Hocquard captains in Nova Scotia

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Helier Hocquard

and Nova Scotia


Pictou in the 19th century

While exploring the general card index in the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax, Elizabeth Hocquard Mason decided on a whim to look up the family name. She had no real expectations that there would be anything listed under the heading of Hocquard, but she was surprised. This article was first published in the bulletin of the Channel Island Family History Society

A 1793 map of early land allocations in Pictou, with Helier 'Hogard's' arrowed

Three documents

Three documents are held there - one is a petition from a Helier Hocquard, the second is a passport issued by Sir Hilgrove Turner, the Lieut-Governor of Jersey, to a Joshua Hocquard of the Parish of St John, and the third is a two-part 1600 word petition from Joshua to the Lieut-Governor of Nova Scotia.

On 20 January 1801 Helier Hocquard petitioned the Governor of Cape Breton, Major General John Despard, for permission to occupy land 'on the Gut of Canso near Plastear Palace Cove' (sic). Helier was clearly literate, but his spelling was intuitive at times. The Gut, now called the Strait of Canso, is a wide deep channel separating Cape Breton Island from mainland Nova Scotia.

Plaister, or later Plaster, of Paris Cove, is now the harbour for the town of Port Hastings, which is close to the modern causeway that crosses the Strait of Canso.

This petition was a first step in the procedure to apply for a land grant and he was expected to provide some personal history and his plans for the property.

Stolen vessel

Helier stated that he was a native of the Island of Jersey and had previously served in the Jersey Militia as an artilleryman for ten years. He claimed to have been 'in this part of the world for going on eight years' and during this time, he had apparently been robbed of property, unspecified, worth £1,500 which had been taken to Sydney, the main town on the island. As Helier was a captain, stolen property of this value is very likely to have been a vessel.

Helier reported that he had built himself a house and had started on a gristmill 'for his own convenience and the Publick in General as this place labour under a great disadvantage for the want of the same'.

At this time there was a series of very severe winters which brought Cape Bretoners to the brink of starvation. On 9 March 1802 a License to Occupy was granted. In 1803 Helier probably retured to Jersey as his father, Matthieu, was buried on 10 January of that year. In March 1803 Helier transferred land in St Mary to Philip Le Moignan and in April the Partage d'Heritage for Matthieu's estate was recorded.

Later that year a section of 600 acres, including the land on Plaster Cove that Helier was occupying, was granted to two other individuals. He would probably have been able to continue living there.

On 16 June 1805 the Nancy was registered in Sydney, Cape Breton, by owner Captain Helier Hocquard. The 45-foot, 38-ton, two-masted fishing vessel was built in the Gut of Canso in 1805. Subscripts to the entry read 'removed to Picto' and 'supposedly fishing 1807, 1808, 1809'.

Since Pictou merchant James Patterson listed Captain Helier Hocquard as purchasing timber in 1794 and again in 1799 and a map of the town, which purports to be from 1793, shows one waterfront lot as belonging to 'Helier Hogard', it appears that he made regular business trips to Pictou while living in Plaster Cove. Few land transactions in Pictou were recorded before 1800 and the first record involving Helier, on 7 December 1804, is the purchase for £190 of 1.7 acres on the north side of the harbour from a John Petterson, mnown as the 'Founder of Pictou Town'. Helier may have moved there at this time or after his vessel was finished in 1805.

Ten Hocquard captains

A visit to Newfoundland produced Lloyds dispatches from ten Hocquard captains in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The list included Captains Helier and Joshua Hocquard. From those records it appears that Helier had done the Newfoundland run from 1782-1793. The last ship listed in 1793 was the Helier, owned by Newmans of Devon. The only other dispatch from him was in 1808 which just read ' Nancy - Canadian built'.

