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ESTIMAUVILLE, ROBERT-ANNE D’ (he signed Chevalier Robert d’Estimauville), office holder, surveyor, jp, editor, publisher, and author; b. 2 or 3 Dec. 1754 in Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), fifth of 14 children born to Jean-Baptiste-Philippe d’Estimauville de Beaumouchel and Marie-Charlotte d’Ailleboust; d. 31 July 1831 at Quebec.

As a child in Louisbourg Robert-Anne d’Estimauville enjoyed the charmed life of a nobleman’s son. He later recalled “parading the streets of my village with frizzled and powdered hair, my hat adorned with a white plume, a little sword hanging by my side, and a small gold headed cane in my hand.” His family moved to France, where his nobility entitled him to be financially supported by the king (his father being of modest fortune) at the École Royale Militaire near Paris, “to become, without much caring whether it was my inclination or not, a Military hero.” He served with distinction in the French army and appears to have been created Chevalier de Saint-Lazare et du Mont-Carmel. Visiting London in late 1779 and again in 1781, he became “intimately acquainted” with the theologian and political writer John Jebb and the author Thomas Holcroft, and was influenced by their radical political principles. Back in France, unpalatable conditions in his corps and “some disappointment in love” induced him to join the Prussian army under Frederick II. He returned to the French army in 1788. Though his fortune and retinue were slender, he found “all the doors, even those of palaces, open to me . . . on account of my inherited nobility.” The following year France exploded into revolution, and d’Estimauville’s happy prospects were “at once blasted.” By January 1797 he was back in England where, already widowed, he married Martha Blythe; they had three children, all born there, the last in February 1803. It may have been at this time that d’Estimauville converted to Protestantism.

Apparently finding no satisfactory niche in England, in 1812 d’Estimauville moved his family to Quebec, where his brother Jean-Baptiste-Philippe-Charles was grand voyer (chief road commissioner) for the district of Quebec. The following year Jean-Baptiste-Philippe-Charles appointed him his deputy in that position, and in December 1813 he was named by Governor Sir George Prevost* surveyor of streets and bridges at Quebec. He resigned the latter post in January 1815. He was fully occupied as his brother’s deputy; from June 1813 to May 1817 he produced 59 of 77 official reports fixing routes all over the Quebec district and assigning to inhabitants the charge of construction, maintenance, or repair of roads and bridges. He also made annual tours of inspection. His competence was publicly questioned after he determined the route of a road from Saint-Joachim to Baie-Saint-Paul in the spring of 1815; in 1819 a committee of the House of Assembly pronounced the road “very ill placed” and censured d’Estimauville for negligence. He, however, had already resigned in October 1817.

In May 1817 d’Estimauville had obtained a commission as surveyor, and one year later he was made a deputy to Surveyor General Joseph Bouchette*. About September 1818, no doubt drawing on his intimate knowledge of the city and district of Quebec, he joined with François Romain to open an agency office at Quebec; among other services the partners provided information to immigrants and travellers, found and placed servants, and rented or sold real estate. By then d’Estimauville was living in respectable circumstances on Rue Sainte-Famille, Upper Town; in 1821, however, his brother had a lot and house belonging to him seized by the sheriff. In July 1820 d’Estimauville had been named high constable of Quebec and in June 1821 he achieved revenge on the assembly by being reappointed deputy grand voyer for the district of Quebec. He again did most of the field work, producing 48 of 49 official reports from August 1821 to June 1823 when his brother, who had died, was succeeded by Thomas-Pierre-Joseph Taschereau and Robert-Anne presumably lost the deputyship. In 1822 d’Estimauville had been named translator to the courts of King’s Bench and Quarter Sessions. The following year he relinquished this position and that of high constable after being named gentleman usher of the Black Rod for the Legislative Council and justice of the peace.

