The Eight Merediths of London

W. Arnot Craick June 1 1913

The Eight Merediths of London

W. Arnot Craick June 1 1913

The Eight Merediths of London

W. Arnot Craick

Few character sketches make more romantic reading than the story of the success of the eight Meredith brothers. Mr. Craick has presented his subject in a masterly manner, and the incursions he has made into the abstract in his search for the controlling causes of their peculiar success will be as interesting to the humblest man on the street, as they are to the critical professional man. The next issue of MacLean’s Magazine will continue these character sketches by an inquiry into the success of a prominent French-Canadian family.

BETWEEN the years 1840 and 1860 there were born in or near the city of London, Ontario, eight brothers, all still living, who have attained considerable distinction in the public and semi-public life of the Dominion. These eight brothers form a family group that is absolutely unique in the history of Canada; indeed, it might be difficult to find a parallel to them elsewhere in the world. Talented in varying degrees, there is not one of them who has not

climbed above the level of average attainment, while three at least have reached positions of high authority.

This unique family—the Merediths of London—are a branch of an Irish house which has given not a few distinguished sons to public service. Originally Welsh, the Merediths entered Ireland about the year 1600, and have since been prominently identified with the life of the Emerald Isle. The father of the London Merediths, John Cook

Meredith was the son of a Dublin solicitor, and he, too, was destined in youth for the bar. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, and on graduation spent a couple of years at Gray’s Inn in London, but the wander-spirit of youth seized him, and he suddenly decided t( join three cousins who were about to seek their fortune in Canada.

The four young Irishmen crossed the Atlantic in 1834. John Cook Meredith chose a backwoods farm as the arena in which he would work out his future. William Meredith began the practice of law in Lower Canada and became in after life Chief Justice of the province and a Knight. Edmund Meredith took up academic pursuits and in 1846 was appointed first principal of McGill University; later he became Deputy Minister of the Interior at Ottawa. H. H. Meredith, the third cousin, settled in Port Hope, in Upper Canada, where he engaged with success in mercantile life.

It is also interesting to note that John Cook Meredith left behind him in Ireland a brother, whose three sons have

gained distinction in the practice of the law. The eldest, the Right Hon. Richard E. Meredith, was for many years Master of the Rolls for Ireland. Arthur M. Meredith is a prominent barrister in Dublin and a retired head of the Law Society there, and Frederick M. is a solicitor of note.

In the Township of Westminster eight miles from the little town of London and near what is to-day the village of Glanworth, the Dublin graduate besan the rough life of a backwoodsman. The country was very sparsely settled ; it was long before the railway era dawned and conditions were very crude. Soon after his arrival the young settler married Miss Sarah Pegler, the handsome daughter of a neighbor, and on March 31st, 1840, their first son was born, and in due course christened, William Ralph Meredith.

The father, however, was evidently not particularly enamoured of life on a stump farm, and soon after the birth of his heir, he accepted, the offer of a position as deputy collector of customs at Port Stanley. The short period that the family spent on the shores of Lake Erie is commemorated in the name of the second son, John Stanley Meredith, who was born in 1844. Following his experience, John Cook Meredith acted for a year or two in the capacity of market clerk in the town of London, then a place of about 5,000 inhabitants. In 1847 he was fortunate enough to receive the appointment of clerk of the Division Court of Middlesex, a position he held uninterruptedly until he lost his life in the Thames disaster of 1881. He discharged the duties of the office with zeal and efficiency and veteran members of the legal profession recall his work in this connection with appreciation. He also acted as an insurance agent for some time, handling this as a side line.


It might be an interesting subject of investigation to estimate in dollars and cents the capitalized value to the state of the eight sons whom this respected division court clerk contributed to the population of the country. If the aver-

age life is worth $5,000, as has been computed by an eminent professor of economics, how much more valuable must be the lives of men who serve in the high offices and places of trust to which the Merediths have attained.

