Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe (Gwillim) (1762 - 1850)

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Death: Died
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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About Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe (Gwillim)


Elizabeth Simcoe (September 22, 1762 – January 17, 1850) was an artist and diarist in colonial Canada. She was the wife of John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.


She was born Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim in the village of Whitchurch, Herefordshire, England, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gwillim and Elizabeth Spinckes. Her father died before her birth, and her mother died shortly afterwards. After her baptism, which was on the same day as her mother's burial, she was taken into the care of her mother's younger sister, Margaret. In commemoration of her mother, Elizabeth was given the middle name Posthuma. Margaret married Admiral Samuel Graves on June 14, 1769 and she grew up at Graves's estate, Hembury Fort near Honiton in Devon.

On December 30, 1782, Elizabeth married John Graves Simcoe, Admiral Graves' godson. They had four daughters and one son, Francis Simcoe, for whom they named Castle Frank. Katherine Simcoe, their only daughter to be born in Upper Canada, died in childhood of pneumonia; she is buried at Fort York Garrison.

In 1791 her husband was appointed lieutenant governor of the new province of Upper Canada, and on September 26 the Simcoes with their two youngest children sailed from Weymouth, leaving their four older daughters at Wolford. They arrived at Quebec on November 11 where they stayed for seven months before departing for the temporary capital Newark (since renamed Niagara-on-the-Lake). They moved to York (Toronto) on July 30, 1793. After a summer at Newark, she took her children to Quebec because of the possibility of war with the United States. She returned to Upper Canada in the spring of 1795, but the following year her husband was granted leave of absence, and on September 10 they sailed from Quebec, never to return to the Canadas.

While her husband was at council meetings in Newark, Elizabeth Simcoe spent much of her time in the company of Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester) and his wife, Lady Dorchester. In her diary, Simcoe states that, in a span of fifteen days, she attended to four parties at the home of Lord and Lady Dorchester. Elizabeth wrote of another occasion when, in the course of a week, she played cards three times and had tea and biscuits twice with the Lord and Lady Dorchester.


Elizabeth Simcoe left a diary that provides a valuable impression of life in colonial Ontario. First published in 1934, there was a subsequent transcription published in 1965 and a paperback version issued at the turn of the 21st century, more than 200 years after she wrote it. Lady Elizabeth Simcoe's legacy also includes a series of 595 water-colour paintings that depict the town of York. She was responsible for the naming of Scarborough, an eastern Toronto district, after Scarborough, England. The townships of North, East and West Gwillimbury, just south of Lake Simcoe in central Ontario, are also named for the family.

In December 2007, a statue of Elizabeth Simcoe Gwillim was erected in the town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, while commemorating the 150th anniversary of the town's incorporation. The statue is located in a parkette in front of the Bradford post office at the corner of John Street West and Barrie Street.

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