SIMCOE, John Graves (1752-1806), of Wolford Lodge, nr. Honiton, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - Feb. 1792

Family and Education

b. 25 Feb. 1752, 1st and o. surv. s. of Capt. John Simcoe, RN, of Cotterstock, Northants. by Katherine née Stamford. educ. Exeter g.s. 1760-5; Eton 1765-8; Merton, Oxf. 1769-70; L. Inn 1769. m. 30 Dec. 1782, Elizabeth Posthuma, da. of Col. Thomas Gwillim of Old Court, Ross, Herefs., 2s. 7da. suc. fa. 1759.

Offices Held

Ensign, 35 Ft. 1770, lt. 1774; acting adj. in America 1775; capt. 40 Ft. 1775; maj. commdt. Queen’s rangers 1777, col. 1791; brevet lt. col. 1781, maj.-gen. 1794, brevet col. 1794; col. 22 Ft. 1798; lt.-gen. 1801.

Lt.-gov. Upper Canada Aug. 1791-6; lt.-gen. commdt. St. Domingo 1796-7; commander, Plymouth 1801; c.-in-c. India 1806.


Simcoe’s father died on his way to serve with Wolfe at Quebec1 and the boy was brought up on ‘tales of war’. He entered the army and served in America, where he was thrice wounded and distinguished himself in command of his own corps, the Queen’s rangers, who were famous for their discipline. On his return to England, having drawn largely on his inheritance to promote his career, he settled down quietly in the country to nurse his health and studied military history: ‘Tacitus and Xenophon were his chief companions’.2 His father had the same scholarly interest in military history and, like him, Simcoe chose to regard himself as an adviser of government on military projects. While residing at Exeter after his marriage to the niece and ward of his godfather Admiral Graves, Simcoe addressed the electors at the election of 1784, but did not stand.3

Shortly afterwards his wife purchased Wolford and Simcoe devoted his time to compiling a Journal of the Queen’s rangers’ activities in America (1787); Remarks on the Travels of the Marquis de Chastellux (1787), in which he attacked the French intervention in America and decried republicanism, and writing occasional verse, including an ode to the Earl of Essex, who seems to have been a hero of his. In 1788 he addressed to Pitt a scheme for the reconquest of Cadiz and declined to stand for Honiton as a friend of government.4 In the following year he petitioned the King for leave to raise a corps and in December wrote to Evan Nepean* that he would be happy to consecrate himself to the service of Great Britain in Canada.

‘The renewal of Empire’ now became his principal ambition and his coming into Parliament for St. Mawes on the interest of his friend the Marquess of Buckingham was intended to facilitate it. Soon after his return he was trying to interest government in raising a corps of 12 companies for Canada. He supported administration. On 23 Dec. 1790, in the debate on the impeachment of Warren Hastings, he delivered a personal attack on Burke, to which the latter ably replied. Simcoe admitted that he regarded British India as ‘a precarious usurpation’ and, after simmering down, said he would be satisfied with an Act of Parliament to serve as a standing rule of law for the conduct of future impeachments. On 28 Mar. 1791 he spoke on recruitment for the army. A month later he was counted hostile to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. He showed the greatest interest in the Quebec bill: at the committee stage he suggested keeping the assembly small (12 May 1791) and in the report stage, four days later, said he wished the British constitution might be followed as closely as possible.

Simcoe realized his ambition in August 1791 when he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Canada under Lord Dorchester. He had already been picked by Lord Grenville for the post when the division of Canada into two provinces was proposed. He arrived at Newark, capital of Upper Canada, which had been allotted to him, on 11 Nov. 1791 (having set sail on 26 Sept.); his departure had been delayed by illness and he did not vacate his seat in Parliament until February 1792. By then he was embarked on the pioneering administrative work which promoted the settlement of the province by loyalists. He raised a Queen’s rangers corps, founded Toronto as capital, as well as London, and named a river the Thames. A lake, town and county in Ontario were named after him. He was unable to endure the ‘autumnal heats’ of Canada, but fared worse when in 1796 he was appointed to St. Domingo.5 On his return to England he had to dispel rumours that he had come back without leave.

After a period of neglect, during which he asked for a patent place for his son in reward for his services, he was given the Western command, claimed as ‘reparation’, with the blessing of his friend Addington. He was in charge of the military operations mounted in response to the West country food riots and the strike at Plymouth dockyard in the spring of 1801. He intended to stand for Plymouth, with government backing, at the general election of 1802, but through no fault of his own he arrived too late, the victim, as Addington admitted, of a combination of ministerial mismanagement and local chicanery. The disappointment was ‘incalculable’.6

Simcoe never returned to Parliament and was frustrated in his projects (although his friends were full of suggestions to send him here, there and everywhere), including the last one: his friend the Marquess of Buckingham persuaded him, though he preferred Europe, to accept the command in India, that ‘precarious usurpation’ as he had styled it. Tom Grenville, writing to the marquess after Simcoe had accepted, 30 July 1806, approved the appointment of a man who was not ‘a mere pen and ink soldier’ in the event of war, but was apprehensive that he might fall out with the Duke of York by being ‘exigent’ on staff requirements. First, however, he set out with Lords Rosslyn and St. Vincent on a special mission to Portugal, to which he was appointed in August 1806: he was forced to return before reaching Lisbon because of ill health. Nor did he ever reach India: he died at Exeter, 26 Oct. 1806.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


The most recent biography of Simcoe is by Marcus Van Steen, Gov. Simcoe and His Lady (1968); the most authoritative is by Judge Wm. R. Riddell, Life of John G. Simcoe (1926). This supersedes D. B. Read's Life and Times (1890) and D. Campbell Scott's J. G. Simcoe in the 'Makers of Canada' series. vol. iv. (new ed. 1926). Simcoe's Corresp. as governor was edited by Brig.-Gen. E. A. Cruickshank (1923) for the Ontario Hist. Soc. His Jnl. of the Operations of the Queen's Rangers privately printed at Exeter in 1787 was re-edited as Simcoe's Military Jnl. (New York) 1844. His wife's Diary was edited by J. Ross Robertson, Toronto 1911 and Mrs Simcoe's Diary by M. Q. Innis (1965).

  • 1. Riddell, 27 refutes the tradition that Simcoe senior died with Wolfe at Quebec.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1806), ii. 1165.
  • 3. Riddell, 76. Simcoe was made free of Exeter in 1783 (HMC City of Exeter, 252).
  • 4. PRO 30/8/182, f. 101.
  • 5. PRO 30/8/178, ff. 91, 95. On 23 Jan. 1798 Simcoe wrote to Windham (Add. 37877, f. 244) offering to return to the West Indies in a military capacity and conquer St. Domingo.
  • 6. PRO 30/8/222, f. 125; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii. 6; Riddell, 310; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 89-92; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Simcoe, 23, 26 June, Simcoe to Addington, 24 June 1802.
  • 7. Buckingham, iv. 51, 55, 57; HMC Fortescue, viii. 260 264; British Diplom. Reps. 1789-1852, p. 90; Gent. Mag. (1806), ii. 1082.