Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
June 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Charles Poulett Thomson

First Baron Sydenham


Sydenham, Charles Poulett Thomson, first Baron (1799-1841), governor-general of Canada (1839-41), was born at Wimbledon, England, on September 13, 1799, the son of J. Poulett Thomson, a merchant. He was privately educated, and at the age of sixteen entered the St. Petersburg office of his father's firm, where he spent a number of years. From 1826 to 1830 he represented Dover in the House of Commons, and from 1830 to 1839 he represented Manchester. In 1830 he was appointed vice-president of the Board of Trade and treasurer of the navy in Earl Grey's administration; in 1834 he became president of the Board of Trade; and, except for an interval of a few months in 1834-5, he occupied this office until his appointment as governor-general of Canada in 1839, in succession to Lord Durham.


A Liberal with a business training, he was sent to Canada to carry into effect Lord Durham's recommendations with regard to the union of the Canadas and the introduction of responsible government and municipal institutions. The union of the Canadas he achieved, with adroit diplomacy, by obtaining the assent of the Special Council of Lower Canada and the legislature of Upper Canada ; and in 1840 the Act of Union passed the British parliament. Municipal institutions he succeeded in introducing into Upper Canada in 1841; and responsible government he introduced into the legislature of united Canada in a partial degree. He set up the machinery of responsible government with an executive council composed of heads of departments with seats in the legislature, and in harmony with the majority in the legislature. But he was his own prime minister; he himself presided over the meetings of council; and he took the view that "the Council was a council to be consulted, and no more." His regime was admirably suited for bridging over the period of transition to full responsible government; but it may be doubted whether it could have survived long, since it depended for its success on his finding a Council in harmony both with himself and the majority in the Assembly.


It was perhaps, therefore, fortunate for his reputation that his period of office was cut short. On September 19, 1841, he died at Kingston, Upper Canada, as the result of a fall from his horse; and he was succeeded in office by Sir Charles Bagot. In 1840 he had been created, for his services, Baron Sydenham of Kent in England and Toronto in Canada ; and in 1841 he was made a G.C.B. But he died unmarried, and the peerage expired with him.


See G. Poulett Scrope, Memoir of the life of Charles, Lord Sydenham (London, 1844) ; A. Shortt, Lord Sydenham (Toronto, 1908) ; and J. L. Morison, British supremacy and Canadian self-government (Toronto, 1919).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. VI, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 93-94.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College