Escheat, the process by which unimproved lands would revert to the Crown and become subject to reallocation, became the rallying cry throughout the 19th century, although it shifted considerably in meaning. Under Edmund Fanning, lieutenant-governor from 1787-1804, and his immediate successors, escheat implied little more than the transfer of proprietorship from absentee to resident landlord. But the 1830 enfranchisement of Roman Catholics, most of them tenants, led to the emergence of a popularly based Escheat Party, which called for distribution of the land to those in actual occupation. The British government, ever protective of property rights, opposed escheat without compensation. Gradually the absentees were eliminated by the purchase of their lands.
In 1860 the PEI government created a land commission, chaired by Joseph Howe, to recommend the final resolution of the land question. It called in its report of the imperial loan of £100 000 to complete the repurchase process. This report was never implemented, but by the 1880s most of PEI was in the hands of the actual occupiers. Resentment over the Land Question remained, particularly against Britain for its refusal to respect the popular will, and in some quarters against Island governments which had acquiesced in the principle of compensation.
Author J.M. BUMSTED