|Member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada for Middlesex County|
|Toronto Alderman for St. Patrick's Ward|
|Executive Council of Upper Canada|
February 1836 - March 1836
|Member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada for Norfolk County|
|Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada for Norfolk County|
|Born||4 March 1793|
Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, England
|Died||19 October 1870 (aged 77)|
Mitchell, Ontario, Canada
|Spouse(s)||Mary Slatter, Grace Haines|
|Alma mater||Inner Temple |
St John's College, Cambridge
John Rolph (4 March 1793 - 19 October 1870) was a Canadian physician, lawyer, and political figure. He was elected to the Parliament of Upper Canada in 1824 to represent Middlesex County and was considered the leader of the Reform faction in the 1820s. In 1837 he helped plan the Upper Canada Rebellion, but acted as the government's emissary to negotiate a truce once the rebellion began. In the 1850s he was elected to the newly-formed Parliament of the Province of Canada, representing Norfolk County, and was appointed as Minister of Crown Lands and Minister of Agriculture. He founded several medical schools throughout his life, including the Rolph School, and incorporated new teaching techniques and medical practices into his lectures. His actions against rival medical schools decreased public confidence in the ability of medical professionals to regulate themselves.
Rolph grew up in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, and was educated in medicine and law at St John's College, Cambridge, Inner Temple, London, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He immigrated to Upper Canada in 1813 and lived on his father's farm in Port Talbot, where he practised law and medicine concurrently and opened a medical school called the Talbot Dispensary. In 1824, Rolph was elected to the Parliament of Upper Canada. He returned to England to petition the Colonial Office to allow the naturalisation of American citizens who moved to Canada, allowing them to vote and be elected to the provincial legislative assembly. He was a member of the committee that examined the feasibility of creating the City of Toronto. Elected as an alderman to Toronto's city council, he resigned after his council colleagues did not select him to be the city's mayor. Rolph joined the Executive Council of Upper Canada in 1836, but the entire council resigned a few weeks later when Lieutenant-General Francis Bond Head refused to consult them.
William Lyon Mackenzie persuaded Rolph to support the Upper Canada Rebellion after the latter was promised he would become president of a newly formed Republic of Canada. When the rebellion began, Rolph did not join the rebels at their headquarters. Bond Head did not know of Rolph's involvement with the rebellion and appointed Rolph as his emissary to bring the government's offer of a truce to the rebels. Rolph fled to the US when fellow Reform leader Thomas David Morrison was arrested. The Canadian government granted him amnesty and he returned to Canada in 1843. He created the Rolph School, a new educational institution for medicine, in Toronto. In 1851 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. When Rolph became an opposition member of the government, his focus shifted to running his medical school and he declined to run in the 1857 provincial election. He retired as dean of his medical school in 1870 and died later that year after suffering a stroke.
Rolph was born on 4 March 1793, in Thornbury, Gloucestershire. His father was Thomas Rolph, a surgeon from Grovesend. His mother was Frances Petty. Rolph was their fourth child and eldest surviving son. He was baptised at Seyntemaryes parish church. He moved to Cambridge in 1809 to study law and medicine at St John's College, Cambridge, then transferred to Inner Temple, London and Trinity Hall, Cambridge to study law in 1811.
He travelled to New York City in June 1812 to immigrate to Upper Canada. While he was crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the War of 1812 began, and Rolph received a special passport from American president James Madison to travel to Upper Canada. Rolph went to the Niagara River intending to continue travelling to Canada when it was safe to do so. While waiting to cross the river, he tried solving one of Euclid's geometry problems. His problem-solving tactic involved drawing shapes. American authorities suspected these were sketches of Fort Niagara and arrested him. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Greenbush, New York. While imprisoned, he taught mathematics and grammar to other prisoners to alleviate his boredom. After the October 13, 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights, American forces released him and he finished his journey to Canada to live on his father's farm in Port Talbot.
