Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Philip Girard


Sir William Young (1799-1887) of Halifax was a leading lawyer, served as Attorney General, promoted legal reforms in the Assembly, sat as Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and promoted the establishment of Dalhousie University's Faculty of Law. He thereby fulfilled a variety of roles in his pursuit of two professional goals he had set at an early age, namely material success and intellectual interest. Nonetheless, his career in the law has been mostly ignored. By examining Young's legal career in detail, especially by paying attention to the duties he performed in his professional roles, this thesis seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the province's nineteenth-century law and legal culture, with an emphasis on three themes: legal professionals (lawyers and judges) at work; Nova Scotian legal culture; and the importance of print information for professional success in the law. Young's legal apprenticeship involved more responsibility than generally attributed to legal apprenticeship in British North America, allowed Young to develop a rigourous and systematic approach to readings in the law, and was likely influenced by Scottish Enlightenment ideas. Demonstrating an awareness of the need for balance and diversity in legal practice, Young developed a highly successful law business. Establishing an extensive private law library, a demonstration of his career-long appreciation of the need for up-to-date and authoritative legal materials, was also key to his success. This thesis examines the nature of Young's law practice, including areas of work, clientele, colleagues, income, and activities, such as railway-related services, with implications for the province as a whole. During Young's generally-overlooked tenure as Attorney General, factors beyond his control, namely conflicts prompted by ethnic and religious differences, tended to obscure his successes in the administration of justice and development of legislation. This thesis also argues that Young's leading role in law reform efforts, with emphasis on civil procedure, laws affecting private property, and systematic statutory reform, is attributable to his legal liberalism. This thesis pays considerable attention to the non-adjudicative side of Young's work as Chief Justice, whereby he served as a chief administrator, advisor, spokesperson, and drafter of legislation. Political divisions, some caused by his public support for Confederation, helped to divert attention from the accomplishments of Young's tenure, which included his leading role in promoting published case reports. Young's reported decisions, which reveal an approach between adherence to authority and instrumentalism that does not squarely fit any model set out thus far in the historiography, are also examined. As seen through the lens of Young's career, nineteenth-century Nova Scotian legal culture, with its diverse roots, signs of both liberal and more traditional influences, and capacity to admire and to look outside aspects of British legal culture, reveals signs of greater complexity and confidence than has been depicted in relation to the legal history' of other parts of British North America.