johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Thomas Baillie: Gone, but not soon forgotten!

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By JohnWood1946@hotmail.com

The Honourable Thomas Baillie: Gone, but not soon forgotten!

Thomas Baillie was born in England in 1796. He was a son of a military family and joined the army as a lieutenant in 1815 at about the age of 19 years. He was at Waterloo and later served in Ireland. Thomas’s brother George was First Clerk in the North American Department in the Colonial Office and, when Thomas arrived in that office he was quickly appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Surveyor General for New Brunswick.

Thomas’s appointment was in 1824, when he was not yet 30 years of age. This was criticized in England as obvious patronage, but the deed was done and he arrived in Fredericton later that year. The attitude in Fredericton was no more kind. By that time, political power in New Brunswick was comfortably divided up among a few powerful families and they were sure that such an appointment which was nearly as influential as that of the lieutenant governor should have gone to one of them. George Shore, who was well connected with the local power structure, had been favoured for the position.

Furthermore, taxes collected from logging on Crown lands were under the control of the legislature and were being used to pay for many public expenses. Any taxes collected by a colonial commissioner, on the other hand, would be outside the authority of the assembly and could be used by the Crown as they pleased. Nonetheless, Baillie’s instructions were clear: to take control of the forests and to increase revenues.

Baillie was single minded and determined beyond his years, and quickly placed a tax of one shilling per ton on timber by executive order. He was also confident of the support that he had in England and contemptuous of colonial officialdom and could care less about what anyone thought about it. He was an embarrassment to the official classes, and to the Lieutenant Governor who once wrote to his brother George that “your brother displayed and talked too much.” The official families and the logging industry found the whole situation unacceptable, except for the fact that they had no option but to accept it.

Baillie’s modus operandi of rule by executive order without reference to the legislature and with a small army of enforcers was seen as tyranny. His deputies and rangers, or ‘harpies’ as they were popularly known, travelled through the woods to ensure that not a single stick was cut without the tax being paid. Established logging merchants were obviously not happy with this. Moreover, ordinary men who had sustained themselves for their entire lives by cutting without permission, or by outright theft of timber that others had cut, were in a perverse sort of moral quandary. Crown lands were owned in common by the people as far as they were concerned, or if this was not the case then it should be. Still, there was more timber being exported than was being taxed.

Baillie’s authority only expanded with time and his office became larger and more powerful than other whole departments of government. He decided that riverfront properties also fell under his mandate, for example, and that those who built wharves or similar structures must pay rental. The Crown Lands Office become oppressively slow in conducting its business and it took days to obtain a licence, even with no barriers to issuing one. No one knew what all of the bureaucrats were doing in that office, except that it took a long time to accomplish.

Baillie also promoted the so called ‘New South Wales system’ by which it was seen as more efficient and profitable to sell Crown lands to a few very large operators from abroad with deep pockets, rather than to deal with hundreds of local operators. Loss of control over the economy and the cutting out of local businessmen were obvious concerns. Baillie’s concept of ‘conflict of interests’ was not quite modern when he helped to form such a corporation in London which then bought 350,000 acres of land in York County.

Added to all of this was Baillie’s obnoxious demeanor. When he arrived in 1824, it was with his own uniformed servants from Ireland. His public displays of wealth and status were legendary. He lived in an estate called the Hermitage just outside of town and safely apart from the masses. He drove back and forth between his offices to the Hermitage in a coach with four horses, known as a coach-and-four, with outriders leading the procession. The locals viewed such displays with wonder, but certainly not with admiration.

He also had a plan to dress his office clerks in uniforms with special brass buttons which he supplied. The buttons were inscribed with the name of the Crown land department. It seems that this plan was abandoned when his employees rebelled against being dressed up as menials.

Baillie’s contempt for officialdom was demonstrated in 1827 when he charged Charles Simonds, Speaker of the legislature with trespass onto Crown lands. For good measure, he criticized the legislators for not acting in accordance with the timber regulations. He even suggested to London that the Crown could save money by eliminating the offices of the Receiver General and the Auditor General. This would have gone ahead, except that there was such an uproar that the Lieutenant Governor had to step in and ask the Colonial Office not to proceed.

Baillie’s salary was also very high and was openly criticized. Furthermore, there were at least suspicions that an excessive amount of the taxes raised was going directly to Baillie himself and to his harpies. It was delicately written in 1833 that “the salary of the Commissioner is perhaps higher than it ought to be, having reference to the general scale of salaries within the Province, but there are peculiar circumstances in Mr. Baillie’s case, which would render it scarcely just to reduce his emoluments during his period in office.” The main peculiar circumstance was that he was well connected in London. He continued to be in favour in London, however, since his policies had increased revenues very significantly.

Thomas Baillie’s actions and demeanor had become an outrage with the Lieutenant Governor, the government, the public, and the important families in an uproar. Newspapers openly campaigned against him and official representations were made to London. The debate became so heated in that in 1836 his detractors almost wrested control of the Crown lands away from Baillie and back to the legislature. This was delayed until 1836, however, when Baillie was finally defeated. He had, at last, lost control of the Crown lands and lost his seat on the Executive Council which he had held since the early 1830s. He retained his position as Surveyor General, however. The campaign to return control of the timber trade to the legislature had been hampered by worries that this would provoke England to transfer its timber preferences to the Baltics.

Baillie was thoroughly reduced in power. Furthermore, and all of his enemies continued to pursue him and to scrutinize every financial statement that came out of his office of the Surveyor General. Then, in 1839 his personal finances collapsed and what money he had was garnisheed to cover debts.

Thomas Baillie was too strong and determined (stubborn you could say) to retire to England, and so he continued in Fredericton until 1846 when he was elected to the assembly for York County. His public career was not finally over until 1851 when he did retire to England.

Thomas Baillie died while on vacation in France in 1863.

Selected References:

  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  • Hannay, James, History of New Brunswick, Saint John, 1909.
  • Johnson, Daniel F., Vital Statistics from New Brunswick Newspapers, from the York Sunbury Historical Society blog on WordPress.
  • MacNutt, W.S., New Brunswick a History: 1784-1867, Toronto, 1963.
  • Maxwell, L.M.B., The History of Central New Brunswick, 1937.
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Written by johnwood1946

January 5, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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