The following is extracted from
The Literary History of Galloway,
by Thomas Murray, A.M.
Second Edition, 1832. Edinburgh.
LIFE OF THOMAS, EARL OF SELKIRK.
Of the family from which THOMAS DOUGLAS, EARL OF SELKIRK, was descended, Lord Basil Hamilton, sixth son of the Duke of Hamilton, was the first connected with Galloway. He married Mary, heiress of Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon, by which union he became possessed of large estates both in Wigtownshire and in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. This amiable and accomplished young man came to an untimely end at the early age of thirty. His brother the Earl of Selkirk and himself, with a servant, were crossing the Minnoch, a small stream in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, which at that time was much swollen; when the servant having become entangled in the river, Lord Basil, who had previously gained the opposite bank, rushed in to rescue his attendant from his perilous situation. The unhappy result was that both master and servant were drowned. This took place in August 1701. In the Advocates Library are preserved three doggerel poems occasioned by his death; from which, as well as from more authentic sources, we learn the respectability of his character, and the deep interest he had taken in the unfortunate Scots settlement at Darien.
He laid his projects still to raise our trade,
In foreign colonies our fame to spread.
For Caledonia’s injured settlement
With just resentment to the court he went,
And that with great expense, yet did decline
To be repaid for either cost or time.
Thus brave and generous did he live and die,
And shrunk away in boundless charity.
His widow survived him nearly sixty years, having died in 1760, at the age of eighty-four. Of their children, four in number, the oldest dying young, the family was long represented by Basil Hamilton the second son. On his death in 1742, he was succeeded by his son Dunbar Hamilton, who, in 1744, became heir to his grand-uncle the Earl of Selkirk; on which occasion he assumed the name of Douglas. * He was father of the distinguished nobleman, whose life we now purpose shortly to trace.
* The first Earl of Selkirk was a younger son of the first Marquis of Douglas; who, having married the heiress of the Dukedom of Hamilton, and having been elevated for life to that title, resigned his Earldom into the hands of the king. This latter peerage was, in 1688, revived in the person of his third son with the precedence of the original creation. (1646.) Dunbar Hamilton of Baldoon, who, as stated in the text, succeeded to the title of Selkirk, was great grandson of the Duke of Hamilton first referred to.
Thomas Douglas, though be afterwards succeeded his father as Earl of Selkirk, was the youngest of seven sons, of whom only two died in infancy five reached the age of manhood. The name of one of these, Basil William, (the second Lord Daer,) must not be passed over in silence. He has been celebrated by Burns, but there are traits and excellencies in his character, of which the poet was not aware. Having visited the Continent, he became an admirer of the principles which led to the French Revolution. He enjoyed the acquaintance of Rochefoucault, Condorcet, Lavosier, and other distinguished men abroad. At home, he became a member of the Society of the Friends of the People, and was a zealous and persevering advocate for parliamentary reform. These sentiments indeed were, in a greater or less degree, those of his father and brothers; but from the energy of his character and his distinguished talents, he occupied a space in public attention to which none of his family attained. According to the law as it then existed; and still obtains, the oldest son of a Scots peer cannot, like those of the English or Irish nobility, have a seat in the Commons House of Parliament. This disability he regarded as absurd and unjust; and he made an attempt to get it removed. He formally claimed his right to be put on the roll of freeholders in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and a majority of the electors having supported that claim, the minority, instead of acquiescing, carried the question before the Court of Session. That judicatory, and subsequently the House of Lords, reversed the decision to which the electors had come, and continued the disability of which he so justly complained.
But however enlightened, or superior to his age, were the political views of this eminent person, his name is better known to us in a department of less publicity perhaps, but of not less importance. We refer to his public-spirited exertions as an agricultural improver. In 1786, his father transferred to him the uncontrolled management of his estates; * and “the ardour with which he turned his powerful mind to the investigation of every subject connected with rural economy, was only equalled by the perseverance and ability which he displayed in the practical execution of his plans.
* Lord Daer was aware that even the best-cultivated lands were susceptible of great amelioration, and afforded ample scope for the exercise of agricultural skill. Having made himself master of the state of his father’s affairs, and having resolved to dispose of the barony of Baldoon, the nature of this sale is so honourable to his Lordship’s abilities, that we cannot resist mentioning it. The lands were sold to the late Earl of Galloway for a price founded on a rental of L.5000; and it was farther stipulated that Lord Daer should retain a lease of the estate for ten years, at a rent of L.7000 per annum; that at the expiration of that time, the lands were to be valued by arbiters mutually chosen; and that Lord Galloway should pay twenty-five years purchase of the full surplus valued rent above L.5000. This negotiation was concluded about the year 1793. Unfortunately, the enlightened improvements and experiments which Lord Daer contemplated, he was not destined to live to superintend. But every thing he had suggested was, so far as was possible, carried into effect. Not only was the sum, realized from the estate by skilful management, soon found sufficient to meet the payment of rent; but on the termination of the lease, the value of the property was ascertained to have been enhanced in so surprising a degree, that Lord Galloway had to pay an additional sum of no less than L.125,000! This result was not more honourable to the penetration and talents of Lord Daer, than the mode in which the money was disposed of is honourable to the benevolence and liberality of his brother, Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, the subject of this sketch. It was not till about the year 1806 that the transaction in question was finally adjusted. At that time Lord Selkirk had four sisters alive, to whom he was warmly attached and instead of appropriating the large sum in question to his own use, dividing it into five shares, he presented a share to each of his sisters, and only retained the remaining one for himself.
In the management of his father’s estates, he set an example of enlightened liberality; and his influence was most zealously extended in promoting every public measure of utility. Roads and bridges, as the great ground-work of other improvements, were early the object of his most anxious attention. The unexampled success with which he applied himself to this branch of rural economy, and the spirit and judgment which be displayed with regard to farms, houses, and useful and ornamental plantations,” were quite extraordinary, if not altogether unprecedented in Scotland.*
* The Rev. Mr. Smith’s Agricultural Survey of Galloway.
Had his valuable life been prolonged, he would undoubtedly have become one of the most distinguished noblemen of whom this country ever could boast. But his days were doomed to be few. Amid his public-spirited exertions as a landholder, and his speculations as a politician, he was carrying about with him the seeds of that disease which, as has been beautifully said, “indulges hopes of life at the moment when at destroys it.” The melancholy truth is, he died of consumption, deeply and universally regretted, on the 5th November 1794, at the early age of thirty-two. This event took place at Ivy Bridge, Devonshire, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health; and his remains were interred at Exeter. Click here for Lord Daer’s Obituary.
He was succeeded, as Lord Daer, by his younger brother, John, a member of the Scots bar; and he also having died in early life — Thomas, the subject of this brief sketch, the seventh and only surviving son, became, in 1797, heir-apparent to the honours of his family; at which, on the death of his venerable father, he arrived in the month of May 1799.
This nobleman was born in the month of June 1771. Having received in England an education becoming his rank, he finished his studies at the university of Edinburgh. He afterwards travelled for two years on the continent; and on his return, being meant for a country life, and having perhaps imbibed a love for rural pursuits from his brother, of whom we have already spoken, he studied agriculture under Mr. Culley, an eminent farmer in Northumberland. Nor was it long till he had an opportunity of carrying into effect the knowledge which he had acquired. He received from his father one of his best farms; Kirkchrist in the vicinity of Kirkcudbright. He lived on it in a house built for himself of a kind not superior to the more respectable class of such buildings. He entered with enthusiasm on the duties of a farmer: he was distinguished by that energy and ardour of character for which his brother Basil William had been so remarkable: and he afforded an example of enlightened management and enterprising improvements at that time uncommon at least, if not entirely unknown in that part of the country. But having succeeded his father as Earl of Selkirk in 1799, a new and more enlarged sphere of action was opened up to him, of which he did not fail very soon to avail himself. Instead of spending his time or dissipating his means in inglorious ease or giddy pleasure, in imitation of too many persons of his station in society, he on the contrary devoted all his resources and energies to the good of his species, and to the promotion of laudable objects.
