Gerrit Schipper, 1775 - 1832
Portrait of General Sir James Henry Craig 1748 - 1812
Portrait of General Sir James Henry Craig
pastel on paper
27 x 22 cm. (11 x 9 in. )


Lyons Estate


Sir James Henry Craig, (1748–1812), army officer and governor-in-chief of British North America, was born in Gibraltar of an eminent Scottish family, the son of Hew Craig, a judge at the British fortress of Gibraltar. He entered the army as an ensign in the 30th foot in 1763. After advanced military training, Craig returned to Gibraltar where, having the previous year been promoted as lieutenant of the 47th foot, he was appointed in 1770 as aide-de-camp to Colonel Robert Boyd, the lieutenant-governor. It was in the former capacity that he crossed the Atlantic in 1774 and participated gallantly in several of the early engagements of the American War of Independence. Craig suffered a severe wound at the battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775. In the following year, after transfer to Canada, he was instrumental in turning back the American invading force at Trois-Rivières, while in 1777 he was again twice wounded, once seriously, and made important contributions to engagements at Fort Ticonderoga, Hubbardton, and Freeman's Farm at Saratoga. Craig's exploits were recognized by Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne who raised him to the rank of major in the 82nd foot. From 1778 to 1781 Craig showed himself equally adept in dealing with assignments other than set pieces by his skilful reconnoitres both in Maine and North Carolina. His reward was to be promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the 16th regiment in 1781. At the conclusion of the American war he served for a time in Ireland where in 1790 he was promoted to the rank of colonel. The outbreak of the revolutionary war with France once again set Craig upon his travels. In 1794 he first became adjutant-general, then major-general, in the duke of York's army in the Netherlands before participating during the following year in the capture of Cape Colony from the Dutch. His first gubernatorial experience was gained there while serving in Cape Town between 1795 and 1797. It is not implausible that the prevalent British condescension towards the perceived backwardness of Boer society might have led Craig to see similarities between it and the Canadian population which he was to encounter ten years later along the banks of the St Lawrence. It was at the conclusion of this term of office that he was, while briefly in England, invested with the Order of the Bath. He was now charged with another imperial duty as commander of a division of troops in Bengal where he showed firmness in dealing with disaffection in the ranks. Appointed lieutenant-general in January 1801, he returned to England a year later and took command of troops in the eastern district until March 1805. His final military assignment took him to Italy as a general where, due to Napoleon's success at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz, he was frustrated in bringing pressure to bear upon the French flank by means of his 7000-strong army in northern Italy. Instead, early in the next year he relocated his troops to Sicily and proceeded to England where, on 29 August 1807, he was appointed captain-general and governor-in-chief of British North America, with special responsibility for administering Lower Canada. Perhaps it was the gathering war clouds in North America, where problems of trade and frontiers plagued relations with the American republic, that accounted for Craig's appointment in such an important region. There was, however, a question mark concerning his health despite the fact that he had ostensibly recovered from very serious illness. Nor had his peripatetic and energetic mode of life led to tolerance of social and cultural difference; instead it merely confirmed him in the view that Britain was the model society which provided the blueprint for universal improvement. In Lower Canada, however, he was faced with a mature nationalist movement among the otherwise socially conservative French political class. This development had been fuelled by the trauma of the conquest, overt exclusion from positions of power and privilege, and from more widespread fears regarding the loss of language and culture. Looked at from Craig's perspective, however, the chief difficulty arose from the fact that he had to operate within the confines of the system created by the Constitutional Act (1791) which had separated the old province of Quebec into the distinct provinces of Upper and Lower Canada with a representative assembly for each. To Craig this was akin to being handcuffed in the face of imminent danger. That William Pitt's government had seen fit to provide Lower Canada with a representative assembly seemed, with each passing year, to have been a misguided leap of faith. Certainly this viewpoint became orthodoxy among the influential British community which was based chiefly in the urban centres of Montreal and Quebec and made up slightly less than a quarter of the nearly 300,000 population of Lower Canada. The temporary alliance between British and French merchants, prior to the passing of the act, broke down shortly thereafter. During the course of the 1790s fears regarding the influence of French emissaries and American spies created an atmosphere of heightened fear and suspicion. One of the individuals most influential in raising this air of insecurity was the attorney-general Jonathan Sewell, who drafted legislation in 1797 which provided extensive powers to curtail rights of the individual and members of the assembly in any emergency. Another area of conflict, arising in part from the murky nature of its legal situation, was the Roman Catholic church. The British government had given some sustenance of hope to protestants when, in 1793, it appointed Jacob Mountain to the first bishopric in Lower Canada. The traditional role of the Roman Catholic church in educational matters also came under threat with the establishment of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning in 1801.


