Acheson, Archibald (DNB01)

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ACHESON, Sir ARCHIBALD, second Earl of Gosford in the Irish peerage, and first Baron Worlingham in the peerage of the United Kingdom (1776–1849), governor-in-chief of Canada, born on 1 Aug. 1776 (Hibernian Mag. vi. 645), was the eldest son and heir of Arthur, the first earl, by Millicent, daughter of Lieutenant-general Edward Pole of Radborne in Derbyshire. Entering Christ Church, Oxford, on 19 Jan. 1796, he matriculated in the university on the 22nd of that month, and graduated M.A. honoris causa on 26 Oct. 1797. During the Irish troubles of the succeeding year he served as lieutenant-colonel in the Armagh militia. In 1807 he became colonel.

His political life began with his election to the Irish parliament, on 9 Jan. 1798, as member for Armagh. He voted in the Irish House of Commons against union with Great Britain on 20 Jan. 1800, while his father cordially supported the measure in the Irish House of Lords. The offer of an earldom, made in that connection to his father, was renewed in 1803, but was not accepted till three years later when the whigs came into power.

As Acheson represented a county he became, by the terms of the Union Act, a member of the House of Commons in the first parliament of the United Kingdom (1801). At the general elections of 1802 and 1806 he was returned for Armagh, and continued to sit in the commons till 14 Jan. 1807, when he succeeded his father as second earl of Gosford. He was chosen a representative peer for Ireland in 1811. While he seldom intervened in debate, he gave a general support to the whig party and policy, especially on Irish questions. In 1832 he was gazetted lord-lieutenant and custos rotulorum of Armagh, offices which he held for life. Nominated captain of the yeomen of the guard on 3 Sept. 1834, he was on the same day called to the privy council. Next year — in June — he became prominent as an exponent of the whig policy of 'conciliation' in Ireland. Having reported, in his capacity of lord-lieutenant, in a 'conciliatory' temper, on certain Armagh riots, a resolution censuring both his investigation and report was defeated in the commons after a brisk debate. Thereupon Joseph Hume [q. v.] proposed a motion eulogising Gosford, which receired warm support from O'Connell and his followers, and from the radicals generally; it was accepted by the government and carried amid much enthusiasm.

On 1 July 1835 Gosford was nominated by the prime minister. Lord Melbourne, governor of Lower Canada, and governor-in-chief of British North America, Newfoundland excepted. On the same day he became royal commissioner with Sir George Grey [q.v. Suppl.] and Sir George Gipps [q. v.] to examine locally into the condition of Lower Canada and the grievances of the colonists. Four days afterwards he was created a peer of the United Kingdom, adopting the title of Baron Worlingham from an estate that came to him through his wife. Arriving in Quebec on 23 Aug. 1835, Gosford assumed the reins of government on 17 Sept., immediately after the departure of Lord Aylmer. He left the colony on 26 Feb. 1838. His term of office, lasting two and a half years and covering the period of the Canadian rebellion, is a dark passage in Canadian history, and still occasions much debate.

His appointment was not received with general favour. As constitutional questions of deep moment were being mooted, the nomination of an unknown and untried man seemed to many hazardous in the extreme. The whig remedy for colonial evils, which Charles Grant, lord Glenelg [q.v.], the colonial minister under Lord Melbourne, embodied in the original draft of Gosford's instructions, was not based on an examination of colonial facts, but proceeded on the assumptions that there was a very close analogy between Irish and colonial conditions, and that the whig policy known in Irish affairs as 'conciliation' needed only a trial to prove an absolute success beyond the sea.

The Melbourne cabinet consequently instructed Gosford to adopt as matter of principle the three chief demands of Louis Joseph Papineau [q. v.] and the political agitators in Lower Canada. The first demand that the assembly should have sole control of the waste or crown lands, and the third demand that the legislative council should be elective, were to be accepted absolutely; the second demand, that the assembly should dispose of all revenues independently of the executive, was to be accepted with a proviso which had reference to the civil list. But the ministerial plans were foiled by the king, who, before Gosford left England, said to him with passionate emphasis : 'Mind what you are about in Canada. By God, I will never consent to alienate the crown lands or make the council elective.'

Despite this warning Gosford set himself, on arriving in Quebec, the hopeless task of conciliating those whom he deemed the Canadian people. They suspected and declined his overtures. His attentions to Papineau and his friends excited much comment and not a little ridicule among the French Canadians. From the English community he held aloof, identifying them, in pursuance of the Irish analogy, with a small office-holding clique whose headquarters were at Quebec. The legislature met on 27 Oct. 1835, when the governor dwelt at length on the commission of inquiry, its scope, and the redress of grievances, but he met with a serious rebuff. The assembly declined to recognise the commission, and assuming a defiant attitude refused to grant the supplies which the governor demanded. With expressions of regret he prorogued the legislature. In transmitting to the king a petition from the assembly for redress of grievances he asked for additional powers.

Meantime mass-meetings after the Irish pattern were organised by 'the patriots' on a large scale ; Gosford's conciliation was denounced as machiavellian, and he was burnt in effigy. Riots took place in Montreal, which called for the intervention of the troops. But when the leading business men in the city petitioned the governor for leave to organise a rifle corps to preserve order, they received from Gosford a caustic reprimand.

