Andrew Bonar Law was born in Rexton on September 16, 1858, to Eliza Kidston Law and Reverend James Law, a Free Church of Scotland minister with Scottish and Irish (mainly Ulster Scots) heritage. New Brunswick was still an independent colony at the time, as the Canadian Confederation did not take place until 1867.
Initially, his mother wanted to name him after the admired preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, but as his older brother already had the name Robert, he was named after Reverend Andrew Bonar, M’Cheyne’s biographer. Throughout his life, he was called Bonar (pronounced like “honour”) by family and close friends, never Andrew. He initially signed his name as A.B. Law, changing to A. Bonar Law in his thirties, and the public also referred to him as Bonar Law.
Reverend James Law ministered to several remote townships and traveled between them by horse, boat, and on foot. To supplement the family income, he bought a small farm on the Richibucto River, which Bonar helped manage alongside his brothers Robert, William, and John, and his sister Mary. At the local village school, Law was known for his exceptional memory and academic performance. After his mother’s death in 1861, his aunt Janet traveled from Scotland to New Brunswick to care for the Law children. When James Law remarried in 1870, his new wife assumed Janet’s responsibilities, prompting her to return to Scotland with Bonar Law. This provided him with a more privileged upbringing among the wealthier and well-connected Kidston family.
In Helensburgh, near Glasgow, Law lived with Janet and attended Gilbertfield School in Hamilton before transferring to the High School of Glasgow at age fourteen. He showcased his talent for languages, excelling in Greek, German, and French, and began playing chess. He later became an exceptional amateur player, competing against renowned chess masters. Despite his academic success, it was clear that Law was better suited for business than university, and at sixteen, he left school to work at the family merchant bank, Kidston & Sons.
Without formal university education, Law continued to improve himself intellectually by attending Glasgow University lectures and joining the Glasgow Parliamentary Debating Association. By age thirty, he was a successful businessman who enjoyed chess, golf, tennis, and walking. In 1888, he moved into his own home, Seabank, with his sister Mary as housekeeper.
In 1890, Law met Annie Pitcairn Robley, a 24-year-old Glaswegian merchant’s daughter, and they married on March 24, 1891. Although little is known about Annie, her death in 1909 deeply affected Law, who never remarried. The couple had six children.
Law was invited to become the Conservative Party candidate for Glasgow Bridgeton in 1897 but ultimately took another seat in Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown. He became Prime Minister in October 1922, serving until May 1923. Diagnosed with terminal throat cancer, Law resigned on May 22, 1923, and passed away on October 23 as the 20th century’s shortest-serving Prime Minister.
Although Law wanted to be buried with his wife and sons in Helensburgh Cemetery, his family agreed that his ashes should be placed in Westminster Abbey’s Nave, as he had been Prime Minister.
The University of New Brunswick’s inaugural library was established by the Provincial government in 1931 and later expanded and renovated through Lord Beaverbrook’s generosity in 1951. That same year, the library was named in honor of two New Brunswick natives: Andrew Bonar Law, the British Prime Minister from 1922 to 1923, and R.B. Bennett, the Canadian Prime Minister between 1930 and 1935.
Since 1967, the building has been home to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
The Bonar Law Historical Site‘s development and operation exemplify cooperation among various government levels and a strong sense of community pride. From its inception in 1974, the site has enjoyed robust support from the local community and surrounding areas, evolving into a gathering place for festivals and celebrations.
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