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The Hon Archibald Acheson (1776-1849) was born at Markethill, County Armagh.
He was the second son of the 1st Earl and Countess of Gosford.
Lord Gosford's town residence was at 22 Mansfield Street, London.
Having been educated at Christ Church, Oxford, Acheson became MP for County Armagh from 1797-1807, when he became heir to the 1st Earl and was styled Viscount Acheson.
Lord Acheson succeeded as 2nd Earl in 1807 and held high office:
- Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, 1831-49
- Privy Counsellor, 1834
- Captain Yeoman of the Guards, 1834-35
- Governor-General of Canada, 1835-37
- Vice-Admiral of Ulster
- Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (GCB), 1838
His appointment took effect in 1835 as governor-in-chief of British North America; he was also selected because the ministers hoped that he might be able to apply in Lower Canada the techniques of conciliation that he had employed so successfully in Ireland.
For agreeing to accept the appointment he had been created Baron Worlingham in 1835.
A civilian, unlike his predecessors, Gosford was not appointed commander of the forces in the Canadas, but he was given unusually extensive authority over the lieutenant-governors of the neighbouring colonies, who were sent copies of his instructions.
Gosford assumed control of the government of Lower Canada in 1835.
Since his predecessor, Lord Aylmer, had become identified with the English, or Constitutionalist, party, Gosford kept his distance from Aylmer until the latter’s departure the following month.
Subsequently he held a series of lavish dinner parties and balls, at which he established a reputation as a bon vivant and showered his attentions on the leading members of the Patriote party and their wives.
Gosford was neither the good-natured incompetent nor the “vile hypocrite” that his critics proclaimed.
He hoped to create in Lower Canada an alliance of moderate politicians from both parties and to hold the balance of power as the Whig administration did in the Kingdom of Ireland between Catholics and Protestants.
Whig policy there was to distribute patronage to Catholics and liberal Protestants in order to remedy an historic imbalance in the higher levels of the administration. Gosford pursued the same goal.
He increased appointments of French Canadians to the judiciary and the magistracy, insisted that a chief justice and a commissioner of crown lands should be chosen from among them, and gave them a majority on the Executive Council and a virtual majority on the Legislative Council.
He substantially increased their numbers holding offices of emolument.
Moreover, he refused to allow multiple office-holding, to condone nepotism, or to appoint to prominent positions persons known to be antipathetic to them.
In 1838, Gosford learned that his resignation had been accepted.
Back in the United Kingdom, Gosford was given a vote of thanks by the Whig ministry and appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Civil Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1838.
He did not lose interest in Canada.
On the appointment of Lord Durham as Governor, he commented that “a more judicious choice could not have been made.”
He wrote to Lord Durham that the majority of French Canadians had not participated in the rebellion and warned against the English party.
As Durham’s ethnocentrism became more pronounced, Gosford criticised him bitterly for appointing to office several outspoken opponents of French Canadians.
Indeed, Gosford blamed the second rebellion, in the autumn of 1838, on Durham’s stupidity, and he was equally critical of Colborne and “those savage Volunteers.”
During the 1840s his interests again focused on Ireland, where he split with O’Connell over the issue of repeal. In his declining years he devoted his primary attention to his estates.
Gosford had left Lower Canada little loved either by the British minority or by the Patriotes.
HM Government ignored his advice and followed the recommendations of Durham, who declared that Gosford was “utterly ignorant . . . of all that was passing around him.”
Nevertheless, Gosford had shown considerable administrative ability, more political sensitivity than his predecessors, and greater tolerance than his immediate successors. His sincerity is unquestionable.
He probably did as much to limit the severity of the rebellion as it was possible to do, and if Lord Durham had followed his advice, the second rebellion might have been considerably less bloody.
That Lord Gosford failed to achieve his goals is self-evident; that he ever had a reasonable chance of success is doubtful.
First published in December, 2011. Gosford arms courtesy of European Heraldry.