John Lambton is the single man who shaped our view of the rebellions of 1837-8 for better or worse and can take the blame for the general mistrust between English and French Canada, born on the 12th of April 1792 in the City of Westminster, where the centre of the British Parliament sits even to this day. He knew little of his father who passed away in 1797 when John was only five. His mother quickly remarried but his step-father had little desire in raising John and his brother. Instead, the boys were raised by a family friend. Nevertheless, John was well off, being the eldest son he inherited his father’s fortune. Enrolling in Eton, he attended the private school from 1804 to 1809. After Eaton, he went on to accept a commission as a Cornet (Equvilant to a Second Lieutenant) in the 10th Hussars. By this time John had become enamoured with a young woman and two years later resigned his commission and eloped with Harrett. It was also in 1811 that he saw election to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament. And while he was forced to have a proper ceremony to marry Harrett, the marriage would only last four years as she would pass away in 1815. It was his second marriage to Louisa Grey that saw his social standing rise. Despite his status in the English aristocracy, Lambton felt a strong call for reform and aligned himself to the Whig Party within the Parliament. And while he nearly resigned with the death of his wife, he found it within himself to stay in Parliament. In 1819 he first raised a call to reform, he along with other Whigs knew that the current electoral system in England needed drastic improvement. The first issue they wanted to tackle was the idea of Rotton Boroughs; these were small electoral districts that carried far more influence in the elections than they should. He quickly formulated the notion that power did not have to rest with the aristocracy solely but could be easily shared between the upper and middle classes. He did recognise the middle and working class as the backbone of English power.
In 1828, due to his rise in social standing became the Baron of Durham, the Durham County was both the historical seat of his family and the source of his wealth with the massive coal mines that occupied the county. But Lord Durham used both his wealth and standing to support the common man, supporting and founding schools and the Mechanics Insitute. Even among the liberal Whigs, Lord Durham was seen as a radical reformer, and his father-in-law soon gave him the position to effect significant change. Lord Grey’s election as Prime Minister paved the way for John to reform how the government in England worked fundamentally. Lord Durham was appointed to the Privy Council as Lord Privy Seal, one of the Great Offices of State. In that role, he authored what would become known as the Reform Act. The act in itself did not provide universal suffrage, but it gave a voice to the middle class in their government. And in that very fact, John became both a disturbing and disruptive member of Parliament and indispensable at the same time, earning him the nickname Radical Jack. When the act passed in 1833, he promptly resigned his post. He did get recognition for his effort in his elevation to Viscount Lambton, Earl of Durham, the more familiar, Lord Durham. But he had little to celebrate at the time, having lost five children and his mother between 1831 and 1835. And through his efforts to bring reform he alienated many friends and professional contacts including that of his Father-In-Law. But he had plenty to keep his mind off these minor matters and assisted both Belgium and Greece in gaining their independence. In 1835 he would be appointed as the British Ambassador to Russia, and in that role, the Russian bestowed several knighthoods and noble orders of St. Alexander Hevesy, St Andrew, and St. Anne. On his return to England, he was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bath.
Lambton would barely settle in England when the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne reached out to Lord Durham to take up the appointment of High Commissioner to British North America to investigate the ongoing strife generated by the radical reformers in both Upper and Lower Canada. Lambton refused the post when the rebellions broke out in 1837, Lord Melbourne again approached Lambton, but this time sweetened to post by offering him the Governor-General’s position and near full control over all of British North America to thoroughly investigate the causes behind the rebellions. This time Lambton accepted and arrived in Quebec City in May of 1838, on his arrival he found the on-going rebellion in full swing and promised to be both fair and open-minded. To that end he dissolved the Executive Council in Lower Canada’s Parliament and established a new one, making sure none of the old members were welcomed back. When it came to the vast number of prisoners, many were released without charge, and many who were awaiting an appointment with the gallows were instead sentenced to exile and imprisonment to Van Diemen’s land or Bermuda. But not all got this treatment, men like Papineau had a shoot-on-sight order issued against him. Lord Durham proved most polarising; some felt his efforts were too little too late, while others saw his treatment of rebels as far too lenient. Lord Melbourne sought to distance himself from Durham, publicly criticising his actions, a fact Durham only learned about from an American Newspaper. And while he would resign his post as governor-general, he continued to work as High Commissioner to investigate the rebellion. To that end, he spoke with men like Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hypo lite La Fontaine both of whom were moderate reformers. La Fontaine discussed the need to save and preserve the French-Canadian Culture while Baldwin spoke at great lengths about the matter of Responsible Government. But many radicals were ignored by Durham throughout his investigation. But it was not just the reformers, he also spoke at length with many Tories including John Beverley Robinson. Each group did their best to influence Durham’s investigation. Despite his promise of being fair proved hollow as he remained both a Politician in disgrace and an Englishman and his report read as such. The Report on the Affairs of British North American, or rather The Durham Report provided the foundation for the future of Upper and Lower Canada and the British view of the rebellions that nearly destabilised their largest colonial holding. Lambton tore at the Tory Cliques but did not blame them for the uprising; he recommended a limited form of Responsible Government, stronger Municipal Governments, and a local Supreme Court. Ultimately Durham laid the blame at the conflict between two cultures found in the Canadas, that of a progressive English Culture and the Decaying French-Canadian Culture. When the Question of Canada came up, it became a matter of assimilation, rather than reform that drove the creation of the Act of Union in 1840 that created the Province of Canada through the merger of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841.
Lambton on the conclusion of his report his already fragile health took a nosedive and quietly retired from most of his work; his last efforts secured the colonisation of New Zealand. He made rare appearances in public, and he managed to restore many of the friendships he lost over the years. He died on the 28th of July 1840 due to ongoing complications from tuberculosis. His desire for responsible government would become a reality some ten years later first in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and then in 1849 in the Province of Canada. In Canada his son-in-law, James Bruce would be charged with its establishment with the help of Baldwin and La Fontaine. Memorials to John Lambton in Canada are easy to miss; there are no statues or plaques dedicated to the man. Rather a neighbourhood of Toronto and a former village took the name Lambton in 1838; today the historic town is centred around the intersection of Dundas Street West between Jane and Royal York. A museum about the town is located in Lambton House, built in 1847. Along Highway Six is the town of Durham, Ontario and there is also Lambton, Quebec, and there is also Durham County. In Ajax is Lord Durham School, but it is closed today. Several locations in New Zealand take their name from the Earl, and his largest memorial is in England in his family’s seat of power. The Penshaw monument was completed in 1844 in Sunderland, Durham County and memorialises all that John Lambton did for England and Canada through his life.