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LAVIOLETTE, PIERRE – Volume VIII (1851-1860)

b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


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YOUNG, Sir WILLIAM ALEXANDER GEORGE, naval officer and colonial administrator; b. c. 1827, son of Captain William Young, rn; m. 20 March 1858 Cecilia Eliza Cowan Cameron, stepdaughter of Chief Justice David Cameron* and niece of Governor James Douglas*, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 25 April 1885 in Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana).

In 1841 William Alexander George Young followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the Royal Navy. Evidently a precocious lad, he was promoted clerk in 1845, and then served as paymaster, purser, and secretary to two commodores in the succeeding decade. Appointed captain in February 1855 and decorated for his services in the Baltic during the Crimean War, Young was highly praised by his commander. The endorsement was undoubtedly largely responsible for his appointment by the Foreign Office as secretary of the British Boundary Commission in New Caledonia.

In that capacity Young arrived in Victoria in June 1857, and he soon became involved in its social life. He got along splendidly with Governor James Douglas and by the summer of 1858 was informally assisting Douglas, whose niece he had just married, with the mushrooming clerical duties brought on by the influx of people in the Fraser River gold-rush. When in November Douglas assumed the governorship of British Columbia, in addition to that of Vancouver Island, he needed help with the press of business. In the emergency, he seconded Young’s services from the boundary commission and temporarily named him colonial secretary for British Columbia, the appointment being approved by the Colonial Office on 3 March 1859. Young at first declined the position, declaring the £500 annual salary insufficient, but Douglas prevailed upon him to accept, promising future salary increases. For some time following this appointment, Young continued to draw salaries from both the navy and the boundary commission. In addition, he acted as auditor of British Columbia and began to assume the duties of colonial secretary of Vancouver Island until by September 1859 he was writing officially in Governor Douglas’ absence from the island.

The dual role as colonial secretary of British Columbia and acting colonial secretary of Vancouver Island placed Young in a position of considerable authority. Although not vested with direct executive authority, the colonial secretary was the ranking member of the civil service, being the official adviser to the governor and his channel of communication with the public. Young discharged his responsibilities so efficiently that he quickly earned the complete confidence of Douglas, who relied heavily on him for advice. In a confidential assessment to the secretary of state for the colonies, the Duke of Newcastle, in February 1863, Douglas praised Young’s “decided business talents,” responsible manner, and untiring application; “his services have been invaluable and to me indispensable, and no other person is so extensively acquainted with the business of the two Colonies or so capable of carrying out the general line of policy and the system of Government so successfully inaugurated in each.”

By 1863 Young had built a large house not far from Douglas’ in James Bay near the new legislative buildings in Victoria. When in 1861 the Colonial Office, heeding complaints by mainlanders, had ordered officials for British Columbia to reside in that colonoung was the only one allowed to remain in Victoria with Douglas. Among his land holdings were 25 town lots in Victoria, one in Nanaimo, and 247 acres in Esquimalt, and he invested heavily in businesses on the island. Young, like Douglas, consequently became increasingly identified with the interests of Victoria, and a prominent member of what Amor De Cosmos* labelled Vancouver Island’s “Family-Company Compact.”

Early in 1863 the Duke of Newcastle decided to separate the two colonies completely by replacing Douglas with a governor for each colony and by giving each its own executive and legislative councils. Young was forced to choose. He decided to remain in Victoria and on 20 Aug. 1863 gave up the colonial secretaryship of the mainland and its salary of £800. In his letter of resignation he asked to be confirmed as the colonial secretary of Vancouver Island; this request was never granted and he remained in an acting capacity. As acting colonial secretary he was the ranking member of both the Executive and the Legislative councils of Vancouver Island but instead of taking his seat in the latter, he sought, possibly at Douglas’ urging, election to the assembly for the four-member riding of Victoria. If successful, he would be able to act as a spokesman for the government in the assembly, a role previously undertaken by Attorney General George Hunter Cary*. During the campaign Young opposed responsible government, advocated improvements to Victoria’s inner harbour, and defended maintaining it as a free port (all policies Douglas supported). Amor De Cosmos, running in the same riding, attacked Young in the press, claiming that he had been “requisitioned” to stand by an “irresponsible” and “obstructionist” administration. Nevertheless, endorsed by prominent members of Victoria’s commercial establishment, Young topped the poll, besting De Cosmos by a narrow margin.

Young’s tenure in the assembly was not a happy one because after Douglas’ retirement, announced on 14 March 1864, the mainlanders were free to retaliate against Victoria and pursue their own economic policies. The day Douglas announced his retirement from office, Young applied for a year’s leave of absence from the Executive Council of Vancouver Island on the grounds of overwork and impaired health. Two months later Young and his family left for England with Douglas. While Douglas visited relatives in Scotland and toured the continent, Young took charge of Douglas’ personal affairs, looking after his investments and his son’s education. They corresponded weekly and returned together to Victoria in June 1865.

During Young’s absence both colonies had experienced a major recession, and once he resumed his seats in the Executive and Legislative councils, Governor Arthur Edward Kennedy of Vancouver Island appointed him to a board of inquiry investigating the island’s rapidly deteriorating financial situation. The board’s report called for retrenchment in public works rather than in the civil establishment, and recommended additional borrowing to cover the growing deficit. The report was not well received by the government’s critics who now supported the union of the two colonies in order to reduce the need to maintain two expensive civil establishments. Young also alienated the reform element when he suggested that income and property qualifications for membership in the assembly should be raised to $2,500 and $3,000, respectively.

As the depression deepened, the assembly voted to accept union on any terms “Her Majesty’s Government may be pleased to grant.” Then on 6 Aug. 1866, to the profound dismay of all islanders, the imperial parliament terminated the government of Vancouver Island and extended the jurisdication of the mainland to the island. Governor Kennedy left Victoria on 23 October, and Young remained as administrator until Governor Frederick Seymour* of British Columbia proclaimed the new legislation on 19 November.

To Young, union meant the loss of a job and the choice of remaining in Victoria or seeking a posting elsewhere. Although Seymour recognized Young’s experience and ability, he did not trust him because of his Victoria connections. Nevertheless, following the dismissal of Treasurer Charles William Franks in January 1867, he temporarily appointed Young to take his place, and in July made him acting colonial secretary. Almost a year later he requested that the Colonial Office not confirm Young in the latter office because he was “so mixed up in the affairs of Victoria that I cannot give him the entire confidence which a governor should repose in his Colonial Secretary.” But when the Colonial Office appointed Philip James Hankin instead, Seymour abruptly protested that he had “never made a complaint” against Young, whom he characterized as an “excellent painstaking Public Officer.” In an astounding display of independence, Seymour then delayed installing Hankin for more than three months, until the end of the Legislative Council session over which Young was presiding. But the damage had been done. On 4 May 1869 Young applied to the Executive Council for 12 months’ leave at half pay and passage for himself and his family back to England. The leave was refused. After auctioning most of their household possessions, Young and his family reluctantly left the colony on 1 June 1869. Nine days later, Seymour unexpectedly died.

Young never did receive compensation for loss of office caused by Seymour’s negligence, although the Colonial Office later became aware of the injustice he had suffered. Young was appointed financial secretary of Jamaica at the same salary he had received in British Columbia, and in 1872 was invalided back to England after an attack of yellow fever. Five years later he was named a cmg and appointed governor of the Gold Coast in Africa. He died there on 25 April 1885.

Next to Douglas and Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie*, Young was perhaps the most able of the colonial officials to serve in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. His intimate association with Douglas was a political asset but also contributed to his downfall. But for the Hankin affair, Young almost certainly would have remained in Victoria and might well have left his imprint on events that led to confederation and subsequent provincial affairs.

James E. Hendrickson

There is much important material on William Alexander George Young in the PRO, CO 60, CO 305, and CO 398 (mfm. at PABC).

Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of British Columbia Arch. (Victoria), Christ Church Cathedral (Victoria), Parish registers, Baptisms, 1836–86; Marriages, 1837–72 (mfm. at PABC). PABC, James Douglas, Corr. outward, 22 March 1867–11 Oct. 1870, James Douglas to Jane Dallas, 2 Dec. 1868; Governor (Douglas), Corr. outward, 22 June 1850–5 March 1859, James Douglas to J. C. Prevost, 29 Dec. 1858; 27 May 1859–9 Jan. 1864, James Douglas to M. B. Begbie, 28 Oct. 1863; Vancouver Island, Colonial secretary, Corr. outward, 1859–60 (letterbook copies); Executive Council, Minutes, October 1863, March 1864. B.C., Legislative Council, Journals, 29 April 1868. Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, 1858–70. Times (London), 27 May 1885. W. K. Lamb, “Sir James goes abroad,” BCHQ, 3 (1939): 283–92; “Some notes on the Douglas family,” BCHQ, 17 (1953): 41–51. J. W. Long, “The origin and development of the San Juan Island water boundary controversy,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Seattle, Wash.), 43 (1952): 187–213. R. L. Smith, “The Hankin appointment, 1868,” BC Studies, 22 (summer 1974): 26–39.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

James E. Hendrickson, “YOUNG, Sir WILLIAM ALEXANDER GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/young_william_alexander_george_11E.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/young_william_alexander_george_11E.html
Author of Article:   James E. Hendrickson
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   March 4, 2024