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The early life and early governorships of Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy Gilliland, Henry Cecil


Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy, G.C.M.G., C.B., was in many respects a typical British colonial governor of the nineteenth century. His family was a branch of the noble Kennedy family headed by the Scottish Earls of Cassillis. His immediate ancestors were country squires in long possession of an ample and prosperous estate at Cultra, County Down in Northern Ireland. They were directly connected by marriage with the families of the Earls of Enniskillen and of Londonderry. Like other great landowners in their region, the Kennedys were resident and "improving" landlords, efficiently conscious of their obligations to their dependents. They were a typical service family, marked by a high degree of mental and physical vigour. They were members of the Church of England and Ireland and were intensely loyal to the British connection. The younger sons attained to good rank in the navy, the army and the colonial service. Arthur Edward was born at Cultra on April 9, 1809. He was brought up by pious and enlightened parents in a secure and happy home--the fifth child in a family of eleven children. He was educated at home by private tutor until 1823, when at the age of fourteen he went up to Trinity College, Dublin, for a year of contact with his fellows. His formal education was the typical classicism of the early nineteenth century--a process decried today, but nevertheless an integral part of a whole system that was highly effective for his class. The main effect of his youth was by its security to develop in him an assurance of the worth of his own ideas, a confident and gracious bearing, and a true kindliness. During his youth and young manhood, Arthur was influenced by several strong currents of thought that showed plainly in his later life. His class assumed that it was possessed of a monopoly of political wisdom. His outlook was therefore never democratic. Rather was it inspired by a belief that he was responsible for the welfare of people placed under his care. His region and his family were Tory. He became a Conservative in politics--influenced by the liberalism of his age. The basic influence of his childhood was the sturdy independence of the country squire--carried down to him from his eighteenth century ancestors by oft-repeated maxims. Arthur always held a firm belief in the virtue of self-reliance. He readily absorbed the policy of laissez-faire. Another major influence on his life was the strong force of Evangelical religion. It not only reinforced his family training in pious, upright and honourable conduct, but also helped to produce a certain narrow intensity and an intolerance of other opinion when he was sure that any chosen course of action was basically right. It possibly contributed to his habit of blunt statement of his belief or opinion. The strong humanitarianism predominant in the United Kingdom during his youth joined with Evangelicalism to produce in him a true feeling of brotherhood towards subject native peoples, a solicitude for the welfare of the African negro, a sincere interest in prison reform and the rehabilitation of convicts, a determination to curb the evils of liquor traffic and a desire to foster Bible societies and the Sunday school movement. Yet Arthur Kennedy was a typical product of his age in that his ideas were a product of compromise. Though he was never a radical in outlook, it is probable that he was influenced to some extent by Benthamite proposals so vigorously advanced during the period of his young manhood. Certainly his attitude toward education was broader than that of the average Evangelical. That attitude was to result in enlightened, practical and effective action for the establishment of common non-sectarian schools. He likewise gave strong support to mechanics' institutes and literary institutes. One of the finest products of the enlightenment of his childhood home was a sincere religious tolerance. In 1827 Arthur entered the army as an ensign in the 27th (or Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot. In the same year he transferred to the 11th Regiment of Foot because that unit suddenly had the prospect of active service in defence of the liberty of Portugal. The hope was disappointed and his regiment spent ten years of garrison duty in the Ionian isles. At the beginning of 1838, however, it was hurried to North America to suppress any further outbreak of rebellion in the Canadas and to ward off any attack from across the American border. At the beginning of 1839 Great Britain and the United States were brought very close to war over the Maine-New Brunswick boundary. The 11th Regiment was moved into the disputed territory and was there in the Madawaska forests during this dispute until its settlement in March. At that time Lieutenant Kennedy returned to Britain to be married. On the return of the 11th Regiment to the United Kingdom in 1840, he sold out and purchased a captaincy, unattached, on half-pay. For a time he entered imperial politics in the election campaign of 1841. However, when it appeared again that war might break out with the United States, he purchased a captaincy in a regiment that was being moved to strengthen the British army in North America, the 68th Regiment of Light Infantry. He was destined, however, to serve till 1844 in simple garrison duty in Canada. Kennedy was always interested in politics. During his army service in New Brunswick and in Canada, he had his one opportunity to observe colonial governors in action before he in turn became a governor. In the main he observed men--Sir John Harvey, Lord Sydenham and Sir Charles Metcalfe--who succeeded in uniting the functions of chief minister with that of governor. On the whole he saw successful opposition to the adoption of