So by 1805 Helier was living in Pictou, a community of a few hundred largely Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots situated on a sheltered harbour on the relatively calm Northumberland strait. As a 50-year-old bacelor from Jersey, he was probably somewhat lonely though he would have had dealings with Peter Renouf, who was also a merchant there for several years.

By 1811 a Peter Renouf of Jersey was listed as a 'trader' in Plaster, of Paris Cove, Cape Breton, and in 1815 as a member of the Cape Breton Militia.

For a Scotsman Jersey or Guernsey would have been one and the same and George Patterson's History of the Town of Pictou published in 1877, described Helier as follows:

'Helier Houkuard had a red house. He was a Guernsey man, who went out fishing in summer in his schooner, which was then the only vessel owned in Pictou. He had a wharf with a small fish house upon it. Here sometimes small vessels were built'.

From this description it appears that Helier ran a miniature Charles Robin enterprise. The spelling of his name is interesting and is most likely a good indication of how Helier and Jersey folk of the time pronounced the name.

Present day descendants of a Jean Hocquard from St Brelade, who settled in Paspebiac, Gaspe, in the 1830s, pronounce their name as if was spelled Whoo-Kor, The other, more bizarre spellings encountered during the research of this story were due, no doubt, to illiteracy and the misreading of bad handwriting.

One set of relevant documents found in the Pictou Land Registry Office was filed under the name of Helen Hangard.

Restored Pictou buildings

Buying and leasing

Helier continued to buy and lease lots up until 1809. In that year he started to sell his property again, with three sales in the early part of the year, possibly motivated by health problems. No record of his death has survived and with no wife or children to inherit his business or to erect a tombstone, one can only piece some facts together based on his brother's story and the legal documents relating to the settlement of the estate. From these documents it is clear that he made a will but that, like the early church records of Pictou, has not survived.

Joshua Hocquard was a captain like his brother and according to dispatches and correspondence from John Jean - author of Jersey Sailing Ships - he started out on the vessel Friends in 1792, then Good Hope in 1793, Diligence in 1795, and Hazard from 1799 to 1800. He captured the lugger Ajax and a Spanish schooner in 1800. The dispatch in the London Gazette of 2 August 1800 reads:

'Joshua hocquard capt. Hazard p'teer of jersey letter to admiral 17 jul returning frm cruise on the 5th met west of guerh chased and took aja french lugger p'teer of st malo 4 carriage guns 35 men sailed frm ocha had taken nothing.'

There were no more dispatches, but Joh Jean lists him as Captain of the Medea in 1803. From his petition to the Lieut-Governor of Nova Scotia it appears he was captured by the French around 1805 and spent ten miserable years in a French jail. He only survived by having money sent from Jersey to buy food and when he was eventually released in 1815, he and his wife were in poor financial shape.

He does not mention that his only child died, aged 14, in 1812. He learned of his brother's death from an acquaintance who had sailed with a Captain Benjamin Mooring. Mooring had apprenticed with Helier and was one of the executors of his will. He had commented with surprise that no one had gone to Nova Scotia to collect the inheritance. No doubt Joshua was shocked and excited at this news. In March 1816, urged on by his family and full of hope, he set off for Pictou.

Pictou harbour

Difficult journey

According to his detailed account, it was both and expensive and difficult journey. Finding no sailings for Nova Scotia from Jersey, he sailed to Liverpool. After a month he eventually found a ship headed for Miramichi, New Brunswick. There was further delay in Miramichi until he could sail to Prince Edward Island, where most of his clothing was stolen from his trunk.

Finally, in July, almost four months after he left Jersey, he arrived in Pictou only to discover that the senior executor, John Dawson, was dead and the other two, Thomas Davison and Captain Mooring were away.

Until Thomas Davison returned in December Joshua spent his time talking to the inhabitants of Pictou and, no doubt, began to get decidedly worried. He was told that his brother had died in 1809 and in April and May of that year, six pieces of Helier's property were sold for a total of £250. Joshua also learned that Davison was a thoroughly disreputahle character - a fact supported by historian George Patterson.