Soon after his succession to the peerage, he took an active interest in the state of the highlands of Scotland, (a district of country, which, during the course of his academical studies, he had frequently visited; and he had thus acquired a thorough knowledge of the interesting character of its inhabitants, and had even made some progress in learning their language,) particularly in regard to the extensive emigrations which were taking place from that quarter of the kingdom. The feudal system in the highlands had gradually been giving way since the rebellion of 1745. The object of landlords in these rude regions soon became, not the number of dependants they could support on their estates, but how to turn these estates, in a pecuniary point of view, to the best advantage; not to multiply families, but to increase the produce of their lands. The system of large farms having been introduced, the small occupiers were dispossessed. These persons, attached by birth to the possession of land, almost invariably, in their unhappy circumstances, preferred emigrating to America, where land could be got in abundance, to remaining at home, and dwindling down into the rank, degraded in their eyes, of day-labourers or mechanics. The States of America was their usual destination – British America was seldom their choice. Lord Selkirk, perceiving this, and learning that, while persons of the hardy nature and industrious habits of the highlanders, were settling in a foreign country, which might one day become hostile to us, our own colonies were not infrequently the resort of individuals of depraved characters or of dangerous political sentiments, stepped forward to check this evil, and to turn the tide of emigration into a different channel. It was his decided opinion, as stated in his work on Emigration, that “our own colonies should be peopled by men whose manners and principles are consonant to our own government.” His object was not so much to encourage emigration; but since this step was necessary, to give it that turn which might render it advantageous alike to our colonies and the mother country; for he was fully aware of the principle, that emigration has no tendency ultimately to decrease population, as the void it occasions constitutes a stimulus to the remaining inhabitants, (of which they never fail to avail themselves,) speedily to fill it up.
He was not a man to form a resolution, and not to carry it into effect. Having purchased a large tract of wasteland on Prince Edward’s Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he undertook to occupy it with emigrants from the highlands, who had been previously destined for the United States. This he at length accomplished. Three ships, containing altogether about 800 persons, reached the island in August 1803. He himself arrived a few days after them. He directed and superintended, in person, the steps necessary to be taken by the infant colony, namely, examining the lands, laying them out in small lots, building cottages, and other such operations. “The settlers,” says he in his excellent work already referred to, “had every incitement to vigorous exertion from the nature of their tenures. They were allowed to purchase in fee-simple, and to a certain extent, on credit: from fifty to an hundred acres were allowed to each family at a very moderate price, but none was given gratuitously. To accommodate those who had no superfluity of capital, they were not required to pay the price in full till the third or fourth year of their possession; and, in this time, an industrious man might have it in his power to discharge the debt out of the produce of the land itself.” The same principle was adopted in the distribution of provisions. Nothing was given in charity. “And thus,” says his lordship, “the proud spirit that characterised the ancient highlander was carefully cherished among them: the near prospect of independence was kept constantly within their view, to stimulate their exertions, and support them in every difficulty.”
Lord Selkirk, having left his colony to the charge of a confidential agent, visited the continent of America; and having made an extensive tour there, returned at the end of a twelve-month, to the island, where he found every thing, with little exception, satisfactory and prosperous. He soon after sailed for England, where he arrived in the spring of 1805.
Soon after his return, he published Observations on the Present State of the Highlands of Scotland, with a view to the causes and probable consequences of Emigration. This work, though written to serve a temporary object, is composed with such ability and science as to be of a permanent character; and it will ever constitute a favourable memorial of the expansive and patriotic views of its author. He seems to have been intimately acquainted with the works of Adam Smith, Malthus, and other eminent political economists; and though a very ingenious pamphlet, under the title of Strictures and Remarks on the Earl of Selkirk’s Observations, &c., was published by Mr. Robert Brown, yet it may be safely pronounced that none of his lordship’s views have been repelled, and that they are unanswerable.
