This application is sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.
Major General Sir John Harvey had a long and distinguished career both as a soldier and as a colonial administrator. In addition to serving during the Napoleonic Wars, including the War of 1812 in North America, he was also the Lieutenant Governor of the four Atlantic Provinces.
Harvey joined the 80th Regiment of Foot as an Ensign on 10 September 1794. The regiment has been raised by Henry William Paget, the future Marquess of Anglesey, who was to become Harvey’s patron. Harvey saw hard service in the Netherlands, along the coast of France, at the Cape of Good Hope, in Ceylon and, in 1801, in Egypt. He would later be awarded the Military General Service Medal with clasp “Egypt” for this campaign. Service in India followed, where he married Lady Elizabeth Lake, the daughter of Lord Lake, the commander-in-chief, in 1806. They had five sons and a daughter. He returned to England in 1807 and the following year transferred to the 6th Royal Garrison Battalion in Ireland where he served as an assistant quartermaster general. On 25 June 1812, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and posted to Upper Canada as the deputy adjutant general to Brigadier General John Vincent.
He hurried to his new post, travelling on snowshoes along the Grand Communications Route through New Brunswick and reached Upper Canada in early 1813. By the time he arrived, Vincent was commanding the British forces in the Niagara Peninsula. In May, the Americans had captured Fort George and pushed the British back as far as Burlington Heights (Hamilton). Harvey suggested and led a surprise night attack on 5 June against the Americans who were camped at Stoney Creek. The Americans, surprised and confused after the attack, retreated and the immediate threat to the British was ended.
Harvey had established himself as an officer of exceptional “zeal, intelligence and gallantry”. Later in the fall, he was the second in command at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm on 11 November. For his actions here, he received the Field Officers Small Gold Medal. The following year, he again campaigned along the Niagara Frontier, participating in many of the major battles. He was wounded at the attack on Fort Erie on 15 August 1814.
With the end of the war in 1814, Harvey was placed on the half-pay list in 1817. Promotion continued with colonel in 1825, Major General in 1837 and Lieutenant General in 1846. He received the KCH and was knighted in 1824.
Employment prospects were few but he found a position on an unpopular Crown Land commission in Upper Canada and , through the influence of Anglesey, an inspector general of police position in Ireland. He continued to seek employment in the colonial service and, in 1836, became the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island. While there, he worked to defuse tensions between tenants and absentee landowners. Before this came to a head, he was transferred to New Brunswick in 1837.
Here he was involved in the transition towards responsible government. He also received a long overdue KCB in 1838. However, military affairs were to be his main concern. The border between New Brunswick and Maine had not been clearly defined in the 1783 Treaty of Paris and tensions were rising. These erupted in February 1839 as a border crisis known as the “Aroostook War.”
The immediate issue was settled without bloodshed, partially due to the personal relationship between Harvey and General Winfield Scott of the United States Army that was formed during the War of 1812. Maine violated the terms of the agreement and occupied what should have been territory under British jurisdiction. Instead of taking firm action to dislodge the Americans, Harvey turned to Scott for assistance that was not forthcoming. As the border tensions continued, Harvey involved himself in diplomatic discussions against the direction of his superiors. This led to his dismissal in 1841.
Again Angelsey came to his aide and arranged for him to become Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland, where he took office later in 1841. This time his major challenge was to calm the religious friction between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, mainly Church of England. While he succeeded in reconciling many of the differences, he was not happy in Newfoundland. He found the climate too cold and one of his sons had died there. When a vacancy opened in Nova Scotia, he applied for it and became the Lieutenant Governor there in 1846.
Again there was turmoil as provincial politics moved towards party rule. Harvey tried to steer these changes in a conciliatory manner. Now in his seventies, he was devastated when his wife died in 1851. He spent his last year in ill health and died in 1852.
Sir John Harvey had a distinguished career as a soldier and later as a colonial administrator. He faced his challenges as the Lieutenant Governor in the four Atlantic Provinces in a conciliatory manner as each province transitioned to more modern forms of government. Unfortunately, his reputation is little known today and it is hoped that this narrative will spark some interest in it.
Phillip Buckner, “HARVEY, Sir JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Universit Laval, 2003, accessed July 31, 2014.
W.E. (Gary) Campbell. The Aroostook War of 1839. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions and the New Brunswick Military Heritage Project, 2013.
Veteran SummaryJohn Harvey
Lieutenant General, 6th Royal Garrison Battalion
Place of Birth
, , England
Place of Death
Halifax, NS, CAN
Died on: 22 MAR 1852
Reason: Age related illness
Location of Grave
Fort Massey Cemetery, Queen Street
Halifax, NS, CAN
Latitude: 44.838873N Longitude: -63.571771