A Blupete Biography Page

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke

Sherbrooke was born in Nottinghamshire, England. He joined the British army, and given that he was of the landed gentry, was to be an officer. In 1780, he was appointed as an ensign, in a year he made lieutenant, and in 1783, a captain. In June of 1784, then with the 33rd Foot, he was stationed at Sydney, Nova Scotia. After two years, the 33rd returned to England. Sherbrooke's prospects improved considerably, when, in 1793, the English went to war with Napoleonic France. He became a lieutenant-colonel in 1794, and went off to join the Duke of York's army in the Flanders campaign, though he was there but a year. In April of 1796, Sherbrooke embarked with his regiment for India. Though he showed his skills to advantage in India, ill health obliged him to return to England, which he did in January of 1800 and went on half pay. Then, going active and being promoted a major-general, Sherbrooke went off to become the commander of the Sicilian Regiment. In Italy there was not to be much fighting, but it was a wonderful experience for Sherbrooke which much improved his diplomatic skills as he was obliged to deal with the intrigues of the numerous courts then in Italy with a view to keeping them on the English side against Napoleon. A fellow officer, at this time, was to give a description of Sherbrooke:

"The brigade he commanded winced a little under the sharpness of his discipline, while they revenged themselves by comical stories of his rough sayings and impetuous temper. . . . A short, square, hardy little man, with a countenance that told at once the determined fortitude of his nature. Without genius, without education, hot as pepper, and rough in his language, but with a warm heart and generous feelings; true, straight forward, scorning finesse and craft and meanness, and giving vent to his detestation with boiling eagerness, and in the plainest terms. As an officer, full of energy, rousing others to exertion, and indefatigable in his own person."1
In June of 1808, Sherbrooke went home on leave. The following year Sherbrooke went off to serve in the Peninsular campaign, to be, with the local rank of lieutenant-general, second-in-command to Wellington. The two got on well and Wellington was of the view that Sherbrooke was a good officer. Poor health, again, drove Sherbrooke back home where he arrived in May of 1810. The next year he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and appointed lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia. His commission was dated August 19th. He left Portsmouth on September 8th, arriving at Halifax on October 16th.

"On 16 October [1811], General Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, K.B., arrived with his lady and family at Halifax, after 37 days passage from Portsmouth, in H.M.S. Manilla [36 guns]. At 10, A.M., Lady Sherbrooke and her sister landed, and went to government House. His excellency landed at 11, at the king's slip, and was sworn in at the Council chamber."2
The clouds of war were looming large. Within months of Sherbrooke's arrival, in June of 1812, war was declared by the United States on Great Britain. As Sherbrooke governed Nova Scotia until 1816, through most of his administration, he was responsible of putting and keeping Nova Scotia on a war footing. Upon his arrival he found that Nova Scotia was not much ready for a war. The authorities were not near as concerned for Nova Scotia as they were for Canada. The presence of British warships would keep Nova Scotia safe (this turned out to be true), but it was thought that the Americans would invade those areas of Canada we now know as Ontario with a view to conquering territory (this also turned out to be true). British regulars were needed in Canada and numbers of them came through Halifax and from there transported up the St. Lawrence. Sherbrooke saw regiments come through, but never felt he had enough under his command at Halifax. Within months of his arrival, Sherbrooke acknowledged to Liverpool the order to send the rest of 98th Reg't to Bermuda, but it was not fully complied with, because of the "smallness of the regular force at present in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick." He pointed out the necessity of reinforcements in the event of hostilities with the United States, and the dilapidated state of the fortifications of the province.3 In April of 1812, three months before the United States declared war, Sherbrooke again drew to Liverpool's attention the state of the fortifications of the province and the lack of naval defence. "In the latter end of November or in the beginning of December, I find that it is the custom for the admiral to leave Halifax and with the whole of the Squadron to proceed to the Bermudas; where he remains till the beginning of June in the ensuing year. This has been the case this winter and no Ship of War was left here except the Aeolus and she only to complete her repairs. The Atalante is the only naval vessel at present defending Halifax."4 So, we can see from the correspondence that Sherbrooke's activities were defensive. However, as the British cranked up its war efforts in 1814, Sherbrooke went on the offensive. On August 26th an expedition under Sherbrooke sailed from Halifax, with a view to doing mischief to the Americans. "The fleet consisted of the Bulwark, Dragon and Spencer, of 74 guns, two frigates, two brigs, a schooner and ten transports ... On the first of September they arrived at Castine, on the Penobscot river, which was taken possession of without resistance; the enemy having blown up the fort, and effected their escape."5

On December 24th, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed bringing the War of 1812 to a close. Sherbrooke continued on as Nova Scotia's governor. Then, on April 10th, 1816, he was commissioned Governor-in-Chief of British North America. Such a commission required him to be at Quebec. On the 27th of June, Sherbrooke left Halifax for his new post. Sherbrooke's ill health, that gave him problems off and on since his earlier service in India, together with the winters of Canada, obliged him to resign his commission in 1818. In August of that year he sailed for England. His health revived, Sherbrooke lived on quietly in the English countryside at Calverton in Nottinghamshire. There at Calverton he died; he was buried nearby at Oxton.

In wrapping up Sherbrooke's achievements as a colonial administrator, both in Nova Scotia and in Canada, Professor Peter Burroughs, in his biographical sketch set out in the DCB, wrote:

"The secret of Sherbrooke's success lay in a declared determination to combat factionalism and adopt a neutral stance, allied with the necessary independence of mind to pursue these objectives unswervingly and the engaging frankness of manner to convince all kinds of men of his probity and even-handedness."

1 As quoted by Professor Peter Burroughs in his short biographical sketch as found in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, online at http://www.biographi.ca/EN/index.html : 3/16/2005 -- as often referred to in these pages simply as DCB.

2 Murdoch, vol. 3, p. 313; Sherbrooke to Liverpool, October 19th, 1811, Calendar of Official Correspondence and Legislative Papers Nova Scotia, 1802-1815, compiled by Ells, Pub. #3 (Halifax: PANS, 1936) at p. 238. Lady Sherbrooke was a new bride, Sherbrooke having married her, Katherine (Katherina) Pyndar, at Areley Kings, England on August 24th. 1811; they were to have no children.

3 Sherbrooke to Liverpool, February 8th, 1812, Calendar of Official Correspondence and Legislative Papers Nova Scotia, 1802-1815, op. cit., p. 241.

4 Sherbrooke to Liverpool, April 22nd, 1812, Ibid., p. 255.

5 Haliburton, vol. 1, p. 295.]


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)