George Heriot

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Heriot's painting of Saint Aubin from the sea in 1788

George Heriot was a distinguished Canadian army officer. Some biographies suggest that he was born in Scotland and was also Postmaster-General of British North America, but others give his date and place of birth as 2 January 1766 in Jersey.

The most reliable source appears to be the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (supported by George Balleine's Biographical Dictionary of Jersey), which clearly shows him as a Jerseyman, of Scottish descent, and explains some of the confusion by indicating that he had a cousin of the same name, born in Scotland. The Jersey George Heriot was the army officer; his cousin, who also emigrated to Canada, was the career civil servant. But which was the artist who painted a well-known picture of St Helier in the late 18th Century and a view of Saint Aubin in 1788?

Family

His father was Roger Heriot, Surgeon to the British Garrison (13th Foot Regiment) and Head of the Army Medical Department. Roger Heriot was from Scotland (Ladykirk in the Borders Region) and married Anne Suzanne Nugent on 9 July 1783 in St Helier Parish Church. It is suggested that Frederick George might have been born at Elizabeth Castle. He was the second son of Roger Heriot. His elder brother, Nugent, was born in 1784, and a younger brother, John, was born 1787. There were two other brothers, Thomas Henley, born and died 1793, and Thomas Trigge Ross, born and died 1797.

Roger Heriot was buried on 30 May 1797 in the parish of St Saviour. Anne Suzanne Nugent was baptised on 19 November 1764 in St Saviour and was buried on 19 January 1802, also in St Saviour. The three surviving sons lost both parents when they were quite young.

An early painting of St Helier by George Heriot

Biography

The following extracts have been taken from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online:

"Heriot, Frederick George, army and militia officer, landowner, JP, office holder, and politician; born 11 January 1786, baptized at home on 14 January, and presented in the Anglican church in St Helier, Jersey, on 11 August, third son of Roger Heriot, an army surgeon, and Anne Susanne Nugent; died unmarried 30 December 1843 in Drummondville, Lower Canada, where he was buried on 1 January 1844.
"Frederick George Heriot was a descendant on his father’s side of an old and quite prominent Scottish family, the Heriots of Trabroun. On his mother’s side he was related to the ancient Irish aristocracy through the Nugents of Westmeath. He has often been confused with his cousin George Heriot, the deputy postmaster general of Lower Canada from 1800 to 1816.
"In the summer of 1801 Heriot, then 15, went into the army as an ensign in the 49th Foot. The following year he arrived in Lower Canada under Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Brock’s command, and subsequently his advance was rapid; promoted captain in 1808, he was appointed brigade major, under Major-General Francis de Rottenburg, in 1811. For some years he lived at Quebec, where garrison life was considered pleasant; in his spare time he turned to horse-racing, with some success.
"After the United States declared war on 18 June 1812 Heriot was posted on 26 March 1813 to the Voltigeurs Canadiens as acting major under Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry; he would become brevet major on 10 June. On 1 April he set off from the camp at Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie for Upper Canada at the head of four companies of Voltigeurs and on 13 April he reached Kingston. With his men he shared in the changing fortunes of the British army. After the raid on Sackets Harbor, NY, on 28–29 May, he was mentioned in dispatches. The risk of invasion increased, and on 26 October 1813 the battle of Châteauguay against the advancing Americans immortalized Salaberry and his Voltigeurs. Heriot and three of his companies were then at Prescott, but they left around 6 November to pursue other American forces moving down the St Lawrence towards Montreal.
"The battle of Crysler’s Farm took place on 11 November. Heriot narrowly escaped capture by dint of his skill as a horseman; his conduct earned him another mention in dispatches and a gold medal. The corps of Voltigeurs was subsequently increased and reorganized in Lower Canada; Salaberry, who was thinking of relinquishing the command, offered Heriot the opportunity to purchase it. Heriot, with the backing of Sir George Prevost, took over as commanding officer on 11 April 1814 and held the rank of militia lieutenant-colonel until the end of hostilities. Once the war was over, the Voltigeurs were disbanded, on 1 March 1815. Heriot himself was given the option of resuming his previous rank in the 49th Foot, with the prospect of a prompt return to England and a slim chance of promotion in peacetime. For this 29-year-old officer an unexpected career was to open up, however.
"While the British government was developing a new colonization policy, the Lower Canadian House of Assembly recommended that lands not yet granted be given to disbanded soldiers. A semi-military settlement thus came into being in the valley of the Rivière Saint-François, and on 1 May 1815 Heriot was appointed to administer it, with the assistance of Pierre-Amable Boucher de Boucherville and several officers from various regiments. The post assured him an income of £300 and £100 for travelling expenses, exclusive of his half pay. He set to work immediately, inspected the area, and on 8 June asked for a grant of 1,200 acres in Grantham and Wickham townships on which to build a village. That summer saw the birth of Drummondville, and its beginnings seemed promising in the opinion of Administrator Sir Gordon Drummond, who visited the settlement in the autumn.
"By 1816 houses, a hospital, school, and barracks were being laid out; a post office had already been built. Heriot had prepared a spacious home, Comfort Cottage, some distance away on a hillside, and was having his farm cleared and mills built. But there were serious set-backs: crop failure in 1815 and 1816; desertions; a reduction in military aid and a threat to shut down the operation in 1819; an epidemic in 1820; and in 1826 a fire that devastated the countryside and the village, with only Heriot’s house and the two chapels spared. Despite the many disasters, through untiring efforts Heriot managed to maintain the small community, which was totally dependent upon him. He served, in fact, at one and the same time as justice of the peace, trustee and visitor of schools, and commissioner for the building of roads.
"The first land grants Heriot had himself received amounted to little more than 600 acres. He considered that his devotion to duty and his service record entitled him to something more and let it be known through numerous petitions. Some of his requests were granted, and he increased his holdings through numerous purchases, with the result that the investigators appointed by Lord Durham affirmed in 1838 that he owned 12,000 acres and classified him among the land-grabbers. However, they failed to point out that he was one of six major landowners who lived on their lands, that he was actively engaged in agricultural improvement and stock raising, and that he claimed to have helped develop 40,000 acres.
"When Buckingham riding was split in 1829, Heriot was easily elected to the House of Assembly for the new riding of Drummond on 7 November, his opponent having himself voted for him. He was re-elected by acclamation in 1830 and on 31 January 1833 resigned his seat. Assiduous in carrying out his duties, he had taken a particular interest in the means of communication within the colony. In April 1840 he was called to serve on the Special Council but took part in only one session.
"Meanwhile Heriot’s record of service had earned him a CB in 1822 and the title of aide-de-camp to the governor in 1826. He reached the rank of colonel on 22 July 1830 and was promoted major-general on 23 November 1841. During the 1837 rebellion he had been entrusted with the military organization of the Eastern Townships, and in December of that year he had gone around the Saint-François region to recruit and organize volunteers.
"During a trip to England and Scotland in 1840 Heriot re-established links with his family; two of his cousins were in the entourage of the Duke of Wellington, who was his host. In Lower Canada another cousin, Robert Nugent Watts, who was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Drummond on 15 March 1841, had taken up residence in his house; Heriot made over a large part of his belongings to him in 1842. Heriot by then was seriously ill and he died on 30 Dec. 1843, just before his 58th birthday. The local people, both Catholic and Protestant, gave him a moving funeral on 1 Jan. 1844, with the bells of both churches tolling together.
"Frederick George Heriot was much regretted by those who had known him; he was praised for his courtesy, tolerance, charitable spirit, devotion to duty, and generous hospitality. He was an unassuming man who liked to see himself as an ordinary farmer, although in fortune and style of living he resembled the English gentry which was considered a desirable source of settlers for the Canadas. A warm-hearted man with a sense of duty, he had lived up to his family’s motto: Fortem posce animum (Be of brave heart)."

Artist

Although this biography gives considerable detail of Heriot's military and political life, it fails to mention art, as does George Balleine's biographical dictionary, so it seems likely that it was his cousin George who was the artist. But did he visit Jersey and paint the views of St Aubin and St Helier, the latter now held by the British Library, at the top of this page?

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