Lord Selkirk, for some time after this date, was not engaged in any public enterprise. But he was not a man to remain idle. By his influence and example, he was, in his native county, teaching sound principles of agriculture. He was one of the presidents of the Stewartry Agricultural Society, established in 1809; and it was on his suggestion, that the late Rev. Samuel Smith of Borgue, undertook to draw up The Agricultural Survey of Galloway.
In 1808, he was nominated one of the sixteen representative peers of Scotland; and in the same year, was elected a member of the Royal Society of London. In the House of Lords, he made several respectable appearances as a speaker; and on one occasion he published a speech on the defence of the country, delivered by him in that assembly. But he was not fitted to become an eminent parliamentary orator. His knowledge was correct and minute, and his views were sound. But he was distinguished by uncommon diffidence, and laboured under a slight defect in his utterance: circumstances that imparted considerable hesitation to his speech in public assemblies. In the same year, he gave to the world a pamphlet on the subject that his published speech had embraced, namely, the establishment of a permanent local militia; a project which was afterwards carried into effect. Of this pamphlet the title was The Necessity of a more effectual system of Military Defence and the means of establishing the permanent security of the kingdom. He also printed a tract On the Scottish Peerage; but this production I have not had an opportunity of seeing.
Lord Selkirk had been educated in the Whig school of politics; and the attachment which he must have felt for the hereditary principles of his family, must have been not a little enhanced in his eyes by the part which his brother Basil William had taken in public affairs. These sentiments, however sacred they may have appeared to him from this view, he was induced to abandon, and to adopt those of a contrary tendency.
But it must not be forgotten that, though he laid aside the principles of his family and his youth, and attached himself to that party which, till of late, has long guided the councils of the nation, he never became a violent party-politician, or showed any wish, as is too often the case in similar circumstances, to expose or slander the friends from whom he had withdrawn. In 1809, he published A Letter to John Cartwright, Esq. recalling his sentiments on Parliamentary Reform; and whether the reasons he assigns for his change of views be considered as the result of prejudice, or of sound induction, we cannot but admit the candid manner in which they are stated. “ I have had an opportunity,” says he, “which my honoured relations never had, of seeing [in the United States,] the practical application of those principles from which we expected consequences so beneficial. With grief and mortification I perceived that no such advantages had resulted as from theory I had been led to anticipate.”
He remained a bachelor till 1807; on the 24th day of November of which year he was most happily married to Jane, only daughter of James Wedderburn Colville, Esq., brother of the late Sir John Wedderburn of Ballindean, Bart.
But Lord Selkirk, notwithstanding his important engagements in his native country, and the part he took in public affairs, had not withdrawn his views entirely from the New World, or ceased to take an interest in colonization. His settlement on Prince Edward’s Island was prospering as well as he could reasonably have expected. But he aimed at something still higher, as the founder of a colony, than he had yet reached; and from the time he arrived from America, he had undoubtedly been laying and maturing his plans for this purpose. In 1811, he obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company (of whose stock be had previously purchased one-third,) an extensive grant of land within their territories, for the purpose of establishing an agricultural colony upon the same principles as those he had adopted in his former settlement. The validity of this grant was guaranteed by the opinion of the most able English counsel. The situation selected for his settlement was on the banks of the Red River, at fifty degrees of north latitude, and ninety-seven west longitude, about fifty miles from the entrance of that stream into Lake Winnipeg. The land is level, fertile, and comparatively free of wood. The river abounds with fish; the extensive plains with buffalo; and the woods with elk, deer, and game. In summer the climate, which is undoubtedly salubrious, is hot, insomuch that melons thrive in the open air; but in winter the thermometer has been known to sink 50o below zero.
The place, besides, whatever its productiveness, was regarded by some as not well fitted for an infant colony. It is surrounded by native Indians, and does not enjoy the command of a market, being distant 700 miles from the nearest fort on Hudson’s Bay, and not less than 1500 from any inhabited spot in Upper Canada. Of these circumstances his Lordship was fully aware, and in his calculations he allowed them all the weight to which they were entitled. But he was also aware that the Red River was the head-quarters of the numerous inland traders employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company; and that the provisions and other articles required for their support had to be brought from a great distance, even, in many instances, from the mother country. This, therefore, he regarded as a market already prepared for the disposable produce of his contemplated colony; and he hoped that the settlers would ere long be able, not only to secure to themselves all the necessaries of life, but to supply the demand, on the part of that great company, to which I have referred.
