This Week in History


The First Governor Under the British Regime

For the week of Monday June 18, 2007

On July 18, 1794, James Murray died at Beauport House in England. During a 58 years long military career, he distinguished himself in a number of conflicts throughout the British Empire before becoming Governor of Québec.

James Murray
James Murray
© Library and Archives Canada / 1997-227-1
Born in Scotland on January 21, 1721 or 1722, Murray arrived in North America in 1758 as a lieutenant-colonel under General James Wolfe. He took part in the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 and the siege of Québec in 1759, commanding the left wing of the British army during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. In 1760 he was promoted to governor of the Québec garrison.

After the fall of Montréal that same year, military rule was established in the province, creating three districts: Québec (with Murray as governor), Trois-Rivières and Montréal. He concerned himself with security, the role and influence of the Church, and the economy. In the hopes of winning over the Canadians to the British cause in order to avoid a revolt, Murray allowed them to keep their language, religion, and some customs and laws. He ensured he had the backing of the Church so that it would encourage parishioners to co-operate with the British regime. Murray put in place economic measures to help the exhausted colony; supplies were scarce, cash was short and inflation loomed. These measures allowed the Canadians, mostly farmers, to survive, but caused many problems for merchants, who were mostly British.

A correct plan of the environs of Québec, and of the battle fought on the 13th September, 1759
© Library and Archives Canada / NMC 54105
Military rule was lifted in 1763 when France gave up most of its claims to North America. The three districts were combined, and Murray became the governor of Québec on November 21. Great Britain wished to anglicize the colony, but Murray made few efforts to do so. Instead, he organized the government and judicial powers so that Catholic Canadians would have access to certain positions. These measures were well received by the Canadians but made him some British enemies. Irritated by his management, his critics brought their complaints to London, which recalled him in 1766 while allowing him to keep his title of governor until 1768.

Murray’s decisions as governor set precedents that were favourable to the Canadians when the Quebec Act of 1774 was drafted. From an economic standpoint, the little help he gave merchants had the effect of keeping the province in a near-feudal state and slowed its movement to a mercantile economy.

James Murray was designated National Historic Person in 1955.

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