Edmund Allen Meredith

Edmund Allen Meredith

Edmund Allen Meredith (7 October 1817 – 2 January 1899) was a Canadian politician and Principal of McGill University from 1846 to 1853.

Early Life

Born at Ardtrea, Co. Tyrone on 7 October, 1817, he was the fourth son of The Rev. Thomas Meredith (1777-1819) D.D., F.T.C.D., by his wife Elizabeth Maria Graves (1791-1855), the eldest daughter of The Very Rev. Richard Graves (1763-1829), Dean of Ardagh, Co. Cork. He was named after his paternal aunt's (Martha Meredith's) husband, (Christopher) Edmund Allen (c.1770-1826) LL.D., Barrister of Dublin, the son of Christopher Edmund Allen of the Manor of Highgate, Co. Fermanagh. Edmund was a brother of Sir William Collis Meredith of Quebec, and a first cousin of Sir James Creed Meredith (father of Judge James Creed Meredith of Dublin) and John Walsingham Cooke Meredith (1809-1881) J.P. (who emigrated to London, Upper Canada, in 1834), the father of 'The Eight London Merediths', who included amongst them Sir Vincent Meredith, Charles Meredith and Sir William Ralph Meredith, one of the pall-bearers at his funeral.

His father died mysteriously in 1819 and his mother's second marriage in 1824 led her to Canada. She took four of her children, but left the other three, including Edmund, in Ireland. He was left in the care of his maternal uncle, 'Ireland's most celebrated surgeon', Robert James Graves (1796-1853), of Merrion Square, Dublin, and Cloghan Castle, Co. Offaly, who 'was very good to him', and his third wife Anna Grogan of Slaney Park, Co. Wicklow.

Predominantly brought up by Graves' elderly housekeeper in 1827 he was sent to Castleknock, a boarding school outside of Dublin. In 1833 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, winning a classical scholarship in his second year and prizes in political economy and science. After graduating (B.A. and M.A. degree) he went to King's Inns, Dublin to study law (where he was awarded LL.D.).


Whilst still at King's Inns, he was curious to see how his estranged brothers and sisters lived in Canada and so he embarked on a voyage there in 1842. He joined his elder brother, William Collis Meredith in Montreal and briefly resumed his study of law at his offices there. He returned to Ireland in 1844 to be called to the Irish bar, but later that year returned to Montreal, invited to do so by William.

In his first diary entry of that year Meredith talks of his decision to leave Ireland for Canada, revealing his personal angst over the upheaval : ‘It now seems strange to me that I could have dreamed, even for an instant, of banishing myself from the society of my brother (Richard Graves Meredith), and setting up on my own account among complete strangers.’

He articled with his brother, William, before returning to Ireland to pass his bar exams. In 1846 he returned to Montreal (becoming a member of the Shakespeare Club) where William used his influence to secure him the unpaid but prestigious position of Principal of McGill University, Montreal, a position he held until 1853. "He was tall (five foot eleven), very slim (one hundred and sixty-five pounds), and distinguished in appearance - his hazel eyes were most expressive, and his jet black hair set off his charming face. His manner was easy and courteous, his voice one to coax the birds off the bough, and his dark blue suit of broadcloth was in excellent taste and worn with an air.... For all his good looks and cleverness, Meredith's lonely and uncertain childhood had left him with a self-doubting diffidence, a certain lack of mettle that would leave him, in the end, somewhat disappointed and unfulfilled. But in the beginning, as a clever young barrister with a natural flair for fun and games, and an Irish talent for making friends, he and Canada got on like a house on fire. Though a late-bloomer on skates, he turned out to be a whizz at hockey, playing on the frozen St. Lawrence... More signifigantly for his career, he also developed a notable flair for administration and quiet diplomacy."

