Information supplied by Joanne Reid and John D Reid (unrelated)
from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Additions in blue have been made by the web-author, Derek Wray Townshend

Hon William Townshend

Born 1745 - Died 1816

1745 is most probably incorrect due to:
1) the birth dates of his children
2) the birth date of his wife.
3) his apparent friendship with William Pitt b.1759
4) his apparent friendship with William Wilberforce b.1759
5) his supposed death record age does not match this birth date
which reflects badly on the research done for this biography.
6) Another William Townsend, born in 1745 and also possibly associated with PEI,
is where this date is speculated to have come from.
7) William's birth date is likely to be in the late 1750's or early 1760's.
His birth date might be connected to 1762 baptismal record found in Malton, Yorkshire.

Chief Customs Collector of Prince Edward Island,
Acting Governor of Prince Edward Island 1812-1813

Original pencil drawing by unknown artist - abt. 8cm x 6cm. Notes at the back say that he was a friend of William Pitt but the extent of this friendship has yet to be proven.
Hon William Townshend

Townshend, William, office holder and politician; b. c. 1745, probably in Wales, son of Richard Townshend of Wrexham. (On the contrary, William was probably born in 1762 in Malton, Yorkshire, and not in Wrexham, Wales. His father was probably not from Wrexham in Wales but was from Wexham, Buckinghamshire. Wexham, Bucks. was associated with Rev Sir William Ullithorne Wray, the cousin of Sir Cecil Wray. Furthermore, this Wexham in Buckinghamshire is spelled as "WREXHAM" in the "History of the Wray's of Glentworth" by Charles Dalton in 1881.) m. c. 1790 Flora Stewart, daughter of Chief Justice Peter STEWART and Helen MacKinnon, and they had six sons and two daughters; d. 5 Dec. 1816 in Plymouth, England. (William Townshend's wife, Flora Stewart was a neice of Lady Clan Ranald MacDonald. He apparently wrote to her on numerous occasions.) Little is known of William Townshend's life before he became collector of customs and naval officer for St John's Island (now Prince Edward Island). (It is speculated through William's association with William Pitt, William Wilberforce and other Townshends of the time that he might have gone to St John's College, Cambridge. This has yet to be proven. There is also the possibility that he attended Pocklington Grammar school in Yorkshire. This argument is also tenuous and is based on; 1) his association with Wilberforce who attended there, 2) Pocklington's proximity to Malton 3) and also that Pocklington station was once named "George Townshend Andrews" ) He may have obtained the appointments because of a family connection with George, 4th Viscount TOWNSHEND [later George 1st Marquess (On the contrary, William Townshend's appointment came from William Pitt, a close friend of Thomas Townshend [Lord Sydney] and also a close friend of William Wilberforce. It should also be noted that William's appointment occured in the same year that Pitt and Sydney took office. William Pitt's admiration for Adam Smith should also be noted because Smith was Commisioner of Customs for Scotland from 1777 to 1790 and also may have had something to do with William's position as Collector of Customs of PEI. Adam Smith was also a close associate of Rt.Hon Charles Townshend) His enemies later asserted that he had powerful friends in England, although Sir Cecil Wray, an absentee proprietor for whom he acted as agent, is the only one noted as a patron. (Hon William Townshend was connected to the following people (some strongly and some vaguely); Sir Cecil Wray, William Pitt, Edmund Burke, Col. J. F. W. DesBarres. Lt. Col. Robert Stewart, Lord Sydney, Hon John Dalton, William Wilberforce and possibly also Adam Smith. Hon William Townshend probably also had connections with the Shaw Stewarts of Argdowen and Black Hall, Sir James William Montgomery, the Clan Ranald MacDonalds, and possibly also the Duke of Argyll. If his father came from Wexham, as speculated above, then William would have had ties to the Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Leeds, the Duke of Buccleuch and also the Godolphin family.) The office of collector had been given to William Allanby in 1765, but it appears that he had little interest in the colony for Governor Walter Patterson* noted in 1783 that Allanby had been absent for nine years and was not likely to return. During his absence no shipping or customs records had been kept.

Townshend came to the Island in 1784 and that December he was appointed to the Council, Patterson noting that, as he had been "so unexceptionable since his arrival," he could not be refused a seat. (It is interesting to note that the first sign of aggression appears to have come from Patterson, possibly because William's appointment came directly from Britain which undermined Patterson's authority. It would be unprofessional for the rest of this biography to be based largely on the testimony of Patterson, Unfortunately, this is the case.) The appointment placed him firmly within the colony's little establishment and he was quickly involved in Patterson' s lengthy efforts to seize land from absentee proprietors. A member of Council in April 1786 when legislation relating to the seizure was passed, Townshend was named in the charges later made against officers of the government. He had, however, objected to the measures because of irregularities in their passage and resigned as a result of their adoption. The complainants noted in their summary of evidence in 1789 that Townshend, who had resumed his seat in April 1787, had temporarily "admitted the advances of his brother officers." When the Privy Council brought down its report in 1789 it concluded that he had innocently been drawn into the affair, and he was one of the few officers in the colony who was able to avoid dismissal and disgrace.