Upon its creation in 1813, Rolph became paymaster for the 2nd Norfolk militia. The deputy inspector of accounts, a British government administrator, accused Rolph of accepting claims from officers who did not provide the appropriate vouchers. Although Rolph denied this accusation, he was considered in default to the government and his application for 800 acres (320 ha) of land as a retired officer was denied. Rolph initiated an organising committee to honour Port Talbot's founder Thomas Talbot, and he inaugurated the first celebration of the town's creation on 21 May 1817.
In August 1817, Rolph returned to England and studied at Cambridge University. He negotiated payments from his cousin concerning the sale of property in Thornbury that belonged to their families. He used the money to enrol in Guy's Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital to study medicine and return to Trinity Hall to study law. On 20 April 1820, he married Mary Slatter, who was labelled as a spinster. Although the marriage is recorded in a wedding register, Rolph never referred to this event in his life or his papers and a death record for Slatter has not been found.
Rolph was called to the bar of the Inner Temple in 1821. In September he returned to North America and settled in Charlotteville Township, Ontario. He bought a farm in St. Thomas, Ontario, and became a barrister. He opened a law office in Vittoria and practiced law and medicine concurrently. In 1823 he was elected as a school trustee and became a member of the Board of Education. In 1824 he moved to Dundas, Ontario. He would make frequent visits to York, Upper Canada, and converse with reformers and political figures William Warren Baldwin, Marshall Spring Bidwell, and Robert Baldwin about Upper Canada politics. Rolph dubbed this group "the cabinet". He worked with Charles Duncombe to provide medical services in Upper Canada. In 1823 Rolph and Duncombe opened a medical school called the Talbot Dispensary in St. Thomas. It closed after two years of operation.
In 1824, Rolph ran for the 9th Parliament of Upper Canada to represent Middlesex County. He campaigned on making land deeds easier to obtain, improving public education and ensuring that all voters were able to participate in the election. Rolph obtained the highest number of votes and was elected as one of the representatives, with John Mathews elected as the other. In the legislature Rolph aligned with Reformer politicians and was considered their leader in the 1820s.
In the summer of 1826, Rolph travelled to England to petition the Colonial Office to naturalise American citizens who had moved to Upper Canada, granting them the right to vote and sit in the Canadian provincial legislature. The British government accepted his petition, and he returned to York in September with guidance on what to include in the legislation to fulfil his request. Rolph proposed a resolution that declared all Americans in Upper Canada as citizens, legislation that extended citizenship to more Americans than the Colonial Office had intended. Tories delayed passage of the bill until instructions from the Colonial Office arrived and then changed the legislation to support the Office's preferred stipulations. The amended legislation passed without Rolph's support. Rolph refused to make a second trip to London to petition the Office for more lenient legislation.
Rolph was re-elected to the legislative assembly in 1828. At the beginning of the legislative session, Rolph introduced a resolution that stated the Parliament did not support the current members of the lieutenant governor's executive council, which passed by a vote of 37 to 1. He served on the Assembly's Committee of Finance, which discovered that Tory politicians and judges were submitting extravagant expenditures. He decided not to run in the 1830 Upper Canada election.
In 1828, Judge John Walpole Willis ruled that the court of Upper Canada could not determine cases unless all the judges were present. Willis's ruling nullified most of the court's decisions since its establishment in 1794. Judge Levius Peters Sherwood continued to hold hearings and did not express his opinion on Wallis's ruling. Rolph and other lawyers submitted a request to the court for Sherwood to state his opinion on the ruling. When Sherwood refused, Rolph protested in the courtroom by taking off his lawyer's gown. Concerned that this protest would cause judges to become biased against him, Rolph refused new clients. He sold his law practice to his brother George in 1832 and focused on his medical career.
Rolph was licenced to practice medicine in Upper Canada in 1829, although he was practising medicine in the province throughout the 1820s. In 1831, Rolph moved to York to expand his medical practice and incorporate patients in York's hospital into a teaching institution. He was appointed to a medical board upon York's 1831 cholera outbreak. The board appointed Rolph as chairman of a committee to find a place to house patients with serious cases of the disease. In 1832, he opened the only medical school operating in Upper Canada at that time.
