Charles Poulett Thomson, 1st Baron Sydenham

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The Lord Sydenham
Lord Sydenham.jpg
Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
In office
Preceded bySir George Arthur, Bt
Succeeded byMajor General John Clitherow
Governor General of the Province of Canada
In office
Preceded byThe Earl of Durham GCB
Succeeded bySir Charles Bagot
President of the Board of Trade
In office
5 June – 14 November 1834
MonarchWilliam IV
Prime MinisterThe Earl Grey KG
The Viscount Melbourne
Preceded byThe Earl of Auckland GCB
Succeeded byThe Lord Ashburton
In office
8 April 1835 – 29 August 1839
MonarchWilliam IV;
Prime MinisterThe Viscount Melbourne
Preceded byThe Lord Ashburton
Succeeded byThe Lord Taunton
Personal details
Born(1799-09-13)13 September 1799
Waverley Abbey, Farnham, Surrey
Died19 September 1841(1841-09-19) (aged 42)
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Political partyWhig

Charles Poulett Thomson, 1st Baron Sydenham, GCB, PC (13 September 1799 – 19 September 1841) was a British businessman, politician, diplomat and the first Governor General of the united Province of Canada.[1]

Early life, family, education[edit]

Born at Waverley Abbey House, near Farnham, Surrey, Thomson was the son of John Buncombe Poulett Thomson, a London merchant, by his wife Charlotte, daughter of John Jacob. His father was the head of J. Thomson, T. Bonar and Company, a successful trading firm that had dealings with Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire and was a principal merchant house in the Russian-Baltic trade.[2]

After attending private schools until age 16, Thomson entered the family firm at Saint Petersburg. In 1817 he came home due to poor health, and embarked on a prolonged tour of Southern Europe. He returned to Russia in 1821 and over the next three years travelled extensively in Eastern Europe. He established permanent residence in London in 1824 but frequently visited the Continent, especially Paris.

Political career[edit]

Thomson was returned to the House of Commons as MP for Dover in 1826. In 1830 he joined Earl Grey's government as Vice-President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy, an office he held until 1834. In November 1831 Thomson accompanied Lord Durham to Paris to negotiate a new commercial treaty with July Monarchy France, but the project was not accomplished.[3] He was then President of the Board of Trade under Lord Melbourne in 1834 and succeeded Lord Auckland as president, and again between 1835 and 1839. A free-trader and an expert in financial matters, he was elected MP for Manchester in 1832, a seat which he held until 1839. He was continuously occupied with negotiations affecting international commerce until 1839, when he accepted the Governorship of Canada.[4] After his appointment as a governor general of British North America, he persuaded the legislature of Upper Canada to consent to a union with Lower Canada, and framed the constitution of the united province.[1] In 1832 he organised a special statistical department at the board of trade, and in 1837 instituted the school of design at Somerset House, in accordance with the recommendation of a select committee of the House of Commons made in 1835.[1]

Governor General of Canada[edit]

Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross Breast Star

Sydenham succeeded Lord Durham as Governor General of Canada in 1839. He was responsible for implementing the Union Act in 1840, uniting Upper Canada and Lower Canada as the Province of Canada, and moving the seat of government to Kingston. Upper Canadians were given a choice in the matter of union, which they accepted; Lower Canada had no say, and as a result, many French Canadians were opposed to both the union and Sydenham himself.

Later that year, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Sydenham, of Sydenham in the County of Kent and of Toronto in Canada[5] and was appointed "knight grand cross of the Order of the Bath".[3]

Sydenham was just as anti-French as Lord Durham had been, and he encouraged British immigration to make the French Canadian population less significant. French Canadians referred to him as le poulet, the chicken. Realizing he had almost no support in Lower Canada (at this time Canada East), he reorganised electoral ridings to give the Anglo-Canadian population more votes, and in areas where that was infeasible, he allowed English mobs to beat up French candidates. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was one such candidate who suffered from Sydenham's influence; Lafontaine eventually left Canada East to work with Robert Baldwin in creating a fairer union for both sides. The new constitution, after being carried through the colonial parliaments and ratified by the House of Commons, came into force on 10 February 1841. It led ultimately to the great confederation of 1867.[1] In addition to this measure he carried another for local government, and he set on foot improvements in the matters of emigration, education, and public works. Charles Greville, in his Memoirs wrote about Thomson:

In spite of his vanity he had many admirable qualities: tact, judgment, and prudence, firmness and decision, indefatigable and well-ordered application, and, above all, a disinterested devotion to the service of his country.[3]

Sydenham also settled the Protestant land dispute over the clergy reserves in Upper Canada (at this time Canada West), which the Family Compact had interpreted to refer only to the Anglican Church. Sydenham convinced the legislators to pass an Act whereby half of the land set aside for Protestant churches would be shared between Anglicans and Presbyterians, and the other half would be shared between the other Protestant denominations.[6]

Sydenham wanted to make Canada more financially independent, so that there would less danger of annexation by the United States. He had been working on this policy throughout the 1830s, when he was President of the Board of Trade in Britain, though he had little time to implement any economic reforms once he had arrived in Canada.