Such was the nature of the place chosen by Lord Selkirk for his new colony. In the autumn of 1812, the year after he had obtained the grant, the Hudson’s Bay Company appointed Mr. Miles Macdonell governor of Ossiniboia, the district in which the settlement was to be formed; and his lordship nominated the same gentleman to superintend the colony, and take charge of the settlers. In the beginning of 1813, the colony could boast of a hundred persons; and in the end of the following year, that number was doubled. Other emigrants, chiefly, like the rest, from the highlands of Scotland, were on their way to join their countrymen; and the settlers, having surmounted most of the difficulties incident to a new colony, were flattering themselves with the near prospect of prosperity and happiness. But never were expectations so miserably disappointed. The circumstances, however, which led to this unhappy result, as they belong rather to the many-coloured history of America, than to that of the founder of the Red River colony, can here merely be adverted to, not detailed.
The north-west fur traders of Montreal, proceeding on the belief that colonization, under any circumstances, would be fatal to their monopoly, resolved, the instant they heard of Lord Selkirk’s intended settlement not only that it should not succeed, but that it should be destroyed. So soon as they were informed of its successful establishment, they took the most violent and unwarrantable means to carry their determination into effect. They stationed representatives, worthy of their mission, in the immediate vicinity of the infant colony. These gained over to their purposes the native Indians and the Brules or half-breeds, both of whom were at first favourably disposed to their new neighbours; and so unwearied were they in the discharge of the wretched duties assigned to them, that, in 1815, by threats, misrepresentations, and bloodshed, they dispersed the settlers, and seized upon or destroyed their effects.
The emissaries of the north-west company, flattering themselves that the obnoxious colony was for ever destroyed, returned to Upper Canada, carrying with them no fewer than a hundred and thirty-four of the settlers from the Red River; and on their arrival, were received with great respect and gratitude by the Company, whose undisguised wishes they had been carrying into effect. But unfortunately for the character of that body, the expectations they had entertained respecting the final overthrow of the settlement were frustrated. The unhappy individuals, who had escaped, and taken refuge at the north of Lake Winnipeg, at a station belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company, ventured to return in the ensuing spring, and were soon joined by a new detachment of emigrants, chiefly from the highlands of Scotland; so that, in 1816, the colony contained upwards of two hundred settlers. The north-west Company, having re-appointed the same representatives again to repair to their former station in the near vicinity of the infant settlement, showed their unaltered determination to extirpate it. Nor were their sanguinary intentions long in being carried into execution. In the month of June 1816, the colony was attacked by the agents of the north-west company; and Mr. Semple, (who had succeeded Mr. Macdonell as governor of the district,) with twenty-one of the settlers, were slain; while only one on the side of the aggressors was killed; and the colony was thus a second time destroyed. Even in the history of the Spanish colonization of the New World, there occurs no event of a more treacherous and sanguinary kind than the destruction of the Red River settlement, and the murder of the persons who composed it.
