J.M. Le Moine.

Picturesque Quebec : a sequel to Quebec past and present online

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several other high colonial officials. His salary was totally
inadequate to the importance of his office, and quite insufficient to
meet the expenditure his exalted position led him into. His
speculations, his venality, the extortions practised on the community
by his heartless minions: this is what has surrounded his memory with
eternal infamy and made his name a by-word for scorn.

There existed, at Quebec, a _ring_ composed of the Intendant's
secretary, Deschenaux, of the Commissary General of Supplies, Cadet,
of the Town-Major, Hugues Péan; of the Treasurer-General, Imbert. Péan
was the Chief and Bigot the Great Chief of this nefarious association.
Between Bigot and Péan, another link existed. Péan's favour at Court
lay in the charms of his wife. Madame Péan, _née_ Angélique De
Meloises, was young, pretty, witty and charming; a fluent and
agreeable speaker - in fact so captivating that François Bigot was
entirely ruled by her during all his stay at Quebec. At her house in
St. Louis street he spent his evenings; there, he was sought and found
in May, 1759, by Col. de Bougainville returning from Paris, the bearer
of the dispatches, announcing the coming struggle.

Would you like some of the pen-photographs which a clever French
contemporary [121] has left of the corrupt entourage of the
magnificent intendant, here are a few:

"Brassard Deschenaux, the son of a poor cobbler, was born at Quebec. A
notary who boarded with Deschenaux, senior, had taught his son to
read. Naturally quick and intelligent, young Deschenaux made rapid
progress and soon found something to do in the office of Intendant
Hocquart where Bigot found him and succeeded in having him appointed
clerk in the Colonial Office at Quebec. Industrious, but at heart a
sycophant, by dint of cringing he won the good graces of Bigot, who
soon put unlimited trust in him, to that degree as to do nothing
without Deschenaux's aid, but Deschenaux was vain, ambitious, haughty
and overbearing and of such inordinate greed, that he was in the habit
of boasting 'that to get rich he would even rob a church.'

"Cadet was the son of a butcher. In his youth he was employed to mind
the cattle of a Charlesbourg peasant; he next set up as a butcher and
made money. His savings, he invested in trade; his intriguing spirit
brought him to the notice of the Intendant Hocquart, who gave him
contracts to supply meat for the army. Deschenaux soon discovered that
Cadet could be useful to him; he made him his friend and lost no
opportunity to recommend him to the Intendant. He was accordingly
often employed to buy the supplies for the subsistence of the troops.
In verity, there were few men more active, more industrious, more
competent to drive a bargain. The King required his services and
secured them, by having Cadet named Commissary General. He had his
redeeming points - was open-handed in his dealings - of a kindly nature
and lavish even to excess."

The worthy Commissary General, like Péan, was blessed with a charming
wife, whom Panet's Diary styles "La Belle Amazone Aventurière."
Probably like her worthy spouse, - of low extraction; "elle n'était pas
sortie de la cuisse de Jupiter," to use a familiar French saw.

She certainly was not, like Caesar's wife "above suspicion." Madame
Cadet, later on, transferred her allegiance from the rich butcher
Cadet, to one "Sieur Joseph Ruffio";... but let us draw the veil of
oblivion over the short comings of another age.

"Capt. Hughes Péan, _Chevalier de la Livaudière_, was Town Major
of Quebec, _aide-Major des Troupes_." He was not long in discovering
that with an Intendant like Bigot, he could dare anything. Had he not
without any trouble netted a gain of 50,000 half crowns? A large
quantity of wheat was required for Government; he was charged with the
purchase. There was a fat job in store for the Town Major. How was his
master the Intendant to manage the matter for him? Bigot was a man of
resource, who never forgot his friends. First, he provided Péan with a
large sum out of the Treasury to buy the wheat as low as possible for
cash; and then his complaisant council passed an order or Ordonnance
fixing the price of grain much higher than that at which Péan had
purchased. The town Major charged it to the Government at the rate
fixed by the Ordonnance; the difference left him a handsome profit. He
thought he would next try his hand at building coasting craft, which
he could manage to keep constantly in commission for Government; this
also was lucrative. Other devices, however, were resorted to; a secret
partnership was entered into between Cadet and a person named Clavery,
who shortly after become store-keeper at Quebec. Cadet was to purchase
wheat in the parishes, have it ground at a mill he had leased, the
flour to be sent abroad, secretly. Péan, too, had large warehouses
built - at Beaumont some say. Cargoes of grain were thus secretly
shipped to foreign ports in defiance of the law. Bréard, the
Comptroller-General, for a consideration winked at these mal-
practices, and from a poor man when he landed in Canada, he returned
to France in affluent circumstances.