By this time d’Estimauville had attained a certain prominence in Quebec society. In December 1813 he was made a member of a committee formed to prepare an address of political support for Prevost, who was under attack by the English party in the colony for his policy of conciliating the Canadians. In January 1815 d’Estimauville was appointed acting secretary of the Association for the Relief of the Poor. He became in 1819 secretary of a committee to raise a monument to the memory of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, secretary of the Quebec Emigrants’ Society, and secretary of the Quebec Harmonic Society, whose first public concert was held in the Union Hotel in January 1820. That year he was a member of the Frères Canadiens, lodge number 23 of Lower Canadian freemasons, as well as secretary of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lower Canada and grand director of ceremonies. He was elected in 1821 to a committee, chaired by Joseph-François Perrault*, to frame the regulations of an association for the promotion of education. He was also a member of the Agriculture Society and the Quebec Fire Society. D’Estimauville’s activities on these numerous voluntary committees testify to his interest in public matters and his several appointments as secretary to a penchant for writing. In late November 1816 Robert Christie*, proprietor of the Quebec Telegraph, hired him as the editor of that newspaper, but the two men had a falling out and d’Estimauville left before the end of the year.

By May 1821, then, d’Estimauville was secure as an office holder, experienced in the social life of the city, and seemingly unwilling to write under constraint by others. These conditions and d’Estimauville’s European background make it almost certain that he was the founder of the Enquirer, a monthly publication established to communicate with those who had not studied English sufficiently to be able to read it with ease and pleasure. The editor identified himself only as C.D.E., but he was known to the writer Samuel Hull Wilcocke as “a gentleman of French extraction, who, altho’ his English is rather quaint, and has a Gallic twang, is no bad writer.” Wilcocke added that the articles in the Enquirer bore “a strong stamp of originality”; the Quebec directory for 1822 described them as conducted on “chaste” principles. The journal’s main themes were agriculture, education, and freemasonry, but in a series entitled “My own life” the editor often touched on political philosophy, denouncing the “new fangled doctrines” of the Enlightenment and the French revolution. The Enquirer was a financial failure and folded about May 1822.

Five years later, under the pseudonym Un Vrai Canadien, d’Estimauville published Esquisse de la constitution britannique, a pamphlet written to elucidate “the admirable constitution under which [the Canadians] have the happiness to live.” He tacitly endorsed an argument of the Canadian party, and of its political theoretician Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, when he affirmed “that the often irregular functioning of colonial governments ought not to be attributed to individuals or to parties, but to the faulty construction of constitutional charters . . . and that the organization of the legislature can only be good when the elements that compose it are analogous to those that are part of the imperial legislature.” The Canadian party maintained that in Lower Canada the House of Assembly, which it dominated, should have the same power over the public purse as had the House of Commons in Britain. D’Estimauville, however, sought to undermine this position by arguing that the British constitution was an organic product of a unique national history, and therefore unexportable in its entirety, and that, Britain being an imperial power, a constitution analogous to its own “cannot exist in any subordinate portion of the British empire.” He concluded, nevertheless, that Lower Canada was just beginning to share in the advantages of the British constitution, and he urged the Canadians to hold fast to it.