responsible government. In all the governors he observed, except Sir Charles Bagot, he saw men who successfully implemented their determination that the function of the governor was to govern. It is probable that these examples had a distinct bearing on his own ideas. He was always to prefer the more authoritative forms of government. His army experience was likewise instrumental in turning his mind toward a belief in the value of prompt punishment for any offence. Yet his officer's code deepened his habit of paternal care for the welfare of those placed under his charge. The sum of the influences of his army period on Kennedy was to reinforce his aptitude for crisp and efficient action and to deepen his tendency toward imperiousness. It was on May 18, 1839, that Arthur Kennedy married Georgina Macartney—daughter of a family very similar to his own. They had three children, Elizabeth, born in Montreal in 1842, Arthur, born in London in 1845, and Georgina, born in Ireland in 1846. In 1846 Captain Kennedy entered the humane service of relief of distress during the Irish famine. Early in 1847 he was a supervising inspector of relief measures under Sir John Burgoyne. From the fall of 1847 to 1851 he was a Poor Law inspector in Kllrush, County Clare, where he was responsible for the welfare of some eighty thousand people. In this service he faced danger of smallpox or fever, threats or actual attack on his person with equal indifference. Efficient in the management of his union, he demanded efficiency from his subordinates or ruthlessly drove them from the system. He was tireless and self-sacrificing in the service of the deserving poor. Yet he was determined that all able-bodied men should rely on their own exertions. When it became necessary to give them relief, he did so only in the work-house, and there he saw to it that they gave full return in hard work. His action was wisely based on his firm belief in the value of self-reliance. In this efficient union a larger part of expenditure was made for the benefit of those really in need of help than in any other union in this most distressed part of Ireland. Thereafter his memory was held in affectionate regard. In 1852 Arthur Kennedy was made governor of the negro colony of Sierra Leone. His regime was marked by encouragement of education. It was notable also for the first organized attention to sanitary reform that the colony had known--minor in degree but in advance of the age. The work was carried on not by the state, but by a voluntary improvement society under Kennedy’s leadership. The governor ruthlessly suppressed the vicious practice of selling apprenticed negro children to slavers just outside the colony--an abuse that had been the despair of his predecessors. There was some suspicion among his detractors that he had used arbitrary methods in achieving this desirable end. Sierra Leone depended on trade. Kennedy's management of trade regulations was characterized by a high degree of administrative skill. His handling of finances was likewise admirable. His flair for courtly language and ceremony, coupled with a true feeling of brotherhood with the negro, made him successful in handling complicated extra-territorial relations. As a result of that success a rich trading region, the Sherbro country, was brought Into closer relations with Britain--and in due course became part of the colony. While the governor was just and friendly in his dealings with nearby native chiefs, he was firm in his demands for reparation in the one instance when a British subject was seriously wronged during his regime. This union of courtesy, just dealing and firmness made his handling of relations with nearby tribes a real success. British prestige was thereby increased and trade improved. In spite of the importance of all trade relations, the governor refused to use money from the colonial treasury to build a wharf for the ships of the African Steamship Company and thereby earned some unpopularity from the ship captains of that powerful company. In Sierra Leone as elsewhere. Governor Kennedy was notable for his reverent attendance at the services of the Church of England. In this colony he sat with equanimity under a negro clergyman. In this colony the form of government made the governor supreme. He had sole charge of executive affairs and his Legislative Council was entirely appointive, consisting mainly of highly competent negro officials. These men were extremely loyal to Britain because of their gratitude for that country's blows against the slave trade. Their tendency was to be almost excessively deferential to the Queen's representative. The courtesy with which Governor Kennedy treated them, not only in official matters but in social affairs also, must have deepened their disposition to agree with his opinions and decisions with little debate. Sierra Leone proved to be the very type of colony in which Kennedy could most successfully improve the interests of the people and of the empire. Yet this experience tended to ingrain more deeply into him his early tendencies to dominance and to forthright statement of his opinion on every matter. These qualities of vigorous domination of any situation were shown as he returned home on the steamship Forerunner. When the ship was wrecked by the master's incompetent handling, the forceful governor controlled a panic-stricken crew and saved many lives. In 1855 Captain Kennedy was appointed to the governorship of the struggling colony of Western Australia. Handicapped by a mistaken land policy at its foundation, and further hampered by the application of the Wakefield land system when it was too late, this colony had been the scene of continued gloom and economic depression. In 1850 the system of transportation of convicts to this colony had been accepted in the hopes that the accompanying large imperial expenditures and assisted free immigration would bring prosperity. However, the impact