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Memorable Manitobans: Griffith Owen Corbett (c1823-1909)

Cleric, physician.

Born near Minchinhampton, England, Corbett was one of those folk who have no biography before their arrival in North America. He came in 1851 and first entered the record when he was refused ordination by the bishop of Montreal. In 1852 he was sent to Rupert’s Land, and he was ordained in 1853. He built Holy Trinity Church at Headingley in 1854, returned to England in 1855 to study medicine, and came back to Rupert’s Land in 1857.

He established the Red River Settlement’s first printing press in 1858 so that he could publish arguments in favour of turning Red River into a Crown colony. He gained the support of the English-speaking mixed-bloods for his insistence on finding Red River a more regular place in the English colonial establishment. Corbett first got in trouble over his anti-Catholicism and dislike of Francophone Métis. Then in 1862 there were charges that he had attempted to induce an abortion upon his serving-girl. The trial in 1863 revealed that he had not only tried to abort the girl’s child but had repeatedly committed adultery with her as well. His supporters insisted that the case had been fabricated by the Hudson's Bay Company, and when petitions for his release failed, a mob led by schoolmaster James Stewart forcibly freed him from jail on 20 April 1863. The subsequent arrest of Stewart led to Stewart’s liberation by a similar mob. These cases are often used as illustrations of the lack of authority by the government of Assiniboia in its later years.

In 1870, after returning to England, Corbett published more pamphlets advocating Crown colony status for Red River. Eventually reinstated as a cleric, he ran anew into charges about his morals. He died in Lingfield, England. Mrs. Corbett remained in Red River upon Corbett’s return to Britain, subsequently moving to Swan Lake.

See also:

A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance 1869-70 by Frits Pannekoek (1991).

Griffith Owen Corbett, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XIII, 215-17.

Sources:

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 3 September 2018

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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