The year after the Esquisse was published a select committee of the British House of Commons inquired into the worsening political crisis in Lower Canada under the administration of Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], and its report, largely favourable to the views of the Canadian party, which was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau*, induced d’Estimauville to remark that Lower Canada was “a kind of political nondescript” for the committee members, who knew little about it. Hoping to influence the parliamentary discussion of the committee’s report, in 1829 he published Cursory view of the local, social, moral and political state of the colony of Lower-Canada. The pamphlet was in part a lucid analysis of the colonial system. D’Estimauville asserted that political difficulties were inevitable in a colony both because of the “levelism” wrought by large-scale immigration and because of a contempt for constituted authority; this contempt was fostered by the familiarity of the population with its small colonial administration and by that administration’s incapacity to deal quickly with emerging problems, obliged as it was to seek instructions from a distant, and often indifferent, imperial power. These problems were aggravated in the case of conquest because victors and vanquished had little in common and were divided by “a repulsive feeling proceeding from a wounded pride on the part of the conquered, and from a national prejudice on that of the conquerors.” He stressed the role of patronage in creating bitterness, the conquered being invariably excluded from public situations, honours, and profits. To ensure social and political cohesion Britain ought to have deprived the Canadians of those customs and institutions that reminded them of their French heritage; if the English language and laws had been made mandatory, the Canadians would have had to obtain an English education. Because Britain had not taken this step there had resulted a “jumble of contradictory and clashing forms, languages, laws, usages, habits and interests” that could only create trouble. He surmised that the Canadians would uphold their distinctive social features as long as they were allowed to do so. British negligence and the propagation of French revolutionary ideas had provided “the most untoward circumstances” for the granting of a house of assembly in 1791, and it had become the forum for hostilities. But more than these circumstances were to blame for Lower Canada’s political problems; its constitution was only a “counterfeit” of the British model. The governor was not the king, but the representative of imperial authority; he inevitably became a political figure because if he governed on the advice of his official advisers, all British, he was viewed as anti-Canadian, while if he avoided falling under their sway he was considered pro-Canadian. Neither was the Legislative Council a replica of the House of Lords; the councillors did not constitute a hereditary aristocracy which could mediate between monarch and commons. Rather they were drawn from “a population in which gradation in regard to independence and rank is almost imperceptible” and from the same social level as members of the assembly. However, until a true aristocracy could develop in the colony and constitute a hereditary upper house, it was imperative to maintain the existing appointed council since it was the only check on the assembly. The assembly most resembled its imperial counterpart, but it was controlled by a party that dominated rather than represented the Canadian people and it had somehow to be restrained; in this regard d’Estimauville approved the action of Governor Sir James Henry Craig* in seizing its newspaper, Le Canadien, in 1810.

In his various publications Robert-Anne d’Estimauville revealed a perception of the causes of Lower Canada’s political ills that often resembled that of the Canadian party. But from that perception he provided a theoretical framework for some of the solutions proposed by the English party, much as Pierre-Stanislas Bédard did for its rival. The conservative-leaning Michel Bibaud*, who probably did not know d’Estimauville’s identity, asserted that the author of the Cursory view had shown himself to be but a poor Canadian yet had stated many truths. D’Estimauville’s writings are of interest for what they reveal of the social life and political views of a man of his position, for their keen observations on the problems of colonialism generally, and because of his surmises that the causes of French-English conflict would persist as long as the French-language population remained distinct.

Barbara Teatero

[Robert-Anne d’Estimauville wrote most of the articles which appeared in the Enquirer, a newspaper he also edited at Quebec from May 1821 to about May 1822 under the pseudonym C.D.E. In addition, he wrote two essays on political matters: Esquisse de la constitution britannique, par un vrai canadien (Québec, 1827), and Cursory view of the local, social, moral and political state of the colony of Lower-Canada (Quebec, 1829). The identification of d’Estimauville as C.D.E. was made by William Kaye Lamb.  b.t.]

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 8 août 1815. Bibliothèque nationale (Paris), mss, Fr., 30470: f.263; 31352: ff.69. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1819, app.I. Recensement de Québec, 1818 (Provost), 248. Quebec Gazette, 9 Sept., 30 Dec. 1813; 19 Jan. 1815; 5 Sept. 1816; 2 Oct. 1817; 18 May 1818; 21 Jan., 5 Aug. 1819; 13 Jan., 14 Aug. 1820; 10 May, 4 June, 9 Aug. 1821; 29 July 1822; 21, 28 April, 12 May 1823. Scribbler, 18 Dec. 1823. Quebec directory, 1822. P.-G. Roy, Inventaire des procès-verbaux des grands voyers conservés aux Archives de la province de Québec (6v., Beauceville, Qué., 192332), 2: 5166, 7685. A concise history of freemasonry in Canada, comp. Osborne Sheppard (Hamilton, Ont., 1915), 101. Aubert de Gaspé, Mémoires (1885), 330. P.-G. Roy, La famille dEstimauville de Beaumouchel (Lévis, Qué., 1903). Ivanhoë Caron, “Le ‘Chemin des caps,’” BRH, 32 (1926): 2341. P.-G. Roy, “Le chevalier Robert-Anne d’Estimauville de Beaumouchel,” BRH, 10 (1904): 11216.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Barbara Teatero, “ESTIMAUVILLE, ROBERT-ANNE D’,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/estimauville_robert_anne_d_6E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/estimauville_robert_anne_d_6E.html
Author of Article:   Barbara Teatero
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   June 16, 2024