William Collis Meredith

William Collis Meredith

Sir William Collis Meredith, QC (23 May, 1812 - 26 Feb, 1894) was Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec.

Early life

William Collis Meredith was born on May 23rd, 1812, at No.1 Fitzwilliam Square Dublin, the second son of Thomas Meredith and his wife Elizabeth Maria Graves (1792-1855), the eldest daughter of The Very Rev. Richard Graves (1763-1829), Dean of Ardagh, Co. Cork. He was named after his father’s first cousin, William Collis (1788-1866) J.P., of Lismore House, High Sheriff of Co. Kerry. A year after Meredith was born the family moved up to Ardtrea, Co. Tyrone, his father having resigned his fellowship in Dublin to take up the position of Rector there.

At Ardtrea in 1819, Meredith's father died of 'a sudden and awful visitation', involving a ghost and a silver bullet. His mother returned to Dublin and William was sent to boarding school with his older first cousin (the father of Sir Vincent Meredith etc.), at Dr Behan's in Co. Wexford. Five years later his mother had re-married a relation of hers (without the approval of her parents), The Rev. James Edmund Burton (1776-1850), who had 'wasted every farthing of his Irish property’ before emigrating to Quebec, where a few years before Burton (the uncle of Richard Francis Burton) had gone as the Church of England's first missionary in Lower Canada (Quebec).

So, in the summer of 1824 at the age of 12, Meredith arrived at Burtonville, his stepfather's house and farm outside Rawdon, then a four day journey north of Montreal. He was tutored there by Burton himself or by whatever tutor his stepfather could procure. In 1828 William's mother, ‘a lady of much culture and refinement, and possessed also of great energy and force of character’, sent him back to Ireland to complete his studies at Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1831 he returned to Montreal (even though the following year his mother and step father returned to Ireland, settling near Cloyne, Co. Cork) to commence his legal studies. He first articled under The Hon. Clement-Charles Sabrevois de Bleury (1798-1862), a man who 'won over Montreal’s high society by his charm, elegant manners, and refined style of living'. From 1833 he articled under James Charles Grant Q.C, another eminent barrister, before passing his exams and being called to the Bar of Lower Canada in 1836.

Marriage and children

Meredith was married at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal on the 20th May, 1847 to Sophia Naters Holmes (1820-1898), the eldest daughter of 'the well-known and popular' William Edward Holmes (1796-1825) Esq. M.D., of Quebec, by his wife Anne (1788-1865), daughter of Colonel James Johnston (1724-1800) J.P., the widow of Captain Abraham Paul (1782-1814) of the Royal Artillery. Dr Holmes, reputed to be a godson of the Duke of Kent, was the son of William Holmes (1762-1834) who was posted from Ireland to Canada in 1787 as Staff Surgeon to the 5th Regiment of Foot, becoming Senior Medical Officer (Surgeon-General) to the British Forces in Canada in 1799.

William and Sophia Meredith had ten children:
* Sophia Elizabeth (1848-1927), married Henry Nicholas Monck Middleton (1845-1928) of Dissington Hall, Northumberland
*William Henry Meredith (1849-1895) of Montreal, died unmarried.
*Matilda Anne (1851-1875) died unmarried, in early adulthood at Cannes, France
*Edward Graves Meredith (1852-1938) N.P., of Quebec, married Isabella Agnes Housman (1858-1949), daughter of The Rev. George Vernon Housman (1820-1887), for 25 years Rector of the English Cathedral, Quebec, by his wife Eliza Izza Maria Reeves (1823-1865)
*Harriet (1854-1941) married Henry Stanley Smith (1850-1916) of Addington House, Wimbledon (England)
*Hylda Graves (1856-1931) married George Hamilton Thomson (1857-1929) of Quebec
*Richard Holmes Meredith (1858-1868), died young.
*Louisa (1860-1938) married Lt.-Colonel Edward Hampden Turner Heward (1852-1930) of Ottawa
*Frederick Edmund Meredith (1862-1941) K.C., married Anne Madeleine VanKoughnet (1863-1945)
*Evaline Bertha (1863-1868), died young.

