M22464 | James Bruce, Earl of Elgin

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James Bruce, Earl of Elgin
Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872)
About 1855, 19th century
Oil on canvas
109.5 x 82.7 cm
Gift of Mr. Arnold Wainwright
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  male (26812) , Painting (2229) , painting (2227) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Elgin came to Canada as Governor General in 1846, after serving in Jamaica. He played a central role in reversing the British policy of opposition to responsible government. He saw this form of government as the best way of resolving Canadian strife and, in 1848, invited Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine to form a government. After leaving Canada in 1854, Elgin went on to senior posts in China and India.

  • What

    A Scottish lord related to Lord Durham, Elgin was sent to Canada by the Colonial Office with instructions to accept responsible government, which meant that the Cabinet-the executive arm of government-would have to have a majority in the Assembly.

  • Where

    Elgin served in Jamaica before coming to Canada. After leaving Canada, he served in China and Japan and as Viceroy of India. His career shows how his Canadian posting was part of more extensive service in the British diplomatic corps.

  • When

    Elgin's tenure in Canada coincided with the critical period in which British officials were trying to choose which elements of Lord Durham's Report to implement. Elgin later played a role in negotiating the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854.

  • Who

    The influence of the Colonial Office was strongly felt throughout the post-rebellion period as governors Colborne, Sydenham, Metcalfe, Bagot and Elgin tried to solve the Canadian question. By the 1850s, Canadian politicians were being invited to find their own political solution.