Battle for a Continent
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Battle for a Continent
Winter 1759-1760
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British in Quebec
On September 18, 1759, the British flag was raised near the top of Mountain Street in Quebec.
General James Murray was appointed the military governor of Quebec after the French defeat. (As portrayed by John Gilbert in Canada: A People's History)
General James Murray was appointed the military governor of Quebec after the French defeat. (As portrayed by John Gilbert in Canada: A People's History)
The English had taken the city, but it was a desolate prize. "Quebec is nothing but a shapeless mass of ruins. Confusion, disorder, pillage reign even among the inhabitants... each searches for his possessions, and not finding his own, seizes those of other people. English and French, all is chaos alike," observed Benoit-François Bernier. He had been the commissioner of war in Quebec and was now a prisoner of war.

About a month later, when news of the British victory reached London, there was no talk of the city's disorder, only celebrating in the streets. The writer Horace Walpole didn't sleep for three days.

"It is still all gold...one would think we had plundered east and west of sunshine.
Quebec inhabitants faced famine during the first winter of the British occupation. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Quebec inhabitants faced famine during the first winter of the British occupation. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories..."

In Versailles, Madame de Pompadour, the King's mistress, saw the fall of Quebec as one less problem for Louis XV. "At last", she said, "the King can get some rest."

The British fleet returned to England, leaving a small garrison to hold the city. James Murray, who had served as a brigadier under James Wolfe, had become military governor. Malcolm Fraser, who'd fought with the 78th Highlanders had survived, though most of his regiment had not. Those who remained were faced with a familiar problem; the failure of the crops and encroaching famine. As winter threatened, British soldiers worked alongside the Canadians, collecting a desperate harvest of rotting crops and roots.

Bishop Pontbriand, the bishop of Quebec from 1741 to 1760, saw his people burning little fires of survival in shattered streets.
"...the inhabitants of the town are without wood for the winter, without bread, without flour, without meat. They survive only on a few biscuits and on the salt pork which the English soldiers sell them from their rations."

Alongside the starving inhabitants, their European uniforms inadequate to the December cold, the British military looked more like medieval peasants than a triumphant force. "Our guards, on the grande parade, make a most grotesque appearance in their different dresses," wrote the Irish-born Lieutenant John Knox, "and our inventions to guard us against the extreme vigour of this climate are various beyond imagination: the uniformity, as well as the nicety, of the clean, methodical soldier, is buried in the rough fur-wrought garb of the frozen Laplander."

With famine came the blight of scurvy, which killed far more British soldiers than the French army had.
"The scurvy, occasioned by salt provisions and cold," noted Malcolm Fraser, "has begun to make fierce havock in the garrison, and it becomes every day more general. In short, I believe there is scarce a man of the army entirely free from it... Numbers of sick and dead since September 18th, 1759: Sick: Two thousand, three hundred and twelve. Dead: Six hundred eighty-two." The skin of the dead turned black and their limbs bloated into obscene balloons.
The ground was frozen and they were buried in snowbanks, waiting for spring.

Amid the hunger and sickness, General James Murray, now the military governor of Quebec, had to cope with the growing civil disorder as winter pressed in on the conquerors and conquered alike. "A soldier of the 48th..." wrote Murray, "tried and convicted this day of robbing a French inhabitant, the instant it was reported the sentence was put into execution.... at the same time, executed an inhabitant, heretofore a drummer in the French service, for having incited one of our soldiers to desert."


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Winter 1759-1760
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