William Ralph Meredith developed the family proclivity for the legal profession as a youth and was called, to the bar soon after reaching his twentyfirst birthday. He became the partner of the late Thomas Scatcherd, M.P., who in addition to representing West Middlesex in Parliament, was also city solicitor of London. Young Meredith was popular, he worked hard, and gained quite a name for himself as a clever practitioner. On the death of Mr. Scatcherd he succeeded to the city solicitorship, while in 1872, when Sir John Carling was compelled to resign his seat in the Legislature of Ontario because it was no longer permissible to sit concurrently at Ottawa and Toronto, he was selected as Conservative candidate in the succeeding bye-election in London. This contest he won with ease.

Whatever may be said regarding Sir William Meredith’s career later on as a party leader, it must be admitted that he was well liked and greatly esteemed as a young man in London. He laid himself out to be friendly, knew all his constituents by name and to the workingman on the street he was “Bill Meredith, good fellow.” His undoubted abilities as a debater and public speaker, his diligence, his wide knowledge of the law and of political questions led to his selection m 1879 as leader of the Conservative opposition in the Legislature. This position he held for fifteen years, during which he seemed unable to make much impression on the solid front of Sir Oliver Mowat’s Government.


Just after the provinical election of 1894, when Mr. Meredith was again returned for London, he resigned his fifteen-year task to assume a position more suited to his peculiar talents. In that year he was made Chief Justice of Common Pleas for Ontario. He presided over this court until on the recent death

of Sir Charles Moss, he succeeded him as Chief Justice of Ontario.

Outwardly, this is the career of Sir William Meredith, the eldest of the eight brothers. Inwardly, there is much more to be written about this extraordinary man. One needs to tread carefully in describing his place in the political life of Ontario during the past twenty years. That there were elements in his character that militated against his success as a politician pure and simple, is obvious. For one thing, he lacked the ability to win the enthusiastic personal support of able followers, largely for the reason that he preferred

to keep his own counsel and do things by himself. He could be agreeable enough to his supporters, but it was quite impossible for a strong-minded man of his type to share with others the management of the party’s affairs. This was probably the defect in his character which proved his undoing as a political leader.

But, by the irony of fate, the transference of Sir William’s bodily presence from the political forum to the Bench, has not meant the removal of his guiding hand from his party’s affairs. In various ways his influence has been felt ever since the government of his onetime lieutenant, Sir James Whitney, came into power. Iiis dominating personality permeates both the courts and the legislative halls of the province. Lie not only interprets the laws, but has much to do with making them.

Contrasted striking!v with one who might well be denominated the power behind the throne in Ontario, is the career and personality of the second of the eight Merediths. John Stanley is the eldest of the three banker brothers,

as William Ralph is first of the four lawyer brothers. John started on his career as a youth in the London branch of the Commercial Bank of Canada. When the Commercial was taken over by the Merchant’s Bank, he continued in the employ of the latter, and rose by gradual stages to be manager of the head office branch in Montreal. He retired ten years ago, and now leads the life of a recluse at the family homestead in London.

Edmund Meredith, the third son, who was born in 1845, followed William in the law and was called to the bar in 1868. He took up practice in London, and founded a firm in opposition to his brother. He stands well in the profession, being regarded as an excellent jury lawyer, and latterly has had charge of a good many crown cases. In 1883 and 1884, he was elected mayor of the city, and in the latter year unsuccessfully contested North Middlesex in the provincial elections.


Richard Meredith, the fourth son, was born two years later, and he too took up the law as a profession, studying under his brother William. On being

called to the bar in 1869, he joined Edmund in the firm of Meredith, Judd and Meredith. In 1890 Sir John A. Macdonald surprised Londoners by making Richard a judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Ontario, and assigning him to the Chancery division. As a lawyer he had not been particularly popular or ingratiating, but his promotion worked a wonderful change, and he became one of the fairest and bestliked judges on the bench. In 1905, he was transferred to the Court of Appeal and when Sir William became Chief Justice, the younger brother stepped into his former place as Chief Justice of Common Pleas.

Henry Vincent, the fifth son, was born in 1850. His career has been a striking one. Entering the service of the Bank of Montreal in his seventeenth year, he has climbed through all the ranks, until to-day he is vice-president and general manager of Canada’s premier banking institution. Without pull, without influence, his steady ascent to this important position is an inspiring example for young Canadians. He began as a junior*in the Hamilton branch . Twelve years later he was an assistant inspector. Then in

1889 he was appointed manager of the Montreal branch, which was a stepping stone to the general managership, a post he accepted following the retirement of Sir Edward Clouston.

The sixth son of the family, Thomas Graves Meredith, was born in 1853. He is the youngest of the lawyer quartet. Studying under his brother William, he entered his firm in 1878, and when the future Chief Justice went to reside in Toronto in 1888 as corporation counsel, he succeeded him as city solicitor of London. He is to-day one of the leaders of the bar in London ,a most energetic and versatile lawyer with a large practice. In addition to his legal duties, he has for some years acted as president of the Huron and Erie Loan and Savings Company and the Canada Trust Company. A year ago he was offered and refused the position of corporation counsel of Toronto, and he was among those recommended for the chairmanship of the Dominion Railway Commission.

Charles Meredith, the seventh son, started out as a banker. He entered

the Merchant’s Bank, but seeing a better future in the brokerage business, left the bank and started in for himself as a stock broker in Montreal. As head of the firm of Charles Meredith & Company, he is one of the most prominent financiers in Canada, and has made a considerable fortune for himself. He was president of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1902-5.

The youngest son of the family, Llewellyn Meredith, adopted no profession, but has always lived quietly at home. His love for horses, however, has brought him some distinction. Being an excellent judge of horse flesh, he has represented the Dominion Government on two several occasions at the Olympic Horse Show in London. Latterly he has been appointed a justice of the peace, and he has taken an active interest in the Victoria Hospital in London, of which he is a trustee.


Various elements have contributed to the success of the Merediths. The father, while far from being parsimoni-

ous, was a man who understood the value of money and was exceedingly careful in handling it. He lived simply, spent next to nothing on entertainment, joined no societies and kept his nose steadily to the grindstone. When he had gathered together a little capital by the exercise of frugality, it was not difficult for him to make it grow like the proverbial snowball. In the fifties, sixties and seventies ,what seems to-day an excessive rate of interest was commonly charged on loans and Mr. Meredith was not slow to collect his twentyfive per cent, on the money he advanced. He also made large profits on lands sold for taxes, which he bought cheap, held and disposed of later on. When he died, it is reported, that an estate valued at nearly a quarter of a million dollars was divided among his children.

The sons inherited their father’s carefulness. They applied themselves steadily to work, wasted nothing and so prospered. To-day two of the brothers are reputedly millionaires and the others are all well to do. The possession of capital is an advantage to any man, if only it is coupled with habits of apnlication and with good judgment, and in the Merediths all these were united. They began with little, for all had made their start before their father’s death put money in their hands. Then when wealth did come, they were trained in its proper use and made a wise disposition of it.

Another element that tended to success was a habit of getting things done at once. The Merediths have never been procrastinators. Thçv have the reputation of being men whose word is to be relied on. who never put off till tomorrow what they can do to-day. The two chief justices, the general manager of the Bank of Montreal and the City solicitor at London, particularly have been hard and voracious workers and have accomplished a vast amount in their lives to date. That this has contributed not a little to their present standing cannot be gainsaid.


A sense of family pride has also been a contributory influence. The sons

have never forgotten the dignity of the family name and connection. They have not been snobs, but they have been born aristocrats, cherishing a pride in their antecedents which has spurred them on to maintain their superiority. It is true that on occasion brothers Ned and Tom, arguing before Chief Justice Sir William, have been subjected to treatment not exactly fraternal, and that in days gone by the four young lawyers sometimes wrangled over cases until they got past speaking terms, but that was all in the family. To outsiders the eight have always presented a solid phalanx of brotherly support.

The elder Meredith, himself a scholar and a man of wide reading, understood the value of education and gave his sons the best schooling he was able to afford. None of the boys received a University education though Sir William studied law for two years at the University of Toronto. The eldest sons attended the London Grammar School, where they all did well at their studies. The younger sons were educated at Hellmuth College.

Scholarship, was one advantage; good looks have been another. The eight brothers are all clean-cut, erect and well groomed gentlemen. Sir William, though now in his seventy-fourth year, is as handsome a man as is to be found in the country. The general manager of the Bank of Montreal and Charles, the financier of the family, would stand out in any company^ Indeed the eight form as good-looking a group of men as are to be encountered anywhere. Their attention to appearances, carefulness in dress and sobriety in habits, have created a good impression. These have been the outward marks of a superior ability which has been recognized and encouraged by those who were able to advance them.

Not a little of the fine physical appearance of the Merediths is the result of an early attention to athletics. Though the boys do not appear to have played games to any extent, they were always reckoned dangerous adversaries in tests of speed or endurance and were particularly expert with their fists. Henry and Charles became quite noted

athletes. John was a great boxer and is said to have enjoyed nothing better in his young days than to invade some stronghold of the hoodlums and there do battle with their champions. Richard alone of all the brothers seems to have played any games, his favorite sport being cricket in which he became quite skilful.

Later on, other pursuits were adopted by way of recreation. Sir William keeps up his health with gardening, John shooting, Henry and Charles enjoy salmon fishing and Charles is also very fond of duck shooting, Llewellyn, of course, derives much pleasure from riding.


A love of flowers, inherited from the mother, is a pleasing trait in the family character. Sir William’s beautiful gardens in Rosedale, Toronto, are famed beyond the borders of the city. Richard even went to the extent of buying a farm on the outskirts of London and there erecting greenhouses, where he grew flowers and early vegetables. The

residence of Vincent in Montreal is beautifully surrounded with gardens and lawns and at Ste. Anne, Quebec, Charles has a summer home that is embowered in flowers. The others all manifest a similar love for nature and the grounds at the old homestead on Talbot Street, are among the most charming in London.

All the brothers have taken a more or less prominent interest in works for the public weal. Sir William’s share in bringing the University of Toronto to its present commanding position has not been small. As a member of the University Commission and as Chancellor,, he has done much for the institution. Paralleling him to a certain extent, Richard has assisted Western University, London, of which he is now chancellor, in a similar way. Vincent is associated with the Parks and Playgrounds Association, the Charity Organization Society and the Montreal Art Association in Montreal. Charles is also interested in the Parks and Playgrounds Association.

But it would be unusual to find a family distinguished with so much genius, unaccompanied by peculiarities. As a family the Merediths have not been without idiosyncracies. In the old days, when the father and mother were alive, habits of reserve and retirement were acquired which have continued to the present day. They have lived by themselves and largely to themselves. They have entertained seldom or never. The big homestead on Talbot Street is a terra incognita even to intimate friends. And yet they cannot be accused of unfriendliness. They have evidently adopted social isolation by choice and let who will criticize their action.

To many it may prove surprising that a family which has held itself so aloof and has stooped to no social artifices to gain power, should have attained such distinction. The Merediths have never pulled wires nor laid themselves out to flatter or ingratiate themselves into office, and this has been much to their credit. What they have wron has been on their merits. They may have been ambitious, they doubtless were, but in the end the fruit of victory has come to them because they deserved it and not because they coveted it.

Five of the eight brothers have married and have married well. Sir William’s wife was Miss Mary Holmes of London, and he has a family consisting of one son and three daughters. His son is also a lawyer and is in partnership with his father-in-law, Mr. I. F. Hellmuth, of Toronto. Edmund Meredith married Miss Theresa McCann of London, and has three sons and one daughter. Vincent’s wife was Miss Isabel Allan of Montreal, youngest daughter of the late Andrew Allan of the famous shipping firm and Charles married Miss Elspeth Angus, daughter of Mr. R. B. Angus, president of the Bank of Montreal, but neither have any children. Thomas married Miss Jessie Carling, daughter of the late Sir John Carling of London, and has two sons.

In addition to the eight sons, John Cook Meredith had four daughters, making in all a family of twelve children. Of the daughters, one is dead, and the remaining three reside at the family homestead in London. Like their brothers, the sisters are handsome women, the one who died having been considered one of the most beautiful women in Canada.