred. Roubel apparently never returned to British North America. In 1817 he was again practising as a solicitor in London, and he continued to do so in obscurity until the mid 1830s.
PAC, MG 19, E1, ser.1, 39: 14981–15005 (transcripts); MG 24, B133: 34–38. PRO, CO 194/55; CO 226/25–29. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 31 Aug. 1811. Johnstone’s London commercial guide & street directory . . . (London, 1817). Pigot & Co.’s national and provincial commercial directory, 1832–4 (London, 1832).
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Cite This Article
J. M. Bumsted, “ROUBEL, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/roubel_william_6E.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:
|Author of Article:||J. M. Bumsted|
|Title of Article:||ROUBEL, WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||March 30, 2023|