In spring 1833, Rolph was appointed to a committee to examine the incorporation of York to become the city of Toronto. That summer, he was appointed to a subcommittee that established the boundaries of the city and the five wards that would elect the councillors and aldermen to Toronto's city council. In Toronto's first city council election in 1834, Rolph declined to run on the Reform slate but ran with the Tories in St. Patrick's ward. He was elected as an alderman and councillor for the ward. He ran to be Toronto's first mayor, but lost to William Lyon Mackenzie because the reform majority on the council wanted Mackenzie to be honoured as the city's first mayor. Rolph resigned from council after his defeat. In 1834, he married Grace Haines; they would have three sons and a daughter. Prior to the 1834 cholera outbreak, Rolph was appointed as a doctor to the reestablished Cholera Hospital. When Toronto declared the outbreak, Rolph was appointed to the board of the Cholera Hospital.
Francis Bond Head, the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, wanted to include moderate reformers on his first Executive Council of Upper Canada. He asked Robert Baldwin to join the council, but Baldwin declined the invitation because he wanted the council's Tory members to be dismissed. Bond Head then invited Rolph for an appointment, as Rolph was also seen as a moderate reformer. Rolph convinced Baldwin and John Henry Dunn to join him on the council. They were appointed as councillors on 20 February 1836. Bond Head made decisions without consulting the council. This led the public to believe the council supported Bond Head's decisions. Rolph led a campaign to have the council support a memorandum that would give more powers and oversight of administration to them. The memorandum was presented to Bond Head on 4 March. Bond Head rejected the memorandum and the entire council resigned on 12 March.
Rolph ran for a seat in the 13th Parliament of Upper Canada in 1836 to represent Norfolk County. He became a candidate because he believed he had reestablished his political career when he joined the executive council. He did not campaign in the constituency but was elected with the largest margin among Reform candidates, while David Duncombe was elected the other legislator from Norfolk. He was one of the few reformers elected to the legislative assembly in that year and led the Reform party in Parliament.
After Rolph submitted objections to Bond Head's tactics in the previous election to the legislature. Lawmakers formed a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the matter which concluded that charges could not be upheld against Bond Head. Rolph called the report biased, pointing out that Reform witnesses did not testify before the committee and the committee's chair did not attach appendixes to the report, which would have outlined the evidence that supported the report's claims. He criticised Bond Head for inflaming divisions between Upper Canadian people based on nationality instead of uniting the people as Canadians.
On 28 July 1837, radical Reformers planned a congress to address grievances against the Upper Canada government and appointed Rolph as a congress delegate. He refused to participate in these plans; his views on the meeting or a rebellion were not published or written down.
In November 1837, the Patriote movement in Lower Canada sent a letter stating they were starting the Lower Canada Rebellion and encouraged the Upper Canadian reformers to begin the Upper Canada Rebellion. Mackenzie convinced Rolph to support an armed rebellion and suggested that he would become president of the State of Upper Canada upon the rebellion's success. Mackenzie argued to Rolph that the social and political system of Upper Canada required radical change based on the rights and liberties of its citizens. Rolph joined the rebellion to bring more independence to the legislature which would then more closely resemble the British governance system. He was hesitant to immediately begin the rebellion and wanted to survey support in rural areas. He sent Mackenzie north of Toronto to determine the level of support among farmers. Having learned Mackenzie planned to hold the rebellion in December, Rolph insisted that Anthony Van Egmond, a retired military officer from the Napoleonic Wars, should lead the military operation.