* Edmund Allen Meredith in 1863 [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-7588&Lang=1&imageID=142772]

While at McGill, Edmund Meredith played in one of the earliest games of ice hockey to have been described. It took place in 1853 and was later written up in the "Montreal Star" in an article entitled "Thirty Years Ago Today":

"Strange as it may appear to McGill men and others, there was a great hockey match played in Quebec in the early fifties, when the first principal Dr Edmund Meredith (in fact he was the third principal of McGill University), brother of the late Chief Justice Sir Wm. Meredith of Quebec, who was a very fast skater, might have been called a forward, as might have been his old chum, the late E.H. Steel, while the late Grant Powell (a cousin of Edmund’s wife, Frances Jarvis) was the captain. Their opponents were the Civil Service Club, of Quebec. The hockey sticks were cut from the Gorna Bush; the puck was a piece of oak, and the goals were a mile and a half apart on clear ice, not often found between Quebec and the Island of Orleans. The Quebec Chronicle of that day had a good account of the match."


During his tenure at McGill he joined the civil service and moved with the government to Quebec. When the new capital, Ottawa, was founded in 1865, much to his disappointment, he and the rest of the government were forced to move there, writing 'the more I see of Ottawa, the more do I dislike and detest it.' He was described as ‘one of the outstanding civil servants of his generation’, even if he was 'destined to be a man forever ahead of his time'. In 1870, Baron Lisgar offered to Meredith the Chief-Justiceship of St. Lucia, which he declined. Meredith was the Inspector then Chairman of the Prison Board (an active exponent of prison reform), founded the Ottawa Art Association, served as President of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, the Park Lawn Tennis Club (Toronto), the Civil Service Board, the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, and Vice-President of the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto, and finally the part-time position in retirement as Vice-President of the Toronto Loans and Assurance Company (a.k.a. Toronto General Trusts). However, Meredith's capacity for involving his own money in costly speculative ventures would have been something of a family joke if it hadn't have proved to be so expensive for them! He wrote and published numerous articles and pamphlets ranging from ‘An Essay on the Oregon Question’ to ‘Earth Sewage versus Water Sewage’ and even a pamphlet on militia training in schools, though he himself did not enjoy 'playing at soldiers'. 'A Trip from Boston to Montreal in 1844' was published in 1925 by his eldest daughter.

Marriage and Family Life

Edmund's future wife, Fanny, enjoyed 'a blessed childhood, with love on all sides'. Growing up at Rosedale, Toronto (the Jarvis' 120 acre estate from which Toronto's smartest residential district later took it's name), Fanny was undoubtedly spoilt as the eldest and prettiest daughter. The house, which over-looked the Don River, was 'a wonderful rambling villa perched on the edge of a ravine... with a wildflower garden, a conservatory full of hothouse flowers, and, the envy of Toronto, a magnificent curving double staircase that descended to a foyer panelled in richest walnut.' Two new wings were added to either side of the house c.1830 containing a peach house, a grape house, bedrooms, a morning room and a large verandah. Orchards, quiet arbours, rose gardens and masses of flowers surrounded the house, which was named by Fanny's mother for the wild roses that grew so abundantly throughout the estate. On 4th May, 1835, to celebrate her fifth birthday Fanny's mother planted a sapling which has since grown into the famous Rosedale Elm. When she was seven she crept downstairs in her nightie to watch 'a magificent masquerade ball that a whole generation of Toronto party-goers would hold benchmark the rest of their lives.' Fanny loved horses and spent most of her time riding her mare 'Juliet' - sporting a low-crowned beaver hat with a green veil - or driving her carriage with her two matching horses, 'Rattler' and 'Prince'. Her summers were filled with constant riding parties and picnics, including 'a never-to-be-forgotten adventure: Bark canoes paddled by Indians through five miles of rapids', whilst on a visit to cousins at Hawkesbury on the Ottawa River. She spent two years at finishing school in Paris (where she was delighted to witness the barricades being flung up in the streets during the French Revolution of 1848!) before returning to Canada to spend the winter of 1848/49 in Montreal with the family of Edmund's brother, William Collis Meredith.

At Rosedale House, 17th July, 1851 ('the sun shone in unclouded majesty and we had the most delightful breeze'), Edmund married ‘Fanny’, Anne Frances (1830-1919), the eldest and favourite daughter of William Botsford Jarvis (1799-1864) Esq., M.P., of Rosedale House, High Sheriff of York (Toronto), by his wife Mary Boyles Powell (1803-1852), granddaughter of William Dummer Powell (1755-1834), Chief Justice of Upper Canada, and himself a grandson of William Dummer (1677-1761), Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts. Both the Powells and the Jarvis family were United Empire Loyalists at the heart of the Family Compact, Upper Canada’s ruling elite. William Botsford Jarvis was the son of Colonel Stephen Jarvis (1756-1840) of the 17th Light Dragoons, a native of Danbury, Connecticut. Stephen fought with the British during the American Revolution, but was captured by the Americans in his home town. He escaped in a canoe to Long Island, rejoining the British forces there. After the war he settled for a while in New Brunswick with some Jarvis cousins before being persuaded to move to York (Toronto) in 1809 by the dubious William Jarvis (1756-1817), who served as the Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada (and after whom Jarvis Street is named), where he entered into a career in business.

* Edmund Allen Meredith with his family at their home in Toronto c.1890 [http://www.canadianheritage.org/images/large/20141.jpg]

* Frances Anne (Jarvis) Meredith in 1865 [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-18375.1&Lang=1&imageID=253035]

* William Botsford Jarvis's cousin, William Jarvis (1756-1817) with his family [http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/ENGLISH/exhibits/slavery/pics/wm_jarvis_and_son_270.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/ENGLISH/exhibits/slavery/henry-lewis.htm&h=436&w=270&sz=53&hl=en&start=2&um=1&tbnid=G56UHqLqyr7m1M:&tbnh=126&tbnw=78&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwilliam-jarvis%2Bprovincial%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den]

Fanny Meredith's father, ‘possessed of a gregarious and outgoing personality’, founded Yorkville with the entrepreneur Joseph Bloor, and incorporated a number of new businesses in the Toronto area. As Sheriff of the Home District, he was also the man who personally put a halt to William Lyon MacKenzie’s Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838. Fanny's favourite brother was Lt.-Colonel Colborne Jarvis of the 67th Leinster Regiment, 'an elegant young man, a very lady-killer', who served on Lord Roberts’ (Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts) staff during the Afghan Campaign (1879-80), and was one of the lucky few to survive the infamous withdrawal through the Khyber Pass. This extract is taken from 'The Private Capital', and touches on Edmund and Fanny as parents,

"Of all the faces of Edmund Meredith to be found in the family papers, by far the most beguiling is Meredith the paterfamilias. Unlike Fanny, who was sadly self-centred and who also had a lamentable tendency to be fussily over-pretective, Edmund was a relaxed, confident parent, never happier than when horsing around 'having a capital time with my chicks'... His son Coly remembered 'Unlike the typical Victorian father he never ordered me to do anything, when he wanted something done, one knew that it should be done... At times the confusion made by small children must have been trying, but he never lost his temper or showed irritation. When one considers his own very lonely life as a child, one marvels at his being able to become such a perfect father."


Meredith retired to Toronto (where Meredith Crescent in Rosedale is named in his honour) with the help of 'a handsome inheritance from Aunt Bella (Graves)’ in 1879. On what had been the apple orchard of the original Rosedale he made his new home, 'a spacious, white-brick house of twenty two rooms', where he died 12th January, 1899. ‘The Private Capital’ by Sandra Gwynn gives a fascinating insight to his life and Canadian politics of the time based on the diary (held at the National Archives in Ottawa) he kept every day from 1844 until his death.

External links

* [http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6296 Biography at "the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]

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