After less than two years as Governor-General, Sydenham died in 1841, at age 42. He had been described as sickly and an autopsy revealed severe gout. Shortly before his death, he had resigned his position and was due to return to England within weeks. However, on 4 September, Sydenham was "riding a spirited horse near Parliament House, but could not, for a long time, get the animal to pass that building. After a severe application of spur and whip, however, the horse proceeded, but immediately after, put his foot upon a large stone... not being able to recover, fell and dragged his rider with him, fracturing the leg, and lacerating it above the knee." This apparently led to a deadly infection. For fifteen days, Sydenham was described as suffering extreme pain, then died the morning of 19 September 1841.[7] As he was unmarried, his peerage became extinct.[4] He was buried at Kingston.[3]


Owen Sound[edit]

Soon after its founding, the present-day city of Owen Sound, Ontario, was named Sydenham in 1842 in honour of the recently deceased Governor of Canada; in 1856, the community became a town and was renamed Owen Sound after the adjacent body of water. Sydenham is the name of the principal river that runs through Owen Sound. Sydenham was also the name of the former Township of Sydenham, which bordered Owen Sound to the east, and in 2001 amalgamated into the municipality of Meaford, Ontario. Sydenham Community School is in Owen Sound. For more than half a century, Owen Sound's main street was called Poulett Street; in 1909, the community's street names were renumbered on the New York City model, and Poulett Street became 2nd Avenue East.


Sydenham Public School in Kingston, Ontario, which has operated as an educational facility since its construction in 1853 as the Kingston County Grammar School, was renamed in the 1890s in memory of Lord Sydenham. It is in downtown Kingston, and is an Ontario-designated heritage building.[8]

Sydenham High School, Ontario, a regional high school, is in the village of Sydenham, Frontenac County, Ontario, northwest of Kingston.

Sydenham Street, in downtown Kingston, runs north-south, and is a two-section street. Its southern section runs from West Street to Brock Street. Its northern section runs from Princess Street to Raglan Road. The two sections are separated by a block of buildings between Brock and Princess Streets.

Sydenham Road is also in Kingston, running from outer Princess Street northwards to Highway 401 and beyond, to the village of Sydenham.

Sydenham Street in Simcoe, Ontario is named in his honour.

Sydenham Street in London, Ontario, which runs between Wellington and Talbot Streets, north of Oxford Street, is also named after him.[9]

Sydenham Ward, a municipal electoral district in Kingston, is one of twelve such districts in the city, and this designation has been used in Kingston municipal politics since the 1840s, albeit with its boundaries modified several times over the ensuing years.

The Old Sydenham Heritage Conservation District, in the southeastern sector of downtown, was formally designated by Kingston City Council on 24 March 2015.[10]


His memoirs were published by his brother, G.J. Poulett Scrope, in 1844.


  1. ^ a b c d Baron Sydenham Retrieved on 19 Feb 2018
  2. ^ THOMSON, CHARLES EDWARD POULETT, 1st Baron SYDENHAM Retrieved on 19 Feb 2018
  3. ^ a b c d Charles Edward Poulett Thomson, Baron Sydenham (1799-1841) Archived 11 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 19 Feb 2018
  4. ^ a b  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sydenham, Charles Edward Poulett-Thomson, 1st Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 277.
  5. ^ "No. 19883". The London Gazette. 11 August 1840. p. 1857.
  6. ^ Thomson 1840
  7. ^ Notices on Lord Sydenham's Death (1841). The Examiner, p 37-39. Toronto.
  8. ^ Ontario Heritage Trust Sydenham Public School Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Priddis, Harriet (1908). "Naming of London Streets". Historic Sketches of London Ontario. London, Ontario: The London and Middlesex Historical Society. p. 20. Sydenham Street, a private street running through his property, named by Mr. Barker for Lord Sydenham, first General Governor of the United Provinces. When Governor of Canada West he had been a strong advocate of the Union.
  10. ^, Minutes for City Council meeting of 24 March 2015.



External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Dover
With: The Lord Skelmersdale to 1828
William Henry Trant 1828–1830
Sir John Reid, Bt 1830–1831
Captain Robert Stanhope 1831–1832
Sir John Reid, Bt from 1832
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New constituency Member of Parliament for Manchester
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Political offices
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Preceded by Treasurer of the Navy
Preceded by President of the Board of Trade
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Preceded by President of the Board of Trade
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Preceded by Governor General of the Province of Canada
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Academic offices
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Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Sydenham