Kennedy, Arthur
b. 1809-04-05
d. 1883-06-03
Sir Arthur Kennedy was Governor of Vancouver Island from 1864 to 1866.1 This represented a brief period of independence for Vancouver Island between being jointly governed alongside British Columbia by James Douglas and its formal union with British Columbia in 1866. Kennedy's time in office was marked by conflict with the Legislative Assembly, failed attempts at reform, and economic decline.2 He also held office during the Bute Inlet Massacre, and his delay in relaying news of the event to Frederick Seymour brought the two into conflict.3
Kennedy was born 5 April 1809 in County Down, Ireland. Privately tutored, he attended Trinity College, Dublin, in 1823, and entered the British Army in 1827. He served in the infantry until 1847 when he sold his captaincy and signed on with a relief mission in Ireland as poor law inspector.4 He went on to work for the colonial service, serving as Governor of Sierra Leone and Western Australia before being appointed Governor of Vancouver Island in 1863.5 He took office in 1864.6
Kennedy's mission was to bring about the union of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, but his arrival in Victoria was met with mixed reactions.7 The press lauded his appointment as a move away from the influence of the HBC and the perceived nepotism and authoritarianism of Douglas's time as leader. But the Legislative Assembly resented the loss of the political and economic advantages that came with being considered a de facto part of British Columbia. The Assembly initially refused to finance his salary.8 On Kennedy's request for funding for the construction of a government house from the Assembly, Colonial Secretary Arthur Blackwood said, I hope these demands—proper as they may be—will not impair the popularity of a new Governor: but I think the VanCouver [Island] people will lament in this respect, certain charges which Governor Douglas managed to get defrayed out of the pocket of B. Columbia.9 Neither the Assembly nor the Colonial Office would provide funding for the house and Kennedy was forced to live in temporary residence out of pocket until 1865 when a government house was finally approved.10
In a despatch to Newcastle, detailing the Bute Inlet Massacre, Seymour reproaches Kennedy for not sending word of events sooner: Much time has unfortunately been lost in taking proper steps to assert our authority. But not by me.11 After receiving reports of the massacre, Kennedy waited two days for the regular mail boat on 13 April 1864 to send word to Douglas.12 He neglected to dispatch one of the gunboats available to carry the message despite the fact that, as Permanent Undersecretary Frederic Rogers noted, at the period when this delay took place it was known in Victoria that a road party was then travelling on a course which…would probably bring them into contact with the Indians who were authors of the massacre.13 He also observed the strained relationship between the two governors, stating, I am afraid it is not likely to cause a pleasant feeling, or improve an unpleasant one between [Governor Kennedy] & Mr. Seymour.14
Despite this oversight, Kennedy undertook several important initiatives as governor. His support for universal, government-financed, non-sectarian education led to the Common School Act of 1865.15 He curbed government corruption by removing several officials including Police Commissioner Horace Smith.16 He considered the illegal trade of alcohol to the First Nations to be the source of their very lamentable position and aimed to end this practice. He also desired to allow First Nations' testimony under oath, and the employment of qualified Indian agents. Unfortunately for Kennedy, all of his proposals were blocked by the Assembly.17
Though Kennedy significantly decreased spending, he faced economic depression, faltering trade, and a radical assembly that refused to increase taxes or decrease budgets, and was forced to take out loans.18 Kennedy departed in 1866; he left a Victoria deep in debt and declining in population. Victorians were thus forced to accept less than ideal terms in their union with British Columbia.19
Upon returning to London, Kennedy was knighted.20 He went on to hold governorships in Hong Kong and Queensland.21 On 3 June 1883, travelling from Sydney to London aboard the ship Orient, he died of cardiac disease and was buried at sea.22
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