This Week in History


Fox Bites Duke

This story was initially published in 1999

On August 28, 1819, Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond, died at Chapman's farm near Richmond, Ontario. He had been Governor of Lower Canada (now Quebec) for only 13 months.

Charles Lennox, 1789

Charles Lennox, 1789
© Library and Archives Canada / John Kay / C-94671

Born in 1764, in a barn, Lennox was part of a powerful aristocratic family in Britain. At the age of 24 he caused great scandal when he challenged the Duke of York, the second son of King George III, to a duel! Some accused Lennox of high-treason, since York was second-in-line to the British throne, as well as Lennox's commanding officer in the army. However, most cheered Lennox for defending his family name. He became the 4th Duke of Richmond upon the death of his uncle in 1806.

In 1818, to the surprise of many, the Duke was appointed Governor of Lower Canada, as well as Commander-in-chief of all the forces in British North America. The cabinet minister who chose Richmond for Canada was his brother-in-law, Lord Bathurst. Governing soon after the War of 1812, the Duke was responsible for fortifying both Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada against further American attacks. Richmond thus initiated the re-building of the Québec Citadel, the fortification of Île aux Noix and Île Sainte-Hélène, and the reinforcement of Kingston. He also proposed many canals to improve communication routes between the Canadas, for both trade and war. These expensive ambitions put the Duke at odds with the Lower Canadian Legislative Assembly. As well, Richmond believed in a strong Governor with a weak Assembly, and supported the English Party, which included the hated Château Clique. This further divided French and English, Catholic and Protestant, Lower Canadians.

Richmond Cairn, Richmond, Ontario

Richmond Cairn, Richmond, Ontario
© Parks Canada / Lisa Forbes / 1999

Still, Richmond was fairly popular, due to his charm and promotion of sport and culture. The summer of 1819, he set out to tour the Canadas. At Sorel he was bitten in the hand by a tame fox. The incident was forgotten until some time later when the symptoms of rabies appeared. The Duke experienced great pains in his throat and shoulders, and a profound fear of water. On August 28, near the village that was his namesake, Richmond died in a settler's cabin.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has recognized Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond by a plaque near Richmond, Ontario. Other related national historic sites are the Québec Citadel; Fort Lennox, Île aux Noix, Quebec; and the Governors' Cottage, Sorel, Quebec.

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