Lord Selkirk, meanwhile, was not idle. He was not in America when the new colony was planted; but on being informed that its prosperity was endangered, or its existence threatened, he lost no time in repairing to that continent. But it was too late, as on his arrival at New York, towards the end of the year 1815, he was told of its destruction. He instantly repaired to Canada to stimulate the provincial government to institute judicial proceedings. He was engaged in prosecuting this object, when information reached him that the settlers who had escaped, had returned to the colony, and had been joined by a fresh body of emigrants from Scotland. His lordship thought it his duty to hasten to the spot, to afford them that countenance and protection which they had reason to expect at his hands. Taking with him a party of new settlers, he was proceeding to the Red River, when he received the account of the murder of Governor Semple, and the extirpation of the colony. Never was any individual placed in more trying circumstances. But every obstacle, however unexpected or melancholy, instead of discouraging him in the prosecution of his design, appears to have had the very contrary tendency. Having spent the winter at Fort William, where he arrested several of the partners or servants of the north-west Company, that had been concerned in the death of Mr. Semple, and in the destruction of the new settlement, he pursued his journey into the interior in spring, and arrived at the Red River in June 1817. Several of the old settlers, hearing that his lordship was in America, had ventured to return; he had sent a few emigrants before him, and had taken with him an additional small party; and fresh detachments soon after arrived. The colony resumed with renewed vigour their agricultural labours, under better auspices than before: his Lordship, making every needful arrangement, and affording them every encouragement in his power, continued with them for a few months, when he bade them adieu, and returned to Canada. While in this latter colony, he again exerted himself to force the government to institute the necessary investigations, both into his own conduct, which had been grossly misrepresented, and into the crimes and murders that had twice led to the destruction of the settlement. But in this laudable object he was lamentably unsuccessful. No representation, no application on his part was treated with becoming respect. His motives, his conduct, his intentions, as well as those of his friends and adherents, were suspected or calumniated. Garbled statements were despatched home to the parent government; and though his lordship during the whole time he was in America courted or demanded investigation; and though, both during that period and afterwards, he made the same application to the British government, yet obstacles seem voluntarily to have been thrown in the way. Some preliminary or superficial steps indeed were taken in Canada; and no fewer than thirty-eight individuals connected with the Northwest Company had been indicted by the grand juries of Montreal for murder. Yet few of these were ultimately brought to trial; and the legal steps that should have been taken, pursuant to the verdict of the grand juries, were studiously, and against every remonstrance on the part of Lord Selkirk, avoided by the colonial government. And the result is, that the important question respecting the two successive outrages committed at the Red River, and the proceedings of his lordship consequent on -these, so far as judicial investigation is concerned, either at home or in Canada, is yet undetermined. Now that this distinguished nobleman is no more, History is beginning to step forward, and to perform to his memory that duty which the British and Canadian governments ought to have discharged during his life.
Having left America, after a distracted and busy residence there of three years, he landed in England about the beginning of 1819. During his absence namely in 1816, he had published a Sketch of the British fur trade in North America, with observations relative to the north-west company of Montreal; a pamphlet containing a severe exposure of the proceedings and character of that body. That this exposure was not unmerited is evident from the fact that no reply was attempted to be made to it, either by the company or any person in their name. In 1817, his friends in Britain gave to the world a Statement respecting the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement upon the Red River, in North America; its destruction in 1815 and 1816, &c., This Statement was partly occasioned by a pamphlet published in the same year, on the part of the Montreal Company, entitled A Narrative of Occurrences in the Indian countries of North America, since the connexion of the Right Honourable the Earl of Selkirk with the Hudson’s Bay Company, &c., In that year also, Mr. John Halkett. brother-in-law to Lord Selkirk,* transmitted a copy of the Statement to Earl Bathurst, at the head of the Colonial Department; and at the same time commenced a correspondence with the Colonial Officers respecting his celebrated friend, and his enterprises in America, which continued at intervals for nearly two years, and which is highly honourable to the character, judgment and talents of the writer.
* Mr. Halkett and Lord Selkirk were also cousins, their mothers having been sisters; namely, daughters of the Hon. John Hamilton, second son of Thomas, Earl of Haddington.
Lord Selkirk himself, soon after his return to England, stept forward in his own cause. He addressed A Letter to the Earl of Liverpool, dated 19th March, 1819, and accompanied by Mr Halkett’s correspondence with Lord Bathurst. “The subject,” says the author, “properly belongs to the Colonial Department; but the conduct of that Department, with respect to the matters in question, for more than three years past, while I was absent in America, has been such that I can have little expectation of redress from that quarter; and I feel it necessary, therefore, to appeal to your lordship, at the head of his majesty’s government.” To this Letter was added an appendix, consisting of informations, affidavits, and official letters, addressed by Lord Selkirk to the governor-general of Canada.*
* To the publications mentioned in the text, as also to A Letter to the Earl of Selkirk, on his Settlement at the Red River, near Hudson’s Bay, by John Strachan, D. D. Rector of York, Upper Canada, which appeared in London in 1816, and to Narratives of John Pritchard, Pierre Chrysolaque Pambrun, and Frederick Damien Heuster, respecting the aggressors of the North West Company, against the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement upon Red River, published in London in 18l9, we are indebted for the information on which Lord Selkirk’s American history is founded.
