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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
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Reports of the Public Archives of Canada (1872-1972): 18th Century Isle Royale and Cape Breton Selections


Eric Krause

Krause House Info-Research Solutions


                                                       SYDNEY ISLAND OF CAPE BRETON Augt 1789


We sailed from Cove the 5th of June after an unpleasant Passage of 39 Days arrived at Halifax from whence we were directed to proceed to this place; Had our destination been made known to us before we left Europe, we could have reached it fourteen days before We made Halifax, but I presume the people in power wishing to inure us to the sea kept us on board a month longer than was necessary -- Our situation on Board the Acteon was also exceedingly uncomfortable, as the line between the two services does not seem to be ascertained with sufficient precision; However after one of two little skirmishes with the Lieut. who commanded her, we got on tolerably well. We have three companies quartered at the Island of St Johns and seven here, and as I found the Ship was to proceed there first and being heartily sick of a man of war, I embarked on board a small brig, and jot here several days ago The Acteon is still at Sea and her arrival very uncertain. Tho I was well informed at Hallifax of what I was to expect, and had formed in my own mind as bad an opinion of it as I thought possible, yet the reality exceeded it a thousand fold. What the Island of Cape Breton may prove, fifty years or a century hence I am not qualified to determine, but I may venture to say that Sydney can never prove of any very essential service to the Empire at large, as its harbour is impenetrably shut up with Ice and inaccessible to the whole world for at least seven months in the year; I am also informed that the soil is but indifferent as well as the Timber; that the expence of clearing an acre amounts to six guineas, and very soon wears out as there is not a particle of manure to assist it. There is very little land cleared round the settlement and even that not cultivated in consequence of which it is covered with thick birch which will require as much trouble as ever to get rid of. The only end produced from having cut down the timber is to make our fuel both scarce and expensive and as there is no provision as yet of that kind made for the Regt our men who are totally unacquainted with the use of an axe must cut down 1200 cords before the winter sets in -- One would naturally suppose that when the coal mines were within nine miles of us in great abundance and excellent water carriage they would be cheap but the reverse is the case, for from various Impositions particularly a tax of 5/6 laid upon each chaldron by the Governour for his own use it is less expensive to burn wood, and I am given to understand that the foreign demand lessens every year, so that the only article almost in which nature has been bountiful to this Country will from bad Policy be soon rendered of no use. -- What they dignify with the name of a town consists of about 50 Hovels and stands twelve miles from the Entrance of Spanish Bay, upon a very fine River which extends a considerable way up the Country. There appear here and there a few attempts to form settlements but as far as I can judge they do not seem likely to succeed. In Sydney itself there is not the smallest trace of Industry as the Inhabitants live by selling Rum to the Soldiers, and were they to be withdrawn (which God Almighty soon grant) it would be instantly deserted. Tho the River and Coasts abound with Fish yet there is not a fishing vessel belonging to the place, so that another of our natural advantages is of no use -- I have passed a great part of my life in America and been in many unpleasant and disagreeable situations but I do declare without exaggeration that I think Sydney by far the worst -- Could one have patience and Philosophy enough to put up with Sydney such as I have described it yet there is one insuperable Bar to an officers ever being comfortable as the actual expense of existence must exceed what he can afford -- The place itself produces no Earthly article but a few Vegetables, so that every thing for our subsistence must be brought at a great expense and risk either from Halifax and Boston and provision must also be procured to subsist the live stock during the Winter. Miserable as the place is the price of labour is intolerable as a drunken Rascal who himself an Artificer will not take less than a dollar a day, and the greater part of the materials for work are in proportion -- The Barracks are very bad and in danger of falling down, but My Lord Dorchester's economy will not admit of their being repaired. Those for the few of the officers are so bad as not to be habitable in winter, so that absolutely to shelter my head from the weather, I have been obliged to give the enormous price of sixty guineas to an officer of the 42 Reg for his hut -- Twenty are to be paid down and ten paid annually for 4 years to come My Lodging money amounts to about 10£ per annum -- God forbid that I should remain long enough here for my lodging money to amount to the price of this Hut -- The only consolation I have amidst our misfortunes, is, the hope of being able to get to England next autumn; nothing but the most absolute necessity can possibly induce me to pass another year here. In this Capital we have a Governour and Council Chief Justice and attorney general &c &c who instead of remaining quiet and forwarding the unhappy settlement distract the inhabitants by their dissentions -- At present the Chief Justice is under suspension and an Investigation into the conduct of the Secretary of the Province going on before the Council -- You may judge how well their places are supplied. I am but just come from the Court of Oyer and Terminer, the present judges of which consist of the Surgeon upon the Staff the muster master and a gentleman who was obliged to leave his own country for his good deeds. A gentleman of our Reg who came round with me and was in the Court observing the villainous countenances and squalid appearance of the petty jury, held up his hands in amazement and audibly expressed his surprise at the great number of criminals to be tried -- Had you seen them you would have thought his mistake very natural. Our Govr you probably may have heard of; his name is McCormick a half pay Captn who raised some kind of a corps last war.

I must not forget to tell you that the Master of a vessel from Dublin not thinking there were rascals enough upon the Island, thought proper to land 60 male and 18 female convicts upon the coast and left them to pick out their road the best way they could the consequence was that seven of them died immediately from the severity of the weather (it was about last Xtmas) Two of them have since been hanged for robbery; two more under sentence of death for murder, seven in Prison to take their trials before the court I have mentioned, and the remainder are travelling about the country at large to improve the morals of the people -- One is comforted however from the reflection that the danger of their being corrupted is not great -- We were led to believe before our arrival that we might contrive to pass our time tolerably well in shooting &c but there is not the appearance of game of any kind except a few Spruce and Birch partridges who certainly are not worth the fatigue and danger of following. Some little time ago, one of the officers of the 42d Reg lost himself in the woods, and the whole country divided into parties in search of him by one of whom he was found just as he was on the point of giving up the Ghost. --

Extracted from the Report of the Department of Public Archives for the Year 1944 (Ottawa: Edward Cloutier, 1945), pp. xxxvii-xxxviii (Public Archives of Canada, Cape Breton, Sydney Letter, 1789)


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