Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rolph, John

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691716Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49 — Rolph, John1897Charles Alexander Harris

ROLPH, JOHN (1793–1870), Canadian insurgent and politician, eldest son of Dr. Thomas Rolph, medical practitioner, by his wife Frances (Petty), was born at Thornbury, Gloucestershire, on 4 March 1793, and was originally brought up for the medical profession, studying at both Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals, and being admitted to membership of the Royal Colleges both of Physicians and Surgeons. But soon abandoning medicine in favour of the law, he was called to the bar of the Inner Temple. Thereupon he migrated to Canada in 1820, and was called to the bar in 1821, practising first at Dundas. Entering political life as a member of assembly for Middlesex, Upper Canada, in 1825, he became known as a member of the reform party, and in 1828 was chairman of the committee of the house which reported the charges against the family compact party and Sir John Beverley Robinson [q. v.]

Under the Baldwin ministry, on 20 Feb. 1836, Rolph became a member of the executive council, but resigning on 4 March as a protest against the methods of government, led the attack upon Sir Francis Bond Head [q. v.] In 1837 he joined William Lyon Mackenzie [q. v.] in his secret scheme for a rebellion against the existing government; his timidity is alleged to have precipitated the rising on 4 Dec. 1837, and to have largely contributed to its failure. It is said that he was not in favour of a direct appeal to arms, but desired a strong popular demonstration to overawe the imperial government. He was still unsuspected by the government when the critical moment came, and was sent by the authorities to the rebels with a flag of truce: he urged Mackenzie to trust to a night attack, and promised aid from within Toronto. On the failure of the attack, Rolph joined the rebels openly, and subsequently, when the rising was crushed, fled with Mackenzie to the United States. He took a prominent part in organising the executive committee at Buffalo and in planning an invasion of Canada. When the movement collapsed he fled to Russia.

Before leaving Canada Rolph had resumed the practice of medicine. On the first declaration of amnesty he returned in 1843 to Canada, and settled down to practice, founding a school of medicine at Toronto at which he lectured regularly, and which was incorporated in 1853 as ‘The Toronto School of Medicine.’ In 1845 he was induced to enter the assembly of the now united Canadas as member for Norfolk, and, joining the radical or ‘Clear-grit’ party, took office with the Hincks-Morin ministry as commissioner of crown lands in 1851. His political views at the time were attacked by the opposition as socialistic. He was described as one of the ‘chiefs of that Clear-grit school which has broken up the liberalism of Upper Canada’ (Hincks, Reminiscences). On 8 Sept. 1854 the ministry resigned, and in 1857 he retired from political life, and devoted himself to the work of social reform. Till 1868 he lectured at the Toronto School of Medicine. He died on 19 Oct. 1870 at Michell, near Toronto. Rolph was a man of powerful character, which was marred, it is said, by a love of finesse. He was an eloquent speaker, and in private life was credited with much culture. Rolph was married and left descendants in Canada.

[Appleton' Cyclopaedia of American Biogr.;Withrow's Hist. of Canada; Toronto Globe, 21 Oct. 1870; Lindsey's Life and Times of W. L. Mackenzie.]

C. A. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.238
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line
173 i 27 f.e. Rolph, John: for son read eldest son
26 f.e. after Rolph insert medical practitioner, and after Frances insert (Petty)
24-23 f.e. for and was originally brought . . . studying read He was entered as a student at the Inner Temple on 8 Nov. 1809, and soon afterwards accompanied his parents on a visit to Canada. He was there during the war with the United States in 1812, and served in it as a volunteer. On returning home he spent some time at Cambridge, and then turned his attention to medicine, studying in London
20-17 f.e. for But soon abandoning medicine . . . Canada in 1820 read He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple on 1 June 1821. A year before he had migrated finally to Upper Canada, settling at first in Norfolk County (then the Talbot district)
16 f.e. for the bar in 1821 read the bar of Upper Canada in Michaelmas term 1821, soon
15 f.e. for first at Dundas read at Dundas. For a time he was the professional adviser of Colonel Thomas Talbot [q. v.], the colonial pioneer in Upper Canada, but Rolph rapidly developed strongly liberal political views, with which Talbot was out of sympathy
13 f.e. for 1825 read 1824
ii 20 for Russia read Rochester, N.Y. (cf. J. C. Dent's Story of the Upper Canada Rebellion)
25 for the Toronto school of medicine read a school of medicine at Toronto
26 after regularly insert and which was incorporated in 1853 as 'The Toronto School of Medicine.'
31 after crown lands insert in 1851
17 f.e. after racter insert and subtle, comprehensive intellect