On the arrival of Lieutenant Governor Edmund FANNING in November 1786 Townshend had promptly aligned himself with the anti-Patterson faction. Fanning responded by writing in November 1787 to the Home secretary praising Townshend as a "zealous advocate in support of the measures of His Majesty's Government." No doubt some of Fanning's enthusiasm stemmed from the part Townshend had taken in the elections of July and August 1787 by which Fanning hoped to end the hold Patterson's group had on the House of Assembly. Charges were made to Council on 20 August that Townshend had campaigned vigorously in the election and although he denied the accusation it is clear he was an active Fanning supporter.

Townshend's zeal extended beyond political action. From the time of his arrival on the Island he was energetic in administering customs legislation, and after the ease of the Allanby period his enforcement soon created difficulty in the colony. He crossed Patterson in 1786 by seizing the property of merchants who had "imported" goods from the United States with Patterson's consent. Townshend's action was precipitated by a complaint made that year by another merchant, John Cambridge*, but Townshend delayed acting until he had checked at Halifax, N.S., to obtain "more qualified and discriminating ideas of the Powers of a Governor & Council." This delay, and allegations from Cambridge that Townshend had been allowing smuggling from the Isles de la Madeleine, led to an investigation by the commissioners of customs. When the case was settled early in 1788 Townshend was cleared and the report concluded that Patterson and Attorney General Phillips Callbeck* had "very improperly interfered in the Business of the Customs."

In June 1788 Townshend tried to seize goods that had been brought ashore at Patterson's farm. (This was clearly "illegally smuggling". These goods were brought to Patterson's own farm in the cover of night. Patterson, at this stage, had already been ousted as governor, in part, for his cheek to England) He landed there with a party of soldiers but was repelled by 25 men, most of whom were Patterson's servants. (click here to view the letter that William Townshend wrote to Lord Sydney on this matter) He was later successful: the goods and the schooner from which they had been landed were seized and sold by order of the Vice-Admiralty Court sitting in Charlottetown. Over the next two years he made several seizures, including vessels belonging to John Cambridge and his fellow merchants William Bowley and John Hill*. Whether these were legitimate seizures is difficult to determine because Townshend was over strict in his application of the customs laws, making no allowance for the conditions existing in the colony (This statement is unfounded. It would seem that this biography is highly biased towards Patterson and opposes William Townshend for trying to restore law and order to the island's customs regulations). By challenging the leading merchants he involved himself in protracted litigation.

The result was that in 1791 Townshend was named by Cambridge, Bowley, Hill, and several leading absentee proprietors as one of those forming an illegal combination to rule the Island. Besides reviving charges of exorbitant and illegal fees which had been made against Townshend to the commissioners of customs, Cambridge and the others accused him of such offences as connivance in the smuggling of tobacco, disposing of blank registration forms, and oppressive seizures. Several of the accusations grew out of an incident in which Townshend had charged Hill with illegal acts in relation to the registration of a new vessel; in fact, these were merely technical irregularities which could have been overlooked. (This statement is also unfounded - is the original author an expert? It would again seem as though this biography apposes William Townshend for trying to restore law and order to the island's customs regulations, as directed by William Pitt) The general tenor of the 1791 action was that Townshend, in league with Chief Justice Stewart, Lieutenant Governor Fanning, and Attorney General Joseph APLIN, had planned to oppress Hill and Cambridge. Townshend, the deponents alleged, had told Hill that the government officials were preparing to "carry things with an high hand against those who had opposed them." When the accusations were heard in London that year Townshend presented a detailed defence but it does not appear to have impressed the investigating committee. However, the following year the committee concluded that the claims could not be considered proved because they were "as fully and positively denied, as they are charged." (Again, how can such a statement be made? - if his defense did not impress an investigating committee then why was the case dismissed? Exactly what is the author trying to say here? Is he saying that because the accusation could not be proved against a defense that Townshend was still somehow guilty or is this biography trying to imply that William Townshend got off under some technicality or political influence - this is certainly not substantiated here! Alternatively, if the author is suggesting that Townshend was somehow guilty or weak just because his legal defense was as just as weak or strong as the accusaton then this shows a clear bias)

Whether it was Townshend or the merchants who had been chastened by their experience the number of smuggling cases heard before the Island courts dropped considerably. The only one to attract attention after 1792 was that brought against James DOUGLAS, agent to James William Montgomery, in 1797. Douglas complained that it had been initiated in retaliation for his having brought a suit against Chief Justice Stewart. Three years were to pass before Douglas was acquitted.

