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Robert Duncan Wilmot

Photograph of the Honourable Robert Duncan Wilmot, May 1868


Hon. Robert Duncan Wilmot, May 1868

(October 16, 1809 - February 13, 1891)

Robert Duncan Wilmot was a successful businessman who transferred his skills into the political arena, where he continued to influence the course of New Brunswick history in the years before and after Confederation.

Robert Duncan Wilmot was educated in Saint John, New Brunswick, where his family had settled when he was a young boy. In 1833 he married Susannah Elizabeth Mowat, with whom he had seven children. While still a young man, Wilmot assumed a role in his father's shipping company, and spent several years in Liverpool, England, as a spokesperson for the family business. This professional experience was a formative aspect of Wilmot's involvement in public affairs, as was his father's own political career as a member of the New Brunswick House of Assembly.

Wilmot followed his father's example in 1846, when he was elected to the Assembly as a representative for Saint John County and City. Three years later he also served as an alderman and mayor for Saint John. This municipal interlude, which spanned 1849-50, involved Wilmot in the violent conflict between local Orangemen and Irish Catholics -- a conflict that left several people dead and required Wilmot to call in military assistance.

Wilmot's experience in the House of Assembly was somewhat less anxious, though at times his decisions were no less consequential. In 1851 Wilmot set aside his liberal convictions in order to accept a position as surveyor general with the ruling Conservatives, an action that outraged former colleagues such as Samuel Leonard Tilley. Tilley and Charles Fisher formed a new government in 1854. In 1856 the Conservatives returned to power under John Hamilton Gray, and Wilmot once again accepted a government position, this time as provincial secretary. The administration lasted only until 1857, though Wilmot managed to retain a seat in the Assembly following the general election.

Wilmot was less fortunate in the election held in 1861. He was not re-elected until 1865, when he campaigned as an opponent of Confederation. Wilmot's influence had not diminished during the interval between elections, and he was chosen by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon to form the new government. Although this administration generally agreed with Wilmot's anti-confederate policy, which disapproved of the terms outlined in the Québec Resolutions, it could not find common ground on alternative forms of union. By 1866 divisions within the executive became irreconcilable; when the government finally expressed tentative support for Confederation, Wilmot handed in his resignation.

Always ready to adapt to political opportunity, Wilmot formed a pro-Confederation government with Peter Mitchell. He attended the London Conference, and following the passage of the British North America Act (the Constitution Act, 1867) he was appointed to the Canadian Senate. From 1878 to 1880, Wilmot served as speaker of the Senate and participated in the government of Sir John A. Macdonald. He then succeeded Edward Barron Chandler as lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, holding that position until 1885.


Spray, W. A. -- "Wilmot, Robert Duncan." -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: