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Duc d’ Anville’s French Armada

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

Duc d’ Anville’s Mighty French Armada sailed into the Bedford Basin in 1746

The loss of Louisburg filled the French with rage and a spirit of revenge. The lost town must be taken back; Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, too shall be taken again from the English; Boston and other towns of villainous New England shall be burnt to ashes. To do this a powerful fleet was fitted out at Rochelle, a seaport of France and left there on June 22, 1746. The command was given to Admiral Jean Baptiste De Roye de La Rochefoucauld, Duc d’Anville, a young nobleman of thirty-seven who had never been to sea. He owed his appointment to his cousin the minister of the navy.The fleet carried a commission from King Louis XV to avenge the recent stinging defeats at the hands of the English. It was the greatest force that had ever been sent to America, the great fleet consisted of 20 warships, 32 transports, and 21 smaller auxiliary vessels. There were 3,000 veteran troops and 10,000 sailors aboard the ships. Many weapons and supplies were also stocked below the ships deck for the long journey.

In addition, four more large warships under Commander Conflans which at this time were cruising the West Indies, were ordered to join up with d’Anville at the harbour of Chebucto (Halifax).

The expedition was ill-fated and not a single victory did it obtain; disaster followed disaster, until there were left only scattered fragments of the once proud fleet.

A land force from Quebec consisting of a force of French and Indians, commanded by Jean de Ramezay were also ordered to meet d’Anville at Chebucto.

Two of d’Anville’s ships were taken by the English while yet on the coast of France; some were cast away on Sable Island; some ships had been wrecked, others had been struck by lightning, still others were driven by storms far off their course, and never reached the place for which they sailed.

The first of Duc d’Anville’s ships to arrive were the L’Aurore and Castor. They had left France one month before d’Anville had received his orders. The commander Du Vignan was a real seaman while d’Anville was not. Both ships arrived intact with all aboard healthy and in fighting spirit. While waiting for d’Anville’s ship to arrive they went on ‘raiding trips’ to pass the time. They sailed out from the Harbour, swooped down on unsuspecting ships, captured them and took them into the Bedford Basin as their prizes.

At least nine ships including a large British Man-O-War became their prizes. The French crew partied on the captured loot that included valuable cargo and scarcities such as wine and cattle. Du Vignan wanted to remain friends with the Mi’Kmaq so he gifted them with wine and cattle from his booty. He also brought aboard the French priest Le Loutre to control them. All summer long, the English crews, who manned the captured ships were being confined in the holds as prisoners. Du Vignan had given up hope that d’Anville’s ships were coming. Supplies were becoming scarce.

In the book,” FOOTPRINTS AROUND AND ABOUT BEDFORD BASIN” by George Mullane, published in 1913 it gives this story:

In the diary of an officer of one of the ships, the officer states the horrible fact that the starving crew of his ship tried to induce the Captain to order the butcher to slaughter the English prisoners on board for food. The Captain put them off for the time being, with the promise that if relief did not come after the morrow, he would allow one of the English prisoners to be slaughtered by the butcher. Happily for the wretched prisoners succour did heave a sight in the shape of a neutral vessel, which supplied them with provisions and the desperate act of cannibalism was averted.

With winter on the way, supplies running low and many men, including the English prisoners to feed he decided to set sail for France on August 12. He had no intentions of depriving his own crew of supplies in order to leave food for the English men so he paid a man named de Repentigay (or it could also be spelled Repentigny) a Lieutenant with the French Army and turned the English over to him. There were 168 English prisoners who followed de Repentigay and 150 MicMac (Mi’kmaq) to begin their 500 mile to Quebec. “NOT ONE ENGLISH PRISONER WAS EVER HEARD FROM AGAIN!”

What ever happened to them?

In early September more ships arrived under the command of French Admiral Conflans but after several days of waiting they too set sail for France.

After a three months voyage d’Anville arrived at Chebucto (Halifax) Harbour in late September, well past the due time of arrival, with a helpless remnant of the great force with which he had left France. Duc d’Anville fleet was in shambles, with hundreds of his men stricken with the fever. One week after he arrived three more of his ships sailed in on September27, the day d’Anville died.