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-1131.1&Lang=1&imageID=212609] WILLIAM COLLIS MEREDITH, 1861

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-15765.1&Lang=1&imageID=236249] SOPHIA NATERS (HOLMES) MEREDITH, 1865

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-15763.1&Lang=1&imageID=236251] ANNE (JOHNSTON) HOLMES IN HER FINAL YEAR, 1865

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-93906&Lang=1&imageID=149082] MR AND MRS MEREDITH WITH THEIR ELDEST SON, WILLIAM, 1890

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-55578.1&Lang=1&imageID=177375] SOPHIA ELIZABETH MEREDITH, 1880

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-56044.1&Lang=1&imageID=177629] HENRY NICHOLAS MIDDLETON, 1880

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-61195.1&Lang=1&imageID=180762] WILLIAM HENRY MEREDITH, 1881

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-62816.1&Lang=1&imageID=172732] EDWARD GRAVES MEREDITH, 1871

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-79844.1&Lang=1&imageID=182587] FREDERICK EDMUND MEREDITH IN FANCY DRESS, 1886

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-15767.1&Lang=1&imageID=236247] RICHARD HOLMES MEREDITH, 1865


On Monday, 9th August, 1837, at eight o’clock in the evening, in Montreal, Meredith is recorded as taking part in a duel fought with pistols against James Scott, no stranger to such events. It seems that earlier in the day, following a dispute over legal costs, Meredith had challenged Scott. Meredith chose James M. Blackwood to second him, whilst Scott’s choice was Louis-Fereol Pelletier. It took place near Mount Royal, and the pistols used were Meredith’s which he had bought in London, on a previous trip to England. On the first exchange Scott took a bullet high up in his thigh, and the duel was called to a stop.

The bullet lodged itself in Scott’s thigh bone in such a way that it could not be removed by doctors, which caused him great discomfort for the rest of his days. Ironically for Scott, this was exactly where he had shot Sweeney Campbell in a duel when they were students. In the early 1850’s, (Scott died in 1852) when both the adversaries had become judges, one of the sights then to see was Meredith helping his brother judge up the steep Court House steps, a result of the lameness in his leg since their encounter.

His career was interrupted again by the troubles of 1837. Meredith joined the Montreal Rifles as a Lieutenant and saw action against the French rebels at the Battle of Saint-Eustache. He reached the rank of Major in the militia.

* List of duels, Meredith v Scott, 1837, under 'Canadian Duels'.

* The Battle of St. Eustache, 1837 [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=M4777.6&Lang=1&imageID=165855]


From the late 1830's Meredith, ‘a careful, shrewd lawyer’, was senior partner of the firm, Meredith & Bethune, subsequently Meredith, Bethune & Dunkin. Their offices were situated at 33 Little St. James Street and the firm was described in the 1840’s as the most influential in Montreal. He and his partners, Strachan Bethune Q.C. and The Hon. Christopher Dunkin Q.C., had the largest legal business that had been brought together by any one firm in the province of Quebec.

In 1844 Merideth was created a Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.), declining the office of Solicitor General, and subsequently that of Attorney-General, which he declined again for the second time in 1847 during the Draper administration. Meredith disliked politics. In the same year Chief Justice Valliere of Saint-Real offered him the position of Dean of Law at McGill University, which he also turned down. His grandson, William Campbell James Meredith (1904-1960) Q.C., D.C.L., would hold the position over one hundred years later. Meredith was involved in many ways for the betterment of the city of Montreal. He was one of the founding members and a director of the High School of Montreal, which was established with his help in 1843, to supersede the grammar school. He was counsel to the board of the Royal Institution, and on the committee to save McGill University in the early 1840’s. He conducted a good deal of business for the university, and it was with his influence that his younger brother, Edmund Allen Meredith (1817-1899), who had recently arrived from Ireland, was appointed Principal of McGill from 1846 to 1853.