According to rumour, Davison had not collected the monies owed to the Hocquard business, had inflated all the debts and sold the land and buildings at unadvertised auctions, well below market value, to his partner. The land was then transferred to Samuel Cunard, too whom Davison owed a considerable amount of money. This had resulted in the estate being insolvent.

When Joshua asked Davison for the will and the records for the business, he was refused, so he had to get an order from a judge. The business books confirmed the rumours and Joshua consulted a lawyer who advised him to write to the Lieut-Governor of the colony and ask for help.

The long, heart-rending appeal, dated 14 December 1816, tells his sad history and he pleaded with George, Earl of Dalhousie, for assistance in collecting his rightful inheritance. He told of a letter and a copy of the will that his brother apparently requested be set to the family shortly before he died. This was never received. According to Joshua's research, this letter would have told them that, after the debts were paid, the value of the estate would be about £1,000, a very considerable sum to someone in Joshua's position.


In 1812 three commissioners had been appointed by the General Council in Halifax to investigate whether permission should be granted for the executors to sell the assets - land, house, wharf, water lots, a vessel, fish house and perhaps stocks of salt cod. Presumably the committee accepted the details as shown to them by Davison and on 26 April 1813 the Council granted a licence to the executors to sell at public auction as much as was necessary to pay the debts. Three days before Josue's petition was written, Davison prepared a document entitled 'State of the Debts and Credits of Helier Hocquard, late of Pictou, Deceased'.

Map of Pictou County

The document indicates that the proceeds of the sale of his considerable property were a paltry £100, which provided 5s in the pound to six creditors of the original 40 Devison had listed. The statement includes a list of legacies, presumably copied from Helier's will as follows:

  • To Mr Hocquard's mother and sister £15 1s
  • To Mr Hocquard's brother Charles and family £25 1s
  • Brother Michael 1s
  • Brother Abraham and family 1s each
  • Brother Joseph £30
  • To the poor of the Parish of St John in the Island of Jersey £25

It appears that Matthieu and Josue were transcribed and translated as Michael and Joseph and though there are no surviving baptismal records for either Matthieu or Charles, they did marry and produce children in St John. Abraham, as the eldest son, was the main beneficiary of the family estate, and also acquired the rentes due to Helier. No doubt Helier took into account the long and arduous imprisonment which Joshua had endured, when listing his bequests.

Joshua wrote a final addition to his petition on 16 February 1817, pointing out his desperate circumstances, having run out of money and with no way of returning to his family in Jersey. He referred to a recommendation written on his behalf by the Governor of Jersey to a Mr Mortimer, of Pictou, a man who owes the estate £24. Without the permission of the executors, the Judge of Probabte, Mr Archibald, would not give Mortimer permission to pass the money on to Joshua. He finished his appeal as follows:

"I assure you, My Lord, that this going on Eight Months since I am in this place I had more trouble of mind, vexations, grievances and distress than I experienced in my long suffering upwards of ten years in the French prisons amongst our enemies."

Joshua's petition has the following two comments added by the Clerk in Halifax:

"Enquiries of Mr Mortimer and Archibald as to this matter"
"I find this man has gone thro' the course of Law to obtain his s........ he has come out with expectations that cannot be realised, the estate being insolvent."

Charming Nancy

Thomas Davison eventually left town with the disreputable widow of John Dawson and presumably his ill-gotten gains. According to John Jean, Joshua was commanding the Charming Nancy in 1817. It appears that he did manage to escape a poverty-stricken and lonely life in the colonies, probably by working his passage back home or, perhaps he was eventually granted the £24 owed by Mortimer.

[Editor's note: Was this the same Charming Nancy which was an active privateer some 70 years earlier, or another ship of the same name?]

The burial in St John's Parish on 7 November 1830 of a Josue Hocquard may be further evidence that he died at home in his native island.
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