vision was made for the government of the province by the creation of a special council, and by letters patent dated 31 March 1838 Durham was appointed high commissioner ‘for the adjustment of certain important questions depending in the said provinces of Lower and Upper Canada, respecting the form and future government of the said provinces,’ and also governor-general of the British provinces in North America. Durham landed at Quebec on 29 May, and two days afterwards having dismissed the executive council which his predecessor had appointed, selected a new one from among the officers of the government. On 28 June he appointed his chief secretary, Charles Buller, and four officers attached to his own person, who were entirely ignorant of Canadian politics, members of the special council, and persuaded them on the same day to pass an ordinance authorising the transportation to Bermuda of Wolfred, Nelson, Bouchette, Gauvin, and five others of the leading rebels then in prison at Montreal, and threatening the penalty of death on Papineau and fifteen others if they returned to Canada without permission. These high-handed proceedings were known in England in July, and were immediately denounced by Brougham, whose Canada Government Act Declaratory Bill was carried on the second reading against the government by a majority of eighteen (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xliv. 1102). On the following day (10 Aug.) Lord Melbourne declared the intention of the government to disallow Durham's ordinance, and to accept the indemnity clause of Brougham's bill (ib. pp. 1127–31), which was shortly afterwards passed into law (1 & 2 Vict. c. 112). Having been virtually abandoned by the ministers who had appointed him, Durham sent in his resignation, and issued a proclamation, dated 9 Oct. 1838, in which he injudiciously appealed from the government to the Canadians, and declared that from the outset the minutest details of his administration had been ‘exposed to incessant criticism, in a spirit which has evinced an entire ignorance of the state of this country’ (Ann. Register, 1838, Chron. pp. 311–7). He sailed from Canada on 1 Nov., leaving Sir John Colborne in charge, and reached England on the 26th of the same month. Though he was received without the usual honours, a number of addresses were presented to him on his return, and while boasting at Plymouth, in answer to one of them, that he had put an end to the rebellion, the news arrived that it had already broken out again. On 31 Jan. 1839 Durham sent in his ‘Report on the Affairs of British North America’ to the Colonial office (Parl. Papers, 1839, xvii. 5–119). The whole of this celebrated report, which bears Durham's name, and has guided the policy of all his successors, was written by Charles Buller, ‘with the exception of two paragraphs on church or crown lands,’ which were composed by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Richard Davies Hanson [q. v.] (Greville, Memoirs, pt. ii. vol. i. pp. 162–3 n.) Two unofficial editions of this report were also published, one with and the other without the despatches (London, 1839, 8vo).
Durham spoke for the last time in the House of Lords on 26 July 1839, during the debate on the bill for the government of Lower Canada. At the conclusion of his speech he alluded to ‘the personal hostility to which he had been exposed,’ and to his own anxiety that the Canadian question ‘should not be mixed up with anything like party feeling or party disputes,’ and asserted that it was ‘on these grounds that he had abstained from forcing on any discussion relative to Canada’ (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xlix. 875–882). He died at Cowes on 28 July 1840, aged 48, and was buried at Chester-le-Street, Durham.
Durham was an energetic, high-spirited man, with great ambition, overwhelming vanity, and bad health. ‘When he spoke in parliament, which he did very rarely,’ says Brougham, ‘he distinguished himself much, and when he spoke at public meetings more than almost anybody’ (Life and Times, iii. 500). His undoubted abilities were, however, rendered useless by his complete want of tact, while his irritable temper and overbearing manner made him a most undesirable colleague. Lord Dalling, who with Buller, Ward, Grote, Duncombe, and Warburton belonged to the ‘Durham party,’ had a very high opinion of Durham's capacity, while Greville never loses an opportunity in his Memoirs to disparage him.
Durham was elected high steward of Hull in 1836, and was a knight of the foreign orders of St. Andrew, St. Alexander Newsky, St. Anne, and the White Eagle of Russia, Leopold of Belgium, and the Saviour of Greece. He married, first, in January 1812, Miss Harriet Cholmondeley (see Journal of Thomas Raikes, 1857, iii. 83, and Letters from and to C. K. Sharpe, 1888, i. 526), by whom he had three daughters: 1. Frances Charlotte, who married on 8 Sept. 1835 the Hon. John George Ponsonby, afterwards fifth earl of Bessborough, and died on 24 Dec. 1835, aged 23; 2. Georgina Sarah Elizabeth, who died unmarried on 3 Dec. 1832; and 3. Harriet Caroline, who died unmarried on 12 June 1832. His first wife died on 11 July 1815, and on 9 Dec. 1816 Lambton married,