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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada




JULY, 1971

(Fortress of Louisbourg
Report H A 13)



The reports of 1723 were not without effect in France. Though the ministry did not accept the suggestion to remove De Verville from active control of work at Louisbourg, a new engineer was sent from France with him in the spring. It was not said that De Verville was leaving, hut obviously a change was pending. Probably the constant criticism by the governor and ordonnateur had finally convinced the ministry that, if De Verville was not incompetent, harmonious relations between these officials were not possible and the removal of one of them was the best solution.

Another change at this time very possibly had ramifications in Louisbourg. The old head of the Marine, the Comte de Toulouse, retired, and in his place came the young and vigorous Compte de Maurepas. Only 22 when he took office in 1723, Maurepas soon assumed active control of the ministry and remained in the post for 26 years. De Verville fell out of favour quickly after this change while De Mesy, his foe, seems to have been quite highly regarded. In one letter Maurepas quoted De Mesy to the effect that De Verville's estimates were not to be trusted.(1) In another, to De Verville, Maurepas reported bluntly that he had heard a rumour that this engineer intended to leave without finishing a certain plan; Maurepas ordered him not to leave without completing it.(2) The new engineer, Etienne Verrier, had already served 17 years in the Royal Corps Engineers before his appointment to Louisbourg and four years previously had been awarded the Cross of St. Louis.(3) The two engineers travelled together to Louisbourg so that they could consult during the crossing.(4) Arriving on July 30, Verrier was impressed: "The town fortifications seemed to me to be so well laid out in all respects, that the King can count on having the strongest emplacement in America." From De Verville he received the plans and drawings as well as the original memoranda from the King concerning construction.(5) De Verville also thought that the barracks were well advanced, and he had good words for what he had seen of Verrier's work thus far. Isabeau's health was still a problem, however, and De Verville thought the contractor should return to the baths in France.(6)

By mid-November Verrier was able to report that the masonry was at full height with the exception of the separation wall of the main entrance and the guard house to the right. The chimney stacks in the officers' and governor's quarters were not completed, but slating was in progress. With good weather that winter Verrier hoped to be able to complete the roof so that the building would be liveable. Fifty Swiss soldiers arrived that summer and were housed temporarily in the barracks, but the lack of finished fireplaces forced them to find other quarters for the winter. Verrier made a point of saying that he got along well with the governor and ordonnateur, As De Verville had done before him, he requested and was granted a place for his son on the engineering staff at Louisbourg.(7)

The year-end reports were much more encouraging than the previous year. De Mesy, especially, reported that a considerable amount of work had been done on the barracks, but he could not resist a comment on what he called De Verville's wasteful work.(8) The engineer, on his part, wrote a long final memorandum of accusations, defences and recommendations. His view of the reasons for the constant delays was revealing:

The delay of work by the governor after it had been held up even more so by the ordonnateur; the frequent interviews of the former with the engineers which decided nothing, the tiring expeditions of the latter which weary the engineers and the contractor without doing any good; these in the end caused half the season to be lost ...

He was particularly graphic in describing the plight of the contractor whose money was often withheld:

Some officers of the King's ship saw, as I did, with great sadness, this contractor moaning and his sister in tears not knowing where to find flour for themselves to live during the winter

According to De Verville, the contractor had given all he had to the workers. In addition, Isabeau was often stricken with symptoms of paralysis, and the surgeon had recommended a trip to France. The governor and ordonnateur opposed it but De Verville urged otherwise, or else "he will be in danger of perishing for want of immediate help".

The memorandum included the usual recommendations to have the chief engineer assume full control of funds, wages, justice on the site, and even the date of departure of the ships. He criticized the other officials for having other, and often conflicting, interests outside of their governmental functions, and reported proudly:

It is a satisfaction for me to be able to say with certainty that the engineers under my command do not engage in any trade or commerce.

The governor's personal ship was given as an example of this conflict of interest. De Verville had no doubt what he could have accomplished without outside interference:

I would have done in five years of peace what it took eight to do with much discord.(9)

Both De Verville and Isabeau returned to France that fall. The former was appointed director of fortifications at Valenciennes near the Belgian border. The premonitions about Isabeau were fulfilled when the ailing contractor died on ship a few days after leaving Louisbourg.(10) It is difficult to assess De Verville's performance in Louisbourg. Certainly the complaints against him resulted in part from his opposition to the misuse of materials by the officers and other officials. De Verville himself was not immune from this charge for in 1723 Saint Ovide had carried the rumour to the ministry that the engineer had a stake in the contractors work,(11) and, after both had left Louisbourg, he claimed that Isabeau had made a profit of 200,000 livres with De Verville's help.(12) These charges were never substantiated and, considering the bias of their source, were probably not true.

De Verville's effectiveness was certainly curbed by the opposition he encountered, and it was some time before even routine work procedures were established. He was obviously not as rigourous with the contractor as he should have been, but it was obviously better to have Isabeau as an ally seeing that they had to work together, no other contractor being available. Nor were conditions at Louisbourg ideal with regards to materials, climate or workmen. It is doubtful that any engineer with a background of construction only in France could have effectively dealt with the situation at Louisbourg, but there is no indication that he experimented with new techniques to improve building. He must bear part of the responsibility for some of the shoddy workmanship which was revealed in later years. Yet his imprint on the barracks is unmistakable. Though the building was later modified, the basic design is his. The main criticism of its architecture centered on the impracticability of the layout of the building, although the few other barracks constructed during this time employed roughly the same floor plan.


1. Minister to Gaudion, 18 April 1724, AN. Col., B. vol. 46, f. 97.

2. Minister to De Verville, 9 May 1724, AN. Col., B. vol. 47, ff. 1241-42.

3. "Jean François de Verville", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, 648-50, F.J. Thorpe.

4. Minister to Beauharnois, 23 May 1724, AN. Col., B. vol. 46, f. 488.

5. Verrier to Minister, 2 August 1724, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, f. 135.

6. De Verville to Minister, 3 August 1724, AN. Col. C11B, vol. 7, ff. 132-33v.

7. Verrier to Minister, 17 November 1724, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 136-37v.

8. De Mesy to Minister, 22 November 1724, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 59-65v.

9. Memoire des contestations qui ont causé dans l' execution des ouvrages un retardement considerable, De Verville 1724, AN. Col., vol. 7, ff. 142-50.

10. Minister to Saint Ovide and De Mesy, 1 May 1725, AN. Col., B. vol. 48(2), f. 926.

11. Saint Ovide, 22 November 1723, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 6, ff. 185-850.

12. Saint Ovide, 17 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 197-970.

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