Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dobbs, Arthur

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DOBBS, ARTHUR (1689–1765), of Castle Dobbs, county Antrim, governor of North Carolina 1754–65, eldest son of Richard Dobbs of Castletown, who was high sheriff of Antrim in 1694, by his first wife Mary, daughter of Archibald Stewart of Ballintoy, was born 2 April 1689. He succeeded to the family property on the death of his father in 1711, was high sheriff of Antrim in 1720, and in 1727 was returned for Carrickfergus in the Irish parliament of 1727–30. He married Anne, daughter and heir of Captain Osborne of Timahoe, county Kildare, and relict of Captain Norbury, by whom he had a family (see Burke, Landed Gentry).

Dobbs was appointed engineer-in-chief and surveyor-general in Ireland by Sir Robert Walpole, to whom he was introduced, in 1730, by Dr. Hugh Boulter, archbishop of Armagh [q. v.], as ‘one of the members of our House of Commons, where he on all occasions endeavours to promote his majesty's service. He … has for some time applied his thoughts to the trade of Great Britain and Ireland, and to the making of our colonies in America of more use than they have hitherto been’ (Boulter's Letters, ii. 17). He appears to have been a man of wealth and broad and liberal views as well as considerable attainments. He wrote an ‘Account of an Aurora Borealis, with a Solution of the Phenomenon,’ in ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1726 (‘Abridg.’ vii. 155). His next effort was his ‘Essay on the Trade and Imports of Ireland’ (Dublin, 1st part, 1729, 2nd part, 1731), a work ‘designed to give a true state of the kingdom, that may set us upon thinking what may be done for the good and improvement of one's country, and to rectify mistakes many in England have fallen into by reason of a prevailing opinion that the trade and prosperity of Ireland are detrimental to their wealth and commerce, and that we are their rivals in trade’ (Essay, conclusion of pt. ii.) The author advocated an improved system of land tenure, a measure he also pressed on the Irish House of Commons, being of opinion that Ireland was suffering ‘from the commonalty's having no fixed property in their land, the want of which deprives them of a sufficient encouragement to improvements and industry;’ and that ‘the present short tenures serve only as a snare to induce the nobility and gentry to be extravagant, arbitrary, and in some cases tyrannical, and the commonalty to be dejected, dispirited, and, in a sense, slaves in some places’ (Essay, ii. 81) This essay contains much valuable information from official sources respecting the actual state of Irish trade and of the population at the time, which has been neglected by later controversialists. A copy of the work is in the British Museum Library, and a reprint appeared in Dublin in 1860. Dobbs also took a very active part in promoting the search for a north-west passage to India and China. He states that he prepared an abstract of all the voyages for that purpose known to him, and submitted it to Colonel Bladen [q. v.] in the hope that the South Sea Company, then whale-fishing in Davis' Straits, would take up the enterprise. This was in 1730–1, when the Hudson's Bay Company's privileges were unknown to him. On the occasion of a visit to London in 1734–5, he laid the matter before Admiral Sir Charles Wager, and appears to have been in communication with the Hudson's Bay Company and the admiralty on the subject. Eventually the admiralty provided two small vessels, the Furnace bomb and the Discovery pink, for the service. On Dobbs's recommendation, Captain Christopher Middleton, a Hudson's Bay Company's captain, who had commanded an unsuccessful voyage of discovery for the company in 1737, was appointed to command. The vessels left England in May 1741, wintered at Churchill River in Hudson's Bay, and the year after penetrated further north than any of their predecessors. They discovered Cape Dobbs, beside Welcome Bay, and entering Wager River ascended as far as 88° west Greenwich, returning along the north-east, and examining all openings. At Repulse Bay they were stopped by the ice, and returned home in September 1742. Middleton reported that the great opening seen between the 65 and the 66 parallels of north latitude was only a large river, and that the set of the tide in the bay was from the eastward, not from the north, on which Dobbs's hopes of the existence of a passage had been largely based. He made some magnetic observations, afterwards confirmed by Sir Edward Parry. Dobbs at first accepted the report as correct, but an anonymous letter changed his views, and he accused Middleton to the admiralty of making false statements at the instance of the Hudson's Bay Company. The admiralty called on Middleton for explanations, and a most acrimonious dispute followed. Middleton's ‘Vindication of the Conduct of Captain Christopher Middleton’ (London, 1743) was followed by ‘Remarks on Capt. Middleton's Defence. By A. Dobbs’ (London, 1744), and this by Middleton's ‘A Rejoinder,’ &c. (London, 1745). The public, with the national dislike to monopolies, sided with Dobbs, and without much difficulty a company was started to send out a new expedition. Dobbs in the meantime published ‘An Account of the Countries adjoining Hudson's Bay, containing a description of the Lakes and Rivers, Soil and Climate, &c.’ (London, 1744, 4to). Apart from the controversial portions, the work contains much valuable and interesting information. The author states that it was compiled from accounts published by the French and communications received from persons who had resided there and been employed in the trade, and particularly from Joseph de la France, a French-Canadian half-breed, who came over to England in 1742. Dobbs strongly urged that the trade should be thrown open, alleging that the rapacity of the Hudson's Bay Company in dealing with the Indians had thrown the fur trade into the hands of the French in Canada. The new expedition, consisting of two small vessels under the command of G. Moor, who had been master of the Discovery with Middleton, left England in 1746. An account of the voyage was published by Henry Ellis [q. v.] under the title ‘Voyage to Hudson's Bay in the Dobbs and California’ (London, 1748, 8vo). The results, disproving the existence of a passage in the locality supposed, served to rehabilitate Middleton in the eyes of the public. Dobbs then dropped the subject altogether, as appears from some remarks in a paper on ‘Bees, and the mode of taking Wax and Honey,’ which he wrote in ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1750 (‘Abridg.’ x. 78).

In 1754 Dobbs was appointed governor of North Carolina, a post worth 1,000l. a year. He arrived out in the fall, attended, the historian of the state relates, by numerous relatives, all full of hope of places and preferment. He was one of the colonial governors who attended the council at Hampton, Virginia, summoned by General Braddock in April 1755. He brought out as gifts from the king to the province several pieces of cannon and a thousand stand of muskets; but he also brought a more powerful advocate than arms, a printer, who was to be encouraged to carry on his calling. Dobbs adopted a conciliatory policy with the Indian tribes, and commissioned Colonel Waddell of Rowan county to treat with the Catawbas and Cherokees. In a despatch of December 1757 he gave a deplorable account of the quit-rents in the province, with some curious particulars of ‘Mr. Starkey, the treasurer, who governs the council by lending them money’ (Wheeler, i. 47). During Dobbs's government the administration of justice in the province was much improved, but its chief characteristic was an interminable series of petty squabbles with the legislature, arising from a somewhat high-handed assertion of the royal prerogative on the part of the governor and stubborn resistance on the part of the colonists (ib.) Dobbs died at his seat, Town Creek, N.C., 28 March 1765.

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Returns of Members of Parliament, vol. i.; Watt's Bibliotheca Brit.; Dobbs's Works; McCulloch's Literature of Political Economy, p. 46; Dict. Universelle, under ‘Christopher Middleton’ and ‘H. Ellis;’ Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe (London, 1884), i. 191–5; Carolina Papers in Public Record Office, London; Wheeler's Hist. of North Carolina (Philadelphia, 1851), i. 46–7; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 63, 82, 104, 6th ser. viii. 128.]

H. M. C.