William Henry Pope was a prominent land agent and lawyer who supported union, attending both the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences. After Prince Edward Island joined Confederation in 1873, he became a respected judge.
William Pope was born in Bedeque, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), the elder son of James Pope and Lucy Colledge. He was educated on P.E.I. and later in England, reading law at the Inner Temple before returning to article with Edward Palmer at Charlottetown. He was called to the bar in 1847. In addition to the practice of law, Pope also acted as a land agent. Through his family connections (his father was a prominent merchant), he was able to obtain many prominent and influential clients.
After becoming increasingly involved with the Conservative party through the 1850s, Pope began his official political career in 1859. Although he was not elected to the legislature that year, he was appointed colonial secretary under the government's new policy of "nondepartmentalism", an effort to combat patronage. (He also became editor of The Islander, a prominent Conservative newspaper, that same year.) The government at this time was primarily occupied with the issue of absentee landlords. Pope's opinion was that property rights had to be respected, and that the imperial government was to blame for problems.
Pope also became involved in an attempt to reconcile differences between Protestants and Catholics that had arisen during the 1859 election. After several failed efforts, the matter was given up in favour of solidifying Protestant support of the Conservatives, resulting in a Conservative win in the 1863 general election. Pope won a seat as the member for Belfast, and remained in his post as colonial secretary. Early in his term, he introduced a bill to incorporate the Orange Lodge. He was also a member of the three-person commission created to examine the land question, and make recommendations to the imperial government.
Pope was one of the few P.E.I. supporters of colonial union. He attended both the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences, acting as honorary secretary in Québec City. His position, unfortunately, put him at odds with Edward Palmer, who opposed the idea and was actively trying to regain the premiership from Col. John Hamilton Gray (a union supporter). Although Palmer was successful in unseating Gray in December of 1864, Pope's defence of Gray prevented Palmer from taking the presidency of the Executive Council. It was a victory of great cost for Pope, however the resulting disarray of the Conservative party prevented it from forming the next government. Pope's brother, James Colledge Pope, formed an interim government, but he himself became increasingly isolated from the other members. Matters came to a head in 1866, when James passed a "No Terms" resolution against Confederation while William Henry Pope was away on a trade mission. He resigned his seat over the matter, and did not contest the 1867 election.
Even after resigning from the legislature, Pope continued to support Confederation, campaigning for it through letters and lectures, and rebuilding the Conservatives into a pro-union party. In the end, it was his advocacy of railway construction for P.E.I. that indirectly led to union. The resulting plans, which nearly bankrupted the colony, forced an election in 1872. Even though Edward Palmer and Robert Haythorne, who formed a coalition government, were against Confederation, financial woes forced them to begin negotiations with Ottawa. In an 1873 election, James Pope won on a promise to obtain "better terms" for entry into the Canadian union. It was his coalition that led the Island into Confederation that July.
William Pope remained as editor of The Islander until 1872. With the coming of Confederation, he was appointed Prince County Court judge. His term was extremely successful: only two of his decisions were appealed, and those two were upheld by other courts. In 1878, he did a revision and consolidation of the province's statutes (he had previously performed the task in 1861). He was preparing a history of P.E.I. at the time of his death, at St. Eleanor's, on P.E.I.
"Pope, William Henry". Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. 4th ed. Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. P. 671-672.
Robertson, Ian Ross. "Pope, William Henry". Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. Ed. James H. Marsh. 3rd print ed. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. P. 1862-1863.
Robertson, Ian Ross. "Pope, William Henry". Dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1972. Vol. 10, p. 593-599.