The crowning piece of knavery was the erection of a vast shop and
warehouses near to the Intendant's Palace. Clavery had charge of this
establishment, where a small retail business was carried on as a
blind. The real object was to monopolize the trade in provisions and
concentrate it here. Clavery was clerk to Estebe, Royal store-keeper
at Quebec. In this warehouse were accumulated all such provisions and
supplies as were wanted annually, and ordered from France for the
King's stores at Quebec.

It was the practice of the Intendant to send each summer the
requisitions to Paris. Bigot took care to order from France less
supplies than were required, so as to have an excuse to order the
remainder in times of want, at Quebec. The orders were sent to
Clavery's warehouse, where the same goods were sold twice over, at
increased rates. Soon the people saw through the deceit, and this
repository of fraud was called in consequence La Friponne, "The

Want of space prevents me from crowding in photos of the other
accomplished rogues, banded together for public robbery during the
expiring years of French domination in Canada.

It is singular to note how many low-born [122] parasites and
flatterers surrounded Bigot.

In 1755, the wheat harvest having failed, and the produce of former
years having been carried out of Canada or else stored in the magazine
of Bigot's ring, the people of Canada were reduced to starvation: in
many instances they had to subsist on horse flesh and decayed codfish.
Instead of having recourse to the wheat stored here, the Intendant's
minions led him to believe that wheat was not so scarce as the
peasantry pretended - that the peasants refused to sell it, merely in
anticipation of obtaining still higher rates; that the Intendant, they
argued, ought to issue orders, for domiciliary visits in the rural
districts; and levy a tax on each inhabitant of the country, for the
maintenance of the residents in the city, and of the troops.

Statements were made out, shewing the rations required to prevent the
people from dying of hunger. Cadet was charged with the raising of
this vexatious impost. In a very short time, he and his clerks had
overrun the country, appropriating more wheat than was necessary. Some
of the unfortunate peasants, who saw in the loss of their seed wheat
starvation and death, loudly complained. A few called at the
Intendant's Palace, but the heartless Deschenaux, the Intendant's
Secretary, was ever on the watch and had them questioned by his
_employés_, and when the object of their visit, was discovered,
they were ushered into the presence of Deschenaux, who insulted them
and threatened to have them imprisoned for thus presuming to complain
to the Intendant. Bigot was afterwards advised of their visit, and
when they appeared before him they were so maltreated and bullied that
they left, happy in the fact that they had not been thrown into
prison; soon, none dared to complain. Bread was getting scarcer every
day. The Intendant had named persons to distribute the bread at the
baker's shops, the flour being furnished by Government. The people
crowded the bakeries on the days fixed; the loaves were taken by
violence, mothers of families used to complain that they could not get
any; they used occasionally to besiege the Intendant at his Palace
with their lamentations and complaints, but it was of no avail, the
Intendant was surrounded by a crowd of flatterers, who on retiring,
gorged from his luxurious board, could not understand how the poor
could die of hunger.

Land of my fathers reclaimed from barbarism at the cost of so much
blood - so much treasure, bountifully provided with nobles - priests -
soldiers - fortifications by the great Louis; sedulously - paternally
watched over by Colbert and Talon: to what depth of despair, shall we
say, degradation are thou sunk!

