1794 – St Pierre’s par Aaron Thomas

Le texte suivant est extrait d’un journal manuscrit signé Aaron Thomas et qui est aujourd’hui hébergé dans les archives de l’université de Miami. Rédigé entre 1798 et 1799, les textes relatent les aventures et témoignages divers d’une équipe de marins britanniques engagés à bord de la Royal Navy.

Aaron Thomas [1762 – 1799], fils de Aaron Thomas et Mary Pinches, est né à Wigmore, Herefordhsire en Angleterre. Notice biographique [Université de Miami]

St Pierre’s

July 2nd, 1794. We left Capelin Bay on Monday 30th June and anchor’d in the Road before the Town in the Island of St Pierres, or St Peters, this afternoon. […]
When we were within nine Leagues of the Island Captain Morris, at day break, found himself near a Brigg, steering a Course for America. A Shot was fired to bring her to, merely to ask if the land then is sight was not St Peter’s. An Iota of an Idea never enter’d the head of a soul on board that anything French was in her. On hailing her we were answer’d by a Frenchman, in broken English, that they were bound from Fortune Bay to Spain, but had put into St Peters for Wood and Water. A man answering in a French accent naturally gave out doubt. A Boat was sent on board and in her was found seven Frenchmen, one Italian, and one Englishman who was born at Taunton, in Somersetshire. These people, the preceding night, had cut her out of St Peter’s Road and were making their escape to some part of the American States. The Frenchmen were Prisoners of War, being included in the capitulation of St Peter’s when it surrender’d to the British Forces. They were all brought on board our Ship and put in Irons. The Brigg we took with us back to St Peter’s, she being a Lawfull Prize, and was afterwards sold for five hundred and two Pounds. Her name was the Providence, of Dartmouth in England, whereof was Master John Hilling Godfrey of Newton Bushell, in Devonshire.

The island of St Peter’s with that of Miquelon was taken from the French Republic then beginning of this War by the Alligator, Frigate, and a detachment of three hundred men under the command of General Ogilvie, from Halifax. The French had here at the time about 60 Soldiers, kept in this place, according to the Treatys with Great Britain, for the sole purpose of enforcing the police. These, with about four hundred miserable Fishing people, surrender’d at discretion. These Islands, in all late Wars with France, have been taken by the English, and as constantly restor’d by the English to the French, as shelter for their Fishermen. You will find their name in almost every Treaty for these one hundred years back. The fortifications here do not deserve that name. It is perfectly barren, not a Tree grows on the Island.

The Town of St Peter’s contains more than one hundred Houses, all built with wood and boards brought from the American States. A number of the Inhabitants, Prisoners of War, have been sent to Nova Scotia. Their Houses are now empty, but they took much pains to break every pane of Glass in their Windows before they quited St Peter’s for fear the English should be benefit’d if they left any in perfect state behind. The whole of the Inhabitants are to be sent away in a month’s time, and then the Town is to be burnt down and everything destroy’d after which the English Soldiers will evacuate the place.

I am ashore here a great deal. There are a number of fine Weomen among the French. They powder, dress and all are as smart as any of the fair ones I have seen at St Omen and Amiens.

On Monday, July 7th I spent one of the most precious days as yet I ever met with, valuable because in a few hours my eyes beheld more foreign objects and singular animals in the Creation then was ever compress’d in a much longer space, at any time in my life.

Captain Morris, with a party of Officers of the Fourth Regiment of Foot, then doing duty at St Peter’s, and Captain Skinner of the Royal Artillery, who is Chief Engineer of Newfoundland and was with us on the Boston the whole of this Cruize, had made a party to go to the Island of Miquelon and take a Cold Collation with them. I was of the party. Port, Lisbon Wine, Porter, Spruce Beer, a Ham, Tongues etc., a Gun for every man, was put into the Boat. Deeply laden with precious lumber she shov’d off with a fair wind for the Island of Great Miquelon, distant about twelve miles. It was a very fine morning. Our little Barque pass’d between the Island of Great and Petit Columbier, leaving the Isle de Verte, alias Green Island, on our Starboard hand. We met with multitudes of Sea Birds flying over our heads, and quantitys on the water. They were all of a new kind to me. I shall speak particularly of them on our return.

We got thus far when the wind dy’d away, the men were oblig’d to take to their Oars, the original plan was given up and viset to the Isle of Langli, alias Little Miquelon, was substituted in its place. We alter’d our course and soon got into the Straits which separates St Pierres from Langli: here were two large Whales playing on the surface of the water. We presently saw a large Bird nut unlike the size of a Goose, I find it is call’d a Loon. Captain Skinner fir’d at it but the Bird dived, and rose again at some distance. We follow’d and fir’d at is several times but unless it is hit on the head, it cannot be killed. We failed in our design on the poor anumal and pursuit had run some distance out of our way.