On his arrival in October 1807 Craig therefore faced a position in which the main lines of conflict between the assembly under the control of the parti canadien, led by Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, and the ‘château clique’ which dominated the appointed legislative and executive councils were very well defined, and were vigorously promoted in rival newspapers, the Quebec Mercury (1804–) which spoke for the British community and Le Canadien (1806–) which supported the parti canadien. It was a situation to tax even the most judicious governor-in-chief. But it was not Craig's style to attempt to seek compromise. His instinct was to attack, and within several months of his arrival he had decided upon his strategy. Influenced by his civil secretary, Herman Witsius Ryland, Craig embraced almost completely the programme and outlook of the British party. In some areas of policy, such as the affairs of church and state, this analysis undoubtedly led Craig astray. As a first step towards making real what he took to be the legal supremacy of the state over the church, he pressed for control over the right to make clerical appointments within the Roman Catholic church. Several long interviews with Joseph Octave Plessis, the Catholic archbishop of Quebec, proved desultory. Craig could not rid himself of suspicions that Plessis's church and clergy were in sympathy with the nationalists. In this regard he let his prejudices get the better of him. In fact Plessis's stance was more accommodating; he had, for example, chosen to describe as ‘la conquête providentielle’ what was to him Canada's ordained escape from the horrors of the French Revolution; in addition he showed himself willing, when necessary, to comply with the reading out of Craig's loyal proclamations within his churches. In the more purely political sphere it is at least arguable that Craig's policies met with greater success. In his own mind action was necessary to draw the teeth of the nationalist party; otherwise the colony faced the risk of internal collapse in the event of confrontation with the American republic. Craig's strategy was defended by his civil secretary, Ryland, who had watched the former governor, Sir Guy Carleton, unreservedly but mistakenly put his faith in the French Canadian population's willingness to fight wholeheartedly for the British cause. Now Ryland and Craig watched with concern as the air of confrontation and resistance escalated. In the assembly Bédard and the parti canadien took provocative action to counter Craig's expressed wishes, prompting the governor-in-chief in May 1809 to enter the chamber, chastise the members, and prorogue the session, for which he was rebuked by the colonial secretary, Lord Castlereagh. New elections were held nearly a year later but did nothing to change the political complexion of the house. Faced with renewed resistance Craig once again terminated the session on 26 February 1810. This time, however, he decided to go several steps further. On 17 March he gave orders that the presses belonging to Le Canadien be seized and its backers imprisoned. At the same time Ryland was dispatched to London to try to ward off any criticism and to promote Craig's plans for reform. The new colonial secretary, Lord Liverpool, was willing to admit that the Constitutional Act had been a mistake but offered little more assistance. Gradually those connected with the newspaper were released although Bédard spent nearly a year in confinement. In some respects he was, upon release, a chastened man who never again enjoyed the same primacy of place.

Whether or not Craig understood the dynamics of the parti canadien remains doubtful; he had, nevertheless, skilfully exploited divisions between Bédard and the more moderate elements from Montreal. Had he lived long enough Craig might have made the claim that his actions accounted for the loyal reaction of the population to the menace of American aggression in 1812–14. What he would have been less willing to acknowledge was how his strategy was used by Louis Joseph Papineau in the 1820s and 1830s to stimulate support for his own nationalist platform. In a manner typical of subsequent historiography, a late nineteenth-century biographer of Joseph Octave Plessis was able to describe Craig as ‘ce gouverneur de sinistre mémoire’. As might have been expected, Craig's record in the matter of colonial defence was more impressive than his political performance. He applied himself to the need for the rebuilding of fortifications and was adept too in arguing the case for troop reinforcements.

Fortunately the militia was not weakened despite his penchant for punishing any critic by removing his commission for however minor an indiscretion or baseless a suspicion of disloyalty. On the whole he also found the right people—such as Francis Gore in his capacity of lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada—to prevent the Shawnee Indians under Tecumseh from initiating armed conflict with the United States.As it was, Craig's health was deteriorating rapidly and from 1810 he was seeking to be replaced as governor-in-chief. He finally left British North America in June 1811 and was to survive only a few months in London before his death on 12 January 1812. He may have been buried at St Anne's, Soho, according to the request made in his will. His record thus was a mixed one. Having never enjoyed an alternative environment provided by wife, family, or home, Craig's immersion in military and political life had been almost total. Indeed, he lived in a world where firmness of command and obedience to duty were the main priorities. Unfortunately, a lifetime's service to his country had not equipped him to meet the exacting challenges which faced him while in Lower Canada. That he terminated his contribution to the empire there has tended unfairly to overshadow the varied and distinguished military record he had compiled by 1807. It must be said, however, that he did himself few favours by the partisan role he chose to play within the increasingly polarized Lower Canadian society, thus gaining for himself the reputation among French Canadian nationalists of being an archetype of the Anglicizing instincts of British imperialism. Craig's will revealed that he had accumulated a sizeable fortune, held mainly in annuities and East India stock, which he distributed generously among friends in the military, political backers, and loyal adjutants and servants. Though unmarried, he also made financial provision for a natural daughter, Caroline Charlotte Craig, who in April of the year following her father's death married the Revd John Beerhaven.

James Sturgis  DNB





Artist biography

Gerrit Schipper (baptized 13 September 1775, Amsterdam – c. 1832

London) was a Dutch painter specializing in pastel portraiture and miniature portrait paintings. After studying in Paris in the 1790s, he spent time in Brussels and Russia. He is believed to have arrived in the United States in 1802. He was active in New York, Charleston, Savannah, and several cities in Massachusetts. In about 1807 he moved to Canada and spent time in Quebec City and Montreal, where he produced many portraits of notable local people. He moved to England in 1810.

One of Schipper's most notable subjects was Sir Isaac Brock whom he painted a pastel portrait of whilst Brock was stationed in Upper Canada. The portrait remained in the collection of Brock until his death in 1812 and thence to his relatives. It was recently acquired by the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery. His works are represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, McCord Museum, Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada.