Sir Francis Hincks (1807-1885), newspapers owner.

Financier and Canadian StatesmanBorn in 1807 to Rev. Thomas Dix Hincks, a Cork-based Presbyterian minister and educator, Hincks was sent to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Staying in Belfast, he spent five years working for the Belfast shipping firm, James Martin & Co. before moving to York (Toronto), Upper Canada. There he became a close associate of Robert Baldwin, a reformist politician and lawyer who shared a similar Irish protestant background. Having established his reputation as a financial manager and banker, Hincks entered politics as secretary of the Toronto Reform Constitutional Society which rejected the unconstitutional actions of the Tory administration and introduce ‘responsible government’. Although opposed to the  failed uprising of 1837, Hincks did support government reform. In 1838, he established The Examiner, which was dedicated to ‘responsible government and the voluntary principle’. Hincks was eventually able to influence the development of union politics (Upper and Lower Canada), acting as a power broker between Baldwin and the French-Canadian politician, Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine.

Hincks entered politics an assembly member for the rural constituency of Oxford, Upper Canada and, by 1842, had sold his paper in order to facilitate his appointment as inspector-general (finance) by the Governor General, Sir Charles Bagot. However, after Bagot’s died in 1843, Hincks resigned in protest over Tory patronage and founded a new reformist newspaper in Montreal, The Pilot. In 1847, Hincks sold The Pilot and joined the new LaFontaine and Baldwin government again as inspector general, where he succeeded in obtaining the capital investment required to develop Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway. By 1851, Hincks had replaced Baldwin as premier of Western Canada and co-leader (along with A.N. Morin) of the Reform Government. However, this was short-lived. Accusations that he had encouraged corruption and had used public office for personal gain eventually forced his resignation in 1855.

Nevertheless, he was rewarded for his service by the Colonial Office with the governorship of Barbados and the Windward Islands in 1856. There he continued his reformist agenda, improving the living standards of the indigenous population and introducing non-sectarian education. A successive posting as Governor of British Guyana in 1861 failed to achieve similar success in the face of opposition from the business and planter communities. In 1869 he returned to Canada with a knighthood and joined the Conservative government of Sir John A. MacDonald as finance minister before retiring to banking and journalism in 1874.

Although he failed to meet many of his political objectives, Hincks was an important figure in the union of Canada. His work as a politician demonstrates the power of fiscal goals and policy to provide common ground for a deeply divided polity. Moreover, his early career as a newspaper editor and owner demonstrates the close links which existed between the journalistic profession and politics, especially in the colonies.



Sources: Peter A. Baskerville, ‘Hincks, Sir Francis (1807–1885)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 2004), online edition; Adam Pole, ‘Hincks, Sir Francis’ in Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009), online edition; William G. Ormsby, ‘Hincks, Sir Francis’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography online