BIGAULT D’AUBREVILLE, LOUIS-NICOLAS-EMMANUEL DE (he signed Emmanuel d’Aubreville), army officer and office holder; fl. 1791–1828.
Born into an ancient noble family of eastern France, Louis-Nicolas-Emmanuel de Bigault d’Aubreville fled in 1791 during the French revolution and joined the émigré army of the Prince de Condé. He served in it until 1799 when he entered the Swiss service as a cadet in the Salis-Marschlins Regiment. For a brief time after 1801 he was a recruiting agent for the British army on the Continent. He then served in De Watteville’s Regiment, becoming quartermaster in 1807.
D’Aubreville arrived in Montreal with his regiment in June 1813. Britain being at war with the United States, his unit was immediately sent to reinforce British regulars in Upper Canada at Kingston, York (Toronto), and Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Once more d’Aubreville was pressed into service as a recruiter. His zeal and effectiveness earned him, on 25 May 1814, a captain’s commission and command of a company in the Voltigeurs Canadiens, then stationed at Chambly, Lower Canada. In July 1815, at the close of the war, he was reduced on half pay.
Having brought his wife, Catherine Ribenzki, and several young children to Lower Canada, d’Aubreville settled with them in Montreal. A man of some education, he attempted to provide the same for at least three of his sons, who studied at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal at different times from 1813 to 1825. In January 1817 he was sued for slander by one François Aumur; d’Aubreville requested the lawyer and politician Michael O’Sullivan* to defend him, charging that his accuser was motivated by jealousy, “because he perceives that I have the honour to be well considered by all the honourable people of this city.” He could ill afford the suit, his finances being then in a precarious state; indeed, in April a London firm of army clothiers, who had probably not been paid for making his uniform, had the sheriff of Montreal seize land owned by him in the faubourg Saint-Laurent to be sold at public auction.
D’Aubreville’s fortunes improved in August 1818 when he was appointed, at a salary of £75, captain of the newly organized night-watch in Montreal, the equivalent of today’s chief of police. Until then peace and security at night had been maintained to some extent by the police force of 25 to 30 men established by authorization from the Lower Canadian legislature in 1815. Lighting of the main thoroughfares had begun that year, but not until April 1818 was an act passed providing for a regular night-watch and lamplighters; the city was authorized to hire a foreman, or captain, an assistant, and up to 24 men. D’Aubreville’s first duty as captain was to select 18 men to serve as watchmen, and in the autumn he hired four blacks as lamplighters. The night-watch was considered a department of the police, and d’Aubreville worked under the supervision of the Committee of the Watch and Night Lights, composed of police magistrates and justices of the peace. Philippe-Joseph Aubert* de Gaspé recalled the importance of the watchmen in his Mémoires: “What a feeling of well-being, of comfort, of security one felt when these guards announced the hours of the night beneath our windows, when one heard them sing out: Past one o’clock, and a star light morning, or a stormy morning, &c. &c.”
Operating out of the first police bureau, located in the former Recollet convent, d’Aubreville had an uneven career as captain of the watch. Having been reprimanded in 1823 by the watch committee, which had received complaints against him, he was dismissed in October 1827 along with his two lieutenants; on the testimony of three watchmen, Jean-Marie Mondelet*, a member of the committee, had charged them with drunkenness and neglect of duty. D’Aubreville publicly denied the charges but to no avail. Only the editor of the Montreal Gazette defended him. Peter McGill*, a justice of the peace, supported the decision of the watch committee in a letter to the Montreal Gazette, asserting that d’Aubreville and his two officers were “notorious for their unsteady habits and inattention to their duty.” The editor of La Minerve was no less harsh. It is a measure of the increasing tension of the period that d’Aubreville’s firing by the committee, which was composed exclusively of Canadians, enabled the editor of the Montreal Gazette to insinuate that it had been politically motivated. In 1828 d’Aubreville himself explained what he called the “capricious conduct” of the committee members as being the price he had paid for “his sincere and zealous attachment to the British Government.” He suffered another humiliation fast on the heels of his dismissal when his 21-year-old son, Emmanuel-Xavier, was convicted along with a companion of rioting, forcibly entering the house of a young woman, and destroying her effects. Young d’Aubreville was fined £5 and had to go to prison for a month because his father was unable to pay the sum.
As a war veteran d’Aubreville had received 800 acres of land in Halifax Township in April 1821, but, working in Montreal, he had never taken up the grant. In 1828, unemployed and destitute, he applied for the patent on it, and he may have retired there with his wife and at least some of his six children. An exile from his country, having served in three different armies in numerous campaigns on two continents while earning the praise of his commanding officers, a man educated and not without ambition, d’Aubreville apparently was unable to adjust to civilian life and disappeared into historical obscurity.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 7 sept. 1814. AUM, P 58, U, Aubreville à O’Sullivan, 20 janv. 1817. Centre de documentation du Service de police de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal, Jean Turmel, “Premières structures et évolution de la police de Montréal, 1796–1909” (copie dactylographiée, Montreal, 1971), 1, 8, 11–12. PAC, MG 30, D1, 2: 476; RG 1, L3L: 17534; RG 8, I (C ser.), 715. La Minerve, 1er, 8, 19 nov. 1827. Montreal Gazette, 22, 29 Oct. 1827. Quebec Gazette, 21 Aug. 1817; 27 April, 25 June 1818. Montreal directory, 1819: 17. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 106. Aubert de Gaspé, Mémoires (1930), 2: 81. E. H. Bovay, “Les deux régiments suisses au Canada (1813–1817)” (paper presented to the International Symposium of Military Historians, Ottawa, 1978). Maurault, Le collège de Montreal (Dansereau; 1967), 474. F.-J. Audet, “Bigault d’Aubreville,” BRH, 37 (1931): 279–80. Ægidius Fauteux, “Bigault d’Aubreville,” BRH, 37: 222–23. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Le guet à Montreal au xixe siècle,” BRH, 36 (1930): 68–70. Zed [—], “Question,” BRH, 37: 91.
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