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Guy Carleton, 1724-1759

Guy Carleton, first Baron Dorchester, was born at Strabane, County Tyrone, on the 3rd of September 1724, the anniversary of Cromwell's two great victories and death. He came of a very old family of English country gentlemen which had migrated to Ireland in the seventeenth century and intermarried with other Anglo-Irish families equally devoted to the service of the British Crown. Guy's father was Christopher Carleton of Newry in County Down. His mother was Catherine Ball of County Donegal. His father died comparatively young; and, when he was himself fifteen, his mother married the rector of Newry, the Reverend Thomas Skelton, whose influence over the six step-children of the household worked wholly for their good.

At eighteen Guy received his first commission as ensign in the 25th Foot, then known as Lord Rothes' regiment and now as the King's Own Scottish Borderers. At twenty-three he fought gallantly at the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom. Four years later (1751) he was a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. He was one of those quiet men whose sterling value is appreciated only by the few till some crisis makes it stand forth before the world at large. Pitt, Wolfe, and George II all recognized his solid virtues. At thirty he was still some way down the list of lieutenants in the Grenadiers, while Wolfe, two years his junior in age, had been four years in command of a battalion with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Yet he had long been 'my friend Carleton' to Wolfe, he was soon to become one of 'Pitt's Young Men,' and he was enough of a 'coming man' to incur the king's displeasure. He had criticized the Hanoverians; and the king never forgave him. The third George 'gloried in the name of Englishman.' But the first two were Hanoverian all through. And for an English guardsman to disparage the Hanoverian army was considered next door to lese-majeste.

Lady Dorchester burnt all her husband's private papers after his death in 1808; so we have lost some of the most intimate records concerning him. But 'grave Carleton' appears so frequently in the letters of his friend Wolfe that we can see his character as a young man in almost any aspect short of self-revelation. The first reference has nothing to do with affairs of state. In 1747 Wolfe, aged twenty, writing to Miss Lacey, an English girl in Brussels, and signing himself 'most sincerely your friend and admirer,' says: 'I was doing the greatest injustice to the dear girls to admit the least doubt of their constancy. Perhaps with respect to ourselves there may be cause of complaint. Carleton, I'm afraid, is a recent example of it.' From this we may infer that Carleton was less 'grave' as a young man than Wolfe found him later on. Six years afterwards Wolfe strongly recommended him for a position which he had himself been asked to fill, that of military tutor to the young Duke of Richmond, who was to get a company in Wolfe's own regiment. Writing home from Paris in 1753 Wolfe tells his mother that the duke 'wants some skilful man to travel with him through the Low Countries and into Lorraine. I have proposed my friend Carleton, whom Lord Albemarle approves of.' Lord Albemarle was the British ambassador to France; so Carleton got the post and travelled under the happiest auspices, while learning the frontier on which the Belgian, French, and British allies were to fight the Germans in the Great World War of 1914. It was during this military tour of fortified places that Carleton acquired the engineering skill which a few years later proved of such service to the British cause in Canada.

In 1754 George Washington, at that time a young Virginian officer of only twenty-two, fired the first shot in what presently became the world-wide Seven Years' War. The immediate result was disastrous to the British arms; and Washington had to give up the command of the Ohio by surrendering Fort Necessity to the French on--of all dates--the 4th of July! In 1755 came Braddock's defeat. In 1756 Montcalm arrived in Canada and won his first victory at Oswego. In 1757 Wolfe distinguished himself by formulating the plan which, if properly executed, would have prevented the British fiasco at Rochefort on the coast of France. But Carleton remained as undistinguished as before. He simply became lieutenant-colonel commanding the 72nd Foot, now the Seaforth Highlanders. In 1758 his chance appeared to have come at last. Amherst had asked for his services at Louisbourg. But the king had neither forgotten nor forgiven the remarks about the Hanoverians, and so refused point-blank, to Wolfe's 'very great grief and disappointment... It is a public loss Carleton's not going.' Wolfe's confidence in Carleton, either as a friend or as an officer, was stronger than ever. Writing to George Warde, afterwards the famous cavalry leader, he said: 'Accidents may happen in the family that may throw my little affairs into disorder. Carleton is so good as to say he will give what help is in his power. May I ask the same favor of you, my oldest friend?' Writing to Lord George Sackville, of whom we shall hear more than enough at the crisis of Carleton's career Wolfe said: 'Amherst will tell you his opinion of Carleton, by which you will probably be better convinced of our loss.' Again, 'We want grave Carleton for every purpose of the war.' And yet again, after the fall of Louisbourg: 'If His Majesty had thought proper to let Carleton come with us as engineer it would have cut the matter much shorter and we might now be ruining the walls of Quebec and completing the conquest of New France.' A little later on Wolfe blazes out with indignation over Carleton's supersession by a junior. 'Can Sir John Ligonier (the commander-in-chief) allow His Majesty to remain unacquainted with the merit of that officer, and can he see such a mark of displeasure without endeavoring to soften or clear the matter up a little? A man of honor has the right to expect the protection of his Colonel and of the Commander of the troops, and he can't serve without it. If I was in Carleton's place I wouldn't stay an hour in the Army after being aimed at and distinguished in so remarkable a manner.' But Carleton bided his time.

