#54 - THE ESCAPE OF FRANCOIS L. BOURNEUF

Yarmouth Vanguard, January 9, 1990

François Lambert Bourneuf was born in Normandy, France, in 1787. In 1809 he enlisted in an armed merchant ship, called the "Furieuse," which was trading with the French West Indies. This was at the time of Napoleon's wars. On her return from Guadeloupe, being in the vicinity of the Grand Banks, the "Furieuse" was pursued for 30 hours by a British warship, which finally caught up with her, killing 19 men and wounding 60 others, among whom was Francois Bourneuf himself, who was shot in the leg. Those who survived were taken to Halifax, where they arrived 27 days later. The soldiers and the sailors were sent to prison on Melville Island, at the far end of the North West Arm, while the wounded were taken to the Dock Yard hospital. Bourneuf was to stay here over 40 days, after which he was sent to prison with the others on Melville Island.

François Bourneuf, in an extensive narrative, gives us all the details of his capture, his stay in prison, his escape and his flight, which ended in Pubnico. From here, he moved to St. Mary's Bay. He had a brilliant career in Clare as a merchant and shipowner. He was elected a member of the Legislative Assembly, representing Digby County from 1843 to 1859. He died in 1871. Many people count him as their ancestor, although there are hardly any left now of that name, as I said in my sketch No. 38. In the present sketch, I will follow briefly the mishaps and adventures of his escape from prison, till he reached Pubnico.

In 1811, after he had been two years in prison, the jailer asked 20 men to do some work on the road leading to Truro. Being 24 years of age, tired of being in jail, Bourneuf offered his service although, as he says, his intention was to find a way to escape.  Each workman was receiving enough ration to last eight days, while working under the supervision of soldiers.  The first evening Bourneuf made plans with two other prisoners to escape. It had been raining quite hard that evening. Finally, around 10 o'clock, the rain stopped. That is when they were able to avoid furtively the surveillance of the guards and make their escape.

They walked all night. At daybreak, they hid themselves in a wood, close to the main highway, to wait for the soldiers who surely were to go by, searching for them. They did go by, but without noticing them. They stayed there all day, and at night they resumed their journey. But when they arrived at a bridge, at the entrance of Truro, they were seized by the soldiers who had been hiding under it. Next morning, they left for Halifax. Bourneuf says that he was so tired that he could hardly walk. But that day they walked at least 38 miles. The next day, the three of them were sent to Melville Island and put in the dungeon, under the prison, where they were to stay 10 days, being served but bread and water. After their release, they were put to work in the prison itself, doing minor art and craft works.

The following year, 1812, he was sent to work on the Prospect road, where he was to stay three months. With two companions with whom he had made his first escape, they made plans to make another escape. After inspecting the area, they started to hide as much food as possible.

Having noticed that on Purcell Island, which is located not far from the shore in Prospect Bay, there were a number of boats, they decided to steal one of them. They went to the spot where the island was the closest to the shore. Bourneuf stripped himself of his clothes, swam to one of them and rowed back to the shore to get his clothings and the rest of the luggage. Then the three got into the boat and started to row and row, till they were quite a distance from land. That is when Bourneuf decided to put back his clothes, that is when they noticed that they had been left on the shore, along with his wallet and some precious papers.

After setting up the sails, they went out to sea about 40 or 50 miles. That might have been the reason why they were not caught, as nobody would have thought that they would have gone that far out.

They made La Have and then Liverpool, and finally they reached off Shelburne, when a very thick fog set it. They had to lie to for two days. They then resumed their flight another two days, when their sails were torn under a heavy gale. Luckily, they had a spare set of sails.

After having been tossed about for eight days, being scratched all over and filthy from head to toes, covered with boils, bread and drinking water being practically exhausted, they finally saw a fishing vessel, which they decided to seize, although all that they had were an axe and a few sticks. But when they approached the vessel, the crew turned against them with a gun, a sword and sticks. All that our escapees could say is that they did not wish them any harm; they wanted drinking water and food. They were given water and half of a big halibut.

Their next stop was Port Hebert. After spending the night in their boat, the next morning they knocked at the door of the first house that they met. Unfortunately, it was that of a police officer. To make a long story short, they had to tell him their story. The boat that they had stolen was sent back to Purcell Island and they, themselves, were put in prison in Shelburne.

They had been six weeks in Shelburne when the authorities in Halifax sent orders to send them back. After boarding the vessel which was to take them to Halifax, Bourneuf ordered a little bottle of rum, with which he treated the crew and the guards. While they were all in their cabin "drinking," Bourneuf went up on deck, jumped into a boat lying nearby and started to row up to Cape Negro, leaving his two companions in the vessel. Then he started to walk; he stopped when he was about 10 miles out of Shelburne. The night being pitch-black, he laid down and slept all night. Next morning, at 10 o'clock, he arrived in Barrington.

Here, at the first house that he met, he had his breakfast. He told the people who he was, asking them where in this section there were French people. He was told how to get to Pubnico. Taking what is known as "The Nine Mile Road," he had to stop for shelter at a house on his way during a rain storm. He left in the afternoon through that newly-built narrow muddy road and reached Pubnico around four o'clock, safe and sound and secure. It must have been in the Fall of 1812.

And thus ended François Lambert Bourneuf's escapade, which had lasted over three years. He was to stay in Pubnico till the Summer of 1813, when Benoni d'Entremont was asked by the authorities in Halifax how he dared keep in his territory a French prisoner. Bourneuf was obliged to move to St. Mary's Bay where he was to make his abode.

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