The ships from the West Indies came on schedule, and after waiting two weeks for d’Anville to arrive, went the way they had come. Ramezay and his force waited many days and then moved on to Annapolis. But found the fort was impenetrable, so the French withdrew towards Chignecto, where they stayed for the winter. It was there that they were informed that a large number of New England troops arrived in Grand Pre’. Before the end of January, the French were on the move to Remsheg(Wallace) and on to Tatamagouche, where the trail cut overland to Cobequid. Ramezay was left behind with an infected leg, and the expedition was now commanded by Villiers, They came to Cobequid after a week on the march travelling on snow-shoes and pulling behind them sledges containing food, blankets and ammunition. Then they march to the mouth of Stewiacke to get a safe crossing and days after came to Piziquid. The Acadians told them which houses that the English soldiers were staying. In the early hours of the morning, Villiers and his men attacked. Many of the English soldiers were killed in their beds. By dawn the French held some houses and the English others. The English had a greater force, but they did not have snow-shoes and could not counter attack. After thirty hours both sides came to term; the English were permitted to go on to Annapolis Royal but their stores of ammunition and military supplies were to be kept by the French. One hundred and thirty English and fifteen French died there. A shallow grave was dug and both French and English soldiers were buried in it.

Meanwhile back at the Bedford Basin:

The English on board a ship heard from some fishermen on the coast that French Ships were in the area. They came into Halifax Harbour in search of the vessels but they believed that navigation stop at the narrows not knowing about the Basin. They did not discover the French ships and returned to the sea.

After the long voyage provisions were low and on many ships the men were starving.
Disease had broken out during the long voyage, carrying off many of his men; others were ill and dying.
When the French fleet finally came into the harbour typhoid, typhus and scurvy was ramped aboard the ships.

Graves on the Dartmouth side:

Twelve to thirteen hundred men had died during the voyage and were thrown overboard to a watery grave while others who died on entering the harbour were interred on the Dartmouth side. A great number of bones were dug up near the Canal Bridge and on the Eastern Passage Road by workmen repairing the highway. When the foundation for St. James United Church in Dartmouth was being dug in 1870, they found very many human bones, suggesting that the bodies had been laid in trenches. Again in 1894 when the adjoining Manse was built, a few rods to the northeast of the church, many other skeletons were dug up, apparently lying side by side. It was said to be one of the burial places used for d’Anville’s soldiers and sailors.

Fairview Cove and Birch Cove:

Seven or eight thousand men were put ashore along the western side of the Basin. Camp was made along the shore of the Bedford Basin from Fairview Cove to Birch Cove. The land was covered with trees then, down to the water’s edge so the encampment had to be made on the beach.

An encampment was set up at French Landing (located at the bottom of Bay View Drive on the Bedford Highway)and that is where a tent hospital was put up to shelter the sick men. The large tents were made of old sails. The Acadian’s, living high in the hills from Fairview Cove to Birch Cove in Rockingham, tried to help them by bringing previsions but many Acadian caught the fever and died. More than eleven hundred men died here, bringing the death total to more than three thousand since the great Armada sailed. At French Landing the soldiers and sailors made a road back to the hills where they buried some of their dead, (spot unknown) some skeletons, thought to be those of d’Anville’s men, were found when Gateway Road and Bayview Drive were constructed, many others were buried along the shore.

Very old fragments of adult bones doubtless either belonging to the Acadian French settlers of the district before 1749 or of Duc d’Anville’s fever-stricken men of 1746, were found in 1887 by Simon D. MacDonald and Mr. M. McLearn. The area where they were found was on Robert Allen’s property to the southeast of Mt. St. Vincent College, between Rockingham and Fairview, close to the southwest shore of Bedford Basin. The foundations of old French houses could once be detected behind Allen’s place, near the abandoned road on the side of the hill. Grave mounds were also discovered in back of Birch Cove in shallow graves. Tradition says that when settlers were clearing away brush at the cove known as French Landing, they found a number of skeletons among the trees supposed to have been the remains of soldiers of the Du d’Anville ill-fated expedition.

Only one thousand men were fit to sail, not enough troops to maintain all the remaining ships back to France so many ships were burnt in the Bedford Basin. Their blackened hulls could be seen under the water of the Basin for many years after.
Over the years divers have brought up, what was suppose to be, pieces of wood from d’Anville’s vessels.