At the beginning of 1759 Wolfe was appointed to command the army destined to besiege Quebec. He immediately submitted Carleton's name for appointment as quartermaster-general. Pitt and Ligonier heartily approved. But the king again refused. Ligonier went back a second time to no purpose. Pitt then sent him in for the third time, saying, in a tone meant for the king to overhear: 'Tell His Majesty that in order to render the General [Wolfe] completely responsible for his conduct he should be made, as far as possible, inexcusable if he should fail; and that whatever an officer entrusted with such a service of confidence requests ought therefore to be granted.' The king then consented. Thus began Carleton's long, devoted, and successful service for Canada, the Empire, and the Crown.

Early in this memorable Empire Year of 1759 he sailed with Wolfe and Saunders from Spithead. On the 30th of April the fleet rendezvoused at Halifax, where Admiral Durell, second-in-command to Saunders, had spent the winter with a squadron intended to block the St Lawrence directly navigation opened in the spring. Durell was a good commonplace officer, but very slow. He had lost many hands from sickness during a particularly cold season, and he was not enterprising enough to start cruising round Cabot Strait before the month of May. Saunders, greatly annoyed by this delay, sent him off with eight men-of-war on the 5th of May. Wolfe gave him seven hundred soldiers under Carleton. These forces were sufficient to turn back, capture, or destroy the twenty-three French merchantmen which were then bound for Quebec with supplies and soldiers as reinforcements for Montcalm. But the French ships were a week ahead of Durell; and, when he landed Carleton at Isle-aux-Coudres on the 28th of May, the last of the enemy's transports had already discharged her cargo at Quebec, sixty miles above.

Isle-aux-Coudres, so named by Jacques Cartier in 1535, was a point of great strategic importance; for it commanded the only channel then used. It was the place Wolfe had chosen for his winter quarters, that is, in case of failure before Quebec and supposing he was not recalled. None but a particularly good officer would have been appointed as its first commandant. Carleton spent many busy days here preparing an advanced base for the coming siege, while the subsequently famous Captain Cook was equally busy 'a-sounding of the channel of the Traverse' which the fleet would have to pass on its way to Quebec. Some of Durell's ships destroyed the French 'long-shore batteries near this Traverse, at the lower end of the island of Orleans, while the rest kept ceaseless watch to seaward, anxiously scanning the offing, day after day, to make out the colors of the first fleet up. No one knew what the French West India fleet would do; and there was a very disconcerting chance that it might run north and slip into the St Lawrence, ahead of Saunders, in the same way as the French reinforcements had just slipped in ahead of Durell. Presently, at the first streak of dawn on the 23rd of June, a strong squadron was seen advancing rapidly under a press of sail. Instantly the officers of the watch called all hands up from below. The boatswains' whistles shrilled across the water as the seamen ran to quarters and cleared the decks for action. Carleton's camp was equally astir. The guards turned out. The bugles sounded. The men fell in and waited. Then the flag-ship signaled ashore that the strangers had just answered correctly in private code that all was well and that Wolfe and Saunders were aboard.

