MORIN, ACHILLE (baptized Achille-Gabriel), Patriote and merchant; b. 17 July 1815 in Montreal, son of Pierre-Hector Morin, merchant, and Victoire Côté; d. 30 Aug. 1898 in Amherstburg, Ont.
In early 1838 Achille Morin moved with his parents to a house in Napierville, Lower Canada, owned by his uncle Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté*, then an exile in the United States after the abortive rebellion of 1837. Young Morin was slightly above the average height at five feet seven inches, with brown hair and dark hazel eyes. He may already have had the identifying mark of a large burn on the left side of his mouth that would be noted carefully by British authorities later. The move to Napierville would turn out to have disastrous consequences, for on 3 Nov. 1838 insurrection again erupted south of Montreal. That day Napierville pulsed with activity. By early afternoon more than 150 Patriotes had assembled. Equipped with weapons of every description, they arrested loyalists and some others who were neutral. During the night Côté, Robert Nelson*, and Charles Hindenlang* arrived from the United States. Quickly mobilized, British forces marched on Napierville, and Nelson, with a force of more than 1,000 men, including Achille and his father, hastily retreated to Odelltown. During the battle there on 9 November, Achille was wounded in the leg and unable to escape. He was arrested by the commander-in-chief himself, Sir John Colborne*, and had to make a forced march to Napierville.
Morin joined his father in prison in Montreal on 14 November. Charged with treason, the two men became part of the third court martial of Patriotes. This show trial began on 24 December and included such other Napierville men as Guillaume Lévesque* and Pierre-Théophile Decoigne*. The crown produced little evidence against young Morin. No witness had seen him armed in Napierville or active at Odelltown; none could prove his membership in the Association des Frères-Chasseurs, the Patriote secret society. A magistrate-merchant swore, however, that he had heard Morin say “he had been wounded at Lacole, or Odelltown,” and Morin did not dispute the testimony. Like all the accused rebels, Morin had to defend himself in court. He minimized the significance of his wound, arguing that the crown had not established whether “a patriot or a loyalist” had inflicted it. Unconcerned about legal niceties or even substantial proof, the court martial quickly found him guilty and, on 2 Jan. 1839, condemned him to hang.
Morin’s father having been similarly sentenced, and neither man having been recommended for mercy, they endured months of agonizing uncertainty. The Montreal Transcript urged that the elder Morin, a man of “education and cultivation,” be hanged as an example, but the highly conservative Montreal Herald, unconvinced by the crown’s proof, begged mercy for such a well-respected citizen. Late in January the Quebec Gazette reported that Colborne had ordered coffins for the Morins, but by March they knew that they had been spared the gallows. Rumours of their eventual fate swirled through the jail until, on 25 September, they and 56 others officially learned of their exile to a penal colony.
On 27 Sept. 1839 the transport Buffalo left Quebec, bearing the 58 Patriotes, including the Morins. The Lower Canadian prisoners disembarked at Sydney, New South Wales, on 25 Feb. 1840. Governor Sir George Gipps planned to send the Patriotes to a penal colony, Norfolk Island. However, the Roman Catholic vicar apostolic of Australia, John Bede Polding, personally intervened to guarantee their good behaviour, and Gipps assigned them instead to a work-camp at Longbottom, eight miles away. Although exempted from working in chains like the criminal prisoners, the Patriotes endured hard labour, mainly crushing stones and manufacturing bricks for the roads of Sydney. As they became accustomed to captivity, they caught fish to supplement their diet, developed games to while away the time, and operated illegal small businesses such as selling charcoal. In July 1840 Achille Morin was almost shot as he tried to play a prank on comrades guarding charcoal.
Respected in their parishes before the rebellion, the Canadian prisoners could not accept their treatment as common criminals. This humiliation, together with homesickness, malnutrition, and the greed and ambition shown by a few, eroded their camaraderie. In December 1840 Morin had a fist-fight with Jean Laberge in an incident instigated by Jérémie Rochon. In May 1841 the censorious François-Maurice Lepailleur accused Morin of being lazy and insubordinate because “he left, like a boss,” for Longbottom before his hours of unloading stones at the wharf were finished.
Morin’s horizons widened in August 1841 when he became camp messenger and accompanied the commandant on trips to Sydney and Parramatta. In this position he heard any rumours concerning the fate of the Canadians. By the end of the year some prisoners, assigned to a master, had begun to depart from Longbottom on tickets of leave. In January 1842 Morin commenced work as a printer’s helper to Patrick Grant, publisher of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. After serving his time with Grant, he left to establish a ginger-beer business with his father. Sydney suffered a severe economic depression in the early 1840s, however, and, like his compatriots, Morin scrambled to remain solvent. In February 1843 he was in debt because Grant still owed him wages; by June he was working as a labourer in a vineyard, but his earnings were swallowed up by his father, who was frequently ailing and unemployed.
Meanwhile, having refused to grant an amnesty for the exiles, the British government had pledged to react positively to individual petitions. Morin’s brother, harbour-master at Sandwich (Windsor), Upper Canada, and a first lieutenant in the provincial artillery, immediately petitioned for the release of his kin. The Morins learned of their pardon on 10 April 1844, but Pierre-Hector’s condition and a lack of funds obliged them to remain behind when, in July, their more affluent comrades bought tickets and took passage to London. Not until February 1847 could the Morins leave, and they arrived in Montreal in August.
A bitter Achille Morin had been happy to leave Lower Canada in 1839, proclaiming that he could not conceive of a worse place. After his return he found it difficult to settle in his native province. In early 1850 he left for California, reportedly to seek his fortune in the gold rush. Unsuccessful, he came back and started up as a merchant in Montreal. On 4 Nov. 1851 he married Marie-Esther Routier. During the next decade they moved to Sandwich, pioneered in Missouri, and finally settled in Amherstburg, where Morin found stable work with a shipping firm. Marie-Esther died on 11 June 1860, leaving no children. On 19 Nov. 1861 Morin married Antoinette Caldwell. They had four children, three of whom survived infancy. Blessed with a strong constitution, Morin remained healthy almost to his death, in 1898, at age 83. His funeral was conducted under the auspices of the local branch of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and his body was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery.
In 1838 Achille Morin had been a young man caught up in events beyond his control. Unlike most Patriotes in the rebellion of 1838, he paid a heavy price, but like many who were transported, he lived his later years in relative obscurity. It is perhaps fitting that the exiles’ finest epitaph was published in Sydney, more than 40 years after they had left. “Their good deeds, their kindness to the poor, and their general courtesy and industry are still remembered,” it said.
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