Friday, October 29, 2010

Sir Francis Bond Head

Sir Francis Bond Head, 1st Baronet KCH PC (1 January 1793 – 20 July 1875), is better known in Canadian history books than he is in this country.
He was born to parents James Roper Mendes Head and Frances Anne Burgess and was descended from Spanish Jew Fernando Mendes, who accompanied Catherine of Braganza to England in 1662. His grandfather Moses Mendes married Anna Gabriella Head and took on the Head name following the death of his wife's father. Francis was born into comfortable circumstances at Higham in Surrey. He entered the army and served from 1811 to 1825, retiring as a major in that year. He married Julia Valenza Somerville in 1816, and they eventually had four children. Subsequent to his army career he attempted to set up a mining company in Argentina and it was here that he earned the nickname "Galloping Head" for his rides across the Andes, although the nickname became apt to his diplomatic dealings.
He seemed to be on the rise. He was appointed Assitant Poor Law Commissioner in 1834 and a year later Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Upper Canada was what  later became the Province of  Ontario. This was a difficult time for the colony who. like their American counterparts a generation earlier, were getting tired of arbitrary British rule. The reformers were well organized under a man called William Lyon Mackenzie and Head was seen as a man who could pacify the reformers.  He appointed reformer Robert Baldwin to the Executive Council, though this appointment was opposed by the more radical Mackenzie. In any case he ignored Baldwin's advice, and Baldwin resigned; the Legislative Assembly then refused to pass any money bills, so Head dissolved the government. In the subsequent election campaign, he appealed to the United Empire Loyalists of the colony, proclaiming that the reformers were advocating American republicanism. The Conservative party, led by the wealthy landowners known as the "Family Compact, won the election.
In December 1837, Mackenzie led a brief and bungled rebellion in Toronto. Head sent the colonial militia to put down the rebellion, which they did within a day. 
Head cannot be held primarily responsible for the rebellion of  1837 in Upper Canada, but his unprecedented interference in the election and his uncompromising hostility to the Reformers encouraged extremists, as did his decision to denude the colony of British troops. His excesses led to his recall early in 1838 and he never held office again.
And this leads us to Wolverton. He settled down to writing books and essays once back in Britain. One of these books, Stokers and Pokers, published in 1849, gives us a lively and detailed account of his visit to Wolverton Station. More of this in the next post.

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