Archibald Dodd (1740-1831)

A Most Interesting Chief Justice

Archibald Dodd arrived in Sydney, Cape Breton, in 1787, hoping to start fresh after his reputation was sullied in England. Unfortunate for him, trouble seemed to find him wherever he went.

Archibald Dodd was born sometime between 1740 and 1745 in the North of England. Although he came from a wealthy family, Dodd lost his inheritance, so he became a lawyer. In 1775, Dodd married a woman named Bridget – unhappily, it seems, as soon thereafter he tried to divorce her, claiming she was a bigamist. After her refusal, they settled on an annual allowance.

Between 1783 and 1787, Dodd worked in London assisting loyalists and those looking to purchase military commissions. During this brief career, Dodd handled the case of one Captain Edward Pellew. But when money was misappropriated during the transaction, Pellew blamed Dodd. Although he claimed innocence, Dodd’s reputation suffered. 

To escape his worsening reputation, in 1787, Dodd travelled to Sydney in the colony of Cape Breton. As he was one of only two lawyers in Sydney, he was quickly hired as the clerk for Sydney’s Executive Council. The next year Dodd was appointed to Lieutenant Governor’s personal secretary by the new Governor William Macarmick. That same year Dodd married Susannah Gibbons, the daughter of Sydney’s other lawyer. The couple went on to have eleven children and lived in a house on Dorchester Street, later known as Dodd House.

Dodd’s political career went through a number of ups and downs, depending on the ascendancy of the political factions in Sydney’s Executive Council. Dodd’s political acumen led him to side with David Mathews, the Attorney General, despite his father-in-law being a key figure in the opposition to Mathews. As a result, Dodd’s star rose and fell with Mathews’. When Mathews and his allies were in positions of power, Dodd sat as Chief Justice, and when new governors tried to curb the rampant factionalism by removing Mathews and his allies, Dodd was removed from his position. In 1800, Mathews died. Seeking to end the factionalism, the Governor at the time appointed members of both factions to positions of power, including Dodd.

In 1812, a number of things from Dodd’s past came back to haunt him. His first wife reappeared in England, charging him with abandonment, and Lord Exmouth – formerly Captain Edward Pellew – appeared, bringing back the accusations against Dodd of swindling and theft. In 1816, Dodd returned to Sydney having not been charged on either count. 

When Sydney and Cape Breton were annexed to Nova Scotia in 1820, Dodd was retired with a full pension. He maintained a very active lifestyle, though it eventually cost him his life – he died in 1831 as a result of injuries received from falling off his horse.



The former location of the Dodd House, 15 Dorchester St, Sydney, NS