John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham

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John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham (also known as Radical Jack) (12 April 179228 July 1840), was a British Whig statesman and colonial administrator, Governor General and high commissioner of British North America. As Lord Privy Seal in the administration of Lord Grey he helped draft the reform bill of 1832.

He was sent to Quebec in 1838 to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Patriotes Rebellion of Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, and his detailed and famous Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839) recommended a modified form of responsible government and a legislative union of Upper Canada, Lower Canada and the Maritime Provinces.

He has been lauded in Canadian history for his recommendation of introducing responsible government. This was implemented and by 1847 Canada was a functioning democracy, as it has been ever since. He is less well considered for his idea of merging Upper and Lower Canada into one colony, since this was proposed with the express end of trying encourage the extinction of the French language and culture through intermingling with the more numerous English. Indeed the Act of Union based on the report explicitly banned French in the parliament and in the courts.

In the end, though, his recommendations discouraged assimilation. Once responsible government was achieved, French Canadians in Canada East succeeded by voting as a bloc in ensuring that they were powerfully represented in any cabinet, especially as the politics of Canada West was highly factional. The resulting deadlock between Canada East and West led to a movement for federal rather than unitary government, which resulted in the creation of a federal state of Canada, incorporating New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, in 1867.


The 1st Earl's family and personal fortune was derived largely from mining on lands surrounding Lambton Castle, the ancestral family home in County Durham.

He was maternal grandson of the 4th Earl of Jersey and his wife, who was a mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George IV.

Lord Durham's first marriage (1812) was to Harriet Cholmondeley (d. 1815), allegedly a natural daughter of the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley by his sometime mistress Grace Dalrymple Elliott, although the Prince of Wales also claimed paternity at her christening. Although from a good family, Grace Elliot, was a notorious courtesan who lived for some time with Philippe Egalite, the Duc d'Orleans who voted for the execution of his cousin Louis XVI. Durham and Harriet had three daughters who all died childless.

His second marriage (1816) was to Lady Louisa Elizabeth Grey, eldest daughter of the Whig politician the 2nd Earl Grey, by whom he had 5 or 6 children. One of his daughters married another Governor General of Canada, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, who was later Viceroy of India; their son the 9th Earl of Elgin also became Viceroy of India, the only father and son to hold that office and position1.

Another descendant, via his granddaughter Lady Lilian Margaret Lambton, is the late Alec Douglas-Home. As 14th Earl of Home. He was the last British Prime Minister from the House of Lords.


  1. The only other pair of descendants were Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 1st Baron Minto and his grandson Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl. Surprisingly, he too had first served as Canadian Governor General.

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Preceded by:
The Earl of Rosslyn
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Ripon
Preceded by:
The Earl of Gosford
Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada
Succeeded by:
The Lord Sydenham
Preceded by:
Sir John Colborne
(acting Governor General of British North America)
Governor General of the Province of Canada
Succeeded by:
Charles Poulett-Thomson

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Durham Succeeded by:
George Lambton
pl:John George Lambton

sv:John George Lambton


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