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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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WILKINSON, WILLIAM (1826-1918)

WILKINSON, WILLIAM, lawyer and judge; school inspector and benefactor; b. Liverpool, England, 11 Feb 1826 (bap. 2 Mar 1826), s/o John Wilkinson and h/w Catherine; m. 1850, Eliza Lovibond Bacon, d/o Samuel Bacon and Eliza Hicks Cutler; d. Chatham, 22 Nov 1918.

William Wilkinson liked to reminisce about arriving in Chatham from England in 1840 and being shown to the home of his half-brother, James Johnson, by John Shirreff, the first person with whom he spoke in the town. For two years he worked as a clerk in Johnson & Mackie's store and then studied law with John M. Johnson. Called to the bar in 1849, he opened an office in Chatham. Between 1853 and 1868 he was in partnership with Johnson.

Wilkinson was judge of probate for Northumberland County from 1851 to 1870, when he resigned to run in the provincial election. Not being successful, he went to work as a solicitor for the Intercolonial Railway. In 1872 he was named county immigration agent. He was appointed QC in 1873. In 1877 he was made a judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court of New Brunswick, and in 1881 he succeeded Edward Williston as judge of the County Court for Northumberland, Gloucester, and Restigouche. He was an outstanding success on the bench, and he retired in 1906 justly proud of the fact that no appeal was ever made from a judgment given by him.

"An ardent educationalist," Wilkinson was appointed in 1852 as the first school inspector for Northumberland County. This was an underpaid, part-time position, in which the appointee was expected to make four visits annually to each school in the county. After six months Wilkinson reported that in Northumberland County such a schedule of visits would entail almost two thousand miles of travel a year, about seventy-two days on the road, and far more expense than an individual could reasonably pay himself or charge to the government. He was keeping costs under control, he explained, by performing "unusual pedestrian feats," but besides travelling, he had to examine candidates for 3rd class teaching licenses, scan teachers' registers and returns, converse with them, reply to their letters, distribute notices to them, and so on, which led him to wonder when he would find time to attend to his most important responsibility as an inspector, which was to improve the condition of the schools.

Although Wilkinson gave up his school inspectorship after four years, his interest in education never flagged. In 1895, when he was past seventy, he was called upon to address the annual meeting of the Northumberland County Teachers' Institute. From 1895 to 1899 he represented the rural deanery of Chatham on the governing board of King's College, Windsor. He kept abreast of the educational work of the Religious Hospitallers of St Joseph by attending the annual closing exercises at St Michael's Academy until he was past ninety, and for many years he donated prizes for leading students of the Chatham Grammar School and St Thomas College.

Wilkinson was vestry clerk of St Paul's Anglican Church for more than thirty years. In 1889 he was a member of the executive committee of the Diocesan Church Society of New Brunswick. At the same time, he was a personal friend of Bishop James Rogers, Father Michael Egan, and other Catholic churchmen and was greatly admired in Catholic circles. In 1916 he mailed a letter of thanks to the Religious Hospitallers of St Joseph for their many years of devoted work, and because they were financially-strapped, he included a cheque for $1,000. Not everyone approved of his cozy relationship with the Catholics or viewed it as benign. Allan A. Davidson Sr, for one, complained that Wilkinson's appointment as judge in 1881 had been "engineered" by Bishop Rogers without regard to the public interest.

After the death of Thomas H. Peters the Wilkinson family, together with Wilkinson's father-in-law, the Rev. Samuel Bacon, became the occupants of the stylish Peters residence at Bushville. Wilkinson's wife, Eliza L. Bacon, died in 1904. There were six children in their family, three of whom, including the Rev. William J. Wilkinson, were surviving in 1918.

Sources

[b/m] Biog. Review NB [bap] LDS-IGI [d] Advocate 21 Apr 1888, 26 Nov 1918 / Advance 4 Aug 1881, 3 Oct 1895, 17 Jun 1897; Bell/Rosevear #329; Cyclo. Can. Biog. 1888; Gleaner 7 Jun 1852; JHA 1853 (re. education); Leader 19 Dec 1968; McAlpine's 1889; NB Elections; RHSJ archives (Chatham); tombstone; World 12 Aug 1916


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