The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758, Hugh Boscawen 2011

The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758, Hugh Boscawen 2011

Boscawen, Hugh 
The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758
University of Oklahoma Press. 
ISBN 978-0-8061-4155-8
408 pages.

I wish this book had been published a few years earlier, as it would have been most useful in preparing for my recent book on Cook’s time in Eastern Canada and Newfoundland.1 J.S. McLennan’s work2 was a major source for me, but this new title renders it, and all other titles, largely redundant.

This book is by Hugh Boscawen, a direct descendant of Admiral Sir Edward Boscawen who led the British fleet during the siege of Louisbourg in 1758. He has assembled a wealth of information, and describes in detail all the operations of the three month long siege. The book covers events that were taking place on both the British and French sides during the campaign.

Louisbourg is strategically situated on the east coast of Cape Breton Island (known as Île Royale in early 1758), and commands the southern entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence (and hence access to Quebec and Montreal) as well as being close to the fishing resources of the Grand Banks, southeast of Newfoundland. Control of Louisbourg, therefore, was crucial to the control of Canada, both politically and economically. The settlement was founded after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 when France had to evacuate its settlement at Placentia in Newfoundland. Placentia’s inhabitants were evacuated to form the nucleus of the future Louisbourg.

North American forces captured Louisbourg for the British in 1745 during the War of Austrian Succession, only for it to be returned to France under the terms of the peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 (much to the disgust of the people of New England). To counter the French presence at Louisbourg, Britain then decided in 1749 to build its own fortified port on the Nova Scotia coast. The site chosen was on Chebucto Bay and became the port of Halifax.

Hostilities commenced once more in the mid-1750s with the outbreak of the Seven Years War. The British realised they needed to capture and secure Louisbourg before they could proceed up the St. Lawrence to Quebec and beyond, so their fleet attempted a blockade of Louisbourg during 1757. It was a failure as French ships managed to regularly slip by. It was only in 1758 that Britain launched a concerted attack on French interests in North America. In Britain, William Pitt had become Secretary of State for the Southern Department and, as such, controlled foreign policy. While other European powers fought each other, Pitt concentrated his efforts overseas, and French Canada was his prime target. In 1758 he despatched a joint naval and military force, beginning with an attack on Louisbourg.

Boscawen shows how the British success came through the close working co-operation between the army and navy. The navy, under Boscawen, transported the army and affected a blockade of the settlement while the army, under Major General Sir Jeffery Amherst, undertook the actual siege and capture of the fort. Luck played a part in allowing the British force, led by James Wolfe, ashore in Gabarus Bay but Wolfe, as he would a year later at Quebec, seized the opportunity and gradually pummelled the French into submission.

Cook fans may be disappointed at the lack of reference to him in the book. However, HMS Pembroke, Captain John Simcoe and Cook only played a peripheral role in this campaign, spending most of their time as part of the offshore blockade. Cook’s meeting with Samuel Holland (described so well by Diederik van Vleuten3) is mentioned in passing.


John Robson


  1. Robson, John. Captain Cook's War and Peace: The Royal Navy years, 1755-1768. Seaforth Publishing. 2009.
    Reviewed in Cook's Log, page 9, vol. 32, no. 4 (2009).
  2. McLennan, J. S. Louisbourg From Its Foundation To Its Fall. Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1918.
  3. Cook's Log, page 5, vol. 32, no. 4 (2009).

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 26, volume 35, number 1 (2012).

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