It was also in 1844 that Meredith commissioned John Wells, one of the best known Scottish architects of the time (whose work included the head office of the Bank of Montreal on St. James Street, and the Sainte Anne market, which no longer exists) to build him a new house on Sherbrooke Street (at the corner of Clark Street), on a spacious plot of land with tall trees behind.

#REDIRECT [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=II-102142&Lang=1&imageID=143202] MEREDITH'S HOUSE LATER IN 1893

In 1849 a judicial appointment took Meredith to Quebec City. Meredith rented the Montreal house to several prominent citizens including Thomas E. Blackwell, President of the Grand Trunk Railway, before selling it to fellow barrister Alexander Molson (1830-1897), a son of John Molson (1787-1860). The house still stands today, known as ‘Notman House’, after the celebrated Montreal photographer, William Notman, who acquired it in 1876. After Notman’s death it was bought by Sir George A. Drummond for the Anglican sisters of the Society of St. Margaret, to serve as a residence for terminally ill women.

In December 1849, Meredith was appointed one of the first ten judges of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec, by the Lafontaine-Baldwin government, a position that he held for ten years. However, this meant abandoning with some reluctance the practice of a profession to which he was always greatly attached, and in doing so relinquished a very profitable business. During Lord Elgin’s (a close friend of Edmund Meredith’s father-in-law, William Botsford Jarvis, High Sheriff of York) administration as Governor-General of Canada (1847-1854), Meredith was elected as one of the judges of the Seigniorial Court.

In 1859, 'at the earnest solicitation of the government and in compliance with the members of the Montreal bar', he accepted a seat from Sir George-Étienne Cartier, as a judge in the Court of Queen’s Bench, that being the Court of Appeals for the province. Whilst a member of the Court of Appeals several of his judgements were spoken of very highly by the lords of the Privy Council in England. He filled the position for seven years ‘with marked ability and success.’

On 28th December, 1854 he was given an honorary D.C.L. from the University of Bishop’s College, Lennoxville. A few years later, Université Laval in Quebec rewarded him with the same honour. In 1880, upon the proposition of The Hon. F. Langelier Q.C., he also received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Laval.

It turned out that on the 6th September, 1865, a private meeting of the board of members of Bishop's University, Lennoxville, elected Meredith Chancellor. The Lord Bishop of Quebec nominated him to the post, and Colonel Campbell seconded the nomination. The Vice-Chancellor, The Hon. E. Hole, then elected Meredith Chancellor by the unanimous vote of the board. However, he turned the position down in consequence of the pressures of his existing official duties. His youngest son, Frederick Edmund Meredith K.C., D.C.L., later held the position from 1926 to 1932.

Meredith’s friend Sir John Abbott, who had studied law under him and later became Prime Minister of Canada was a reluctant supporter of the Confederation of 1866. Abbott feared that it would reduce the English-speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada to political impotence. Amongst others, he consulted with Meredith and Meredith’s former business partner, Christopher Dunkin. They drafted a resolution calling on the government to protect the electoral borders of twelve English Quebec constituencies. Subsequently, Alexander Tilloch Galt endorsed the proposal, had the London conference accept it, and included it as article 80 of the British North America Act.

In the 1860s William Meredith was invited with Abraham Joseph, then President of the Quebec Board of Trade, to summer at St. Patrick, near Rivière du Loup, with their mutual friend Mr LeMoyne of Quebec City. Mr LeMoyne had spent the last few years scouring the province for a suitable summer escape for his children. He tried Cacouna and other such places, but was never satisfied that he had found the ideal location, until he discovered St. Patrick. The quiet little hamlet and its surroundings so enchanted him that he persuaded his two friends to summer with him there as well. They too immediately took to the place, and a few years later all three of them had built houses there, some of the first summer residents of St. Patrick. Meredith's, 'Rosecliffe', was built in 1866 and is still occupied by his descendants.

