Hincks, Sir Francis (c.1807–85), businessman, journalist, politician, and colonial administrator, was born 14 December 1807 in Cork, the youngest of nine children of the Reverend Thomas Dix Hincks (qv), presbyterian minister, magazine editor, and teacher, and his wife, Anne Boult, of Chester. Briefly educated at the Belfast Academical Institute in 1823, he left the same year to become an apprentice at the Belfast shipping firm of John Martin and Company. In 1832 he married Martha Anne Stewart (d. 1874), of Legoniel, near Belfast, with whom he had five children. They emigrated to Upper Canada and settled in York (Toronto), where Hincks established a wholesale store selling dry goods, wine, and spirits to Upper Canadian merchants. The premises out of which he conducted business were rented from William Baldwin, father of the future premier Robert Baldwin (1804–54), with whom he would later build a reform alliance. In the early 1830s Hincks became involved in lending institutions, helping to found two joint-stock banks and an insurance company in York; the experience in finance would later serve him in government.
By the mid-1830s Hincks was involved in Upper Canadian reform circles, and after the 1837 rebellion, led by the radical wing of the reform movement, he established a newspaper in Toronto, the Examiner, to promote the cause of responsible government and to emphasise that moderate reformers rejected rebellion. In 1839 he published a pamphlet by Ogle Gowan (qv), grand master of the Orange Lodge, favouring responsible government, and thereby linking reform with loyalism. Following Lord Durham's report and the consequent act of 1840 uniting the two Canadas, Hincks turned his hand to formal politics and in February 1841 was elected for Oxford County, in Canada West (Ontario). Politically astute, he recognised that an English–French alliance would be a basic fact of Canadian politics, and as such he became a principal architect of the Robert Baldwin–Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine reform alliance, which formed a government in 1842–3. Upon his appointment as inspector-general of public accounts in 1842, he sold the Examiner to focus temporarily on his political career, though his journalistic hiatus did not last long. In 1844 he took over the editorship of the Montreal Times and Commercial Advertiser with the intention of turning it into a reform organ. Hincks soon realised, however, that the paper's proprietor would neither give him free rein as editor nor sell; consequently, with the financial assistance of Baldwin and La Fontaine, he established the Montreal Pilot, through which he linked reformers in Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West.
After losing his seat in the 1844 election, Hincks had a three-year political absence until he was elected again for Oxford County in 1847, and in March 1848 he was appointed inspector-general under the ministry formed by Baldwin and La Fontaine. Hincks's political star rose in October 1851 as, with the resignation of Baldwin, he became premier of Canada West. Upon taking office he strongly advocated the expansion of railways to develop Canada's economic potential. In particular, he toiled for the creation of the Grand Trunk Railway, proposed to run from Sarnia, in the southwest of Canada West, to the year-round port of Portland, Maine, in the USA, though the new line was eventually constructed only between Toronto and Montreal. Hincks's premiership did not last long, however, as he and his government were seen as corrupt and extravagant, and consequently in June 1854 a motion of censure was carried in the legislative assembly and parliament was dissolved. In the subsequent election Hincks sat for Renfrew County, but with only a minority government he and his co-premier from Canada East soon resigned. The whiff of corruption, however, stuck to Hincks, and from October 1854 to April 1855 select committees of the legislative assembly and council investigated allegations of corruption by him and his associates, though no charges could be supported. He resigned his parliamentary seat in November 1855.
Vindication came a year later when Queen Victoria appointed Hincks governor of Barbados and the Windward Islands, where he diligently worked to improve social conditions. Just as similar proposals had been made in Ireland, Hincks advocated improving the living conditions of the rural poor by relocating them to unoccupied land on other islands, though his plans were opposed by planters fearing a reduction in the labour supply. In 1861 he was created CB and given a new colonial post as governor of British Guiana (Guyana), though he did not receive reappointment to the position when his term ended in 1869. This was most likely because he clashed with professional and business interests who sought to reduce the power of the governor and introduce a more representative form of government. There was some compensation, however, in his reception of a knighthood the same year.
Hincks returned to the recently confederated dominion of Canada and again took up government and politics, becoming federal finance minister in October 1869 and in November being elected for Renfrew North. In 1872 he sat for the constituency of Vancouver and a year later resigned as finance minister, though he retained his parliamentary seat. In 1874 his wife died and he finally retired from politics. In 1875 he married Emily Louisa Delatre, the widow of Robert Baldwin Sullivan, and re-entered the banking industry, becoming president of the Consolidated Bank of Canada. Old and perhaps uninterested, Hincks neglected his presidential duties, and when the bank failed in 1879 was out of office. With the death of his second wife in 1880, his last years were spent in the company of his daughter Ellen Ready, composing his memoirs, Reminiscences of his public life, (1884). He died 18 August 1885 in Montreal, a victim of the smallpox epidemic.