A National Historic Sites Monument that once stood on the Bedford Highway at the bottom of Bayview Drive (French Landing), to commemorate the place where Duc d’Anville’s fever-stricken men landed in 1746, was moved further up the Bedford Highway to Centennial Park in Rockingham when the highway was widened. French Landing was near Frenchmen’s Cove on the shore of the Bedford Basin.

Duc d’Anville died suddenly on September 27 from unknown reasons at the time, some thought it was from poison, others said it was from apoplexy. In the 1960s an autopsy on his skeleton revealed that his death was due to a Brain Tumour. After he died his body was taken to George’s Island where it was buried. His heart was removed from his body and returned to France, where it was placed in a family grave. Later his remains on George’s Island were taken to Louisbourg soon after Halifax was found. A pig’s molar was found in his grave. It had been wired into the Duke’s mouth as a false tooth, a common practice in the 18th Century.

Vice-Admiral D’Estournelle, the next in command, arrived the following day, on the ship ‘Le Trident’, after d’Anville’s death. Disheartened, he advised that they abandon the undertaking and return to France; but his counsel was overruled by other officers. He was so disheartened that he retired to his cabin and bolted the door. During the night, a sentry heard groans from within and the door was forced and it was said that the commander was found mortally wounded. He tried to kill himself with his own sword. Summoning all his captains on board, he made his pathetic statement, “Gentlemen I beg pardon of God and the King for what I have done, and protest to the last that my only design was to prevent my enemies from one day saying that I had not executed the King’s order.” In 20 hours he had passed away, where he is buried, no one knows. There is a contradiction to this story, in some books it stated that he did not die but recovered from his wound.

Marquisdela La Jonquiere was now chief officer. Unlike d’Anville, he was not by birth a member of the aristocracy but had risen to prominence by his own ability. He was 60 years of age of low statue, yet of fine physique and had an imposing air. He later became Governor of Canada.

He thought they might at least take Annapolis, and about the middle of October the fleet set sail. Jonquiere sailed out of Chebucto (Halifax) Harbour with 42 ships, a squadron consisting of 30 ships, 2 brigs, 4 schooners, 2 snows, one dogger (a form of a fishing boat) and 3 sloops. Five of the ships were outfitted as hospital ships containing 500 sick men. Seven vessels of the line remained in the Basin. The day before October 12, 1746 Jonquiere ordered the burning of the Parfait of 54 guns, the prize ship from Carolina, the prize ship Antiguan and all the captured fishing schooners. The hulls of many could be seen as late as the 20th century in the water of the Bedford Basin.


Before he sailed La Jonquiere was said to have taken a large store of gold off the ship and buried it at French Hill (behind French Landing), in a large brass pay chest, before scuttling the pay ship. Years later a French naval ship visited Halifax and during its stay in port, three officers hired a carriage and drove out to Prince’s Lodge. The caretaker at the Lodge spent a few hours showing them around, eventually they asked about the positioning of d’Anville fleet and his land encampment. The caretaker told them everything he knew. They left after telling the caretaker that they were going to picnic on the shore. The next day, not far up from the shore line, the caretaker found a rectangular hole where something had been recently removed.

There were also stories that in 1850 a railway construction crew dug up a treasure of gold that was traced to the d’Anville Expedition, but there is no real evidence of this.

The Mi’Kmaq waited at Fairview Cove for their French friends only to be greeted by very ill men. More than a third of the Mi’Kmaq population perished from the contagious disease that Duc d’ Anville’s French soldiers transmitted to them. According to tradition, the Mi’kmaq people were located near a stream, which flowed into the Bedford Basin, that area is where the Forrest’s Tannery once stood, (also known as the Quarry), today a car dealership stands there on the Bedford Highway.

In 1749, when Governor Cornwallis landed at Chebucto (Halifax), the whitened skeletons of French soldiers were found lying beside rusty muskets beneath the brushwood. Many of the dead were also buried in shallow graves along the shore or pushed into the water with stones tied to their feet. Their bones were to be seen for many years, as the water uncovered their poorly contrived burying places.

Many places in the area named in memorial to Duc d’Anville’s Expedition:

Two shoals in the Bedford Basin, just off Princes Lodge, where is an average depth of 100 feet, is found Parfait Bank and Jonquiere Bank. La Parfait was the name of a fire-ship that belonged to Duc d’ Anville’s fleet and was sunk there, and Jonquiere was named after the man who took what was left of the French fleet back to France. In the area between Fairview Cove and where Fairview Middlemore Home (Icon Bay stands there now) was once located, a submerged rock of considerable size sat in the Basin. It was known as Caribou Rock named after d’ Anville’s battle ship of 54 guns La Caribou, which was burned in the water there.

