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SEYMOUR, FREDERICK, colonial administrator; b. 6 Sept. 1820 at Belfast (Northern Ireland), fourth and youngest son of Henry Augustus Seymour and Margaret Williams; d. 10 June 1869 at Bella Coola, B.C.

Henry Augustus Seymour, the natural son of the 2nd Marquis of Hertford, was deprived of family properties in Ireland, a private income, and a position in the customs service on the succession of the 3rd Marquis of Hertford in 1822, and was forced to take his family to Brussels to reside. Because of the failure of his father’s fortunes Frederick, unlike his three brothers, was given neither a good education nor an inheritance. Prince Albert, with whom his eldest brother had developed a friendship, intervened on Frederick’s behalf in 1842 to obtain a junior appointment for him in the colonial service.

This appointment, as assistant colonial secretary of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), marked the beginning of a lifetime spent in colonies torn by political strife and encumbered with serious economic problems. After upheaval in Van Diemen’s Land caused certain offices, including Frederick’s own, to be abolished, he was appointed in 1848 special magistrate at Antigua in the Leeward Islands. In 1853 he was named president of Nevis, and was rewarded for good service in 1857 when he was made superintendent of British Honduras (Belize) and lieutenant governor of the Bay Islands. In 1862 he became lieutenant governor of British Honduras.

Early in 1863 Seymour spent some time in England, probably to recuperate from “Panama Fever.” On his return to British Honduras the Duke of Newcastle, then colonial secretary, offered him the governorship of British Columbia. Newcastle had already informed Sir James Douglas* that he had recommended Seymour as “a man of much ability and energy who has shown considerable aptitude for the management of savage tribes.” Pleased at the “prospect of a change from the swamps of Honduras to a fine country” Seymour accepted with alacrity. He returned to England for a brief visit, and then left for British Columbia accompanied by Arthur Nonus Birch, a junior clerk in the Colonial Office, who was to act as his colonial secretary.

Newcastle had hoped to create a maritime regional union, similar to that being planned on the Atlantic seaboard, on the retirement of Douglas as governor of Vancouver Island and of British Columbia in 1864. But so intense was the rivalry between the two colonies that he set up separate establishments, appointing Arthur Edward Kennedy* as governor of Vancouver Island (which retained its House of Assembly) on 11 Dec. 1863, and Seymour as governor of the mainland colony on 11 Jan. 1864. The provision of a separate governor and legislative council for the gold colony involved additional expense, but it had always been understood at Whitehall that British Columbia, because of its great potential wealth, should be self-supporting; in 1863 the reports of gold production were encouraging and, to Douglas’ amazement, Newcastle promised Seymour a salary of £3,000 and a government house to be built at the colony’s expense.

The agitation for a separate administration on the mainland had been intense in New Westminster, and for the swearing in of “our first governor” on 21 April 1864, one day after his arrival in the colony, the little capital was en fête. The enthusiasm of the colonists offset any dismay that Seymour felt on first seeing New Westminster. Ambitious plans for a capital city had been drawn up by Colonel Richard Clement Moody* of the Royal Engineers, but only a few streets had been laid out when the Royal Engineers departed in November 1863. Seymour later reported to Lord Cardwell, Newcastle’s successor, that although “there was a display of energy wanting in the tropics, and thousands of trees . . . had been felled to make way for the great city expected to rise . . . Westminster appeared, to use the miners’ expression, ‘played out.’”

From the first the new governor had cordial relations with his colonists, and he soon found congenial companions among his officials. He quickly absorbed the local prejudice against Victoria and soon decided that Douglas’ policies had been devised to concentrate control of the Cariboo trade in the hands of the merchants, bankers, and speculators of Vancouver Island. By 1866 he was convinced that the interests of the mainland colony had been neglected from the beginning.

Anxious to be accommodating, Seymour assured the Legislative Council, which was in its first session when he arrived, that he would complete Douglas’ great highway to the interior mines. The 120-mile section of the Cariboo Road from Alexandria to Williams Creek was still to be surveyed; by the end of 1864 the survey was completed and one-third of its length constructed. The colony’s finances, however, were worrisome. The sum of £10,000 was still owing for work done on the Cariboo Road in 1863, and the loans of £100,000 which Douglas had authorized in 1862 and 1863 were expended. Before Seymour’s arrival, Douglas had authorized a further loan of £100,000; there was to be a delay in raising it and from its proceeds the imperial government deducted the cost of what Birch termed “some useless military huts.” This decision Seymour protested vigorously.

The colony’s financial problems were further worsened by an Indian insurrection, which occurred at Bute Inlet within a fortnight of Seymour’s arrival in the colony and cost £18,000 to put down. Governor Kennedy, who first heard the news on 11 May that Indians had killed a ferryman and a road party employed by Alfred P. Waddington* in building a route from Bute Inlet to the Cariboo mines [see Klatsassin], was slow in informing Seymour. Seymour, in contrast to Kennedy, acted with dispatch. He did not declare martial law, but immediately ordered gold commissioner W. G. Cox* to proceed overland from Cariboo and chief inspector of police Chartres Brew to go by ship from New Westminster with volunteer forces. Meanwhile, the governor went ahead with his plan to have the Fraser River Indians gather at New Westminster for a weeklong celebration of the queen’s birthday. Some 3,500 Indians came, and at the end Seymour felt that he had established some of the same rapport that Douglas had enjoyed. Hardly had the gathering dispersed than Brew returned to report his failure to penetrate inland. Seymour assisted Brew in raising more men and decided to accompany him; “My great object,” he later reported, “was to obtain moderation from the white men in the treatment of Indians.”

Every difficulty was experienced by Brew’s expedition: Seymour was astounded by the forbidding nature of the coastal range. On the Chilcotin Plateau many of the men became ill with dysentery and the health of both Brew and Seymour was affected. But there were exhilarating moments, such as when Alexis, one of the most powerful Chilcotin chiefs, was persuaded by the governor to assist in the hunt. Some of the leaders of the insurrection eventually surrendered to Cox. Seymour himself took personal satisfaction from the fact that he had assisted in taking eight Indian prisoners for trial.

On emerging at Alexandria, Seymour decided to inspect the Cariboo mines. The miners at Williams Creek and Richfield received him warmly, and the Indians on his trip down the Cariboo Road no less so. These adventures, however, had occupied three vital months when there were pressing problems awaiting the governor’s attention. As it became increasingly clear that only £60,000 would be realized from the 1864 loan, Seymour recommended to his council in December the imposition in 1865 of a gold export tax and the raising of the level of customs duties to 12 ½ per cent.

Though the governor’s faith in the prosperity of the colony had been reinforced by his visit to the Cariboo, news of the failure in November 1864 of Macdonald’s Bank, a private bank doing business at the mines, gave cause for worry. But it was not until the spring of 1865 when the usual rush of miners from San Francisco failed to materialize that there were doubts about the colony’s prospects. Even so, Seymour permitted the extension and the improvement of the Cariboo and Dewdney roads and, when a new mining area opened on the Big Bend of the Columbia River, the building of a road along the Thompson River to Kamloops and the provision of steam navigation on both Kamloops and Shuswap lakes. These works involved an expenditure of $1,342,000. Throughout 1865 business faltered in Victoria, where large supplies of goods had been stored in anticipation of a miners’ rush, and in the small communities on the upper Fraser River. These reverses focussed attention on the need for retrenchment, and in Victoria the agitation for amalgamation of the colonies developed strength.

The Colonial Office required first-hand information and this it looked forward to obtaining from Seymour who left for England in September 1865. In his dispatches Seymour had deplored “the extreme inconvenience to myself of the position of two Governors of equal authority close to each other yet far from home,” but stoutly opposed either the federation or the legislative union of the colonies as recommended by Kennedy and the assembly of Vancouver Island. In London, however, he found the London Committee for Watching the Affairs of British Columbia (a well-organized lobby representing the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Bank of British Columbia, and investors in British Columbia bonds), the Colonial Office, the Treasury, the Foreign Office, and the Admiralty all recommending union. Seymour yielded to the inevitable, but insisted that British Columbia be dominant.