The next session opened on 22 Sept. 1836. Gosford submitted new instructions from home in full, because garbled copies, he said, had got abroad. The new instructions differed from the old ones in that they set no limit to the commissioners' inquiries. The king had meanwhile warned the ministry at home that he would permit 'no modification of the constitution.' Relegating constitutional issues to the commissioners' report, Gosford now pressed the assembly to vote supply. But, after some abortive proceedings, the assembly, to quote Bibaud's summary, 'donne un conseil legislatif electif comme son ultimatum, une condition sine qua non, &c., en d'autres termes, se suicide.' Prorogation followed on 4 Oct.

About this time the commissioners finished their report. All its declarations were opposed to the agitators' claims. In accordance with one of them the House of Commons at Westminster passed resolutions on 6 March 1837 appropriating the Lower Canada revenues to the payment of existing arrears (142,000l.) Thereupon Papineau took a bolder stand and organised rebellion. Gosford, beyond issuing proclamations of warning 'to the misguided and inconsiderate,' took no steps to secure the public peace. But happily the Irish catholics declared against both Gosford and Papineau, who alike looked to them for aid ; they made common cause with the English, not with the official clique but with the constitutionalists of Montreal, Quebec, and the eastern townships, thus uniting the English-speaking population.

Reluctant to put the Westminster resolutions into force at the opening of the new reign of Queen Victoria, the English ministry and Gosford made one more effort to gain the assembly. It met on 25 Aug. 1837, the members appearing in homespun (étoffe du païs) as a protest against the importation of goods from abroad. They refused supply, repeated their ultimatum, and protested alike against the Canadian commissioners' recommendations and the resolutions of the English House of Commons. The legislature was dissolved, never to meet again. By 2 Sept. Gosford had become convinced that Papineau's object was 'separation from the mother country,' and suggested the expediency of suspending the constitution. Still trusting to the moral force of his proclamations, he took no active steps to dissipate the gathering storm, and, at the very moment when the Roman catholic bishop launched his mandement against civil war, and the French Canadian magistrates warned the people against the misrepresentations of the agitators, declined once more all voluntary assistance. At length, when in September 1837 the province was on the verge of anarchy, he intimated to the home government that they 'might feel disposed to entrust the execution of its plans to hands not pledged as mine to a mild and conciliatory policy.' The actual conduct of affairs passed into the hands of Sir John Colborne [q.v.], the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, who ultimately restored order. Gosford's resignation was accepted on 14 Nov., and he returned to England.

Gosford received the thanks of the ministry for his services (23 Jan. 1838), together with the honour of knight grand cross on the civil side (19 July). To the end he remained convinced of the soundness of his Irish analogy and the general utility of his policy. On this ground he opposed the union of Upper and Lower Canada, and criticised the terms of the bill sharply in all its stages through the House of Lords (1839–40). Thenceforth he devoted his attention to his estates, to the development of the linen industry in Ireland, and the promotion there of agriculture generally. He exercised, besides the lord-lieutenancy, the functions of vice-admiral of the coast of the province of Ulster. He died at his residence, Market Hill, on 27 March 1849.

On 20 July 1805 he married Mary (d 30 June 1841), only daughter of Robert Sparrow of Worlingham Hall in Beccles, Suffolk. By her he had a son, Archibald, third earl of Gosford (1806–1864), and four daughters, of whom Millicent married Henry Bence Jones [q. v.]

[G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, iv. 61; Foster's Peerage of the Brit. Emp. p. 305; Haydn's Book of Dignities (see index, ‘Gosford’); Lodge's Peer. of Ireland, vi. 81; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 344, x. 99; Gent. Mag. xxxi. 537; Official Return of Members of Parl. 1878, pt. ii. (index, ‘Acheson’); Ross's Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 319; Parl. Debates, 1835, xxvii. 1071–1112, 3rd ser. xlix. 882, lv. 246–7; Col. Official List, 1899, p. 10; Lecky's Hist. of Ireland, v. 294; Parl. Papers, 1836 xxxix. 1–172, 1837 xxxiv. 1; Ann. Register, Chron. 1836 pp. 301–15, 1837 p. 299, 1838 p. 317; Brymner's Can. Archives, 1883, pp. 160–4; Globensky's La Rebellion de 1837–8, passim; David's Les Patriotes de 1837–8, passim; Garneau's Hist. du Can. iii. 311–50; Bibaud's Hist. du Can. ii. 413–8; Greville's Memoirs, iii. 113, 256, 271–2, 276–8; Edinburgh Review, cxxxiii. 319–20; Sanders's Lord Melbourne's Papers, pp. 334–6, 349–50; Leader's Life of Roebuck, p. 66; Walpole's Hist. of England, iv. 110–30; Christie's Hist. of Lower Can. vol. iv. passim; Read's Canadian Rebellion, ch. ix. and x.; Kingsford's Hist. of Can. ix. 586–634, x. 1–104.]

T. B. B.