Proud old city, have you then no more defenders to put forth, in your
supreme hour of woe and desertion! Has then that dauntless race of
_Gentilshommes Canadiens_, d'Iberville - Ste. Hélène - de Bouville
- de Bécancourt - de Repentigny, disappeared without leaving any

And you stern old de Frontenac, you who replied so effectually to the
invader through the mouth of your cannon, is your martial spirit
quenched forever, in that loved fortress in which rest your venerated
remains, you who at one time (1689) were ready, at the head of your
Regulars and fighting Canadians, [123] to carry out the rash scheme,
hatched by deCallières: the conquest of New York and destruction of
the chief settlements in New England, a scheme which involved the
dispersion of more than eighteen thousand people, as sixty-six years
later (in 1755), a British Commander tore from their homes the
peaceable Acadians of _Grand-Pré_. [124]

I could enlarge to any extent the gloomy picture which the history of
this shameful period discloses. Two skilful novelists, the one in the
English language, Wm. Kirby, [125] Esq., of Niagara, the other in the
French, Joseph Marmette, [126] of Quebec, have woven two graphic and
stirring historical romances, out of the materials which the career of
the Intendant Bigot and the desertion of the colony in its hour of
trial, by France - so abundantly supply. One redeeming _trait_, one
flash of sunshine lights up the last hour of French domination: the
devotion of the Canadian militia towards their oblivious mother-
country, their dauntless courage at the Beauport engagement - after the
battle of the Plains, 13th Sept., 1759 - and at the battle of Ste.
Foye, on the 28th April 1760, a day glorious to French arms, but at
best a useless victory.


"It is the voice of years that are gone! they roll before me with all
their deeds." - OSSIAN.

"'The descriptions, or perspective sketches,' says Mr. Walkem,
'according to the fancy or whim of the artist or the photographer, of
what is left of the ruins, convey no adequate idea of its real
capacity and magnitude in length, breadth or height. My present
object, therefore, with your permission, is to supply this deficiency
from plans and elevations drawn to a scale of feet about the year
1770 - when some repairs were effected by the Military Engineers, - five
years before its destruction in 1775. And more especially do I feel it
my duty to submit this plan, &c., for publication since it has become
part of the military history, not of Quebec only, but of Canada.

"The following is an extract from the Centenary report: 'This once
magnificent pile was constructed under the French King's directions in
1684, under Intendant de Meules. It was burnt in 1712, when occupied
by Intendant Bégon, and restored by the French Government. It became,
from 1748 to 1759, the luxurious resort of Intendant Bigot and his
wassailers. Under English rule it was neglected, and Arnold's men
having, from the cupola, annoyed Guy Carleton's soldiers, orders were
given to destroy it with the city guns.'

"'Skulking riflemen in St. Roch's, watching behind walls to kill our
sentries, some of them fired from the cupola of the Intendant's
Palace. We brought a nine-pounder to answer them.' - (_Extract from a
journal of an officer of the Quebec Garrison_.)

"For those who may not be familiar with the meaning of the term
'Intendant,' and the official duties of his office, the following
remarks are submitted from the most authentic sources. It was one of
civil administration, direction management, superintendence, &c., and
next to that of Governor-General, the office of Intendant was one of
the greatest importance and celebrity in Quebec. It was established by
the proclamation of the King of France in 1663, - creating a Sovereign
Council for the affairs of the Colony - viz: the Governor-General, the
Bishop, the Intendant and four Councillors, with an Attorney-General
and Chief Clerk. The number of Councillors was afterwards increased to

"The authority of the Intendant, except in his executive capacity, was
indeed little inferior to that of the Governor himself. He had the
superintendence of four departments, viz: Justice, Police, Finance,
and Marine.

The first intendant named under the proclamation of 1663 was M.
Robert; but he never came to Canada to fill his office, and it was not
till the summer of 1655 that Jean de Talon arrived at Quebec, as the
first real Intendant, with the Viceroy deTracy, and the Carignan
Regiment. The building in which the Sovereign Council first held their
meetings would appear to have stood on the south side of Fabrique
street westward (?) of the Jesuit College, known at that time as the

"During the Intendancy of M. de Meules, in 1684, that gentleman, at
his own expense, endowed the eastern portion of the St. Roch's suburbs
with an edifice henceforth known as the 'Intendant's Palace' ('Le
Palais'), remarkable for its dimensions, magnificence and general
appearance; it included also (according to old plans) about ten acres
of land contained probably between St. Rochs and St. Nicholas streets,
having the River St. Charles in front, and afterwards laid out in
ornamental gardens. The Palace was described by _La Potherie_, in
1698, as consisting of eighty toises, or 480 feet of buildings, so
that it appeared a little town in itself. The King's stores were also
kept there.