The Coast of Langli Isle appear’d rocky and inaccessible except at one place which seemed to form a small Beach or Cove, we steer’d for it. On our arrival it was supposed it would answer the purpose, as about five yards from high water mark there was a kind of Gutter or shelving Rock by which the height of the Island might be gained and our provisions carry’d up with safety. The Cove was no larger then twice the length of our Boat, there was no doubt our Boat would lye here in perfect security during our stay on Shore. After so close a scrutiny by Captain Morris, whose eye is as keen as his head as clear as any Gentleman in the Navy, he gave orders to land. We all got out, and in two minutes after, a Surf so violent set in as to endanger the Boat! Fortunately an Anchor was in the Boat. The Boat’s Crew, with much dexterity, shov’d off, let go the Anchor, veer’d out a small Hawser which kept her in perfect safety. By giving her more Hawser she backed alongside a broken Rock on which we creeped, got into our Boat again and immediately pushed off.

The Surf setting in the instant we land’d gave rise to a variety of comments, amongst others it was debated what name to give the Cove. It was propos’d each Gentleman should give it a name applicable to the circumstances which had befell us in the Cove, and that which was judg’d most suitable by the majority of voices should be adopt’d. Surprize Cove, Sudden Cove, Unawares Cove and Cove Perplexity were immediately named. Unawares and Perplexity were immediately rejected. The opponency lay between Sudden and Surprize and Sudden were of the same derivation, and that their meaning was undisputably similar! […] Captain Skinner made an Oration fitted for the solemn occasion, giving Neptune the reason why it was called Sudden Surprize Cove. […]

Our Boat kept rowing under the Rocks along the Coast in hopes to find a landing place. We espy’d an Eagle seting on dead Stump, on the very summit of an exceeding high Rock. He was fired at but the shot did not tell. […] We had not coasted two miles from Sudden Surprize Cove before we came to a promontory, or point of Land, of a very singular appearance. The Rocks were very high, there was a split in them of width sufficient to admit our Boat thro: join’d to this Point was a low Rock on which was a rude Cross, some religious Relick I presume. The whole had a striking effect. […]

After we had doubled Cape Split we got into a large Bay, the angles of which is the north point of Great Miquelon and Cape Split. As we coasting along there was plenty of Christianing. […]

The Isles of Langli and Great Miquelon are joined together by a Sand Bank which, at low water, is dry. A little to the left of this Beach, we landed our Stores on a fine sandy shore. […] The Sun at this time was uncommon hot, and Muscatoos and flys very troublesome. On examining the spot around us I found there was plenty of Strawberrys, large and quite ripe. There was also, in vast abundance, Raspberrys, Gooseberrys, Currants and other wild Fruit in great quantitys, but not yet at maturity. […]

Proceeding on our return to St Pierres we saw two Seals, their heads just above the water. Captain Skinner fired at one of them but missed it, the animal immediately sunk. There is numbers of them on this Coast and they are frequently seen on a sunshiny day seting on the Rocks, in which situation they are often kill’d by Bears and Wolves, who seize them before they can make their escape.

While I was on the water, on our route home, I could not refrain from reflecting on Geography and Natural Science. […] As we approached Grand Columber the quantity of Birds which were on the wing absolutely was so great that they cast an extensive Shadow on the Ocean. The water also had multitudes of them riding on it. The Island itself was positively so cover’d with them that I may say with truth there was thousands and thousands of them. […]

Grand Columbier, on which these Birds are, is a small Island, its circumference not being more than two miles. It is separated from St Pierre’s by a narrow Channel about the width of the Thames at Somerset House. View’d from the water it has a majestic and noble appearance, raising itself to a magnanimous height regularly to the one point on the Summit of which is a freshwater Lake. Altho it is inaccessible in all places except one yet its accivitys is nearly cover’d with verdure which gives it a show of a splendid grandeur seldom to be met with these barren regions. […]

The Governor of St Pierres, Major Thorne of the 4th Regiment, gave a Dinner to the Officers of the Boston in the late French Governor’s House in the Town of St Pierre’s, and as there are some singularitys attending it I noted a few of them down.

