Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{September 7, 2008}   BC Premier#2 – The Universe Hugger

Tonight’s installment of my British Columbia premieral series brings us BC Premier#2 – a guy who was fond of representative government, but people of Chinese and First Nations descent, not so much. Oh yeah, and he legally changed his name to “Lover of the Universe.”  Seriously.

Amor de Cosmos 2a.png Name Amor de Cosmos (born: William Alexander Smith)
Born: August 20, 1825 in Windsor, Nova Scotia
Died: July 4, 1897 in Victoria, BC
Party: Liberal Party of Canada (until 1882)
Held Office: December 23, 1872 – February 11, 1874
  • spent 12 years as a grocery clerk, but then moved to California in 1853 to become a photographer during the California Gold Rush
  • in 1854, he changed his name from Will Smith (boring!) to Amor De Cosmos (awesome!) – he chose this name “to pay tribute, as he said, “to what I love most…Love of order, beauty, the world, the universe.”1
  • in 1858, he moved back to British North America (i.e., what would later become Canada), specifically to Victoria, which was in what was then known as the “Colony of Vancouver Island” (now just “Vancouver Island” which is part of British Columbia) and founded a newspaper then called the The Daily British Colonist, which would later become the Victoria-Times Colonist (are you still following all this?)
  • he wasn’t too fond of the governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island who, along with his peeps, wasn’t a big fan of representative government; he figured that the church, church-run schools and a landed gentry should run the show; De Cosmos, in contrast, was big on public education, ending economic and political privileges, and responsible, elected government.
  • De Cosmos supported the development of “the three Fs”: farming, forestry & fisheries – he described fisheries as “an exhaustless mine of wealth”2 and BC forests as “practically inexhaustible,”2; these industries, of course, were kind of a big deal for the economy for many, many years to come (although the “exhuastlessness” of our natural resources, well, not so much).
  • he supported the union of the Colonies of British Columbia (BC) and Vancouver Island (occurred in 1866), and the entry of BC into Canadian Confederation (occurred on July 20, 1871 )
  • political offices held:
    • member of the Legislated Assembly of Vancouver Island (1863-1866, whcn VI joined BC)
    • member of the Assembly of the United Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia (1867-1868, 1870-1871)
    • elected to represent Victoria in both the provincial and Canadian government in 1871
    • took over as Premier of BC after McCreight resigned due to a vote of non-confidence in 1872
  • he is considered to be BC’s “Father of Confederation,” as he played a key role in getting BC to join Canadian Confederation
  • as Premier, his government focussed on the issues with which he had always been concerned: ” political reform, economic expansion, and the development of public institutions — especially schools”1, as well as the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • His tenure as Premier, though, was rather short and he spend much of it in Ottawa & London; “his government continued the policy begun by McCreight of implementing a system of free, non-sectarian public schooling, reduced the number of public officials, extended the property rights of married women, and adopted the secret ballot.”2
  • he described First Nations people and people of Chinese descent as “inferior” (although he thought they could be used in the labour force) and he thought the federal government was too generous in its “concessions of land” to First Nations people, and that First Nations people “should be taught “to earn his living the same as a white man.””2
  • he ended his tenure as Premier amid “accusations of impropriety”3 in 1874, but still managed to be re-elected to federal Parliament.
  • he gained a reputation for being “eccentric” due to such things as as his fierce temper that often ended in fist (and walking stick4) fights, his phobia of electricity, the fact that he changed his name to “Lover of the Universe,” his egotism, his objection to the introduction of prayer in the House of Commons and his remaining a bachelor5); after retiring, his eccentricities intensified to the point that he was declared “of unsound mind” in 1895, and he died about a year and a half later
Hamish McKinnon.  All rights reserved.

The Parliament Building Players, The Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC, Summer 1998. Back: Francis Rattenbury, Nellie Cashman, Amor de Cosmos, Queen Victoria, James Douglas Front: Hamish McKinnon. All rights reserved.

In summary, this guy changed his name to “Lover of the Universe.” What’s up with that?

Image credits:

  1. Black & white image accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!
  2. Update 12 Sept 2008 – Image of the Parliament Players provided by JB (see comments). He owns the copyright. All rights reserved.

References:
1Wikipedia, the reference of champions
2Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

Footnotes:
3Starting a long history of BC Premiers leaving office under a dark cloud. They’ve made something of an art form of scandal, really.
4Picturing this guy getting into a fight in which he uses his walking stick as a weapon amuses me greatly.
5Seriously, being “unmarried” was mentioned in the context of him being an “eccentric.”

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Dan says:

I think he is by far the most entertaining official that you have ever written about. I also enjoy the idea of a stick fight, and I love the fact that he changed his name to Amor de Cosmos. Awesome!

As for ‘unmarried’ being classified as an eccentricity, I’m not so sure about that. Maybe in his day and age that was so, but I’d like to think that in our world of internet tubes and reality televisions, we’ve progressed beyond this simplistic categorization of those of us who check the ‘single’ box. If I’m eccentric it’s for far better reasons than not having a significant other.



JB says:

In the summers of 1998 and 1999, I was a “Parliament Building Player” at the Parliament Building in Victoria. I portrayed a Scottish stonemason, Hamish McKinnon, and one of the characters I picked up cute tourists with – er, acted with – was none other than Amor De Cosmos. If you’d like to post it, I have a ten-year-old photo, taken by a photographer who was actually getting people to pay for “digital” photographs that they could “email” to their friends and family. Holy fuck, that was a long time ago.



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Tod says:

In case anyone missed it… the guy changed his name to “Lover of the Universe.”

And that, my friends, is where wacko B.C. politics starts. With that dude. The Fantasy Gardens and Wacky Bennett now see so tame by comparison.



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