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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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DESBRISAY, THEOPHILUS (1789-1847)

DESBRISAY, THEOPHILUS, naval officer in the customs service; b. Covehead, P.E.I., 12 Aug 1789, s/o the Rev. Theophilus Desbrisay and Margaret Stewart; brother of Albert DesBrisay; m. Lucy (Wright) Colledge, of Charlottetown; d. Chatham, 1 Aug 1847.

Theophilus Desbrisay was of Huguenot ancestry, being a great-grandson of Samuel-Théophile de La Cour de Brisay (later known as Theophilus Desbrisay) and Magdalen de Vergese d'Aubussargues, from whom the other persons bearing the Desbrisay surname in the Maritimes also trace their descent. He and his wife were both children of the ruling class of Prince Edward Island, he being a grandson of both Lieut. Gov. Thomas Desbrisay and Chief Justice Peter Stewart, and she one of ten children of Thomas Wright, the province's first surveyor general.

For fifteen years Desbrisay was a personal assistant to his grandfather, former Lieut. Gov. Thomas Desbrisay, while the latter was registrar and clerk of the Island Council. As his grandfather's death neared Desbrisay sought to be named to succeed him, but an attempt to have this arrangement made was rebuffed. His grandfather died in 1819, and a few years later he engaged in a bitter contest with an uncle, the Hon. John ("Hellfire Jack") Stewart, for the position of collector of customs at Charlottetown, only to be disappointed again when both he and his uncle were passed over for the post.

In 1824 it was decided to appoint a naval officer (so-called), as a special assistant to the customs service at Chatham, in anticipation of Miramichi becoming a separate port of registry from Saint John. In spite of the objections of his enemies Desbrisay was given the position. He was based at Chatham, but during his relatively brief tenure the district for which he was responsible included the ports of Richibucto and Shediac as well. He was no longer in the service when his wife, Lucy (Wright) Colledge, died at Chatham in 1834, at age fifty-two. He had business interests in this period, including a store with a boom in front of it which he advertised for rent in 1832. He may have been the occupant of the site known as Desbrisay's Point, between Chatham and Chatham Head, where Lewis Henry's business had been conducted in the 1820s.

Because Desbrisay's death occurred when he was alone in his room, an inquest was held. Ten jurors impaneled by coroner Martin Cranney heard from a servant that the deceased had been "drinking regularly" for some time, and "quite heavily on wine, ale and beer" in the days preceding his death. This testimony, and six empty wine bottles on his night stand, account for the jury's verdict of "death by excessive drinking."

The children of the family included Margaret Desbrisay, the wife of Charles A. Harding, who was a law partner of John M. Johnson in the early 1840s; Lestock P. W. Desbrisay, a Richibucto businessman who represented Kent County in the provincial assembly in the 1850s and 60s; and Theophilus Desbrisay Jr, who studied law with John Ambrose Street and enjoyed a lengthy career as a barrister in Bathurst.

Sources

[b] LDS-IGI [d] NB Courier 7 Aug 1847 / Advocate 8 Jun 1892; Baxter; DCB (re. John Stewart, Thomas Desbrisay, and Thomas Wright); Ganong Collection (NB settlements); Gleaner 29 May 1832, 8 Apr 1834; Graves; St Michael's Museum (copy of inquest re. Theophilus Desbrisay); Spray (ENC)


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