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Hugh Scobie
Newspaperman, Publisher, Justice of the Peace

SCOBIE, HUGH, newspaperman, publisher, justice of the peace, and office holder; b. 29 April 1811 in Fort George, Scotland, third son of Captain James Scobie of the 93rd Foot; m. 27 April 1844 Justina McLeod, and they had one daughter; d. 4 Dec. 1853 in Toronto.

Hugh Scobie was raised in a military family and received a classical education in Scotland at the Tain academy. He articled in an Edinburgh law firm, and when his family decided to emigrate to Upper Canada he planned to pursue his legal career in the colony. However, on his arrival with his brothers and sisters in the late spring of 1833, he discovered that the legal system deprived him “of every advantage that my former course of study ought to have afforded me.” Until 1838 he was occupied with helping to establish the family farm in West Gwillimbury Township near Bradford. An ambitious man, he quickly became a leading lay spokesman for the Church of Scotland, acting as secretary of the Presbyterian conference held in 1837 at Cobourg to protest the creation of 44 Anglican rectories the previous year [see William Morris]. Also during this period he became the Upper Canadian agent for the New York Albion, a weekly journal for British emigrants.

Having already established himself in Toronto as a defender of Scottish interests in Upper Canada, Scobie was the logical choice to edit and publish a newspaper which prominent Scots hoped to establish. The new journal was to promote a moderate political alternative to reform, discredited by the 1837–38 rebellion, and to toryism, represented by a political oligarchy dominated by the Church of England. The first issue of the Scotsman appeared on 1 Feb. 1838. Two weeks later it became the British Colonist, an important change which may have reflected Scobie’s assumption of personal control as well as his desire to remove distinctions based on “National Origins.” His goal was to “make the paper as generally useful & instructive as possible.” Moderate in tone, as a rule the Colonist resisted hyperbole, excessive partisanship, and attacks on personalities. Through its editorials and articles, Scobie sought to influence public opinion by advocating such causes as an open and liberal education system and by supporting Upper Canadian sectionalism while implacably opposing French Canadian nationalism. Many of his editorials, undoubtedly influenced by his early legal training, read like well-documented, closely argued, legal submissions.

Scobie was to remain financially dependent on his newspaper. When reformers led by Francis Hincks* became enraged by Scobie’s support of Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe* during the constitutional crisis of 1843–44, they nearly succeeded in bankrupting Scobie by a campaign to scuttle the Colonist. Yet it was during this same crisis, when his subscription list fell by 250 names, that the newspaper achieved new heights of influence, which it maintained following the victory of Metcalfe’s candidates in the election of 1844. That year James Morris* wrote to Isaac Buchanan*, “Our friend Scobie is conducting his paper with much ability.” Although rival newspaperman and reformer George Brown* described the Colonist at that time as the “literary common-sewer of Toronto,” he nevertheless joined with Scobie in 1847 to obtain a shared telegraph information system to relay Atlantic shipping news. Scobie’s success throughout this period was aided by his gathering about him a group of ambitious young journalists, some of whom, most notably Brown Chamberlin, would go on to achieve considerable recognition.

In November 1851 Scobie added the Daily Colonist to his now semi-weekly British Colonist, and the following August he introduced the News of the Week, or Weekly Colonist. These newspapers provided the forum in which Scobie developed his vision of government built upon the principle of the “common good.” He believed that civil well-being, which would provide the foundation-stones of an emerging British Canadian identity, could only be guaranteed through education, material prosperity equitably distributed among all classes, the moral values of Christianity, and a political system that embodied the good of all members. Though a spokesman for the Church of Scotland, he resolutely opposed religious sectarianism, and he scorned parties and politicians who appeared to place their own passions before the best interests of the Upper Canadian community. He urged politicians to build roads, bridges, and schools instead of engaging in divisive and fruitless debates on political philosophy. Passionately biased in favour of the “productive classes” (domestic manufacturers, agriculturalists, and workers), Scobie railed against speculators who sought to manipulate the economy.

