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Prieur, François Xavier (1814–1891)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

François Xavier Prieur (1814-1891), merchant and author, was born on 8 May 1814 at Soulanges, Quebec, Canada, the son of Antoine and Archange Prieur. The family soon moved to the new settlement of St Polycarpe, where Prieur went to school. He then worked for a store-keeper at Soulanges for six years before setting up his own business at St Timothée in 1835. There he came into contact with the organization led by Louis Papineau to spread a spirit of nationalism among French Canadians. In 1838 he was sworn in as a 'castor' of the Association des Chasseurs, founded to drive the English out of Lower Canada. He appears to have been a leader of the rebellion in the St Timothée district. He was captured and tried at Montreal for treason between November 1838 and February 1839. He was first condemned to death, but later was among fifty-eight French Canadians whose sentences were commuted to transportation for life to New South Wales. They arrived in the Buffalo in February 1840. After his arrest and trial he kept a journal, later published as Notes d'un condamné Politique de 1838 (Montreal, 1869); it gives a full account of the sufferings of the French Canadians in the Buffalo and their experiences in New South Wales.

Their first two years were spent at Longbottom on the Parramatta River and then they were assigned to employers in 1842 at the height of the depression, but in addition to their language difficulties it was almost impossible to find work. Prieur worked in a confectioner's shop for a time and then was gardener for a Sydney merchant. After gaining a ticket-of-leave in February 1842 he set out with about ten compatriots to work at a Canadian sawmill on the Parramatta River, where he and his partner, Léon Ducharme, hired carters to transport timber to the river and then used a flat-bottomed boat to carry it to Sydney where it was sold for 20s. a thousand laths. A bush fire caused him to leave the sawmill, however, and with three other Frenchmen he began making candles, only to give this up because of impending failure. He rejoined Ducharme to work on the farm of a wealthy butcher, then set up a grocer's shop, bakery and blacksmith's forge with two former companions at Irish Town. It was here that he heard the first of their number had been pardoned. Prieur and Ducharme were both pardoned soon after, the news of their pardons being conveyed in Lord Stanley's dispatch of 29 February 1844.

Prieur had saved nothing for the journey home and took employment in helping a French merchant to wind up his affairs in Sydney. When the merchant left on the Saint George in February 1846 Prieur went with him and on his arrival in London found that a fund had been set up to pay their passages back to Canada. He sailed in the Montreal arriving in Quebec in September. He settled at St Martin in the parish of Chateaugay and ran a business there. He later established a business in English pottery and made several trips to England. In 1860 George Cartier made him superintendent of the Reformatory at Ile aux Noix and later he became superintendent of all Canadian prisons. He married Marguerite Aurélie Neveaux, and they had five sons and five daughters. He died on 1 January 1891, aged 76, and was buried in the cemetery of La Côte des Neiges, Montreal.

Léon Ducharme also published a journal of his experiences in New South Wales, Journal d'un Exilé Politique aux Terres Australes (Montreal, 1845), and although it is less detailed than Prieur's it gives more commentary on the colony. His account is otherwise much the same as Prieur's, but he describes Australia as possessing a pleasant climate, as being pastoral rather than agricultural, and deplores the numbers of poor immigrants and the shocking condition of the working class. The impressions of the French Canadians seem to have been highly unfavourable, especially as their stay was enforced and at a time of depression. Ducharme left for London in the Achilles in July 1844, and sailed to New York in the Switzerland, arriving in January 1845 and journeying thence to Canada.

Only one of the French Canadians settled in Australia: Joseph Marceau, a widower who left three children in Canada. He was pardoned in Lord Stanley's dispatch of 31 January 1844, and married Mary Barrett at Dapto on 9 October. He first took up shoemaking, then farmed at Dapto until his death on 8 June 1882, aged 77. He had six daughters and five sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the State Trials Before a General Court Martial held at Montreal in 1838-39 Exhibiting a Complete History of the Rebellion in Lower Canada, vols 1-2 (Montreal, 1839)
  • F. X. Prieur, Notes of a Convict of 1838, translated by G. Mackaness (Syd, 1949)
  • manuscript catalogue under Léon Ducharme, Joseph Marceau and François Xavier Prieur (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Prieur, François Xavier (1814–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prieur-francois-xavier-2564/text3499, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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