Gourlay, Robert Fleming

Robert Fleming Gourlay, polemicist, reformer (b at Craigrothie, Scot 24 Mar 1778; d at Edinburgh, Scot 1 Aug 1863). A successful farmer and writer who fell into financial difficulties, he came to UPPER CANADA in 1817 to take up land he owned in Dereham Township and to write an immigrant's guide. The questionnaire and township meetings that he arranged to get information being thought radical, he was refused the grant of land on which he had planned to settle families from Scotland. He attacked the FAMILY COMPACT and became its most celebrated victim. Twice acquitted of libel, he was banished for sedition in 1819 after a trial in which it became clear that his mental health had failed. He published more than 80 titles, most of them vituperative defences of his own conduct. His 2-vol Statistical Account of Upper Canada (1822) is the most systematic contemporary survey of the province. In the introduction he condemned the government of Upper Canada, especially John STRACHAN. He thought that general ownership of land was the only sound basis for society and proposed a land tax to fund immigrants. His later advocacy of a union of British N America was written from an asylum in England. In the US in 1837 he condemned W.L. MACKENZIE's rebellions. He believed in petitioning and withholding supply as constitutional methods of achieving reform. His banishment was rescinded in 1839, and he returned to Upper Canada in 1856. After failing to be elected in 1858, he went back to Scotland.