Many streets in Rockingham were given names in memory of d’Anville Expedition:

– Armada Drive was named after the mighty French Armada that sailed into the Bedford Basin.
– Bonaventure Drive was called after one of d’Anville’s store ships.
– Northumberland Lane, was named after a warship of 60 guns, that was captured by the French. It was a British-built ship that served as flagship of the Armada.
– Trident Lane was named after the ship that Vic-Admiral d’ Estournel came in.
– Danville was named after Admiral Duc d’Anville.
– There is also a mural of Duc d’Anville’s Expedition in Birch Cove by Peter Bresnen.
– Duc d’ Anville Elementary School in Clayton Park is named after the Admiral of the French Armada.


For many years at a certain time of the year the ghost of a French officer was seen walking along the Bedford Road at French Landing, then to disappear into the waters of the Basin. It was thought to be the spirit of d’Estournelle, who could not rest.

One of d’Anville’s ships, a pay-ship was one of the first ships to arrive in the Basin. The Captain thinking that the English were at the mouth of the Chebucto (Halifax) Harbour, and would overtake them in the Basin, sank the ship but made sure that the crew fled from the vessel before it was destroyed. A story told of a ghostly crew of sailors who guard the sunken pay-ship near Steven’s Island in the Bedford Basin. On foggy nights, residents of the Island would hear boats grounding on the beach as the guard changed.

Duc d’Anville’s Ghost

Within months of the arrival of Cornwallis, a party of French soldiers arrived via ship to remove the remains of d’Anville from George’s Island, to transport him to Louisbourg to be buried on French soil. But his spirit remained behind. During the night the new settlers of Halifax seen a fellow dressed in the uniform of the French Admiral on the beach. When approached he simply walked into the deep water and disappeared. For the next 150 years the spirit was seen over and over again. After entering the water from Georges Island’s beach, the spirit was seen emerging on the Halifax side. Curious people followed this apparition at a distance and watched as the spirit made its way along the shoreline until it reached the Rockingham Road. There at French Landing on the beach, the ghost made a sharp turn and marched straight into the water and disappeared. At that same time, people living near the shore reported that they heard the creaking of invisible wooden ships and the sound of their sails flapping in the breeze.
French Landing is the area where d’Anville’s sick men were encamped and directly opposite French Landing it where his scuttled ships were discovered.

The Burial Party:
Told by Diane Marshall in the Novascotian.

A man with the last name of Drake, employed as a labourer on Georges Island, arrived shortly before dawn on a morning in mid-September to begin his workday. He saw a sight that shook him to his very bones. He had just pulled his small craft up onto the beach and was climbing a path up the hill that would take him to the fort when he heard the familiar sound of oars hitting the water. He ducked behind some shrubbery and watched as a boat carrying six men approached the beach. Once they reached the shore, four men dressed in fine but ancient-looking uniforms, stepped out and stood watching as the other two, who appeared to be ordinary seamen and were dressed more plainly, dragged the boat up onto the beach.

From his position overlooking the scene, Drake could see something draped in cloth lying in the bottom of the boat. The two sailors reached in to retrieve shovels and at a point selected by the other four began to dig. Drake later remarked that not one of the men spoke a single word, and in the early morning light, all appeared to have very pale bluish faces.

When the men had finished digging a fairly deep hole, they stood leaning on their shovels while the officers returned to the boat to retrieve the object lying at its bottom. They carried what was clearly a man’s body wrapped in dark velvet cloth and walked slowly towards the hole, which by now Drake had determined was a grave, and gently lowered the body into it. There was little ceremony to speak of, though after quickly covering the grave over with soil, all made a hasty sign of the cross, which to Drake’s mind identified them as French. They returned to the boat and rowed away.

As soon as they set off, Drake ran to the beach to investigate and found that the soil over the gravesite that he saw opened with his own eyes, showed no signs of having been disturbed at all, and the boat carrying the burial party had vanished. There was no doubt in his mind that he had been watching a ghostly replay of the burial of the Duc d’Anville.

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