On 17 August 1866, on the death of Meredith's good friend, Edward Bowen (1780–1866), Sir George-Étienne Cartier appointed Meredith Chief Justice of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec.Fact|date=January 2008 The appointment was much sought after, and although Meredith held all the attributes to succeed Bowen (a close family friend of the Merediths), internal politics played a large role in filling the position. It seemed that ‘an upstart’ judge named Caron might nose him out of the Chief-Justiceship, but the influential and affable D'Arcy McGee (then Minister of Agriculture) who was in government with Meredith's brother Edmund, made a few favourable representations on William’s behalf. Caron was ousted from contention and soon enough the position was secured for Meredith.


Chief Justice Meredith finally retired for health reasons, in this his final office, on 1st October, 1884. Two years later on 21st June, 1886, he was knighted by Queen Victoria. In the years before his retirement he was the oldest judge on the bench in Canada, still going with his characteristic energy and ability. The ‘Legal News’ printed of Meredith :

"The late Chief Justice was a diligent advocate and judge, and conscientious and painstaking in the performance of every duty. The opinions delivered by him from the bench have always been cited with the greatest respect and many of them are models of what a judicial opinion should be. They excel in clearness, are ample without ceasing to be concise, and bring light and satisfaction to the reader."

On moving from their house in Montreal to Quebec in 1849, the Merediths took up residence at 19 St. Ursule Street, a large three storey brick house. The family kept five live-in servants. Beside the family houses on Ste. Ursule Street and at St. Patrick (where he owned 1,400 arpents of farmland), at Quebec he owned three further houses, two barn stables, five pleasure carriages and sleighs, two wagon-sleds, three horses and one milk cow.

Despite not being left land by his stepfather like the rest of his brothers (for reasons which are unclear), in 1830 William purchased four village-town lots in the region of Romney, Kent, Upper Canada (Ontario). The land turned out to be an important investment in consequence of the railway that was later built there.

Meredith frequently returned to Europe, either touring the continent or visiting his relatives in Ireland (notably members of the Meredith, MacDonnell, Allen, Bellingham, Collis, Drought and Graves families). Like the rest of his siblings, he regarded his uncle, The Rev. Richard MacDonnell of Tynekill D.D., Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, as a second father. He was the husband of Meredith’s aunt, Jane Graves and there is a reference in Edmund Meredith’s diaries when over in Ireland in 1853, that, ‘the doctor (as they referred to MacDonnell) spoke much of the splendid apples and cider William had sent him’. In return ‘the doctor’ insisted on opening bottle after bottle of claret for Edmund, ‘to prove to William that it is now possible to find good claret in Ireland !’ !

[http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-47391.1&Lang=1&imageID=171834 Photo of William Collis Meredith, 1870]

[http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=I-7588&Lang=1&imageID=142772 Photo of Edmund Allen Meredith, 1863]

#REDIRECT [http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/efa/1787RM.html] NOTES ON RICHARD MacDONNELL

William's brother Edmund Meredith played in one of the earliest games of shinny to have been described. It took place in 1853 and was later written up in the "Montreal Star" in an article entitled "Thirty Years Ago Today":

"Strange as it may appear to McGill men and others, there was a great hockey match played in Quebec in the early fifties, when the first principal Dr Edmund Meredith (in fact he was the third principal of McGill University), brother of the late Chief Justice Sir Wm. Meredith of Quebec, who was a very fast skater, might have been called a forward, as might have been his old chum, the late E.H. Steel, while the late Grant Powell (a cousin of Edmund’s wife, Frances Jarvis) was the captain. Their opponents were the Civil Service Club, of Quebec. The hockey sticks were cut from the Gorna Bush; the puck was a piece of oak, and the goals were a mile and a half apart on clear ice, not often found between Quebec and the Island of Orleans. The Quebec Chronicle of that day had a good account of the match."