In the first issue of the Scotsman, Scobie had advertised his services as a “Bookseller, and stationer, printer, bookbinder, lithographer, copperplate and woodengraver,” and during the 1840s and 1850s his job-printing firm had become an important adjunct to his other activities. The Canadian Christian Examiner, and Presbyterian Magazine was printed and published by him from October 1839 to December 1840; he also printed the Minutes of the Toronto Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland as well as other religious matter. His presses issued volumes of verse, agricultural lectures by Henry Youle Hind*, and political pamphlets by Egerton Ryerson* and Isaac Buchanan. In association with John Simpson* of Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), he published The Canadian mercantile almanack from 1843 to 1848. From 1848 to 1850, in partnership with John Balfour, a fellow Scot, he published Scobie & Balfour’s Canadian almanac, and repository of useful knowledge. The following year Scobie continued by himself and Scobie’s Canadian almanac appeared until 1854. The association with Balfour also produced Scobie & Balfour’s municipal manual, for Upper Canada in 1850, but it too was published with only Scobie’s name in 1851 and 1852. The Manual contained thorough digests of important provincial laws and was sold cheaply in order to improve public welfare by enlightening citizens.

In an advertisement dated October 1843 Scobie had announced that he had obtained a lithographic press and was “prepared to execute orders in this department.” According to historian Mary Allodi, this purchase was significant because “pictorial lithography, which had virtually ceased when [Samuel Oliver Tazewell*] left Toronto in 1835, flourished again under Scobie’s patronage.” From May 1846 to June 1850 Scobie again teamed with Balfour to produce the Colonist as well as a number of lithographed prints and maps.

During his years in Toronto, Scobie was involved in numerous social, economic, and political organizations. An active freemason, he was also a founding member of the Toronto Literary and Historical Society, which was formed in 1842, about the time he was appointed a magistrate of the city. His concern for educational reform was recognized in 1846 when Ryerson appointed him to the province’s first board of education. An ardent protectionist, he played a prominent role in the British American League in 1849–50 [see George Moffatt*] and the Colonist became the league’s voice in Toronto. He sat on the local board of trade, was a founding director of the Consumers’ Gas Company, and was a vice-president of the Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Rail-road Union Company. Following his death, his employees who belonged to the Toronto Typographical Society noted that he was, “as an employer, strictly honorable, and generous in overlooking faults, ever striving to place the profession in a high and exalted position before the world, and rendering to the employed that which was their just due.”

His direct political involvement was limited, but Scobie campaigned incessantly in the Colonist for moderate “liberal conservatism.” In 1839 he had accepted the nomination as an anti-tory candidate in Simcoe County for the next election but withdrew in favour of Elmes Yelverton Steele* who won the seat in the 1841 election. In 1844 Ryerson nominated him for the position of inspector general in the ministry of William Henry Draper*; Draper rejected him for political and personal reasons. Scobie did run in the 1847–48 election in the 4th riding of York against Robert Baldwin but was soundly defeated. In an editorial which appeared in the Colonist on 21 Dec. 1847, he wrote, “Between a no-party candidate and a violent partisan, what choice is likely to be made by that class of electors who are more desirous to see the country opened up by emigration and settlement, and more concerned about internal improvements in agriculture and manufacture, than in the profitless pursuit of political shadows?” In 1851 Scobie was again soundly defeated, this time by Joseph Hartman.

After a painful illness which lasted about ten weeks, the result of an aneurysm, Hugh Scobie died at his Toronto residence on 4 Dec. 1853. Although only 42 at the time of his death, Scobie had contributed significantly to the publishing, political, and cultural realms of Upper Canadian life. Had he not died at such a young age, his talents might have led him to rival the success of his competitor George Brown.

Some of his publications (pdf)...

Scobie's Municipal Manual for Upper Canada (Third Edition)
Scobie's Canadian Almanac 1852
Scobie's Canadian Almanac 1854

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