DESROCHES, CHARLES, schoolteacher; b. in France, son of Charles Desroches and Anne Delestrade; fl. 1816–26.
Charles Desroches was educated in Paris and went to England at the time of the French revolution. He continued his studies there and joined the Royal Navy as an officer, serving for eight years. Perhaps it was in this capacity that he came to Lower Canada. He is believed to have been engaged in teaching at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville) early in 1810. On 7 Oct. 1816 he married Nathalie Marcotte at Cap-Santé, and they were to have seven children.
At the outset of the 19th century Sainte-Famille at Cap-Santé was a flourishing parish. Covering a large area, it took in several villages, one of which was Portneuf. In 1816, 60 of the inhabitants of that village signed a petition requesting the opening of a Royal School there. Desroches was appointed the teacher in May 1817. According to regulations laid down by the three trustees responsible for the school and by Desroches himself, parents had to pay two shillings monthly for each child, in addition to supplying firewood. The school was open from Monday to Friday, winter and summer, from nine till noon and from one to four. The teacher had his holidays from 15 August to 15 September. Twice a year he was absent for three days in order to go to Quebec and pick up his salary. In 1817 Desroches was making £50 a year, but from 1819 he received no more than £45.
Reading, grammar, and arithmetic were the three main subjects taught at the school in Portneuf. Desroches enjoyed great freedom as a teacher. The method he used was the monitorial system developed by Joseph Lancaster* which was very popular at the time. The pupils were divided into sections, with one of their number who was more advanced as instructor. The Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning left a great deal of latitude in the choice of books, and Desroches used everything he could lay his hands on. Taking his student body into account, he had to teach in English and French and give courses in religion for Catholics and for Protestants.
Although in historian Louis-Philippe Audet’s view Desroches was one of the most dynamic schoolteachers of the period, the number of pupils attending his school decreased steadily, from 32 in 1820 to 16 in March 1822, and then to 14 in September. Therefore in October 1822 the trustees of Portneuf and Cap-Santé suggested that Desroches be transferred to Cap-Santé as a replacement for Charles Harper*, who had resigned from his post in April. Desroches expressed some interest, and apparently the parish priest of Cap-Santé, Félix Gatien*, consented to the arrangement. The governor gave his approval for the transfer; on 15 November the school at Portneuf closed.
Desroches began teaching at Cap-Santé in January 1823. At that time the school had 34 pupils. The trustees expressed their satisfaction, even though they regretted that Desroches could not teach the same subjects as Harper. One of them, George Waters Allsopp*, asked the secretary of the Royal Institution, Joseph Langley Mills, for permission to hire an assistant to teach Latin, mathematics, and bookkeeping. In September the number of pupils rose to 48. In March 1824, 42 were attending Desroches’s school; they were divided into five classes, with 9 pupils learning English and 33 French.
It became evident by 1825 that the problem which had occasioned the closing of the school at Portneuf was recurring. The number enrolled dropped to 25. Desroches, who was afraid of being blamed, wrote to Mills that he was doing his best but that as soon as the children could read their prayers, the parents took them out of school. He complained of Father Gatien’s negative attitude and, fearing for his post, he reminded Mills that he had a family to support. Mills replied that he was not considering closing the school but that the parents should be made aware of this possibility. In March 1826 there were only 19 boys at the school, and Desroches, who had been very ill, was deeply discouraged. He asked for a transfer, and the Royal Institution agreed.
In November 1826 Charles Desroches went to Quebec to collect his salary. He did not return to Cap-Santé. He reportedly was seen in Montreal and New York, where he is thought to have tried to board a ship for England. His wife and seven children, the youngest of whom was barely six months old, were left in dire straits.
ANQ-Q, CC1, 11 mars 1829; CE1-8, 7 oct. 1816; CN1-28, 5 oct. 1816; 26 janv. 1818; 7 nov. 1825; 1er févr., 25 avril 1828; 1er juin 1829; CN1-157, 9 mars 1813. McGill Univ. Arch., Royal Instit. for the Advancement of Learning, letter-books, 1820–27. Private arch., Yves Frenette (Orono, Maine), Notes d’entrevue avec François Desroches, descendant de Charles Desroches et de Nathalie Marcotte, 29 juin 1982. L.-P. Audet, Histoire de l’enseignement au Québec (2v., Montréal et Toronto, 1971); Le système scolaire. Boulianne, “Royal Instit. for the Advancement of Learning.” Félix Gatien et al., Histoire du Cap-Santé (Québec, 1955). L.-P. Audet, “Deux écoles royales, 1814–36: Sainte-Marie de la Nouvelle-Beauce et Cap-Santé,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 50 (1956), sect.i: 7–24. R.-G. Boulianne, “The French Canadians and the schools of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, 1820–1829,” SH, 5 (1972): 144–64.