Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres

(1721—1824) hydrographer and colonial official

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(1721/2–1824), soldier, surveyor, colonial administrator. Born in Basel, Switzerland, or Paris, DesBarres emigrated to England around 1752 to study military engineering. He became an officer in the Royal Americans, serving at Louisbourg (1758) and St John's (1762), but it was his surveying skills that caught the attention of his superiors. He was commissioned in 1763 to prepare charts of coastal Nova Scotia, at a time when Samuel Holland was similarly engaged in Prince Edward Island and the Gulf of St Lawrence, and James Cook in Newfoundland and Labrador. He eventually published The Atlantic Neptune in 1777, a navigational atlas primarily of his own charts but also with those of Holland, Cook, and others. Convinced of the potential of the Maritime colonies, he became first a great landowner and then lieutenant-governor of Cape Breton Island (1784), in which capacity he laid out the town and capital of the colony, Sydney. In 1804 he became governor of PEI, where he became embroiled in local politics. DesBarres was irascible and cranky, and throughout his long life he seemingly poured as much energy into personal and public disputes as he had into his greatest achievement, The Atlantic Neptune.

From The Oxford Companion to Canadian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History of the Americas.

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