DES BRISAY, ALBERT, Methodist minister and school administrator; b. 24 July 1795 in Stanhope, P.E.I., son of Theophilus Desbrisay* and Margaret Stewart; m. Margaret B. McLeod, and they had two sons and one daughter; d. 24 May 1857 in Charlottetown.
A member of a large and cultured family, Albert Des Brisay was converted in 1815 under the ministry of the Reverend John Hick, one of the Methodist missionaries sent from England to British North America after 1800 by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. In 1822 Des Brisay volunteered to become a candidate for the ministry and was received on trial by the Nova Scotia District. He was stationed initially in New Brunswick on the Petitcodiac section of the huge Cumberland circuit.
From the outset, and in contrast to some of the Wesleyan missionaries, Des Brisay appears to have been an intensely evangelical minister. He found his circuit, served earlier by William Black*, full of people ignorant of and opposed to Methodism. To overcome their hostility he travelled some 3,000 miles in his first year and preached so effectively that in the second year a revival occurred. Doubtless the fact that he was a native of the eastern colonies enabled him to reach his people more effectively than some of his English colleagues.
Having served the customary four years, Des Brisay was admitted to full connection in 1826 at the first meeting of the New Brunswick District. He was stationed on the Sheffield circuit, and subsequently on the Annapolis, the Miramichi, and other circuits. His assiduous “public preaching” frequently led to revivals. These efforts may well have been the cause of the poor health which began to plague him in the 1830s. He was alert, however, to the importance of strengthening Methodist institutions in the Maritimes, and as early as 1833 he joined two of his brethren in urging the establishment of a Methodist seminary, a matter which had been first raised by the Nova Scotia District in 1828.
In 1839 Charles Frederick Allison, a Sackville merchant and a fervent Methodist who believed firmly that great social benefit could be derived from the establishment of schools in which “Pure Religion is not only taught, but Constantly brought before the youthful mind,” offered to establish one such institution for the eastern provinces. His proposal was accepted gratefully by the New Brunswick District and subsequently at a joint meeting that year of the Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick districts under the chairmanship of the Reverend Robert Alder*. The missionary secretaries, whose attitude toward such initiatives had hitherto been ambivalent, were distracted by the rising tide of dissension in the Wesleyan connection and failed at first either to help or to block the plan. The New Brunswick District decided that “we must now try and help ourselves.” Humphrey Pickard* was appointed principal of Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy in Sackville, and Des Brisay became governor and chaplain in 1842.
The academy received its first students in January 1843. The early years of its growth were as difficult as those of similar institutions in British North America. Its survival owed much to Pickard, “a thorough gem” in his field. Des Brisay, however, was not a success. He was unable to manage the student residence and had no administrative skill. Indeed, Enoch Wood*, the key figure on the academy’s board, remarked in a letter to Alder in 1846 that, in light of Des Brisay’s background and mature years, he was “the smallest man we could have.” In 1844 Des Brisay lost most of his administrative functions; according to Wood, he now had only “to attend to religious duties, with the exception of a General oversight of the Buildings and Grounds, an engagement most suitable to his habits and talents.”
Doubtless to his surprise, in his role as chaplain Des Brisay initially involved the academy in controversy and embarrassment. A member of the New Brunswick Council, Amos Edwin Botsford*, made an accusation on 5 March 1845 that Des Brisay had instigated a revival among the students that winter in an attempt to convert them to Methodism. Some of the students, in the words of fellow councillor Edward Barron Chandler*, “would pray aloud in the lecture room at the close of the day when all the scholars as also Mr. DesBrisay were present. This led to further prayers and exhortations and an invitation by Mr. DesBrisay for all who wished to come forward to the Altar . . . many, in fact nearly all went forward and professed to be moved.” Des Brisay reported in his defence to the district meeting in May that he wished “to record the loving-kindness of the Lord in visiting the Institution during the past winter with the awakening influences of the Holy Spirit arousing attention of many of the youth to serious concern for salvation.” His brethren, of course, could not repudiate his action or his concern; they sought to maintain an evangelical atmosphere in the academy but were fearful that Des Brisay’s efforts would enable its critics to describe it as a narrowly denominational institution. This charge was made, but there was no proof that he was attempting to recruit Methodists as opposed to converts to Christian teaching, and the academy continued to receive grants from the governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Moreover, Des Brisay along with Pickard ensured that the academy became a place in which the students were reminded continually of “the superior claims which Religion ought always to have upon their attention.”
Albert Des Brisay, after being replaced by the Reverend Ephraim Evans*, retired from his chaplaincy in 1854 and returned the next year to Charlottetown where, despite ill health, he was “most industriously employed” and “his efforts in doing good closed only with his life.” He was “a man of prayer. In imitation of the benevolence of his Divine Master, the law of kindness was upon his lips, while the spirit he breathed toward the suffering and the erring was that of tenderness and love.” One of the earliest native-born Wesleyan Methodist ministers in the eastern provinces, Des Brisay in his zeal, simplicity, and evangelical spirit was reminiscent of an earlier Methodist generation; his tireless ministry helped to lay strong foundations for his church in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Albert Des Brisay is the author of “Wesleyan Academy: report of the religious state of the students, &c., presented to the district meeting,” British North American Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (Saint John, N.B.), 4 (1845–46): 62–63.
P.E.I. Museum, File information concerning the Des Brisay family, especially geneal. chart. SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr., North America, 1815–46 (mfm. at UCA). Wesleyan Methodist Church of Eastern British America, Minutes (Halifax), 1857: 7–8. Islander, 29 May 1857, 5 Sept. 1862. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism, vol.1. G. O. Huestis, Memorials of Wesleyan missionaries & ministers, who have died within the bounds of the conference of Eastern British America, since the introduction of Methodism into these colonies (Halifax, 1872). J. G. Reid, Mount Allison University: a history, to 1963 (2v., Toronto, 1984), 1. T. W. Smith, Hist. of Methodist Church, vol.2. Stanhope: sands of time, ed. Evelyn Simpson (Stanhope, P.E.I., 1984). Examiner (Charlottetown), 8 Sept. 1862, 13 March 1876.