On 2 December 1837, Rolph learned the government was going to arrest Mackenzie. He sent a message to warn him and suggested starting the rebellion on 4 December. Samuel Lount received the message and told the rebels to gather in Montgomery's Tavern north of Toronto to begin the rebellion. Rebel leaders met on 4 December. After learning that the Lower Canada Rebellion had failed, Rolph advised abandoning their plan and dispersing the assembled troops. The other leaders convinced him to support the plan and Rolph returned to Toronto.
On 5 December, Bond Head appointed Rolph and Robert Baldwin as emissaries of the government to deliver a truce to the rebels. Rolph accepted the appointment because others who refused to help the government were suspected of supporting the rebels, and he did not want the government to suspect his involvement. Rolph and Baldwin convinced the rebels to stop their march towards Toronto and relayed Bond Head's offer of amnesty. They returned to Bond Head with the rebels' counter-offer, but Bond Head refused further negotiations. The two men returned to the rebels to relay Bond Head's response. Rolph met with Lount and Mackenzie separately and encouraged them to march towards the city immediately. Rolph spent the rest of the evening recruiting men in Toronto to meet the rebels upon their arrival. The rebels retreated to Montgomery's Tavern after a skirmish with government troops. Rolph abandoned his recruitment efforts and dispersed the men he had gathered. He sent a messenger to the rebels in Montgomery's Tavern calling for an end to the rebellion.
On 6 December Thomas David Morrison, another Reformer who organised the rebellion, was arrested by the Upper Canadian government. Rolph feared that the government would also arrest him, so he fled for the United States. Loyalist troops travelling towards Toronto stopped and questioned him near the Credit River. Rolph showed them a letter stating his sister was ill and claimed he was travelling to give her medical attention. The next day he arrived in Lewiston, New York. On 11 December, Bond Head issued a proclamation and £500 (equivalent to £50,000 in 2019) reward for Rolph's arrest. Rolph was expelled from the Upper Canada legislature on 20 January 1838 for helping to plan the rebellion and replaced by William Salmon the following month.
On 12 December 1837, Rolph and Mackenzie recruited Rensselaer Van Rensselaer to lead Patriot troops in an Upper Canada invasion. Rolph promised rebels would not interfere with Van Rensselaer's military operations, while Van Rensselaer claimed Rolph was president of the Executive Council for the Upper Canadian uprising. Rolph consented to have his name added to Mackenzie's State of Upper Canada proclamation as an endorser.
When the Patriots invaded and occupied Navy Island, Rolph joined a committee to visit the island and speak with Van Rensselaer on 26 December. The committee concluded Patriot forces, consisting of American members of Hunters' Lodges, were disorganised and Rolph rejected Mackenzie's appointment to be the Patriot's treasurer. He distanced himself from the Patriots to focus on his medical career. When the Patriots failed to invade Upper Canada, Mackenzie wrote an article in his newspaper accusing Rolph of sabotaging the Upper Canada Rebellion. Rolph wrote a rebuttal and attempted to publish it in a periodical called The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. The publisher rejected Rolph's submission, citing concerns that a reader would need background knowledge of the rebellion to understand Rolph's story. This rebuttal was found among Rolph's papers after his death and published by John Charles Dent in his book Upper Canada Rebellion.
In 1838, Rolph received an honorary membership to the Monroe County Medical Society, which allowed him to practice medicine without completing an examination. He reopened his medical school in Rochester, New York, and many of the students he was teaching in Toronto moved to Rochester to continue their education.
Rolph was granted amnesty in 1843 and returned to Toronto in August. He renovated the rear portion of his house into a dissecting room and held medical lectures there. In January 1844 he reestablished his medical school. Initially called the Rolph School, an Act of Legislature in 1851 incorporated it as the Toronto School of Medicine. He advertised the school as an alternative to the university education students could receive at King's College in Toronto.
In 1848, Rolph worked with the board of commissioners of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum to successfully dismiss their medical superintendent Walter Tefler. Rolph encouraged the board to hire George Park, his protege and brother-in-law. In August, Rolph became the temporary superintendent of the asylum after Park took a leave of absence. Rolph suspended a keeper named Mr. Hungerford for falsely accusing staff members of abusing patients. The board reinstated the keeper. This created conflict between Park and the board, who repeatedly fired Hungerford, only to have the board reverse the dismissal. The Executive Council dismissed Park and the new director reversed Park and Rolph's policies.
