M21904 | Funeral of General d'Urban

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Funeral of General d'Urban
James Duncan (1806-1881)
1849, 19th century
Watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper
43.7 x 53.6 cm
Bequest of Miss Sophia L. Elliot
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Painting (2229) , painting (2227)
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This signed view looks south-west along Notre-Dame Street, from a point near the corner of St. Lawrence Street. Sir Benjamin d'Urban (1777-1849), a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and Commander of the British Forces in North America form 1847 until his death on May 25, 1849, was instrumental in allaying bitter feelings and in preventing clashes between troops and the populace following the burning of the Parliament House on April 25, 1849. Following his death, the May 28, 1849 edition of The Gazette commended his efforts towards this cause and urged the people of Montreal to attend his funeral and " pay respects to a tried servant of our Gracious Queen ". In her book British Regulars in Montreal, Elinor Senior describes the cortege as follows : Many, perhaps, came just to see the solemn and imposing show that the garrison was capable of mounting. All shops were closed from half-past ten in the morning until one o'clock. Sir James Alexander estimated that 10,000 lined the street as minute guns sounded from St. Helen's Island to mark the movement of the cortege to the military burying ground on Victoria Road, now Papineau Street. Soldiers of the 19th and 23rd Regiments lined the streets, their guns reversed, while the muffled drums of their bands rolled as the body passed. In this watercolour, Duncan has acted as a social observer, provinding a visual account of the procession in all its somberness and drama. His view corresponds closely, moreover, to the written description of the event. The spire of Christ Church can be seen on the left, together with one of the towers of Notre-Dame Church in the background. The building with the cupola and pennant at half-mast, in the middleground on the right, is Donegani's Hotel, which was situated at the corner of Notre-Dame and Bonsecours streets. It was destroyed by fire only a few months after the procession, on August 16, 1849. (Excerpt from: GRAHAM, Conrad. Mont-Royal - Ville Marie : Early Plans and Views of Montreal, McCord Museum of Canadian History, p.131.)

Keys to History

A clear sense of the military's importance in Canada is evident from the funeral of General D'Urban. Sir Benjamin D'Urban had fought in colonies such as South Africa before coming to Canada, where he died in 1849. His funeral, painted by James Duncan, was one of the most impressive in the history of Montreal.

Source : The Aftermath of the Rebellions [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    A soldier's funeral was an opportunity for his comrades to express their grief. An important military funeral would feature a cortege followed by marching troops. Another military tradition consisted in the firing of a salvo of shots over the open grave.

  • Where

    Even without wars, soldiers at posts around the Empire might die from cholera and other forms of sickness, or alcoholism. Montreal had two military cemeteries where soldiers could expect a decent burial.

  • When

    D'Urban's funeral in 1849 occurred during a time of political crisis. Many Canadians were urging annexation to the United States. The funeral allowed authorities to rally supporters of the Empire in a prominent display in Montreal's streets.

  • Who

    Sir Benjamin D'Urban had fought throughout the Empire before coming to Canada where he died in 1849; his funeral was of great symbolic importance.