It being understood that it was intended, by the British Government, to Evacuate, and afterwards burn St Pierres so of course, every Officer here kept up but as small a stock of necessarys as the nature of their situation would admit. Amongtst other articles which muster’d short was Wine Glasses. Every House in which Inhabitants were left (for many of the French had been sent to Halifax) were visited to produce these usefull Vessels for this grand occasion. The day came, Dinner was served to about 30 persons. The Wine went round to a late hour. Jollity, Gaiety, Merriment and good humour were predominant in the countenance of all. God Save Great George our King was repeated a number of times, expressions of attachment and Loyalty were carry’d to the extreme (although by and by Two of the Party, not quite a Thousand Years ago, had nearly been thrown out of a window for favouring somewhat of Republicanism). But to do the business in a more exalted manner all hands must needs to mount the Table to drink Success to the Boston. The Table was so cover’d with Decanters, Glasses, Bottle, Fruit Plates, Knives, Punch Bowls etc., etc. that it was with difficulty a foot could be shoved on. But as there is afew enterprises but what the British Army and Navy will overcome, so in this particular all impediments were soon overcome, and the Table was soon cover’d with the Officers of the Navy and Army. – Success to the Boston, was given, – and just as each man’s Glass came to his house, – Down comes the Table, with a terrible crash – as in all the Masts of the Boston had gone overboard at once! Here was curious Sprawling amongst broken Glasses, Platters and Bottles. By the same heavy stroke, all the Lights in the room were extinguished, so that the Caterstrophe was the more darker and lamentable. Each man, not being perfectly himself, and having the stump of a broken Glass in his hand, he run it against his neighbour’s face, maiming and wounding one another. Some of them though they had been suddenly assail’d by the Enemy, and that a shot from a Cannon had upset the Table, for they cryed aloud – To Arms, To Arms. I Gad, thinks I, you are at Arms, at Legs and faces too, for Old Nick himself would not wish to be in the midst of ye.

When Candles came I looked at them and saw this heap of superior beings struggling in friendly Agitation to regain their Legs. But to see a Red Coat and a Blue Coat alternately moving and tumbling about in a cluster I could not but compare them to a pile of Lobsters, some alive and some boiled. […]

St Pierres was the Head Quarters of the 4th Regiment. All their Band was here, which was a capital one. […]

There is an Island call’d Dog Island opposite St Pieres. There is six or seven Houses on it. The inhabitants, on the capture of the place, were sent to Halifax. […] Some spots of the Island was fertile, and it being abandon’d, the Produce of the Earth became the property of the Public. […]

The islands of St Pierres and Miquelon, when captured by the English, was about 400 fishermen and Fifty Soldiers. The French Inhabitants from Miquelon were brought to St Pierres where all remain Prisoners of War at large, except those which have been sent to Halifax. Every Offensive instrument is taken from them. They are allow’d to Fish, for which they receive 2/6 for every hundredweight.

The French Governor has erected an Edifice here, it being a regular building, two Wings to correspond, a Coutryard, a Façade and Domestic Offices of every description, ornamented with Military Trophys and War like instruments. Over the door, within the Courtyward, was the late King of France’s Arms, two Flags with the Flower de Luce extending in folds on each side. Since Royalty was abolish’d in France the Republicans at St Pierres have, with a Chisel, cut all the Flower de Luces in the King’s Arms and on the two Flags. This shows the temper of the French in this part of the Globe.

The French people have had notice to hold themselves in readyness to embark and as they can carry little of their Household Furniture with them articles of bulke are to be bough here at present for half their value. I have purchas’d a Bed for fifteen Shillings. […]

The domestic Scenes of distress amongst the poor French were many and afflicting. Grown old on the Island they got a comfortable living Fishing – and thus aged and infirm, numbers were forc’d to go God knows where to spend the remainder of their days in a strange Land. I met with an instance of two Sisters, each about Fifty. The one was sent to Halifax, the other was going to Guernsey in a Cartel Ship. How it happen’d that they were separated I know not. They had a Goat to sell, with a yound Kid, and as Captain Morris wanted one I bought this of the two Sisters. I paid her for it, and as one of our men was leading the Goat away the pour Weoman came to the door, looked after the Animal, clasped her hands, cry’d most bitterly, and exclaim’d “O! my Poor Goat!”. I return’d to her, and by soothing looks and pacific words endeavour’d to assuage of mind. She said she was to embark, on the morrow, in a Vessel, then in the Roads, for Guernsey, and she could not keep her Goat no longer. She was inexorable, the loss of her Goat she deplored in the most afficting terms; a Monarch hurl’d from his Throne could not a felt his misfortunes more acute then this poor French Female did the loss of her Goat. […]

Before I leave St Pierres I have something to say of our Pilot. He was a Frenchman. His name is Barrere, but I do not know that he claims any relationship to the National Legislator. This I know, he was one of the noisyest, impudent fellows I almost ever met with. The number of tricks he play’d on board, was I to relate them, would take more time then suits my conveniency. He had no scruple to declare his Republican principles, and said if he was sent to France he should be put to death, for some of his fellow Prisoners would inform the Committee of Public Safety that he had Pilot’d the King of England’s Vessels into the Road of St Pierres, and the Gilloutine sure was to be his Reward if he went to France.

Grand Colombier

Le GrandColombier.com est un site recensant tout document historique ayant un lien avec les îles Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon : traités, cartographie, toponymie, archives, sources primaires, études, recherches, éphémérides. Le site est dirigé par Marc A. Cormier.

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