"In 1712, Intendant Bégon, with a splendid equipage and retinue,
arrived in Quebec from France, and took up his residence at the
Palace. On the 5th of January, 1713, the entire building and premises
unfortunately were destroyed by fire, and such was the rapidity of the
flames that the Intendant and his wife escaped with great difficulty.
Madame Bégon was obliged to break the panes of glass in her apartment
before she had power to breathe. The young lady attendants were burned
to death. The Intendant's _valet de chambre_, anxious to save some of
his master's wardrobe, also perished in the flames. His Secretary,
passing barefooted from the Palace to the river front, was so much
frozen that he died in the Hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu a few days
afterwards. [127]

"The Palace was afterward rebuilt under the direction of M. Bégon at
the expense of His Majesty, and of which the plans and elevation now
presented are presumed to be a correct and faithful illustration. The
principal entrance appears to have been from that side next the cliff,
opposite the 'Arsenal,' - or from the present line of St. Valier
street - with large store buildings, magazines, &c., on either side of
the entrance, and in the rear of that stood the building known as the
'Prison.' It would appear that _La Potherie's_ remark, in 1698,
of the first construction resembling a little town in itself, would
also apply to the group of the second construction - as no less than
twenty in number are shown on some of the old plans of this period.
From sketches taken on the spot by an officer of the Fleet in Wolfe's
expedition of 1759, and published in London two years afterwards,
there can be little doubt, for want of room elsewhere, that the Palace
was converted into barracks and occupied immediately after the
surrender of Quebec by the troops under General Murray, and continued
to be used as such until it fell into the hands of the American
insurgents under Arnold, in 1775, and was destroyed by the cannon from
the ramparts. The assumption is strengthened, if not confirmed, by the
occupation of the Jesuit College as barracks the following year the
amount of accommodation in both cases, a full regiment - would be the
same; hence the comfortable quarters in the 'Palais' by the rebel
force under Arnold, which would accommodate the most of his men.

"The appearance of this once celebrated structure in its general
aspect was more imposing from its extent than from any architectural
ornate embellishments. The style was the French domestic of that
period, of two clear stories in height, the extreme frontage was 260
feet, with projecting wings at either end of 20 feet (vide plan), the
depth from the front of the wings to the rear line 75 feet, and the
central part 58 feet; the height from the site level to the apex of
roof about 55 feet, and to the eaves line about 33 feet; in the
basement there were no less than 9 vaults, 10 feet high to the crown
of the arch running along the whole front, as shown in the elevation.
The apartments in the two stories are divided longitudinally by a wall
from one end to the other, and comprise altogether about 40 in number,
allotted into barrack-rooms as per original military plans.

"The roof is plain and steep, and only broken by the pedimented wings
at each end of the building, with chimney stacks and stone coping over
the transverse fire walls, and otherwise relieved by a small octagonal
cupola of two sections placed in the centre of the roof. The approach
to the building in front is by two flights of steps, an enclosed porch
forming a central feature to the main entrance; the basement windows
are shewn in the elevation above the ground line. The walls were
substantially built of black slate rock peculiar to Quebec and must
have taken much time in the erection judging from its tenacity, and
the hardness of the material still remaining. No doubt the walls, as
was the practice in those days, were built of dry masonry, a few feet
at a time, and then _grouted_ with mortar in a thin semi-fluid
state, composed of quicklime and fine sand poured into the interspaces
of the stone-work, filling every cavity, excluding the air, and left
to dry before commencing the next course. The wrought stone at the
quoins and angles appear to have been quarried at Point-aux-Trembles,
or more likely at Beauport, while the sides of the doors and windows
were faced with hard Flemish brick, still intact, and beyond doubt
imported directly from France. [128] The main store buildings in
front, with vaults underneath, were undoubtedly built in the same
compact manner, as Mr. Boswell, some years ago, in excavating for his
brewery on the site of these stores, came in contact with the old
foundation walls, so hard that powder had to be used for blasting. The
mortar was found to be harder than stone, and a drill had but small
effect upon it. That gentleman many years ago became the tenant of the
war department for these ruins and vaults, and has roofed them in,
taken care of the property and made improvements generally at his own
expense. There is an old story current that a subterraneous passage,
under the old ruins, led to the river. Others say that a passage
communicated with the Upper Town. It is highly probable the old vaults
and passage discovered by Mr. Boswell in the above excavation have
been the origin of this story; for in one case towards the river it
would be flooded at high water, and towards the Upper Town barred by a
rampart of solid rock.

