The life of British Columbia’s fourth premier began on June 22, 1829 in Ireland.
On Nov. 11, 1851, he began to attend law school in England, and was called to the bar in 1854.
In 1858, he was in the chambers at Inner Temple Lane but the next year he was offered the chance to move to British Columbia to practice law.
In June 1859, he was admitted to the Bar of British Columbia.
In British Columbia, he soon found there was no county court system and he expected to not stay long in the colony.
In September of 1859, Governor James Douglas, whose son Elliott’s daughter would marry, told him he was establishing a county court system. Upon learning this, Elliott accepted the appointment as the county court judge for Yale and Hope.
He proved to be a formidable force against the unruly miners of the area, and found he enjoyed living in British Columbia.
In July 1861, he went back to England to get his wife Mary and their daughter.
In mid-1862, Elliott was suspended from his position due to a matter referred to as neglect in his accounts. However, he was soon reinstated to his former position.
Soon after, Douglas offered him the position of gold commissioner and magistrate for the Lillooet district at double his previous salary.
While he was not enthused about moving to Lillooet, he chose to do so and quickly found he loved the area and the people there. He also earned the respect of the local Indigenous people, who he also considered to be industrious and enterprising. When he was tasked with marking out the reserves, he made sure they had large holdings of well-watered pastoral land.
From 1865 to 1866, he served as the Colonial Assembly.
After union of the Island and Mainland Colonies, Elliott became the High Sheriff of the province in March 1867. The family then moved to Victoria, which was a major change from the interior of the British Columbia mainland.
The Victoria Daily Standard reported,
“A.C. Elliott, Esq. is a high sheriff of the province and barrister-at-law, has received five out of six votes last evening and is therefore elected magistrate of this city. Salary $1,500.”
He was elected to the Legislature on Sept. 11, 1875 and was the leader of the Opposition.
After George Walkem was defeated due to the Motion of No Confidence, Elliott became the fourth premier of the province on Feb. 4, 1876.
As he came into the post, he had gained a reputation of honesty and gentlemanly behaviour. The editor of the Victoria Chronicle said,
“Nearly twenty years in office and not rich!”
As the 1876 election approached, only a few weeks after he became premier, most expected Elliott to win.
On Feb. 21, 1876, his government won the provincial election. He had campaigned on obtaining the fulfilment of the Carnarvon Terms, which were a compromise between the province and Canada that included building a railroad on Vancouver Island, in return for the federal government getting an extension on its ten-year agreement to build the railroad.
In the election, Elliott was able to take his own riding with 163 votes over his opponent. This was a far larger majority than his contemporaries had in that same election.
The Nanaimo Daily News reported,
“Such was the result of the contested election at Victoria and British Columbia has now a new premier to control her destinies.”
Looking at the province’s finances, he found that the province was deeply in debt and in financial freefall. To deal with the need to grow the treasury, pay for rising school costs and repairs to the Cariboo Road, he instituted real estate, income and school taxes. He also imposed road tolls that were abolished in 1871. While this improved the finances of the province, it was deeply unpopular.
In April 1876, he announced the changes that were coming. These included the tax on real and personal property at a rate of less than one per cent. The toll already mentioned, a school tax of $3 per head on each male student, and the abolishment of the Road Tax Act. A special tax would instead be imposed on commercial travelers.
In June 1876, Lord Dufferin, the Governor General of Canada came on a goodwill tour of British Columbia. He said of Elliott,
“A Dublin lawyer of respectable, but I should say of no more than respectable ability.”
Rumours began to swirl around the province that Elliott was going to resign. On July 29, 1876, the Nanaimo Daily news reported that Elliott had been offered, and accepted, a county court judgeship. Of course, this proved to be untrue as he remained on as the premier.
Unfortunately, the federal government was not living up to its promises with the railroad and in May 1878, the island railroad proposal was abandoned. The loss of that railroad destroyed Elliott’s popularity in his home riding of Victoria.
His predecessor, Walkem, called him a traitor to the province in the Legislature and Elliott was dealing with problems in his own ministry. In 1876, he had had to dismiss his finance minister for being uncooperative, and his president of the executive council for advocating a railway policy that differed from Elliott’s.
By this point, Elliott was very unpopular in the province. A public meeting was even held in Victoria on March 12, 1877, in which a resolution was passed asking for Elliott to resign from his position as premier.
The fact that his government raised taxes and did not secure a railway terminus in Victoria led to his loss in the 1878 election. Not only did it bring down his government, he also lost his seat, ending his political career. Only eight of his supporters were returned in the election. On June 25, 1878, he resigned as premier.
After his retirement, Elliott tried to obtain the pension he felt he was entitled to as a former colonial official. He even met with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald over the matter but he was not successful.
In May 1879, he launched a libel case against the Victoria Standard stating that the paper accused him of suppressing a railway dispatch from the Canadian government in June 1876. Elliott stated he knew nothing about the dispatch, never saw it, nor heard of it, until February of 1876.
In 1881, his beloved wife died when he was in London, and two years later he was the pall-bearer at his son-in-law’s funeral.
Through his final years, he suffered in poor health and he spent time in San Francisco as three physicians felt the climate of British Columbia was bad for him.
Elliott died on April 9, 1889 in San Francisco from heart disease.
The Nanaimo Daily News reported,
“For a number of years, Mr. Elliott was a conspicuous figure in the political arena in this province, and for several was premier. The government however resigned through controversy arising out of the construction of the CPR.”
His remains were brought back to Victoria and buried on April 15 after a service at Pioneer Hall on Government Street in Victoria. A large number of members of the B.C. Pioneer Society attended the funeral, as did the legal community. Several politicians attended as well.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Nanaimo Daily News, Victoria Daily Times, Wikipedia, Daily Even Press, Victoria Daily Standard,