Sir Robert Shore Milnes


Sir Robert Shore Milnes, 1st Baronet (Wakefield, York, England; January 1, 1754-Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England; December 2, 1837) was Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada from 1799 to 1805.


Robert Shore Milnes was the eldest son of Mary Shore (1716 - December 5, 1791), a native of Sheffield, and of John Milnes (November 5, 1710 - October 12, 1771), magistrate and deputy lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. His parents were married on February 9, 1738 at Sheffield's Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in Yorkshire, England and together they had 7 children.

Robert Shore Milnes was the first child in order of birth and 2 of his brothers died in their youth.

He married Charlotte Francisca Bentinck (May 28, 1768-1850) on November 12, 1785 in Chertsey, Surrey, England and together they had 6 children: John Bentinch Milnes (September 13, 1786-1839), William Henry Milnes (March 8, 1788-1815), Arthur Milnes (1792-?), Henry Banks Oldenburg Milnes (October 17, 1790 - August 21, 1813 ), Charlotte Harriet Martinique Milnes (June 23, 1798-?) and Sophia Mary Anne Milnes (October 9, 1799-?).

Robert Milnes' brother-in-law was William Bentinck (1764-1813), governor of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines during the years 1798-1802 and his aunt, Sarah Milnes (1698-1741), married John Lumb (1690-1768) who He was also the brother-in-law of Richard Foster (1686-1729).

It should be noted that his wife, Charlotte Francisca Bentinck, was the daughter of Captain John Albert Bentinck (1737-1775), officer of the Royal Navy, inventor and Member of Parliament, and of Reniera van Tuyll van Serooskerken, daughter of the Baron of Serooskerken. Also great-granddaughter of William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland (1649-1709).


After a military career in the Royal Horse Guards, Robert Milnes left the army in 1788 with the rank of captain and seven years later he was Governor of Martinique. On November 4, 1797 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada and on June 15, 1799, at 53 years of age, he was sworn in; on July 30, 1799, he replaced Governor Robert Prescott (1726-1815) as administrator of the province. He was appointed a baronet on March 21, 1801.

Milnes left for England on August 5, 1805, but remained administrator until August 12, 1805 and lieutenant governor until November 29, 1808.

Thomas Dunn assumed his duties as administrator until Governor Sir James Henry Craig (1748-1812) arrived in October 1807.

Milnes had replaced Prescott, who was removed due to the violent dispute between two British factions in the Executive Council over land grants in the townships. This conflict had paralyzed the British party since 1797. Moreover, the 1791 constitution having ensured that Canadians would dominate the House of Assembly and the British legislative and executive councils, an open confrontation between the Canadian and British parties was inescapable. At this point, there was a climate of war and unrest, even in Lower Canada. At the same time, the increasing integration of the colonial economy into the Atlantic was transforming the socioeconomic face of Lower Canada.

The colony would be poised to exploit the massive opening of the imperial markets to Canadian timber, a sudden and important development in 1807.

At the beginning of his administration, Milnes achieved in a first attempt what no British governor had previously achieved without resorting to force: the summoning of one-eighth of the militia from Montreal and the surrounding region in 1801 to defend against a possible American invasion. Volunteers even came to Trois-Rivières. Long before Craig's tenure, Milnes was in communication with spies reporting to him from the United States. And he could take pride in being able to send generous subscription-raised sums to defray the war expenses of the mother country.

As for the remaining problems, he addressed them comprehensively and consistently, except perhaps for expensive infrastructure that the indebted colonial legislature and the British government postponed until later.

On November 1, 1800, Milnes sent the Duke of Portland a lengthy dispatch in which he identified the obstacles to the growth of British settlements in Lower Canada and suggested various measures to address them. In his opinion, although the 1791 constitution was based on unassailable fundamental principles, it would only bear fruit if the government had a strong and dynamic aristocracy to lean on as a counterweight to the humble people elected by the assembly. Unfortunately, the colony, unlike England, did not have such a landowning aristocracy, because the manor regime leveled the social classes and impoverished the lords. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church was beyond state control and consequently the constitution and royal instructions did not apply to it.

The dissolution of the militia after the conquest had undermined other means of government influence. Finally, the parliamentary government had added to the difficulties because the popular assembly debated the government's measures. The Lieutenant Governor's correspondence makes it clear that, in his opinion, Canadians were still French and were not getting any closer to the British.

To deal with these serious problems, Milnes found it necessary to foster the emergence of a powerful and wealthy aristocracy that would influence both voters and the assembly, a body regrettably composed of easily influential ignoramuses. Only an aristocracy could counteract the popular element, over which the executive had no control. Several concrete measures could launch the desired change: get the British to settle quickly in the townships; place the Catholic clergy under the authority of the crown; making use of a then submissive clergy and the captains of a reorganized militia for political or even electoral purposes to secure a majority in the assembly favorable to the government; increased civil expenses and patronage, as Canadian lords sought positions just like the British; to maintain the help of the imperial government with the expenses of the civil government, aid soon compensated by the income of the lands of the crown in the municipalities; and lastly, promoting education.