While he was in England Seymour married on 27 Jan. 1866 Florence Maria Stapleton. A few days later he sent a jubilant note to his attorney general: “We shall be in a position to dictate our own terms. The constitution will be that of British Columbia – with some alterations . . . Capital N. Westminster.” On 17 February he composed in Paris a dispatch to Cardwell, explaining the opposition of his council to union and the necessity of obtaining its consent, and the importance of having the act of union proclaimed by the governor of British Columbia. He recommended making New Westminster the capital; using the constitution of British Columbia as a model but with the infusion of a larger popular element as a model for the new government; and retaining British Columbia’s tariff acts.

Most of Seymour’s suggestions were accepted, and the act of union was rushed through parliament at the end of the session of 1866. Royal assent came on 6 August. He then had an interview with Lord Carnarvon, now colonial secretary, who cancelled Kennedy’s appointment and agreed to grant Seymour a salary of £4,000 as governor of the united colony. He was also assured by the Colonial Office that “It is understood that New Westminster should be the Capital. . . .”

It was an ailing Seymour who arrived in Victoria on 7 Nov. 1866, where he was received coldly. His reception in New Westminster, however, was gratifying. On 19 November, at New Westminster and Victoria, he issued simultaneously the proclamation of the union of the colonies. “There was no enthusiasm or excitement shown in either town,” he admitted to Carnarvon. Seymour paid a month’s visit to Victoria to allay the ire of the politicians at the abolition of their House of Assembly and of the merchants at the loss of their free port. “Matters are settling down,” he wrote to the Colonial Office, “I believe that personally I am not extremely unpopular.” But he deluded himself. “If he only knew the general opinion,” wrote John Sebastian Helmcken*, “he would blush.”

Depression was upon the whole country when the enlarged Legislative Council convened at New Westminster in January 1867. There was now an exodus of miners and the abandonment of the Collins Telegraph line to connect Russian and American territory had left 500 men unemployed. The gold export tax yielded a disappointingly small sum, and there was an unexpected deficit in the customs receipts caused by the heavy importation of tobacco and liquor by Victoria merchants before the extension of the mainland tariff. The united colony, with a population of 15,000, had a debt of $1,300,000. Not until 27 March 1867 did Seymour raise the bitterly contentious issue of the location of the capital.

The decision on the capital could have been his alone. But the initiative taken in his Paris dispatch had aroused resentment in both sections of the colony, and, since he was opposed to “any appearance of straining the vast power which the Governor possesses,” he was disinclined to exert executive authority. His dilatoriness, combined with his decision to seek advice, proved disastrous for his own preference for New Westminster. By a vote of 13 to 8 the council on 29 March recommended Victoria. Seymour was dismayed and sought advice from the Colonial Office. The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos informed him in October 1867 that if he selected Victoria he would have the support of the home government.

In July 1867 Birch, who had administered the mainland colony not too economically during Seymour’s 14-month absence, returned to London. Though there was no other official with Birch’s experience, Seymour turned over affairs to his assistants and embarked on a northern voyage to investigate Indian disturbances. In August 1867 he travelled to Grouse Creek in Cariboo to intervene in a dispute between two mining companies, and in September he returned to the northern coast to visit William Duncan*’s Indian community at Metlakatla. The Colonial Office heard only spasmodically from him during these months. Then in December Seymour telegraphed requesting a loan for $50,000 and wrote describing the now critical financial position of his government. After another period of silence, Birch inquired of an official in British Columbia in February 1868, “What in the world has become of you all?” If the governor had proved irresolute in selecting the capital, he now created the impression of being negligent of his duty. In the colony, Douglas confided to Alexander Grant Dallas* that “The whole machine is in a strange incomprehensible muddle – wanting a firm and experienced hand to bring it into good working order.”

