In memoriam: S.W. ('Toby') Jackman

Sydney Wayne (but always “Toby”, after his childhood teddy bear) Jackman passed peacefully in his sleep during the night of Feb. 26–7.

He was born in Fullerton, Orange County, CA, in 1925, the son of Ensleigh Jackman, an officer in the American navy, and his Canadian wife, Dorothy Anfield of Victoria. Both his parents having died soon afterwards, he was brought up in Victoria in the family of his maternal grandparents, who had emigrated from the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, in the early years of the last century.

After Victoria High School, where he was a precocious student, Toby’s first academic degree was in physics: earned, appropriately for one who would remain first an American citizen until the 1970’s, at the University of Washington in Seattle. Though that training left its mark in later life in his capacity for rapid and complex mental calculus, his diversity was to take him in a different direction. From physics in Seattle, he proceeded to history at Harvard, where he completed his PhD (one of the earliest there in Canadian studies) in 1953, on the career of Sir Francis Bond Head, Governor of Upper Canada during the Upper Canada rebellion of 1838. He continued at Harvard as a junior teaching fellow before moving to Bates College in Maine, part of what is colloquially known as “the New England prep school system.”

It was during this early period that he laid the foundations of an international circle of significant friends. Over the years, this not only embraced his own generation, notable among them the late Paul Mellon, heir to his family’s Pittsburgh steel fortune, founder of the Mellon Centre for British Art at Ya#8804; and the English art historian and travel writer John Julius Norwich. Through the links that he made in the early sixties as a visiting fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, it also extended to those of younger years who followed, several of whom were also to go on to prominent careers in law, medicine, business and scholarship. Throughout his life Toby Jackman also kept up his association with the descendants of Sir Francis Bond Head at Inverailort castle in Argyllshire, where he was a regular summer guest until his later years.

He returned permanently to Canada in 1963 as professor of history at the newly established University of Victoria. Though he seldom held it directly himself, he had a shrewd and deeply versed grasp of the realities of executive and administrative power, and thus of the ways in which it needed to be influenced and directed. Coupled with an equally penetrating judgment of character, this enabled him to serve the university in many vital ways, especially during the turbulence of its early decades. Besides his enduring commitment as a teacher—not only of his particular discipline and its subjects, but also in the broader sense of humane example—his other consuming engagements were with the university’s library and, especially, with its art collections. An expert and discerning collector himself—notably of Chinese blue porcelain and of British sporting art—he served continuously for over forty years on the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery’s various governance boards and committees. His service was recognized in the Honorary Doctorate of Letters which the university bestowed on him in 1991. For his part in its foundation, he was similarly honoured by the University of Lethbridge.

One of Toby’s watchwords as a teacher of history was an ancient Greek proverb that used metaphor to convey the interplay between the One and the Many in the variety of human nature and understanding. Attributed to Archilocus and elaborated in a famous essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin, this said that “The Hedgehog knows one big thing; the Fox knows many little ones.” On that scale, Toby was most certainly a Fox. It took time to learn how to listen attentively to his talk, for which he was famous in his #8242; but one only had to hear it, however briefly, to be aware of his extraordinary diversity. This is even more apparent in the prolific range of his books and editions: 16 of them in all. In one corner there are studies of the Hanoverian politician, journalist and ideologue Henry St. John Viscount Bolingbroke, patron of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope; of the American experience of Sir John (later Lord) Acton, who gave us the watchword that “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and of Nicholas, Cardinal Wiseman, Victorian nemesis of the liberal Catholicism of John Henry Newman. In another there are accounts of the Dutch Royal family in the 19th century and its close family relationships with the Romanov Tsars of Russia; in another, a collective biography which sketches the characters and political careers of the premiers of British Columbia during the province’s first century; in another, an accessible account of women who have spoken out against prevailing orthodoxies in the Christian tradition; and in another, historical and topographical studies of Vancouver Island and Tasmania.

Of all those, the last in particular reflect Toby’s appetite for travel; the more unaccustomed the destination and the means the better. Even when on the beaten track, he eschewed the trials and indignities of airports if at all possible: for example, preferring, close to his 80th year, to go from Victoria to Scandinavia as one of a small number of passengers aboard a cargo vessel, sailing from Vancouver, through the Panama Canal, eventually by slow degrees to Genoa, and thence northward through Europe by rail. Most remarkable was his millennial voyage, which took him from South Africa to St Helena, where he welcomed the new century at Longwood, Napoleon’s place of exile. Admittedly, he flew (business class) from London to Cape Town. Thenceforward, however, he went by sea, eventually returning to England via Ascension and Liverpool.

In between Toby’s journeys, he continued to spend his summers, and occasionally part of his winters too, in Cambridge, where he now had regular visiting status and accommodation at St. Edmund’s College, founded in 1896 as a Catholic hall of residence, but fully chartered as an undenominational and primarily postgraduate college in 1996.

In Victoria, his angular frame and forward-leaning walk made him a familiar figure. For most of the period since his return, he lived on Deal Street in Oak Bay with his fly-fishing uncle Tatton, the closest to him of those Anfield mentors in his early years. As lifelong bachelors, the two of them were easy to caricature as typical denizens of that peculiar Anglo-Saxon enclave “behind the tweed curtain.” Maybe; but that did not prevent them from keeping company with a wide circle of intimates, many of them women of significant character, whom they were wont on occasion to entertain in some style, either at home or at the Union Club.

Uncle’s’ death in 1982 affected Toby deeply, but he remained at Deal Street until August 1994, when he moved to the beautiful ground floor condominium apartment on the south-west corner of ‘Hampton Court’, the heritage building on Cook Street, opposite Beacon Hill Park, which remained the base for his travels and still lively sociability, still actively involved in the community around him and its activities, notably the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra and the composition of new music for the Victoria Symphony, until early in 2008.

However, though he was by then as familiar a figure in the Cook Street Village as he had been in Oak Bay, he was becoming increasingly arthritic and uncertain on his feet. He persevered despite more than one minor fall until April 2008, when a more serious fall left him with a broken hip joint. Despite a replacement, and some hopes that he would recover some mobility with the help of a walker, he was now permanently disabled.

He passed his last years in the kindness of Hart House on Fairfield Road, remembered from his younger days as the home of one of the British Columbia premiers of whom he had written. Though largely bedridden, he was able, with assistance and until quite recently, to get up and dressed to join his housemates for meals. Right to the end, he remained alert, his thinking clear and in touch with what was going on in the world around him. Helped by The Economist and the English Weekly Telegraph, both of which he read assiduously issue by issue, and by a well choreographed and orchestrated sequence of visitors to supply his need for talk, he bore his trials with little complaint. Whether we shall see his like again remains to be seen. His passing ends an era.

Submitted by Professor Emeritus John Money (history)

In this story

Keywords: memori, sw, toby, jackman


Related stories