British Journal of Canadian Studies

'The Workings of My Own Mind': The Private Correspondence of the Governor-General of Canada, 1839–66

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2009), 22, (1), 63–86.

Abstract

Historians of nineteenth-century British–Canadian relations use the rich archive of Colonial Office despatches, supplemented by the private correspondence of governors-general and colonial secretaries where such collections survive. This article contends that, from 1839 to 1866 – the period of the Canadian Union – the private correspondence constituted a parallel channel of communication, operating on a quasi-official and semi-continuous basis. Private correspondence was used to discuss issues too sensitive for the official record, material that was deliberately omitted from despatches. The correspondence was controlled by the secretary of state, who shared it at his discretion with political colleagues and bureaucrats. Its major shortcoming lay in the difficulty of securing continuity of information between successive ministers, as was shown in the British response to the Canadian federation initiative of 1858. Private correspondence gradually became less important after Confederation as Canada ceased to be a problem to British policy-makers. The correspondence between governors-general and colonial secretaries should be considered apart from current historical debate on imperial networks.

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Martin, Ged