The possibility of securing relief from the colony’s financial plight through entry into the proposed Canadian federation, rather than by annexation to the United States, as some citizens of Victoria advocated, had led Amor De Cosmos* to raise the matter of union with Canada in the Legislative Council on 10 March 1867. Seymour had agreed to telegraph London to ask if provision could be made in the confederation bill then before parliament for the ultimate admission of the colony. He also promised, after the council approved unanimously of the principle of union on 18 March, to communicate with the colonial secretary, the governor of Canada, and the governor of the HBC. But having received no reply to his telegram to London, and knowing that Canada still had to acquire possession of the territory between it and the seaboard colony, he considered an overture to Canada by himself to be improper and premature. Six months elapsed before he forwarded the union resolution to the Colonial Office on 24 Sept. 1867. The arrival of this dispatch caused a flurry of excitement at the Colonial Office, where Seymour’s March telegram had been set aside during the Duke of Buckingham’s first days in office. There was some exasperation with Seymour for his delay in sending the council resolution, but because the HBC’s territory was not yet in Canada’s possession, Buckingham informed Seymour that consideration of confederation would have to wait.

There the matter might have rested had not Samuel Leonard Tilley* of the Canadian government telegraphed Victoria in January 1868 that no approach had been made to it by Seymour. At a large public meeting De Cosmos charged the governor with bad faith, and two days later, on 1 Feb. 1868, a memorial was sent from Victoria to the governor general of Canada, Lord Monck*, asking that immediate steps be taken to bring the colony into confederation and tentatively suggesting terms of union. The Canadian cabinet then passed an order-in-council advocating British Columbia’s admission.

A second telegram from Tilley, urging the preparation of an address to the queen, was received by a Victoria journalist on 22 March while the Legislative Council was in session. De Cosmos demanded that the governor’s correspondence, “if any,” be brought down. Fortunately for Seymour the council turned to the capital question. On 2 April it reaffirmed its choice and named 25 May as the date of removal to Victoria. With their mainland capital lost, some residents of New Westminster so despaired of their own future as colonists that they signed a memorial advocating union with Canada. But the Legislative Council was opposed to taking precipitate action.

Seymour was ill in December 1867 and was slow in recovering his strength. Yet he had felt it incumbent on him to entertain the citizens of New Westminster as he had the people of Victoria. Then there had been the strain of the legislative session, of the transfer of the government offices to Victoria, and of the need to make additional dismissals. In November 1868 he was too ill to attend to business and a petition was got up in Victoria to ask for his recall and the appointment of Douglas as administrator. He rallied his strength to protest violently when Buckingham appointed as colonial secretary Philip J. Hankin, rn, whom Seymour had dismissed in 1867. Depressed also by the charged atmosphere in Victoria on the eve of another legislative session, Seymour confessed “to feeling rather worn out.”

What the colony needed, said De Cosmos, was not a change of governor, but a change of government. Constitutional reform had been Seymour’s aim from the beginning, but other matters had got in its way. He had always regarded Newcastle’s modelling of the constitution of the mainland colony on that of Ceylon as a mistake, and from the first he had treated its Legislative Council as if it had been a legislative assembly. Considering the circumstances, Seymour was surprised at how well the first legislative session of the united colony had gone. In preparation for the elections in 1868, he liberalized the franchise on Vancouver Island, and before calling the session into being he included in the nominated magisterial positions two elected members. But to former members of the Vancouver Island assembly, these changes were far too modest.

The confederation movement, which gained strength during the year, drew some of its support from the desire for constitutional reform. A league of confederationists formed in Victoria in May 1868 agitated not only for admission to the Canadian federation but also for representative and responsible government. But since he was given no instructions in the matter of federation with Canada, and the negotiations over the HBC’s territory were still under way, Seymour advised the Legislative Council, when it met in Victoria on 17 Dec. 1868, to postpone consideration of the matter. Though it contained John Robson* and three other confederationists elected on the mainland, it agreed to a postponement in a vote on 17 Feb. 1869.

