Henry Goulburn’s story is one that needed to be told

By Ward 21 Councillor Scott Moffatt

From the Manotick Messenger

Henry Goulburn’s story is one that needed to be told

Over six weeks ago, on October 30th, we released our episode of the Twenty One Podcast on the subject of Goulbourn Township’s naming history. In previous episodes, we had told the stories of some of the names in Rideau Township and the village of Richmond. As you may already know, when we were preparing for the Goulbourn Township episode, we encountered some information we were not expecting. Three weeks after the episode, we begun to see more attention paid to the subject of Henry Goulburn, but the details were brief. News clippings did not go into the depth that our podcast did. As a result, I felt it was important to spend some time showing a more fulsome picture in this column.

Former Goulbourn Township (1818-2000) drew its name from British politician, Henry Goulburn (1784-1856). It is important to highlight that naming at that time was not done on a commemorative basis as it is today. It was more often due to the status held by the official in the moment. At the time of the Township’s formation, Goulburn was the Undersecretary of State for War and the Colonies. He followed Sir Robert Peel in that role, for whom Peel Region is named. As an additional local example, Nepean Township was named after Undersecretary of State for the Home Department, Evan Nepean. Goulburn had a long career in politics, representing several different ridings and holding various positions in Government from his first election in 1808 until his retirement in 1846. One description of Goulburn refers to him as a “solid, unspectacular, cautious politician, with a keen sense of public duty.”

Because Henry Goulburn was a slave owner, Councillor Scott Moffatt is pushing for a name change for the Rideau-Goulbourn Ward of the City of Ottawa.

Goulburn’s family, although living amongst those in higher society, was not as wealthy as their societal counterparts. Most of the Goulburn family’s income came from a Jamaican sugar plantation that Henry Goulburn’s grandfather had established in 1762 called Amity Hall. Amity Hall was not excessively profitable but provided a living for the Goulburn family for three generations. Goulburn ended up taking over Amity Hall when he came of age in 1805 following the passing of his father, Munbee. Henry maintained ownership of the plantation until his death. He never visited the site, which was not uncommon as many absentee owners existed at that time.

Upon assuming ownership of the Amity Hall plantation in 1805, Goulburn also inherited its approximately 250 slaves. Since he was an absentee owner, he required a manager. That manager was Thomas Samson. Interestingly, Henry’s mother, Susanna, had received a letter outlining the extreme cruelty to the enslaved people at Amity Hall at the hands of Thomas Samson back in 1802. Nevertheless, he was given the job as manager and remained in that role until he was finally dismissed for his behavior in 1818. Unfortunately, subsequent managers were no better and there are reports of frequent flogging of slaves for poor work performance.

As a parliamentarian, Goulburn was in a difficult position. The slave trade in Britain was abolished in 1807. His ownership of slaves caused issues for him at home leading to an election defeat in his Cambridge University riding in 1826. An abolitionist ran a strong campaign against him which led to his defeat, Goulburn, himself, always stopped short of favouring abolition given his family’s reliance on the profits from their Amity Hall plantation. He defended himself during this campaign by saying he had no knowledge that his slaves were treated poorly. Of course, based on his firing of Samson eight years earlier, we know that not to be true.

In recent weeks, I have received much feedback on the story of Henry Goulburn, both positive and negative. Some wish that I never told the story. Others feel it is a story long since passed and no longer matters. Some have decided to find slave owners with my last name and suggest I change my name instead. More seriously, though, some have tried to better connect Goulburn to our specific region, which is something I contest did not really exist.

Goulburn worked in the Colonial Office, meaning he did have a role in emigration from Britain to the colonies. This would be to any of the colonies, except India, based on the structure of his position at the time. His responsibilities were not isolated to our region but to all regions in British North America, as well as other colonies. Interestingly, Goulburn also opposed Catholic Emancipation, the seeking of freedom from restrictive laws against Catholics, many of which were Irish. Many Irish families were the first settlers in Goulbourn Township. Additionally, there are reports that the Colonial Office was reluctant to spend money on emigration. In fact, a group known as the Talbot Party spent two years raising funds and repeatedly submitting applications before finally being granted the right to emigrate. They ended up here. Some of the family names: Foster, Grant, Mooney, Ralph, Shouldice, Spearman and Young.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.” Goulburn’s history is not a positive story deserving of honour and commemoration. It was through research and information, used to write this column as well, that led to the decision that the ward deserves a new name. Some residents wish that I had asked for direction on the name or left the decision on changing the name to a majority rules vote. Sometimes, leadership is about making a decision that is right, not a decision that is popular.

Like with paying property taxes, we do not ask if you want to or not, but we do ask for input and we try to further the discussion. That is consultation. We are telling the story of Henry Goulburn. We are telling the stories of our past and we are also looking to our future. Help us plan for the future by providing us with naming ideas for the ward. This isn’t the only issue on our agenda, not by a long shot. It is also not a trivial one, though. It is an important one. If you would like to discuss this further and read some of my research yourself, I am happy to engage and share information. With that, I hope we can move forward and work together on a new name for the ward.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca or contact me by phone at 613-580-2491. For information on Ward 21 issues, please visit TeamTwentyOne.ca.

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