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BUNBURY, JOSEPH, army officer and Indian Department official; fl. 1773–1802.

Joseph Bunbury became an ensign in the 49th Foot on 20 Feb. 1773 and a lieutenant on 14 Jan. 1775, during which year he presumably accompanied the regiment to North America. On 13 April 1782 he was promoted captain in the same regiment in Ireland. One anecdote relates that during a dinner at Dublin Castle he and the Duke of Rutland, lord lieutenant of Ireland, “happened to get drunk together,” and in the course of the evening Rutland offered him a vacant captaincy in the 5th Foot, although it had already been promised to David William Smith*. Certainly on 24 Dec. 1785 Bunbury transferred to a captaincy in the 5th, with which he probably arrived at Quebec on 26 July 1787. On 14 May 1789 he became “Officer Commanding Kingston and its Dependencies,” a post which included responsibility for Carleton Island (N.Y.) and Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg, N.Y.). He held this important command when the Kingston dockyard came into existence and in fact he may have helped bring about a decision on its exact location by seeking approval for the building of a new wharf.

Bunbury probably accompanied his regiment to Detroit (Mich.) when he left Kingston at the end of July 1790. While stationed in Detroit he undertook a variety of duties, such as presiding over a board of survey into the condition of Fort Lernoult. In June 1792 the 5th Foot was posted to Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.), where it remained until the fort was handed over to the United States four years later. Also in the summer of 1792, Bunbury seems to have travelled between Detroit, Fort Erie (Ont.), Niagara, and the rapids of the Miamis River (Maumee, Ohio) on behalf of the army, the Indian Department, and Lieutenant Governor Simcoe. The area was a critical one in these years, for the conflict between the Americans and the Delawares, Shawnees, Miamis, and other western tribes over the Ohio country was coming to a head [see Michikinakoua; Weyapiersenwah] and the British were deeply concerned about the outcome. In the summer of 1793 Simcoe ordered that Bunbury, because of his acquaintance with the western Indians, join lieutenants Prideaux Selby and James Givins* in accompanying the United States commissioners who were on their way to the rapids of the Miamis to discuss boundaries with the Indians. In February 1794 Bunbury attended a council at Buffalo Creek (N.Y.) where representatives of the Six Nations and the western Indians discussed land cessions with the Americans. On 15 June 1794 Simcoe praised him in a letter to Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] for helping to resolve a dispute between Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea] and another Six Nations chief. “I am much indebted on this and many other occasions to the assistance of Captain Bunbury,” wrote Simcoe. Meanwhile, on 1 March 1794 Bunbury had been promoted major and on 22 July 1794 he signed a document at Niagara in his capacity as president of a committee of five officers detailed to examine the stores landed at that place by the Mississauga.

In August 1794 reports that an American army under Major-General Anthony Wayne had advanced as far as the Glaize (Defiance, Ohio) prompted Simcoe to order Bunbury to Turtle Island, at the mouth of the Miamis (Maumee) River, with a detachment from the 5th Foot and the Queen’s Rangers. This site was considered by many the best point at which to meet any American threat to Canada’s southwestern frontier. Wayne defeated the Indians at the battle of Fallen Timbers (near Waterville, Ohio) on 20 August but then withdrew most of his army, and British troops in the area did not take any part in the fighting. Before the end of the month Bunbury had led part of his force to Fort Miamis (Maumee), the post nearest the battlefield, at the request of Major William Campbell, whose garrison was depleted by sickness. Campbell himself became ill and Bunbury had to assume command of that post as well as Turtle Island. By the time Simcoe arrived a month later Bunbury, along with six other officers, was also unwell. Early in October he sailed for Fort Erie.

In 1795 Bunbury continued his interest in Indian matters; in March he was present along with John Butler*, deputy superintendent of the Six Nations, at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, when Red Jacket [Sagoyewatha*] and two other Seneca chiefs from Buffalo Creek reported on a meeting with the Americans. Shortly thereafter he was made an aide-de-camp to Simcoe and expressed a wish for a permanent position in the Indian Department. On 21 July 1796 he was appointed agent of Indian affairs in Lower Canada.

After this appointment there is little information to be found on Bunbury. On 1 Jan. 1798 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and shortly afterwards returned to Britain – on a leave of absence, as he reportedly claimed later. This move was apparently at an inopportune time, and he seems to have become involved in the internal politics of the Indian Department. On 24 Oct. 1800 John Chew wrote to Prideaux Selby from Montreal: “What will be done next I do not know, but I think our friend Bunbury Stands some Chance of being Superceded without he plays his Cards well in England. . . .” Evidently he did not, for on 6 June 1801 the Home secretary, the Duke of Portland, approved Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes*’s February recommendation that Bunbury be replaced. The last mention of him is in a letter dated 24 April 1802.

Little is known of Bunbury’s private life, save a reference in March 1801 to his marriage to the 16-year-old daughter of an unnamed attorney. Although there is no assessment of his performance as an Indian agent, he was not infrequently praised as an army officer, particularly by Simcoe, who on one occasion in 1794 ranked him and four other captains in Canada as “probably second to no men in their respective ranks and situations.”

Carl Christie

PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 86–1: 132; MG 19, F1, 5: 41–42, 157–60, 165–70, 175–85, 191–93, 255, 263, 275–77, 295, 297–300; 6: 205–8; 8: 56–57, 131–32; RG 8, I (C ser.), 249: 348; 511: 1v, 1 1/2, 6, 79–80; RG 10, A1, 1–4; 486: 3856–57; A2, 8–12; B8, 768: 10; 10019: 135; 10020: 16. Corr. of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank). John Askin papers (Quaife). Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). G.B., WO, Army list, 1774, 1777, 1783, 1787, 1795, 1799. The service of British regiments in Canada and North America . . . , comp. C. H. Stewart ([2nd ed.], Ottawa, 1964). Horsman, Matthew Elliott. H. M. Walker, A history of the Northumberland Fusiliers, 1674–1902 (London, 1919), 198.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Carl Christie, “BUNBURY, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bunbury_joseph_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bunbury_joseph_5E.html
Author of Article:   Carl Christie
Title of Article:   BUNBURY, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   May 21, 2024