Milnes's views were based on personal observations and the views of a group of British advisers that included Anglican Bishop Jacob Mountain (1749-1825), Attorney General Jonathan Sewell, Civil Secretary Herman Witsius Ryland (1760-1838) and merchants John Richardson and John Young, the latter a member of the Executive Council.

They were all convinced that the ultimate solution was to assimilate the Canadians. More than 40 years after the events of 1760, through their writings and initiatives in the Executive and Legislative councils, and even in the assembly, this group attempted to implement a general plan for the creation and development of a British and Protestant society, which they considered the normal consequence of the conquest. But unlike Craig, Milnes never jumped into the fray. In this way he retained full freedom of action and, at the same time, supported the British party in a discreet and effective way. In contrast to what would happen in the period 1807-11, the party did not question the constitution of 1791.

Milnes's view was largely shared by the Duke of Portland, who admitted that little could be done for the lords: patronage was too important to the British and caused too many disputes. He approved of the idea of ​​"prudently" subjecting the Catholic Church to royal prerogative, even if it meant giving the bishop a generous allowance, and was in favor of a complete reorganization of the militia. According to the Home Secretary, British settlement would inevitably reduce the "dominance" of the old subjects, the Canadians, over time.

Robert Milnes developed his plan of action on all fronts. For example, despite his many discussions with William Osgoode (1754-1824), the independent-minded Chief Justice who stood aside from this intrigue, broke a deadlock in the Executive Council so that between 1799 and 1809 distributed more than 1,400,000 acres among some 60 elders, officials, wealthy merchants and other large landowners, through the system of municipal leaders and associates. Paradoxically, this land speculation would actually slow down British settlement, although speeding it up was the lieutenant governor's primary goal. In 1822, Milnes himself was the recipient of a 50,465-acre grant in the townships of Stanstead, Compton, and Barnston.

Following repeated complaints in the 1790s from Canadians, particularly in the assembly, about the crown's takeover of Jesuit properties and the plan to hand over some of these lands to Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst (1717-1797) As a reward for his military services, Milnes, with the backing of Sewell and Attorney General Louis-Charles Foucher (1760-1829), as well as the Executive Council, took up an idea put forward by Mountain in 1799: use part of the properties to fund a public school system in which English would be taught for free to Canadians, among whom it was making little progress. For both him and Mountain, it was their ignorance of English that divided the population into "two separate people, those who by their situation, their common interests and their equal participation in the same laws and the same form of government should naturally form but one."

In pursuit of this plan, the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning was established in 1801 by a law that managed to pass in the assembly due to absenteeism among members of the Canadian party (several of the votes were close, for example 8 to 7, 11 to 10). In practice, the statute gave full control of public education in Lower Canada to the civil administrator and his minions. A few Canadian "placemen" had supported the British majority in the assembly on certain points. It's true that the basic intentions of the authors of the statute were apparent only in the confidential dispatches of the lieutenant governor, who considered the Royal Institution a temporary step and who would present a plan in 1803 to use the income from the crown lands to finance schools and even a university. It was not until 1824 that British authorities, at home and in the colony, accepted, albeit reluctantly, the creation of a parallel public school system under Canadian control.

Following a scenario conceived by Sewell, Milnes sought to gradually abolish the manorial regime. He proposed that the colonial legislature pass a law that would require the payment of arrears on the stately dues accumulated in the manors of the crown (essentially the cities of Quebec and Trois-Rivières) since the conquest. There would be a general clamor, he thought, and therefore it would be necessary to change the tenure system in those manors, an example that would be followed little by little throughout the province. The objective of this measure was to attract British settlers to the manor area, mix British and Canadians and assimilate the latter. The assembly, however, amended the 1801 law to such an extent that the expected upheaval never occurred.

As for the Catholic Church, the state did not miss the opportunity to interfere in its internal administration, for example, with complaints about parish priests, requests for information, particularly from Sulpicians, and a refusal to grant permission to the Notre-Dame factory in Montreal to keep the property in Mortmain. Sewell even proposed a general plan to Milnes that would subject the Catholic Church to royal prerogative and undermine her internal and external influence alike: "patronage" - the appointment of pastors - would be entrusted to the government and the bishop would be brought to the councils and consequently to politics. Sewell suggested other methods, such as isolating the clergy by excluding foreign priests and forcing bishops to reside in Quebec, which would mean having to live in a style commensurate with their social rank.

The Anglican bishop also pressured Milnes. In 1803, 1804, and on several occasions thereafter, Mountain was outraged by what he perceived to be the broad powers, autonomy, wealth, honors, and privileges enjoyed by "the Church of Rome." He demanded strong measures to subordinate him and establish the Church of England more firmly. However, he hoped that as the municipalities were established, "in a not too distant period, the Protestants of this province would outnumber the Papists."

This sentiment was shared by Ryland, who expressed his disgust for the Papists and demanded the submission of the "superintendent" of the Church of Rome to the royal prerogative. However, in the turbulent international context, London considered it inadvisable to provoke a religious war.

