Biography of Hon. Sir William Buell Richards, K. T.
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The late Chief Justice of the Dominion of Canada is descended from a family that left Staffordshire, England, in the early part of the 18th century, and settled at Norwich, Conn. Our subject was the eldest son of Stephen Richards, of Brockville, Ontario, the mother being Phoebe, daughter of William Buell, a United Empire Loyalist and an officer in the “King’s Rangers,” who represented Leeds in the Upper Canada Assembly, from 1801 to 1804, and was born in Brockville, May 2, 1815. He was educated at the Johnstown Grammar School, and at Potsdam Academy, N.Y.; read law with Andrew Norton Buell, who afterwards became Master in Chancery at Toronto, and with Judge George Malloch, of Brockville, and was called to the bar of Upper Canada in 1837. He practiced many years at Brockville, and rose to distinction in the legal profession.
Mr. Richards was elected a Bencher of the Law Society in 1849; was created a Queen’s Counsel the next year; was a member of the Executive Council of Canada, and Attorney-General for Upper Canada succeeding Robert Baldwin from October 28, 1851, to June 22, 1853, when he was appointed to succeed. the Hon. R. B. Sullivan as a Puisne Judge of the Court of Common Pleas; held that position until July 22, 1863, when he was promoted to Chief Justice of that Court, vice Hon. W. H. Draper, transferred to the Court of Queen’s Bench. On the 12th of November, 1868, Judge Richards succeeded Mr. Draper as Chief Justice of Ontario, the latter becoming President of the Court of Error and Appeal. He was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Dominion, October 8, 1875, and retired January 10, 1879.
“During his prolonged judicial career,” said the Canadian Monthly, “while he was still en the Supreme Bench, he has established an enviable reputation for ability and erudition. His suavity of temper, his good humor, and singular clearness and perspicuity of mind, have made him universally popular with the bar and the people, and he has never, so far as our memory serves us, impaired the confidence reposed in his integrity and acumen.”
In addition to his labors on the Bench, Judge Richards has often been called upon to discharge other important duties. In 1874 he was appointed Arbitrator on behalf of Ontario, for the settlement of the north west boundary of that Province, resigning the position two years later. He was Deputy Governor of Canada during the absence of the Earl of Dufferin in British Columbia, from July 29 to October 23, 1876. He sat for Leeds in the Canadian Assembly from January, 1848, till he was placed on the Bench in June, 1853. He was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen, in 1877, as we learn from the “Parliamentary Companion,” from which we gather most of the data for this sketch.
In October, 1846, Deborah Catharine, daughter of John Muirhead, Barrister-at-law, Niagara, Ontario, and a great granddaughter of Col. John Butler, of “Butler’s Rangers,” became the wife of Judge Richards, and they have five children, three sons and two daughters.