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Memorable Manitobans: John Halkett (1768-1852)

Colonial official, businessman.

Born in Pitfirrane, Scotland, his father assumed the name of Halkett when he became baronet of Pitfirrane in 1779. John attended St. Andrew’s and was admitted to the bar in Edinburgh in 1789. He served as secretary to his cousin Baron Loughborough, who was Chancellor of Exchequer (1797-1801), and then held a series of colonial appointments, first as governor of the Bahamas (1801-3) and then as governor of Tobago (1803). He subsequently became first chief commissioner of West Indian accounts.

Halkett and his cousins became interested in the Hudson's Bay Company in 1808 and he became a member of the London Committee in November 1811. In 1815 he married his cousin, Lady Katherine Douglas, sister of Lord Selkirk. Between 1815 and 1820 Halkett engaged in damage-control on behalf of Selkirk, writing a number of printed pamphlets and private letters to the colonial secretary defending Selkirk’s conduct in North America. He was not successful, either in convincing the public or the British government of the propriety of Selkirk’s cause.

In 1821 Halkett, as an executor to the Selkirk estate, travelled to North America to deal with business affairs, keeping a journal of his experiences. In Montreal he was threatened on several occasions with violence, including a horsewhipping, and was actually attacked with a whip. Halkett responded by shooting his assailant. In 1822 he travelled by canoe with Andrew Bulger to Red River, where he assured demoralized settlers that the estate would honour Selkirk’s promises. He also chaired a meeting of the HBC Northern Department council that passed resolutions about education and land-granting to mixed-bloods at the settlement.

Halkett’s most important Selkirk pamphlet was Statement Respecting the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement upon the Red River (1817, expanded edition 1817). He also published his Correspondence with Lord Bathurst, 1817-19 (1819). He later published Historical Notes Respecting the Indians of North America with Remarks on the Attempts Made to Convert and Civilize Them in 1825. This work was based on a reading of extensive secondary literature and recommended a more sympathetic policy toward the Aboriginal peoples of British North America.

More information:

John Halkett, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VIII, 351-53.


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 12 March 2008

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