The HAPLESS HERO who “SAVED” UPPER CANADA
The Family Compact ruled, the Radicals wanted to, and Upper Canada teetered toward rebellion. Then handsome Francis Bond Head arrived as lieutenant-governor, and stumbled into history as the tragic-comic butt of schoolboy jokes-and now, perhaps, the subject of some second-thinking
A Maclean’s Flashback
IN NOVEMBER OF 1837 a Negro slave named Jesse Happy escaped from his Kentucky master, and, on horseback, fled to Canada. Hot on his heels came the plantation owner and his posse. Over the border. Jesse jumped off the horse, and kissed Canadian soil. He thought he was free.
Unfortunately, Jesse’s master had friends in Upper Canada. The Negro was picked up and taken to Hamilton jail as a “horse thief.” His owner asked that he be surrendered for trial in the American courts. As a slave. Jesse could have protection in Canada, but as a horse thief such protection was questionable.
Finally, the case was brought to the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada for decision. In brief his judgment ran: “The clothes, and even the manacles of a slave are undeniably the property of his master; and it may be argued that it is as much a theft in a slave walking from slavery to liberty in his master’s shoes as riding on his master’s horse. Under slave law Negroes are not recognized as men. Can a runaway horse he sued for thieving a cart?”
This extraordinary judgment, which freed Jesse Happy, was sent down by an extraordinary man—Sir Francis Bond Head. “Bone Head” we called him in our school days, for history bracketed him among our most inept lieutenant-governors.
When he arrived in 1835, the country was in turmoil. The United States had achieved something called democracy, where all men were “equal.” In British North America, democracy was a dirty word, and Great Britain, through its governors and the wellto-do colonists, retained almost absolute power. In Upper Canada the upholders of the status quo were a closely knit group, called by the man on the street the “Family Compact.” Those who wanted the ordinary man to have any control of affairs were the “Radicals.” Heading the Radicals was a fiery newspaper publisher, the first mayor of Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie.
Into this most explosive time in Canadian affairs came Francis Bond Head, handsome, debonair, and not always wise; a pompous, sometimes ludicrous man and a pawn in politics.
The background that produced Francis Bond Head was interesting. His grandfather, Moses Mendez, was an urbane, witty, very rich Jewish banker, who married Anna Head, daughter of an equally rich English clergyman. His sons were given their mother’s name.
Francis’ father James inherited some of his father’s wit and charm but he was also stubborn and irascible. Gainsborough and Romney painted his portrait. He was often at Bath, the fashionable resort for rich dandies and young girls in quest of husbands, and there he met and married an heiress. Francis was one of their eight children.
By the time Francis was born, his father had gone through all his own and most of his wife’s money. The Head boys would have to work for a living. The army was a decent occupation, so at fourteen Francis was entered at Woolwich College as a gentleman cadet. This cost his father twenty-one guineas and was the cheapest entry into the genteel life of a British army officer.
Francis liked to spend money and, fortunately, he could indulge this penchant, for as a prolific writer he made a fair income from his books. These included a volume titled simply The Horse, written “in gratitude to the Horse by his Rider.” (Later, in Canada, Francis was to be known as “Galloping Head.”)
In the chapter on fox hunting, Head assured his readers that the fox feels death no more than the worm on a hook. But in the frontispiece to the book his split personality took over. A picture showed a man mounted on the back of an Indian. During a trip to South America, Head had learned that the Indians (who had never seen a horse until Europeans brought it to them), still kept up an age-old system of transportation: the poor carried the rich on their backs, sometimes on chairs constructed for the purpose, sometimes piggyback. In Head’s frontispiece picture the piggyback rider wore opera hat. cape, gloves and a monocle. It was titled “Over the Andes on a Red Indian,” and the caption below asked, “Which is the Savage?”
Bond Head did not always write prose; he described himself as a “kind of heavenhorn poet,” and this is a sample of his verse:
’Tis time I now should say goodnight,
My candle fails; I've no more light.
Julia, adieu! I go to bed.
Your friend and cousin — F. B. Head.
This Julia was his cousin Julia Valenza Somerville, whom he married after a long engagement and in spite of a strange affliction. By some accident Julia had taken nitrate of silver, which left her with a permanent bluish complexion. When she offered to break the engagement because of her strange appearance. Bond Head gallantly replied, “My love for you is not skindeep.”
The stars in the ascendancy when Francis Bond Head came to Canada were also slightly awry.
Head, retired from the army on a major's half-pay, had through a relative secured a job at seven hundred pounds a year. By an act of 1795, “outdoor relief” in England was to be stopped and all paupers put into workhouses. Francis was made “little father to the poor” in the county of Kent, a role he enjoyed.
