The Twickenham Museum
People : Lawyers and Clergy

Thomas Chandler Haliburton
Jurist, Writer and Politician
1796 - 1865

Thomas Chandler Haliburton

Thomas Haliburton was born, of Canadian ancestry, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, where he attended Kings College. He studied for the law and entered his father's office. Visiting England in 1816, he met and married Louisa Neville and there were two sons and five daughters of the union. In 1821 he established a law practice at Annapolis Royal, the ancient capital of the province. He sat in the Legislative Assembly from 1826 until 1829 and in 1841 he was appointed a Judge of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

In 1836 he built a house for himself at Windsor, known as Clifton Grove, which still exists, as a museum renamed Haliburton House.

Clifton Grove in about 1910

Creator of Sam Slick

He is, perhaps, best remembered for the series of humorous books chronicling the activities of Samuel (“Sam”) Slick, the itinerant clockmaker of Nova Scotia. These books were peppered with witty aphorisms which have entered the language: “he drank like a fish”, “the early bird gets the worm”, “it's raining cats and dogs”, “you can't get blood out of a stone”, “six of one and half a dozen of the other”, "a stitch in time saves nine", "truth is stranger than fiction", “whenever there is authority, there is a natural inclination to disobedience”.

Reviewing "The Clockmaker" in 1828, The Times quoted Alexander Pope, that other master of aphorisms, noting that the dunces on both sides of the Atlantic were "Safe from the bar, the pulpit and the throne / And touch'd and shamed by ridicule alone." Sam Slick continues to be remembered in Windsor today, his creator Haliburton regarded as the Tobias Smollett of Canada.

In his diary entry for 5 October 1894 Grant Duff wrote: "Mrs Cunard told me that a man had once come up to her father, Judge Haliburton, with whom I sat for a short time in the House of Commons, and had said to him: 'Sir, I hear that you live in the same place as Sam Slick the Clockmaker. Do you happen to know him?' 'Well, I ought to do so', was the reply. I have shaved him for the last forty years'. The querist, thoroughly mystified, was afterwards heard to say: 'Strange! that man looks like a gentleman; but he is really a barber!'"

Gordon House in 1869

Settles in England

Haliburton retired to England in 1856, taking a lease of Gordon House, St Margarets, on the banks of the Thames from the Earl of Kilmorey. His wife had died in 1841 and he married again, Sarah Harriet Williams, herself a widow. In 1859 he became the Member of Parliament for Launceston in Cornwall following encouragement from the Duke of Northumberland. He did not regard this as a satisfactory career move, though.

He died on 27 August 1865 and was buried in Isleworth churchyard.

further reading:

Alan C B Urwin, Railshead - the History of Gordon, Lacy and St Margaret's Houses, The Hounslow and District History Society, 1974
Richard A. Davies (ed), The Letters of Thomas Chandler Haliburton

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