Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy (1809-1883), soldier and colonial administrator.

He was born in County Down and privately tutored at home. He then attended Trinity College, Dublin. Kennedy entered the British army and served in infantry regiments in the Ionian Islands and in British North America. In 1847 he accepted the position of poor law inspector in the Irish relief mission of General Sir John Fox Burgoyne. Years later he was still to recall “that there were days in that western county when I came back from some scene of eviction so maddened by the sights of hunger and misery. . . that I felt disposed to take the gun from behind my door and shoot the first landlord I met.”
In 1852 he obtained the governorship of Sierra Leone, where he dealt with corruption and government inefficiency. Kennedy was promoted in 1854 to the governorship of Western Australia where he continued his administrative approach to colonial government. He also encouraged an economic revival by increasing revenue and immigration, promoting land sales, and sponsoring explorations for arable land and mineral resources.

His next appointment was in 1863 to the colony of Vancouver Island. Kennedy supported a government-financed, non-sectarian education, a goal that was realized in 1865 by the Common School Act. He promised government aid to any private concern searching for minerals on southern Vancouver Island which led to the discovery of gold at Sooke, about 20 miles from Victoria. In public administration, Kennedy corrected the numerous irregularities he encountered and worked to improve administrative efficiency. He insisted on the resignation of several corrupt or unqualified officials and ordered that the public accounts be audited and that delinquent real estate taxes be collected.

He believed that for the native people of Vancouver contact with Europeans brought drunkenness, prostitution, and violence, so advocated the separation of Indians from whites, and tried to facilitate convictions for the trafficking of whisky traders. These measures were, blocked by the assembly, as was Kennedy’s proposal to employ qualified Indian agents. He urged the crown to recognize native ownership of land and to permit alienation of Indian land only after “fair consideration,” but the Colonial Office deemed that compensation for Indian lands should be made by the colonists, which in effect meant that “fair consideration” might never be paid.

With the advent of the economic depression Kennedy’s popularity declined and his problems with the assembly, which demanded retrenchment, increased. Soon after, the Bank of British North America refused further credit to the government and the assembly expressed “non-confidence” in the governor. Kennedy lost his position and left Victoria in 1866.


Kennedy’s governorship of Vancouver Island, however, was a short unhappy interlude in an otherwise successful public career that lasted 56 years. In December 1867, in London, he was rewarded for his work in Vancouver Island by a knighthood and the governorship of the West African settlements. After that he was a governor of Hong Kong (1872–77) and Queensland (1877–83). When returning home from Sydney, Kennedy died on board the Orient and was buried at sea.

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Picture from: Government House, the Ceremonial Home of all British Columbians