George Coles (politician)

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George Coles
George Coles.jpg
1st Premier of the Colony of Prince Edward Island
In office
1851–1854
Monarch Victoria
Lieutenant Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman
Preceded by None
Succeeded by John Holl
In office
1855–1859
Monarch Victoria
Lieutenant Governor Sir Dominick Daly
Preceded by John Holl
Succeeded by Edward Palmer
In office
1867–1869
Monarch Victoria
Lieutenant Governor George Dundas
Sir Robert Hodgson
Preceded by James Colledge Pope
Succeeded by Joseph Hensley
Personal details
Born (1810-09-20)September 20, 1810
Prince Edward Island
Died August 21, 1875(1875-08-21) (aged 64)
Charlottetown Royalty, Prince Edward Island
Political party Liberal

George Coles (September 20, 1810 – August 21, 1875) was a Canadian politician, being the first Premier of Prince Edward Island, and a Father of Canadian Confederation.[1]

Coles was born in Queens Royalty, Prince Edward Island, the son of James Coles, a farmer, and Sarah Tally. Although he had little formal education he became a farmer and a businessman at an early age. He travelled to England at age 18. There he learned about the brewing industry. While in England he married Mercy Haine on August 14, 1833 and they returned to Prince Edward Island before the end of that year. He soon became a prosperous brewer and merchant.

He first entered politics in 1841 representing the New London-DeSable district in the Assembly. Coles was always a colourful political figure. He is said to have duelled with Edward Palmer and to have challenged James C. Pope to a duel as well. As a member of the provincial government in 1846, he spent 31 days in the custody of the sergeant-at-arms for refusing to retract a statement made in the assembly. He was convicted of assault in the 1850s. .

Coles, with Edward Whelan, the editor of the Examiner, was the leader in the struggle for responsible government. When Responsible Government was granted in 1851 Coles became the Island's first Premier. With the exception of a few months in 1854, Coles remained as Premier until 1859 when his party was defeated. Coles once again served as Premier from 1867 to 1869 but failing health necessitated his turning the government over to Joseph Hensley.

His administration embarked on a number of significant reforms the most important being the Free Education Act and the Land Purchase Act. The former provided better educational opportunities than in any of the other colonies and the latter was a positive step toward a solution to the land ownership question. He and Edward Whelan had laid the foundations of the Liberal party and in so doing created the political balances which dominated Prince Edward Island politics during the middle years of the nineteenth century. Despite being an early supporter of union he turned against Confederation when it became apparent that the project would not solve the land tenure question.

Just before Confederation all his properties burned down. He abandoned his public life and went into seclusion. For a time he was thought to be insane and was placed under care by his family, though modern historians have been divided over whether he actually was insane or was merely suffering from depression. Coles died in 1875 at his home in Charlottetown Royalty.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Fathers of Confederation". www.parl.gc.ca. Retrieved October 7, 2013.