In 1850, the public criticised the Medical Board of Upper Canada for giving medical licenses only to those who had graduated from a university but were failing qualified candidates from the Toronto School of Medicine. To alleviate these concerns, Rolph and other doctors from his school were appointed to the board. Rolph was appointed president of a sub-committee to improve the effectiveness of the board. Many of Rolph and his allies' suggestions, such as incorporating the Upper Canada profession, and barring teachers from examining their students for their medical license, were not adopted.
In 1849, the Parliament of the Province of Canada passed the Rebellion Losses Bill, which compensated citizens who had lost property during the Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions. Citizens in Toronto opposed to the bill rioted. They believed it would financially compensate participants in the rebellions and blamed Reformers, including Rolph, for its passage. Rolph's family hid while rioters threw rocks through the windows of his house. In 1851, he was elected to represent Norfolk County in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and withdrew from running the administrative tasks of his medical school.
Francis Hincks, a co-premier of Canada, appointed Rolph as Minister of Crown Lands. Rolph successfully defended himself against critiques of the handling of timber-cutting licences near Peterborough. He was accused of stealing funds from the Treasury, but Rolph said he was using the money to pay moving expenses for his relocation to the Province of Canada's capital, reimbursement that was given to his predecessors. W. J. Boulton, a Tory legislator, accused Rolph of encouraging an attack on Toronto when he brought Bond Head's truce to the rebels during the Upper Canada Rebellion. Boulton used Lount's testimony of the event to support his claims. Mackenzie published similar accusations in his newspaper because he wanted to defend Lount's reputation. This caused a rift in Rolph and Mackenzie's relationship, although the event attracted little attention in other newspapers.
In August 1853, Rolph became the president of the Council and Minister of Agriculture. He proposed a bill called the Act for the Better Management of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, which transferred various decision-making powers from the board of directors to the medical superintendent. It became law in 1853. Rolph convinced Hincks to withdraw government financing of the University of Toronto's medical faculty. Rolph resented the centralisation of education in the province and wanted to reduce funding to rival medical schools. Hincks was accused of buying debentures for the Toronto, Simcoe and Huron Railways then using Toronto city funding to bail out the railway, thus making £10,000 in profit. Reformers encouraged Rolph to resign from Hincks's cabinet and assume leadership of the party. Hincks improved his public image, and Rolph supported him to avoid fracturing the Reform party.
In the 1854 election, Rolph was reelected with 55% of the vote. Augustin-Norbert Morin abandoned his alliance with Hincks and instead formed a coalition government with Upper Canadian Tories led by Allan MacNab. Rolph opposed this new coalition because the Tories would oppose reformer policies. A Tory legislator named John Langton tried to discredit Rolph's opinion by speaking about the Bond Head truce, but Rolph rebutted those comments with a prepared speech that outlined his account of the event.
Upon the formation of the Morin-MacNab administration, Rolph's attendance in the legislature declined as he focused on his medical career. In 1854, the Toronto School of Medicine merged with Victoria College to become Victoria College's medical school. The medical staff at the school clashed with Rolph's autocratic leadership style, and opposed moving the school to a new location in the Yorkville neighbourhood in Toronto. They brought their grievances to the college's board of directors, but the board sided with Rolph and the medical staff resigned en masse. The college's students remained at Victoria College, and he remained dean of its medical faculty. He taught all the courses for the first two weeks of the school year while recruiting new faculty members. In 1856, the former staff established their own medical school and called it Toronto School of Medicine. Rolph attempted to advertise his school as "the medical department of Victoria College - The Toronto School of Medicine". His former staff successfully sued Rolph and stopped him from using the Toronto School of Medicine branding.