On hearing of this disappointing development, Sir John A. Macdonald* felt that no time should be lost in putting the screws on Vancouver Island. He wrote to Anthony Musgrave*, whose term as governor of Newfoundland had nearly ended, stating that Seymour should be recalled “as being perfectly unfit for his present position, under present circumstances. From all I hear he was never fit for it.”

His colonists and their representatives, however, were in better temper in 1869 than Seymour had seen them for some time. On Seymour’s recommendation a public school system was established, the system of courts improved, public health regulations drawn up, the mining of silver, lead, copper, and coal regulated, and a commission established to examine the Indian reserve system. In public finance the corner had been turned. Seymour had recently reduced the debt and made the final payment for military expenses incurred in Douglas’ day. His original revenue measures were now yielding sufficient returns for him to improve the road system, and he was able to announce that the Admiralty would lend money to an English company to construct a graving dock at Esquimalt. In the interior, settlement was superseding gold-mining and farming was becoming established.

The end of this productive legislative session found Seymour suffering from extreme debility. He set to work to put his private and public affairs in order. On 3 April 1869 he signed his will. Five days later he at last swore in Hankin. These matters settled, Seymour prepared to sail to the northern coast where a prolonged, murderous quarrel between the Nass and the Tsimshian tribes was interfering with the spring fishery on the Nass River.

The welfare of the Indians had always been of major concern to Seymour, and he had been successful in establishing good relations with them. He had, however, just received from Colonial Secretary Granville a sharp reprimand for his “unsatisfactory” report on the northern disturbances resulting from the liquor traffic on the seacoast. Accompanied by Joseph Trutch*, commissioner of lands and works, Seymour boarded at Esquimalt on 17 May the hms Sparrowhawk, which he had already twice sent to the northern coast to investigate disturbances. En route he picked up Duncan to serve as his interpreter. At the Nass River, the Nass chiefs were asked to accompany the governor, and at Fort Simpson the Tsimshian chiefs. On 2 June Seymour reached agreement with the warring chiefs on the amount of compensation to be paid each tribe, induced them to sign a peace treaty, and put them under the operation of the law. The ending of the inter-tribal war, Trutch reported, was “fully and satisfactorily accomplished,” and this, the governor’s last official act, was “creditable to his Administrative ability . . . and entirely in consonance with [his] kindliness of heart. . . .”

Seymour also intended to investigate complaints of white settlers about the Indians. But he became ill with dysentery and after the gunboat dropped anchor at Bella Coola his condition became serious. On the morning of 10 June he died. His body was taken to Esquimalt. There, on 16 June, with full honours, and with Douglas as pall-bearer, he was buried in the naval cemetery.

The Victoria Daily British Colonist, which had castigated his administration as energetically as it had earlier condemned Douglas’, conceded that Seymour’s faults were atoned for by his evident desire to conciliate everyone. To govern the gold colony with its motley mining population, and its still larger and apprehensive Indian population, Newcastle, probably because of royal intervention, had chosen a man with a frail constitution who lacked the strength of character and the impressive mien of his predecessor. Yet Seymour, by his initiative and his display of great physical courage, had won in his first 18 months in office the respect of the mainland population.

Newcastle, Cardwell, and Carnarvon were satisfied with his performance. It was after the Derby government took office in 1866 that difficulties developed. Seymour’s advice that the mainland colony’s consent to maritime union be obtained was disregarded, and the promise to locate the capital on the mainland was retracted. After the recall of Birch, a growing chilliness developed in the dispatches sent from London. Seymour’s neglect of his correspondence, as well as his timidity in the capital question, damaged his reputation at the Colonial Office.

The rivalry between island and mainland was an established fact, and anger was bound to be vented on the man who permitted union of the colonies to take effect. In addition, the “exuberantly free press” had long cultivated a tradition of political agitation. As the mouthpiece of the small professional and mercantile class which sought preferment over the English officials, the press yielded no quarter in battle. Already it had emblazoned on its banner two victories over colonial governors – Douglas and Kennedy; a third was within its grasp.

