Phillips Callbeck


Phillips Callbeck was born in 1744 with little known about his early life, although family tradition suggests he was born and educated in Ireland. He came to St. John's Island in 1770 and in September of that year he was appointed to Governor Walter Patterson's first council. In the same year he became Attorney General and Surrogate General and Judge of Probate. Callbeck married Ann Coffin in 1772. He had a law practice as well, and Patterson, writing after the death of Chief Justice John Duport in May 1774, noted that Callbeck's appointment to the position could not be allowed since it would leave the island without a single lawyer. Callbeck also ran a mill and store.

As Senior Councillor, Callbeck became Administrator in 1775 when Patterson left for England to fight for a commitment to funding the island government. He had occupied the post for only four months when the colony was attacked in November by New England privateers. Charlottetown was looted and Callbeck, together with Surveyor General Thomas Wright, was taken prisoner. Released in Salem, Massachusetts, Callbeck was in Halifax by January 1776.

After his return to the island in May, Callbeck attempted to improve the defensive state of the colony. He raised an independent company of militia and, as engineer, attended to the fortifications of the island. But he overstepped his authority in the construction of defence works and was never able to raise the full complement of 100 men for the company. According to Chief Justice Peter Stewart, all this activity made for him "an independent fortune" in addition to his salaries as Administrator and Attorney General and profits made as the colony's principal merchant and storekeeper. Callbeck collected perquisites as acting engineer and militia colonel.

Governor Patterson returned to the colony in 1780 and the next year seized several townships for arrears in quitrents. Callbeck was among those who supported the action and who purchased land at the auction which followed in November 1781. The reaction of proprietors was strong and they pressured the British officials to reverse the move. Probably in the fall of 1783 Patterson received a draft bill from Lord North, Secretary of State for the Home Department, providing for the land's return to the original owners. Patterson put off introducing this legislation until he could secure an assembly more sympathetic to his own views. In the election held on March 1784, Callbeck ran unsuccessfully for an assembly seat, which resulted in a victory for the Country Party. A new election in March 1785 resulted in a more compliant assembly, and Callbeck assisted Patterson in forcing defeat of the draft bill in November 1786. Patterson then introduced a private members bill which returned all land to its original proprietors save that bought by Callbeck, Thomas DesBrisay, and Peter Stewart, provided that the 1781 purchases were compensated. In the same month Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning arrived to serve as acting governor in the place of Patterson, who was summoned by the Home Secretary to explain his actions. Patterson clung to office until June 1787, when he returned to England. Fanning, now governor, set about establishing his own factions.

Callbeck had no real place in the new government. He attended meetings of Council infrequently and, when present, obstructed the passage of motions and the conduct of business. Dropped from the Council by Fanning as a result, Callbeck was reinstated the same year, but he did not attend any more meetings. The summer of 1787 saw the election of an anti Fanning assembly led by Captain Alexander Fletcher. Callbeck, who was elected as a member of Fletcher's party, was voted speaker in January 1788. In London, the last of a series of events begun in 1781 was being played out before the Privy Council. Criminal charges against Patterson and the members of his administration were maintained, and in July 1789 Callbeck was removed from his seat on council and dismissed as Attorney General. His death followed within a year on February 21, 1790 in Charlottetown.

Callbeck's career had been ruined by the land question, which would destroy many more before it was settled. He, like Patterson, had been judged harshly by historians, but he appears to have had a dedication to the struggling colony's interests as well as to his own. After his death the Assembly voted to place a monument on his grave as "grateful tribute to the General Benefactor of this Island."

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online