Amid the harassing and laborious duties to which he had been so long exposed, his health had begun to fail; and symptoms of that disease, which had already proved fatal to several of his family, appeared. Owing to the advice of his medical attendants, he resolved to spend the winter of 1819-20, on the continent; whither he went at the end of harvest, accompanied by Lady Selkirk, who had also been his constant companion during his residence in America. He spent the winter at Pau, in the south of France. But nothing could arrest the progress of his disease. He breathed his last on the 8th of April 1820 before he had completed the forty-ninth year of his age. His remains were interred in the Protestant burial-ground at Pau. He left behind him three children, a son and two daughters. The character of Lady Selkirk, as a wife and a mother, is above all praise.
As to stature, Lord Selkirk was fully six feet in height, rather of slender form, with a gentle stoop in his gait. His hair was of an auburn colour, approaching to red; his face rather long; his forehead high; his countenance mild and benignant. Though he was capable of undergoing great fatigue, he never was very athletic. In his social intercourse with the world, he was distinguished by complaisance and courteousness of manners; which were always marked by a modesty, not infrequently bordering on diffidence, most amiable under any circumstances, but not usual and perhaps more amiable in his Lordship’s rank of life.
Lord Selkirk’s character is of the highest kind. He may be denominated a projector; but that term is applicable to him only in its best sense. His plans of colonization, instead of being rashly adopted, were the result of reflection and judgment, as well as of an ardent imagination and a benevolent heart; and though of great magnitude; Involving much expense, were so admirably formed that, so far as he was concerned, they met with no interruption, but, on the contrary, he was prepared, at every step, to meet the demands that might be made on him. The interruption to which unfortunately they were exposed, was attributable, not to any miscalculation or imprudence on his part, but to the illegal and disgraceful opposition he experienced at the hands of a grasping and interested company. His ardour and perseverance in the pursuit of any object on which he had fixed his heart, were altogether uncommon, and seem to have increased in proportion to the extent of the obstacles with which he had to contend. His conduct in Canada was firm, considerate, dignified, independent, business-like; of which his letters to the governor of Upper Canada, and to the governor-general of Canada, afford admirable specimens. He may, we confess, have adopted some hasty and apparently equivocal steps; but the circumstances in which the conduct of his enemies had placed him, not only warranted them, but loudly called for them.
He was himself not only a man of genius, but an enthusiastic admirer of genius in others. The late Professor Dugald Stewart was, during his lordship’s life, his intimate and affectionate friend. Of learning and merit he was disposed to be the patron. His habits were literary. His acquirements in mathematical science were great: his reading in every department extensive: his knowledge of the fine arts minute and correct : his taste fine : his compositions logical, ingenious, and elegant. He was, on the whole, a man of a gentle nature, distinguished, not merely by his talents, but by benevolence and liberality: and he enjoyed the respect, the confidence, or admiration of all within the extensive sphere, either of his personal acquaintance, or of his influence.
I cannot close this memoir without mentioning, what must be agreeable to every reader, that the two rival companies in the fur trade, namely, those of Hudson’s Bay and Montreal, have, since the death of Lord Selkirk, been united; that the colony of the Red River consists of upwards of 4000 settlers, provided with resident magistrates, a clergyman, and a surgeon; that it is happy and prosperous, answering the most sanguine expectations which its enlightened founder ever ventured to form of it ; and that I have reason to believe that his Lordship’s speculations in the Hudson’s Bay Stock, combined with the revenues derived from his settlements in North America, while his name will be honourably perpetuated there in connexion with the history of colonization and the progress of society, are affording ample proofs of his foresight, penetration, and wisdom.