Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Simcoe, John

John Graves Simcoe, 1752 – 1806, First Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada

The plaque is in the Cathedral Close, on the wall between 12 and 14 The Close.

The inscription is lengthy:

John Graves Simcoe 1752 – 1806.  The first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, present day Ontario, John Graves Simcoe was Born in Cotterstock, Northamptonshire, and attended Exeter Free Grammar School in his early youth. He entered the Army in 1770 and commanded a regiment in the American revolution. During his active administration of Upper Canada, 1791-96, Simcoe laid the foundation for the province’s orderly growth and development. He died in a house on this site and is buried at Wolford Chapel, Dunkerswell, near Honiton. Erected with the assistance of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, Ontario, Canada.

After JOHN SIMCOE‘s father, a Naval captain, died from pneumonia before the Battle of Quebec, the family moved to his maternal grandmother’s home in Exeter. John’s mother Katherine sent him to school in Exeter and then to Eton. After Merton College, Oxford, a military tutor in Exeter prepared him for his commission in 1770 as an ensign in the 35th Foot. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, this was obtained through the influence of his mother’s family. He distinguished himself during the American war of independence, being wounded three times and rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and returned to Exeter to convalesce and publish in 1787 his war memoirs, Journal of the operations of the Queen’s Rangers from the end of the year 1777 to the conclusion of the late American War.

Simcoe married Elizabeth, the ward of his godfather, a very wealthy heiress who bought a 5,000-acre estate near Honiton, Devon, and built Wolford Lodge for the family. Simcoe was briefly MP for St Mawes in Cornwall while he sought an overseas public appointment, and in 1791 was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the new province of Upper Canada. One of his achievements was beginning the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada years before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole.

In 1796, neuralgia and gout got the better of him and he returned to England to recover. He never went back to Canada and resigned early in 1798. He was afterwards Governor of St Domingo (Haiti), but managed a mere five months’ service on the island. Finally, after being in the political wilderness, he was appointed, through Devon connections, as Commander-in-Chief in India. He never got there. He was diverted to Portugal, became ill again and returned to Exeter, where he died, aged 54. He was in private a lover of English and Latin poetry and wrote verse occasionally all his life. JM

More information from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online at http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=2659