He declined to run in the 1857 legislative election and became chairman of the Medical Board. He continued to teach various topics at the medical school and hire other faculty members. In 1868, Rolph was appointed to the medical staff of the newly reopened Toronto General Hospital. He clashed with other board members from the Toronto School of Medicine. To end the conflict, the hospital stopped all clinical lectures on their property.
Rolph suffered a minor stroke in 1861 and lost the function of his right arm. In 1870, he was in declining health, so Victoria College appointed William Canniff as a sub-Dean to help administer the school. Rolph did not accept Canniff's help, following the Victoria College board of director's suggestion to retire. That summer, he had several minor strokes and lived with his daughter and her husband in Mitchell, Ontario. He suffered another stroke and died in Mitchell on 19 October 1870.
Rolph was an Anglican who thought everyone in Upper Canada should belong to the Church of England. He believed religious institutions deteriorated when government money supported them. Rolph's medical school did not require faculty or students to join a particular religion or denomination.
Rolph was initially supportive of clergy reserves since they supported his Anglican faith financially. His position changed as he observed the reserves were preventing land development in Canada. Rolph opposed an 1825 bill that would expand clergy reserves to other Christian denominations because of its vague language concerning who could claim the land. He feared ten people could create a congregation, claim land for religious purposes, then sell it for a profit. In 1837, he denounced clergy reserves because they led people to think a ceremony within the state-sponsored church would give them salvation, instead of seeking it outside of church institutions. Rolph kept this opinion when he returned to Canada, denouncing clergy reserves in the Canadian legislature in 1852.
The Church of England controlled King's College, and Rolph wanted it to be turned into a secular institution. He opposed government funding for its medical faculty at the exclusion of others and advocated for institutions to train lawyers and doctors without government funding. If funding was to be provided by the government, he wanted it to be available to all medical schools through endowments.
Rolph sought the latest medical trends in North America and Europe while practising medicine. He cited these trends when teaching at his school but also gave counter-arguments to the theories presented in his lectures. His research focused on the structure of organisms, and he was willing to research ideas that were considered fringe. Rolph did not focus research attention or his curriculum on studying the causes and effects of diseases or diagnosing patients. He experimented on animals to understand how the body reacts when approaching death. Rolph incorporated a French style of teaching medicine where he treated patients at a hospital in front of his students. In lectures at the end of his life, Rolph still taught older remedies to his students, including bloodletting.
Marian A. Patterson described Rolph as the "Father of Medical Education in Upper Canada". His Act for the Better Management of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum bill was part of a wider trend to transfer control of asylums away from ordinary members of society and towards medical professionals. However, his disputes with other medical schools and factions caused public trust of medical professionals and their ability to regulate themselves to decrease. His contemporaries highlighted his abilities as a researcher and public speaker but also accused him of lying and manipulating facts. Rolph used his reputation and political influence to control the governing councils of the Toronto hospitals and the medical licensing body of Upper Canada.
As a politician, Rolph's contemporaries had conflicting views on his actions. James Lesslie and Jesse Ketchum wanted to commission a portrait of Rolph in 1837 as a reward for his service, while Jonas Jones said he possessed a "vile and democratic heart". He could contemplate multiple perspectives on an issue and easily persuaded others to agree with his perspective. In his book on the Upper Canada Rebellion, John Charles Dent praised Rolph's actions and criticised William Lyon Mackenzie's leadership. Mackenzie's sons-in-law Charles Lindsey and John King published critiques of Dent's book that disputed Rolph's influence in the rebellion. Historians have struggled to write about Rolph because he rarely described his personal feelings to others and wrote few documents expressing his political opinions.
A portrait of Rolph, painted in 1836, hangs in the library of the Academy of Medicine of Toronto. Rolph's pocket watch, given to him by a co-worker during the Upper Canada Rebellion, is displayed under the portrait. Rolph Road Public School in Leaside, a neighbourhood in Toronto, was named for Rolph and opened in 1939.