Meredith was ‘a gentleman with exemplary charm and manners’, and ‘a man of fine scholarly attainments.’ He possessed ‘troops’ of friends and was ‘held in the highest respect in the City and Province of Quebec, by all classes of the community’ and even more extraordinary for the time, was described as being as popular amongst the French as the English. This is noticeably apparent in an article written about him in ‘L’Opinion Publique’ on 10th July, 1879 :

"Le Juge-en-Chef est l’urbanite meme, il est attentive comme un Francais de l’ancien regime. A cette grande affabilite qui n’est nulle part plus appreciable que sur le banc d’un tribunal. Le Juge Meredith joint un savoir etendu, un tact parfait, un jugement tres sur. Il voit au fond s’egarent, les avocats qui brouillent les faits, aux elements fondamentaux dont il faut s’inspirer pour retrouver la verite. Tout cela avec infiniment de benevolence et toutes les formes de la politesse."

Frances (Feo) Monck, the sister-in-law of the then Governor-General (Charles Stanley Monck (1819-1894), 4th Viscount Monck of Charleville, Co. Wicklow), gave an unusually long account of a party - or ‘drum’ as it was known, given by Judge Meredith in her book, ‘My Canadian Leaves, An Account of a Visit to Canada, 1864-65’ :

"Dick and I, and Captain Pem. Are going, I hope, to-night to a ‘drum’ at Judge Meredith’s. . . . There was a very large party, and the house is large. I was much amused and talked to many people, among others to M. Duvergier-d’Hauraune, a young Frenchman, who is come over here to travel, and has brought a letter to the Governor-General from Lord Clarendon. His father was a well-known man in France under Louis Phillipe. My friend, Sir R.M. (Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, William’s first cousin who spent a year in Canada as Governor of Nova Scotia in 1864) rushed to me, and asked me to walk about with him, and invited us to Government House at H. (Halifax), which he told me was much finer and larger than ‘Spencer’s Wood’ (the Governor-General’s vice regal seat at Quebec). Lady M (Lady Blanche MacDonnell) and Dick flirted together for a long time; she is so pretty and pleasant. A Miss Tilstone sang - a handsome girl with a pretty voice. Then a Madame Taschereau sang - good voice; and then THE man sang, Mr Antoine Chartier de Lotbiniere Harwood (the great uncle of William’s grandson’s, W.C.J. Meredith’s, wife, Marie Berthe Louise Francoise de Lotbiniere Harwood ), an M.P.P., half French. He has a very fine voice, and is a pupil of Garcia’s. He was offered an engagement at the Italian Opera, London. The large rooms were too small for his voice, which wants modulation. I got quite giddy with the loudness of it ! He sang from operas; he wants expression and more teaching. Judge Meredith introduced him to me, and he sang again, for me !"

# [http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?Lang=1&accessnumber=II-264846.1&imageID=292121 Photo of William Meredith In His Study At Quebec, c.1890. Taken By His Youngest Son, Frederick.] (note the bust in the corner is of William's uncle, Richard Macdonnell.)

‘Esteemed for his high character, wide knowledge and amiable disposition’, ‘his lofty conception of duty, his great learning, and his gentleness of character commanded the admiration and affection of the bench and bar of Quebec.’ Sir William Meredith died on the 26th February, 1894, aged eighty two after a short illness of acute bronchitis. The funeral took place at his house in Ste. Ursule Street and from then to the English Cathedral at Quebec where the service was given by the Bishop of Quebec, and finally to the Meredith plot at Mount Hermon Cemetery. His remains were followed by a large and distinguished company of mourners.

Part of the inscription on his gravestone reads ‘…and thoughtful consideration for others marked all his acts and made bright his daily walk through life’. The French newspaper, ‘L’Electeur’, wrote on the 1st March, 1894 :

"La retraite de M. le juge Meredith va creer un vif chagrin dans le barreau comme parmi le public. Jamais en effet un magistrat ne sut mieux se concilier leftie des avocats sans cesse en rapport avec lui et la confiance du public. Jurisconsulte eminent, magistrat dont la reputation d’honorabilite a toujours ete au-dessus du soupcon, bienveillent pour tout la monde, d’un politesse vraiment exquise, M. le juge en chef va laisser une vide bien difficile a remplir."

External links

* [http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=40418 Biography of EDMUND ALLEN MEREDITH at "the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]

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