Returning one stormy night from tucking his “children” into the workhouse, Head stopped at a Cranbrook inn and went early to bed. He was aroused at two in the morning by a wide-eyed servant who informed him that a courier from Whitehall was at the door with a message. Astounded, Head read that Lord Glenelg, secretary to the colonies, needed him to govern Upper Canada. Would he please give his answer by 8.30 in the morning?
Head, who had never met anyone in the government, and knew nothing of Canada, threw on his clothes and dashed into London.
It may have been an equally astonished Lord Glenelg who met Head in the morning. The Colonial Office, despairing of doing much about that thorn in the flesh called Canada, had decided, because no first-class administrator would go there anyway, to cut the governor’s salary by five hundred pounds. Mulling over a replacement for the retiring Sir John Colborne, in a rash moment a member of the Council said, “Let’s send young Head.” It is argued that the member meant George or Edmund Head, relatives of Francis. George had been in Canada, / continued on page 54 continued from page 21
continued on page 54
had written a book about it. and was a good administrator. Edmund was a bright young don at Merton College, Oxford. But. the courier sent knew only one Head — Francis, the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner in Kent. So Francis Bond Head entered the Canadian history books.
They wanted Head
but was it Francis?
THE HAPLESS HERO
At first Francis turned the job down, “for I was grossly ignorant of everything that in any way related to the government of our colonies.” But then, “acting for the best I took the situation, as it is a very flattering one.”
It certainly was, for a man who had rarely heard of Canada, and was hardly tactful or wise enough to run an indigents’ workhouse.
But though flattering, it was to prove to he an expensive appointment for Head. After his commission was issued, he discovered that the salary had been reduced to twenty-five-hundred pounds a year, and that the government would stop his half-pay as major for the duration of the posting. Learning that his predecessors had been Sir Peregrine Maitland and Sir John Colhorne, Francis asked that he be given a baronetcy. Both Colborne and Maitland had been his superior officers at Waterloo, and Head felt he needed the prestige of a title. The reply was. “If a batch of baronets are to he created there will be little difficulty, otherwise it would create too much jealousy.” However, William IV, a kindly man, did make Head a Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, which meant he could wear the Order’s star with his dress suit. Unfortunately, the government was out of stars, so Head had to go to his own jewelers to have one made.
The King also, against the wishes of Glenelg, told Head he might take an aide-de-camp with him. Head called in a young Lieutenant Halkett. who took leave of absence from the Guards for the posting. But when Halkett arrived at Liverpool to embark for Canada with Head, he found a much distressed employer. A courier from the government had just arrived with the packet, which was to contain three hundred pounds for passage money. But instead of three hundred, there was only seventy pounds — two hundred and thirty had been deducted to pay the “costs of Head's commission.” There was also a note stating that the Colonial Office would pay for neither the salary nor the passage of an aide-de-camp. Head could do nothing less than offer Halkett both salary and passage out of his own pocket.
After a forty-six-day voyage, Francis Bond Head arrived in Toronto. The town had turned out to greet him. for one of the more liberal members of the British House of Commons, Sir Joseph Hume, had told Upper Canada that the Colonial Office was sending them “a tried and true reformer.” Banners bearing this remarkable legend waved in the breeze as Francis Head, truly moved, shook hands with the retiring governor. Sir John Colborne, and told his welcomers, “I come to Upper Canada as a physician to heal the ills of the country. Your greeting has warmed my heart. When my term of office is ended 1 will give you cause to say farewell with this same deep affection!”
Colborne took Head home to Government House, a large frame structure on the corner of Simcoe and King Streets, facing the lake front. Inside, Head found the place adequately furnished, but was startled when Colborne informed him that he would have to pay for the furnishings — a matter of two thousand pounds.
It was not a warm house, though warmed by hot air from what Head called “a large oven.” “We have fireplaces in each room,” he wrote to England. “But wood piled all day by fireplaces often remains till night covered with snow. When I write dispatches I find the ink frozen. The house has good rooms on the ground floor, but the upper rooms have such thin walls that I find them very cold; after washing in the morning, coins I pick up from the bureau stick to my damp fingers.”
Bravely facing the weather and the expenditure. Francis Bond Head stumbled into his mission, which, as he put it, was “to save the people of Upper Canada from following in the footsteps of the United States.”
“I had sooner wear the gaudy plush breaches and waistcoat of a London footman,” he wrote, “than endure the stench of that society where all men are called Equal. There is nothing I foresee more closely than the inevitable downfall of democracy in America.”
Members of the government came to call. Those of the Family Compact party Head found endurable; but when he met William Lyon Mackenzie and a colleague of Mackenzie named Bidwell he wrote simply, “They are not gentlemen.” He was later to write even more strongly about them.
At his first meeting with the two houses of Upper Canada, Bond Head was a pathetic figure. Proudly wearing his Star of the Guelphic Order, he strutted into the chamber, and was about to remove his hat when someone thrust it back on his head and told him he must remain covered.
I he throne was too large for him, forcing him to sit perilously close to the edge of the seat. Even so. his feet could not reach the floor, and rather than let them dangle he thrust them stiffly before him throughout the entire meeting. An observer wrote, “He must be a man of determination; no other kind could or would hold his feet like that!”
Determined he was — to be just in the cause of the king. He refused to accept social invitations, lest he be accused of favoritism or bribery. He asked all citizens to bring their grievances to him between the hours of nine in the morning and three in the afternoon. At three a horse was brought to the door, and “Galloping Head” cantered off into the forest.
One day, on one of these rides, Head came on two men who were trying to prevent a lunatic from committing suicide in Grenadier Pond. Head dismounted, helped the men. and then arranged to have the sick man put into a Toronto hospital, where Head visited him hearing flower bouquets. The lunatic eventually escaped from the hospital and succeeded in drowning himself in the pond. From then on the lieutenant-governor frequently drove to the water’s edge, removed his hat and silently grieved for the “poor lost lunatic.”
On another day, riding along the beach, he came on two men who had just filled a hat with turtle eggs, and were about to roast the mother turtle for dinner. Touched by the tragedy, Francis Bond Head bought the turtle and set it free.
The condition of the Indians of
Canada also grieved him. Head visited them in their homes, smoking the pipe of peace with their chiefs. (The calumet used is now a family heirloom.) In a dispatch about them to the British Colonial Office, he wrote, “The fate ot these red inhabitants of America, the real proprietors of its soil, is, without any exception, the most sinful story recorded in the history of the human race. 1 believe that the few remaining Indians lingering in Upper Canada should retire to Manitoulin and other islands in Lake Huron, leaving their lands to those who can work them. I am sure we have only to hear patiently with the red man for a short time, when this unhappy race, beyond our power of redemption, will be extinct.”
In another dispatch he dealt with the French in Canada. “Let the Gaspé be annexed to New Brunswick,” he wrote, “the city of Montreal be given to Upper Canada, and the north bank of the Ottawa river become the boundary of Lower Canada.” He pointed out that the French and English would never assimilate (an opinion he had formed at Waterloo), and by changing boundaries and giving Upper Canada her own seaport he would draw a barrier between the two. “Why,” he remarked, “Nature herself did it when she created the English Channel.”
Firm in the conviction that all men of good yeoman stock were loyal to the king, and men of property born to rule, Bond pushed the affluent Family Compact party into key positions, and the Radicals into a rebellion. But even when explosion was imminent, he lent all his soldiers to the governor of Lower Canada, for he was sure that in an emergency his own Upper Canadians would rally to his cause. On the fatal night of December 4, 1837, when the rebels went to battle, Francis Bond Head played the role of a romantic knight errant. He sent his family to safety aboard a ship in Lake Ontario; then dressed in everyday clothes, he rode to the city hall to issue a proclamation. All citizens were to join him against the rebels. Leaning on a desk, one double-barreled gun in hand, another against his breast, and a brace of pistols in a leather belt, he directed the supply of arms to be given to responsible citizens.
When the rebellion had been quashed, Bond Head wrote glowing (and unappreciated) accounts of it to the British government. A cabinet member in London recorded acidly, “At our meeting today we had read to us a most ludicrous dispatch from Head, giving an account of his defeat of Mackenzie’s attempt upon Toronto. Glenelg also read to us a private letter from Head, equally absurd.”
Though the Colonial Office knew its administrator was ridiculously inept, Head had to resign three times before it would accept his dismissal.
Even then the saga of this sadly misplaced man was not complete. Blind as an ostrich with his head in the sand. Bond Head planned a glorious farewell trip across Canada. He talked of cheering crowds and waving Union Jacks lining his route to the boat at Halifax. When Judge Jonas Jones, his Family Compact friend, assured him that his life would be endangered by such a trip. Head did not believe him.
It was almost by force that Francis Bond Head was taken at night to Kingston, and from there, like Uncle Tom’s Eliza, he fled over the ice to that “cursed democracy,” the United States. Jones and two workmen accompanied the retiring lieutenant-governor on this last sad journey. The men carried a boat, and where the ice of the lake gave way the four of them entered the boat and proceeded to the next floe. Half a dozen times they made this cold portage before reaching the American shore.
There the porters left Head and returned to Canada. Jones set out alone to find a horse and cart to take Head and himself farther on their trip to Albany and New York. While Francis Bond Head, the once proud lieutenant - governor of Upper Canada sat alone on the luggage, waiting for Jones, a passing farmer approached him.
“Are you from the Canada side?” the farmer asked. “How are the trials going? Has the new governor come yet? And — what’s happened to the ould di vil ?” ★