of these expenditures, in the absence of increased production, resulted in such a high rate of importation that the colony plunged into a new depression. In that situation the influx of assisted free immigration was an embarrassment. It was necessary to establish the dole and to ask that immigration be stopped. The colonial treasury was in as bad shape as the economic condition of the people. In 1855, when Kennedy arrived, there were no funds available to pay the salaries of the officials, and the colony was deep in debt. Moreover, the imperial government, in view of its large expenditures in the colony for convicts, had just put Into force a reduction of grants in aid of government. Thus the new governor arrived when the people were in a surly mood of anger against a poor land system, an authoritative form of government and the failure of heavy imperial expenditures on convicts to cure the financial ills of the colony. Governor Kennedy met the financial bankruptcy of Western Australia with vigorous ruthlessness. He cut down the number of government employees, reduced expenditures, demanded work in return for the dole, and forced his appointive Legislative Council to agree to measures of greatly increased taxation. Although he was met with hatred for these stern measures, he succeeded in bringing the colony's decline to a halt. Kennedy's unpopularity was increased when he turned his attention to the evils of the liquor traffic. He saw that one of the most harmful features of this trade was the possession of licences by conditionally pardoned convicts who used their position to draw ticket-of-leave men into trouble and then blackmail them. Although the only condition of their pardon was that they might not return to the United Kingdom, Kennedy pushed through a law denying conditional pardon men the right to hold liquor licences. In this action he had the support of the leaders of his church, but his enemies rightly marked it as an arbitrary withdrawal of the rights of free men. This feature of the law was not confirmed by the home government. The efficient but unloved governor had in the meantime turned his attention to positive measures for bringing prosperity. Under his careful supervision his efficient Executive Council worked well and successfully to devise a completely new land system, the only one that had ever given general satisfaction in this colony. In a new spirit of confidence the people began to take up farming and pastoral lands. The governor had in the meantime been pushing forward a systematic policy of exploration for good pastoral land. This policy was successful. A great new area of suitable land was discovered in the northwest. Within a decade these vigorous and well-planned measures were to bring to Western Australia the first prosperity it had ever known. Still Kennedy was not popular. The reason anger was stirred so strongly against him was his stubborn adherence to any policy once marked out by careful investigation. He had clashed with vested interests over liquor licences. He came into conflict with vested interests again when he tried to bring lightermen in the ports under more efficient regulation. His greatest unpopularity was occasioned when he wisely refused to build a railway for the benefit of a private copper mining company. The governor made his decision on the basis of unduly fluctuating prices for copper on world markets. However, his enemies were able to stir up great anger against him because there was now a fat surplus in the colonial treasury, and his refusal to build the railway was regarded as parsimonious. Kennedy had other plans for that surplus. Without bothering to consult his Legislative Council, he spent it on a great programme of public works. Moreover, he earmarked a like sum from the revenues of the next year, although his term of office was up. His successor was forced to follow along the lines Kennedy had laid down and to regularize his domineering action. Yet the colony in the new prosperity brought by Kennedy’s wise measures was well able to afford these well-planned expenditures. One of the finest aspects of Kennedy's administration was his supervision of the convict system. The colonists did not like his policy because they rightly charged that he thought first in terms of imperial interest. He refused to use the convict labour to build many great public buildings for the use of the colonists. Instead, he kept the convicts away from the towns. His policy--in which he had the close cooperation of a humane and efficient comptroller of convicts--was as quickly as possible to get the convicts out of prison into work on road-building and land-clearing, and from there into private employment on ticket-of-leave. During this period of ticket-of-leave the men had strict supervision but were given every encouragement to succeed. This policy of trying to rehabilitate men by the healing power of hard work in the open country was one of true vision. Arthur Kennedy's governorship of Western Australia was marked by his imperious acceptance of the responsibility laid on his shoulders by an authoritative system of government. His tendency to dominance made him unpopular. Yet this man not only brought the colony into full stride of the only prosperity it had ever known, but his wise superintendence of the convict system gave to those convicts a greater chance to succeed in their new home. That was a gift of great worth to the colony. In 1862 Arthur Edward Kennedy was rewarded for his successful governorship of Western Australia by the order of Companion of the Bath. We see him at that time, still in the first part of his career as a colonial governor, enlightened, humane, efficient and upright, but marked by a stubborn adherence to his own plans and by a tendency to imperiousness that had been deeply ingrained In his character by the nature of his early governorships.

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