Next to Wolfe himself Carleton was the busiest man in the army throughout the siege of Quebec. In addition to his arduous and very responsible duties as quartermaster-general, he acted as inspector of engineers and as a special-service officer for work of an exceptionally confidential nature. As quartermaster-general he superintended the supply and transport branches. Considering that the army was operating in a devastated hostile country, a thousand miles away from its bases at Halifax and Louisbourg, and that the interaction of the different services--naval and military, Imperial and Colonial--required adjustment to a nicety at every turn, it was wonderful that so much was done so well with means which were far from being adequate. War prices of course ruled in the British camp. But they compared very favorably with the famine prices in Quebec, where most 'luxuries' soon became unobtainable at any price. There were no canteen or camp-follower scandals under Carleton. Then, as now, every soldier had a regulation ration of food and a regulation allowance for his service kit. But 'extras' were always acceptable. The price-list of these 'extras' reads strangely to modern ears. But, under the circumstances, it was not exorbitant, and it was slightly tempered by being reckoned in Halifax currency of four dollars to the pound instead of five. The British Tommy Atkins of that and many a later day thought Canada a wonderful country for making money go a long way when he could buy a pot of beer for twopence and get back thirteen pence Halifax currency as change for his English shilling. Beef and ham ran from nine pence to a shilling a pound. Mutton was a little dearer. Salt butter was eight pence to one-and-three pence. Cheese was ten pence; potatoes from five to ten shillings a bushel. 'A reasonable loaf of good soft Bread' cost sixpence. Soap was a shilling a pound. Tea was prohibitive for all but the officers. 'Plain Green Tea and very Badd' was fifteen shillings, 'Couchon' twenty shillings, 'Hyson' thirty. Leaf tobacco was ten pence a pound, roll one-and-ten pence, snuff two-and-three pence. Sugar was a shilling to eighteen pence. Lemons were sixpence apiece. The non-intoxicating 'Bad Sproos Beer' was only twopence a quart and helped to keep off scurvy. Real beer, like wine and spirits, was more expensive. 'Bristol Beer' was eighteen shillings a dozen, 'Bad malt Drink from Hellifax' nine pence a quart. Rum and claret were eight shillings a gallon each, port and Madeira ten and twelve respectively. The term 'Bad' did not then mean noxious, but only inferior. It stood against every low-grade article in the price-list. No goods were over-classified while Carleton was quartermaster-general.

The engineers were under-staffed, under-manned, and overworked. There were no Royal Engineers as a permanent and comprehensive corps till the time of Wellington. Wolfe complained bitterly and often of the lack of men and materials for scientific siege work. But he 'relied on Carleton' to good purpose in this respect as well as in many others. In his celebrated dispatch to Pitt he mentions Carleton twice. It was Carleton whom he sent to seize the west end of the island of Orleans, so as to command the basin of Quebec, and Carleton whom he sent to take prisoners and gather information at Pointe-aux-Trembles, twenty miles above the city. Whether or not he revealed the whole of his final plan to Carleton is probably more than we shall ever know, since Carleton's papers were destroyed. But we do know that he did not reveal it to any one else, not even to his three brigadiers, Monckton, Townshend, and Murray.

Carleton was wounded in the head during the Battle of the Plains; but soon returned to duty. Wolfe showed his confidence in him to the last. Carleton's was the only name mentioned twice in the will which Wolfe handed over to Jervis, the future Lord St Vincent, the night before the battle. 'I leave to Colonel Oughton, Colonel Carleton, Colonel Howe, and Colonel Warde a thousand pounds each.' 'All my books and papers, both here and in England, I leave to Colonel Carleton.' Wolfe's mother, who died five years later, showed the same confidence by appointing Carleton her executor.

With the fall of Quebec in 1759 Carleton disappears from the Canadian scene till 1766. But so many pregnant events happened in Canada during these seven years, while so few happened in his own career, that it is much more important for us to follow her history than his biography.

In 1761 he was wounded at the storming of Port Andro during the attack on Belle Isle off the west coast of France. In 1762 he was wounded at Havana in the West Indies. After that he enjoyed four years of quietness at home. Then came the exceedingly difficult task of guiding Canada through twelve years of turbulent politics and most subversive war.

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Chronicles of Canada, The Father of British Canada, A Chronicle of Carleton, 1915


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