"From 1775 to the withdrawal of the Imperial troops in 1870-71 -
nearly a century, - this property was used specially for military
purposes, and commonly known, as shown on old plan, as the King's Wood
Yard, and more recently as the Commissariat Fuel Yard. The land
several years ago was reduced in extent by the sale of building lots
on the lines of St. Valier and St. Nicholas streets.

"At the beginning of this century, and many years afterwards, a
military guard seems to have done duty at the 'Palais' and adjoining
premises, east of St. Nicholas street, known as the Royal Dock Yard,
King's Wharf, Stores, &c. This latter property extended eastward as
far as La Canoterie, in front of a blockhouse, the site of the present
Nunnery Bastion, and lying between what is now known as St. Charles
street, or the foot of the cliff, and the high water mark on the north
side, corresponding pretty nearly with the line of St. Paul street.

"The ruins of 'Le Palais' and accessories since 1775 were several
times fitted up by the military authorities for stabling, fodder-
sheds, wash-house, military stores, caretaker's quarters, &c., &c.,
and the vaults were leased for storing ice, wines and other liquors,
and storage generally to the inhabitants of the city, and the roof was
shingled or otherwise covered in on several occasions by the

"In the great fire of St. Roch's (1845) the Fuel Yard, about four
acres in extent, with some hundreds of cords of wood piled there, and
a very large quantity of coals in a 'lean-to-shed' against the Palais
walls were consumed - the coals continued to burn and smoulder for
nearly _six months_, - and notwithstanding the solidity of the
masonry, as already described, portions of it, with the heat like a
fiery furnace, gave way. Upon this occasion an unfortunate woman and
two children were burned to death in the Fuel Yard. Great efforts were
made by Mr. Bailey, a commissariat officer, and Mr. Boswell, owner of
the brewery, to save the lives of the victims, but unfortunately
without success. These gentlemen, after their coats had been burned
off their backs, and the hair from their heads and eyebrows, had to
fly at last to save their own lives.

"On the withdrawal of the Imperial troops in 1870-71, the whole of 'Le
Palais' property was handed over to the Dominion Government.

"CHARLES WALKEM, "(Late R. E. Civil Service Staff in Canada.)
"Ottawa, 24th July, 1876."

Doubtless to the eyes of the "free and independent electors" of La
Vacherie, in 1759, the Intendant's Palace seemed a species of "eighth
wonder" The eighth wonder lost much of its _éclat_, however, by the
inauguration of English rule, in 1759, but a total eclipse came over this
imposing and majestic luminary when Guy Carleton's guns from the ramparts
of Quebec began, in 1775, to thunder on its cupola and roof, which offered
a shelter to Arnold's soldiery: the rabble of "shoemakers, hatters,
blacksmiths and innkeepers," (says that savage old Tory, Colonel Henry
Caldwell), bent on providing Canada with the blessings of Republicanism. A
century and more has passed over the gorgeous Palace - now a dreary, moss-
covered ruin, surrounded in rear by coarse grass, fallen stones: Bigot -
his wassailers, - the fair but frail Madame de Pean, like her prototype of

Online LibraryJ.M. Le MoinePicturesque Quebec : a sequel to Quebec past and present → online text (page 21 of 59)