Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres

His skill in surveying and mapping had been noted, and in 1763 he was employed by the Admiralty to prepare charts of the coastline and offshore waters of Nova Scotia, at the same time that James COOK was working in Newfoundland and Samuel HOLLAND in the Gulf of St Lawrence and New England.


DesBarres, Joseph Frederick Wallet

 Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, military engineer, surveyor, governor of Cape Breton and of PEI (b Montbéliard, France, Apr or May 1729; d at Halifax 27 Oct 1824). At about the age of 23 he immigrated to Britain and attended the Royal Military College, Woolwich. In 1756 he was posted to North America as a lieutenant in the Royal American Regiment and saw action at LOUISBOURG in 1758, Québec in 1759 and in the expedition against the French at St John's, Newfoundland, in 1762.

His skill in surveying and mapping had been noted, and in 1763 he was employed by the Admiralty to prepare charts of the coastline and offshore waters of Nova Scotia, at the same time that James COOK was working in Newfoundland and Samuel HOLLAND in the Gulf of St Lawrence and New England. DesBarres published the first version of his navigational atlas, Atlantic Neptune, in 1777, containing his charts and sketches from the previous 10 years along with some adaptations of the work of Holland and others. The final version was published in 1781.

In 1784, DesBarres embarked on a new career when he was appointed the first lieutenant-governor of Cape Breton, and in 1785 he laid out the settlement that would become SYDNEY. He left the island in 1787. In May 1804 he became governor of PEI. He was finally recalled in 1812.

Although a plaque on the "Round Church" in Halifax states that he was born in 1721, research done in 1994 proves without doubt that the above mentioned 1729 date of birth is correct. Thus he lived to the age of 95, not 103 as is often claimed. DesBarres possessed an abrasive personality. He was impatient and quarrelsome, but no one has ever denied his splendid talents and energy.


Further Reading

  • G.N.D. Evans, Uncommon Obdurate: The Several Public Careers of J.F.W. DesBarres (1969).