De Cosmos, Amor
b. 1825-08-20
d. 1897-07-04
Amor De Cosmos, birth name William Alexander Smith, was born 20 August 1825 in Windsor, Nova Scotia. The Smith family had originally lived in the American colonies, but moved north after the American Revolutionary War.1 In 1852, Smith left Halifax to travel to California during its gold rush. Once in California, he started a small business as a photographer and made considerable profit.2 In 1854, Smith filed for a legal name change to “Amor De Cosmos”, stating that it combined what [he] loved most, viz: Love of order, beauty, the world, the universe.3 Then, in 1858, De Cosmos moved to Vancouver Island following his brother, Charles Smith, who had previously started a small business in the area.4 Cosmos would have a profound impact on the future of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
In 1858, Cosmos founded the British Colonist, a local newspaper still popular today.5 In the first issue on 11 December 1858, Cosmos stated, in our local politics we shall be found the sure friend of reform.6 Indeed, Cosmos would dedicate his political career to reforms, especially of British hierarchal institutions. Cosmos was extremely critical of Governor James Douglas's ties to the Hudson’s Bay Company, enforcement of old social orders, and open displays of nepotism.7 Cosmos believed that colonization had been impeded by Douglas and his selfish interests.8
Cosmos’ political career began in 1860, when he ran as a representative from Victoria District. However, he was defeated by the Attorney General, George Hunter Cary.9 Then, in 1863 he was elected in the same position, one he would hold until 1866.10 Locally, Cosmos advocated for a political and economic union between Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and the eventual confederation of British Columbia with the eastern colonies. Cosmos also wanted to cut government spending when the British Columbia gold rush began losing momentum.11
In 1866, the union between Vancouver Island and British Columbia was achieved. Subsequently, in 1867 Cosmos was elected to the British Columbia Legislative Council, serving until 1868 and again from 1870 to 1871.12 At the first assembly, Cosmos proposed to Governor Frederick Seymour that British Columbia join the Canadian confederation movement, in order to deal with the economic issues the colony faced; as opposed to joining the United States as proposed by other members.13 Seymour agreed in principle, however was not able to achieve entry into confederation before Seymour’s death in 1869. Ultimately, British Columbia would join confederation in 1871.14 Cosmos then held a position in the House of Commons from 1871 to 1882, and the brief Premiership of British Columbia from 1872 to 1874.15
Cosmos’s time in the House of Commons, as well as his time as premier, lacked any substantial legislative reform that he had previously advocated strongly for. Towards the end of his career, Victorians felt that he had betrayed their local interests for the purpose of achieving confederation.16 Thus, he was not returned for any major political position after 1882. Cosmos kept a political presence in Victoria, but his mental health declined until he was declared unsound of mind in 1895.17 Cosmos remained in Victoria until his death on 4 July 1897.
Cosmos’ legacy is considerable. He was an early advocate of improved infrastructure on Vancouver Island, and later in British Columbia and Canada.18 Cosmos favoured the intercontinental railway, telegraph lines, as well as ferry services from Swartz Bay to the mainland.19 Cosmos also played a defining role in the union between Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and finally in the confederation of British Columbia with the Dominion of Canada.20
  • 1. Robert A. McDonald and H. Keith Ralston, De Cosmos, Amor, Dictionary Of Canadian Biography.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. De Cosmos, Amor, The British Colonist, Daily Colonist 11 December 1858. Online.
  • 7. McDonald and Ralston, De Cosmos, Amor.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Douglas to Newcastle, 29 August 1863, No. 36, 10020, CO 305/20, 341.
  • 11. McDonald and Ralston, De Cosmos, Amor.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Margaret A. Ormsby. Seymour, Frederick, Dictionary Of Canadian Biography.
  • 14. McDonald and Ralston, De Cosmos, Amor.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Ibid.
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. De Cosmos, Amor. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/de_cosmos.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)