Although Townshend was reported to be seeking a post in a more eligible spot at this time, whatever efforts he made were not successful. His health declined after 1800 but in spite of continuing illness it was Townshend rather than senior councillor Thomas DESBRISAY who was named "Temporary Commander in Chief' of the Island in October 1812 following the removal of Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres*. (This statement would imply that Townshend somehow wangled this temporary position [as Lt. Governor] away from DesBrisay, his senior. On the contrary, Thomas DesBrisay was a well-known friend of Townshend, and was even a witness to William Townshend's will. In fact, Thomas DesBrisay was William Townshend's brother-in-law. Townshend was also sick at the time and was forced out of bed to sign in his new position. He was hardly in a position to manipulate politics as this biography would suggest) As administrator, Townshend seems to have done little more than follow the instructions of the Colonial Office during his tenure of less than a year. His most significant act was the removal of James Bardin Palmer* from the posts he had held under DesBarres, but the move had been requested by officials in London. This did not prevent Townshend from boasting that rather than a "turbulent divided and... Anarchial Colony" the new lieutenant govemor, Charles Douglass Smith*, would find a "peaceable regular and.. . a well satisfied People." (The author assumes that Townshend was claiming that the satisfactory state of the island was his doing. On the contrary, I would suggest he was saying that the island had normalized since the expulsion of Patterson and the establishment of legal trade under himself and the Fanning/DesBarres/Stewart/DesBrisay group. Being governor for just less than one year and being in bed for the most part, how can the author honestly think that Townshend is refering to himself!) The remainder of Townshend's life appears to have been uneventful. His health continued to decline and he died on a visit to England in 1816. Although linked to the Island establishment by marriage and by virtue of his post, he seems to have been able to avoid becoming embroiled in the politics of the colony. The increase in trade and shipbuilding in the latter years of his service was easily handled without incident by the office he supervised. Despite a stormy beginning he had become by the end of his career what Patterson had first suggested in 1784 - an unexceptionable man. (In the light of Patterson's illegal dealings and the bias of this biography, it would seem highly inappropriate to sum up William Townshend using a quote from Patterson.)


PAC, MG 9, C3; MG 23, E5; E7, 2; RG 7, G8D, 44: 88, 249. PAPEl, Acc. 2810, Ira Brown papers, no.138; Acc. 2849, Palmer family papers, no. 8; RG I, Commission book, 1812; RG 5, Minutes, 1784-1817; RG 6, Supreme Court, case papers, 1784-1800; minutes, 1784-1800; RG9, Customs, shipping reg., I (1787-1824). PRO, CO 226/8: 63,163; 226/9: 172; 226/11: 193; 226/12: 3, 22, 24, 26,240, 247; 226/13: 282; 226/14: 73, 90,400; 226/16: 186; 226/18: 118, 131,166, 214; 226/19: 221; 226/22: 229; 226/23: 57; 226/24: 74; 226/26: 13, 15; 226/27: 31; 226/28: 24; 226/30: 7; 226/31: 5, 12; 226/32: 251,304, 308,311; 226/43: 257. SRO, GD 293/2/19-20. Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlotte-town), Estates Division, liber 1: f. ll6 (will of William Townshend). [John MacDonald?], Remarks on the conduct of the governor and Council of the Island OF St. John's, in passing an act of assembly in April of 1786 to confirm the sales of the lands in 1781 . .. (n.p., [1789]), 64-65. [J.] B. Burke, A genealogical and heraldic history of the colonial gentry (2v., London, 1891-95; repr. 2v. in 1, Baltimore, Md., 1970), 2: 684.

Hon William Townshend (1762 - 1816)
was the son of Richard Townshend of Wexham/Wrexham. Richard Townshend's family connection has not been proved. Click here to read the current research. It is speculated that Richard Townshend was either the younger brother of George, 1st Marquess Townshend or was a brother of Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney.

He married Flora Stewart during or before 1790. She was the daughter of Chief Justice Peter Stewart and Hellon McKinnon. William and Flora had 8 children
  • (Hon) Cecil Wray Townshend (1791 - 1870)
  • Lt. (Capt) William James Townshend (1796 - aft.1833)
  • Peter Stewart Townshend (1798 - ????)
  • John Dalton Townshend (1800 - abt.1873)
  • Ester Wray Townshend (1800 - ????)
  • Charles Townshend (1800 - ????)
  • Helen Diana Townshend (1800 - ????)
  • Canon Rev. George Townshend (1810 - ????)