Though he once admitted that much of the odium attached to Seymour’s administration of the united colony was “a natural consequence of the acts of omission and commission of the administration of Sir James Douglas,” De Cosmos could not forgive Seymour for not seizing the initiative in the confederation movement. Seymour was condemned by De Cosmos and by Canadian editors, and his reputation did not outlive this charge. Yet Seymour realized that as yet union with Canada was desired only by a vocal minority, hoping to achieve economic relief and governmental reform, neither of which were likely under the existing imperial auspices. Only after a change of government in England and the transfer of the territorial claims of the HBC was the nod given to Musgrave to promote union with Canada. Seymour, despite his accomplishments, then passed into history as British Columbia’s forgotten governor.

Margaret A. Ormsby

PABC, B.C., Colonial Secretary, correspondence outward, January 1867–December 1870 (letterbook); Governor, despatches to London, 14 Sept. 1863–31 Dec. 1867; 11 Jan. 1868–24 July 1871 (letterbooks); Crease coll., Henry Pering Pellew Crease, correspondence inward, 1864–69; Florence Maria (Stapleton) Seymour letters; James Douglas, correspondence outward, private, 22 May 1867–11 Oct. 1870 (letterbook); Miscellaneous papers relating to Governor Frederick Seymour; O’Reilly coll., Florence Maria (Stapleton) Seymour letters; Frederick Seymour letters; Vancouver Island, Governor, despatches to London, 25 March 1864–19 Nov. 1966 (letterbook). PAC, MG 26, A; RG 7, G1, 166–88. PRO, CO 60. University of British Columbia Library, Special Collections Division (Vancouver), Trutch papers. University of Nottingham Library (Nottingham, Eng.), Newcastle mss, letterbooks, 1859–64 (mfm. at PAC).

B.C., Legislative Council, Journals, 1864–69. G.B., Parl., Command paper, 1866, XLIX, [3667], pp.119–64, Papers relative to the proposed union of British Columbia and Vancouver Island; [3694], pp.165–68, A further despatch relative to the proposed union of British Columbia and Vancouver Island . . . ; 1867, XLVIII, [3852], pp.281332, Further papers relative to the union of British Columbia and Vancouver Island . . . ; House of Commons paper, 1867–68, XLVIII, 483, pp.337–50, Copy or extracts of correspondence between Governor Kennedy of Vancouver Island, Governor Seymour of British Columbia, and the Colonial Office, on the subject of a site for the capital of British Columbia; 1868–69, XLIII, 390, pp.341–72, Papers on the union of British Columbia with the dominion of Canada. Minutes of a preliminary meeting of the delegates elected by the various districts of British Columbia, convened at Yale, pursuant to the following call: “Yale Convention” (New Westminster, B.C., 1868).

H. H. Bancroft, History of British Columbia, 1792–1887 (San Francisco, 1890). British Columbia and confederation, ed. W. G. Shelton (Victoria, 1967). F. W. Howay and E. O. S. Scholefield, British Columbia from the earliest times to the present (4v., Vancouver, 1914). F. W. Howay et al., British Columbia and the United States: the north Pacific slope from fur trade to aviation, ed. H. F. Angus (Toronto, 1942). Ormsby, British Columbia. F. W. Howay, “The attitude of Governor Seymour towards confederation,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XIV (1920), sect.ii, 31–49. M. A. Ormsby, “Frederick Seymour, the forgotten governor,” BC Studies, 22 (summer 1974), 3–25. W. N. Sage, “The critical period of British Columbia history, 1866–1871,” Pacific Hist. Rev. (Glendale, Calif.), I (1932), 424–43; “From colony to province; the introduction of responsible government in British Columbia,” BCHQ, III (1939), 1–14.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Margaret A. Ormsby, “SEYMOUR, FREDERICK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/seymour_frederick_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/seymour_frederick_9E.html
Author of Article:   Margaret A. Ormsby
Title of Article:   SEYMOUR, FREDERICK
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   May 24, 2024