In the courts of law, Attorney General Sewell intervened on behalf of the state to deny the legal existence of the Catholic bishop and the parishes created after the conquest. In 1805 he conducted intensive negotiations on this matter with the coadjutor, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis (1763-1825), who represented Bishop Pierre Denaut (1743-1806).

Attracted by the apparent restraint of Milnes, Denaut petitioned the king for civil recognition of his title of Catholic bishop of Quebec. Milnes was secretly congratulating himself on his victory and was already calculating the income he would get from the Sulpician estates. He could not know that after his departure from the colony, Denaut would die and Administrator Thomas Dunn would proceed in haste to swear in an Episcopal successor, without waiting for instructions from London.

With regard to civil jurisdiction, Milnes and London ignored the minority opinion of the Canadian judges and decreed that English law applied in matters of inheritance and dowry of lands in free and common possession. As another element of his strategy, the lieutenant governor persuaded the assembly in 1803 to pass a law to reorganize the militia.

Milnes also stepped in to encourage prestigious British figures to stand in the elections of 1804 so that more of their number would enter the assembly. Similarly, he secretly petitioned for separate constituencies for municipalities to bring an additional "10 or 12 British members" to the assembly.

These assimilation and management plans inevitably created a stir, although they were often quite moderate and long-term initiatives, compared to the more radical projects and clearer views of the British party. In the assembly he regularly fought with the Canadian party on a number of issues. In 1800, the two groups clashed over Jesuit property, assembly member qualifications, quorum, and civil law.

In 1801, the problems were the abolition of manorial tenure, the Royal Institution, and the use of French civil law which, in Sewell's opinion, made the creation of an effective aristocracy impossible, since it avoided social inequalities. However, the assembly agreed to extend the jury trial to the entire civil field through a bill that, ironically, was drastically amended by the Legislative Council, which for once had a majority of Canadians.

In 1802 there were clashes over the payment of the expenses of the assemblymen of the distance walks of Quebec to reduce absenteeism (the bill was rejected). Disputes in 1803 were over the plan to form volunteer companies and demands from municipalities for things like registry offices, highways, new districts, a court of common causes, or a census.

In 1804 the topics were the use of patronage and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in the municipalities (one of the votes from 8 to 8 was decided by the speaker). In 1805 they were in conflict over proposals for the abolition of manor tenure and linear repurchase, the printing in French of an index for the MP Lex and the salary of the in-house translator; At the same time, an all-British Executive Council committee was proposing that the Lieutenant Governor call on London directly for the creation of new districts and circuit courts, the construction of roads and the establishment of registration offices, the Church of England and the militia in the municipalities.

The general elections of 1800, like those of 1804, were hotly contested, with many fights, satirisms, and insults. In 1804, as a result of the quality of the candidates and the exceptional efforts of the British, their number in the assembly increased from 14 to 17. In 1805 disputes and passions intensified.

The British party realized that it was destined to remain a minority in the assembly, although it was the dominant force in the councils. He suffered a severe setback when the majority imposed a tax on trade instead of land in order to build new prisons in the cities in the colony and in London his requests met a certain indifference on the part of the authorities, more attentive to the interests of the landowners and aware of the urgent need to erect these buildings.

The British party newspaper, the Quebec Mercury, was launched in early January 1805, and quickly mounted frontal attacks on the nationality, customs, laws, and religion of Canadians; he assumed an increasingly violent tone and ultimately demanded that Lower Canada be transformed into what it should have been: a British colony. The violence of this dispute, which however had erupted after numerous altercations, has led to the mistaken belief that the "race war" began in 1805. Milnes's refusal to publicly intervene in politics led to the debates being conducted in a different tone than Craig, who introduced himself as the head of the British party, now becoming an official party.

However, it's undeniable that in the Milnes administration the climate was deteriorating and the collaboration of the two parties on social and economic issues (public works, social measures, public finances), which until now had been possible, would become increasingly more rare and difficult for years to come.

Milnes was a sociable man, interested in the arts and letters, and enjoyed the receptions that Lady Milnes, reputedly beautiful and charming, graced with her presence. Apparently he had an active family life. Skillful at maintaining ambiguity, he forged ties with some of the Canadians, even though he secretly defended their assimilation. In support of the community, he was a member of the Society of Firefighters and contributed to a fund in aid of victims of the conflagration in Quebec in 1804.

Milnes left for England on August 5, 1805, after receiving speeches of thanks and good wishes. From time to time he would be consulted on Canadian affairs, but he would not play a decisive role, probably due to the direct and committed style of his successor, Craig. In 1809, 1810, and 1811, Craig would simply make the same general evaluation as Milnes, but recommend different means to the same ends. Certainly, Milnes had not shown the same vigor in acting. There is no question as to the clarity of your reasoning, and under other circumstances your program might have had a better chance of success.


Robert Shore Milnes died on December 2, 1837 in Tunbridge Wells, England, and was survived by his three sons and two daughters.


  • Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  • W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., p. 295.