Monday, June 1, 2015

James Day: The Shipwright of Paspebiac

Charles Robin & Co's Establishment, Paspebiac
from Canadian Scenery: District of Gaspe by Thomas Pye 1866

In June of 1767, 23-year-old Charles Robin of Jersey in the Channel Islands landed at Paspebiac on the Gaspe Peninsula to establish a inshore fishery on the Baie des Chaleurs. Several years earlier, the British had defeated the French during the Seven Years War, and Robin was taking advantage of the end of French control of a large area of Eastern Canada.

Charles Robin on Isle Madame by Lewis Parker
Operating a cod fishery on the Baie des Chaleur was a challenge during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While Robin found a ready market for dried cod in Spain and Portugal, he had to contend with the disruption of  business first by the American Revolution, then the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and finally the War of 1812. Robin estimated that he suffered £6000 in damages as a consequence of privateer raids during the American Revolution. During the French Revolutionary Wars, Robin lost a number of ships to the French, and because it was wartime, was unable to procure replacements. His answer was to build his own ships at Paspebiac, and in 1791 he hired my gggg-grandfather, James Day as his shipwright.

James Day, was baptised at Shorwell, on the Isle of Wight, on 28 Oct 1768. His parents, James Day and Ann Burt, were married the previous May. Sometime between the birth of his brother John in 1769 and William in 1772, the family moved to Newport. In 1783, James became an apprentice to master shipwright John Siers. Shortly after his apprenticeship ended, James was hired by Charles Robin.

Robin would have had to provide strong incentive for James Day to leave the comforts of England for the wilderness of the Gaspe. There was certainly no shortage of work for shipwrights in England. Records of the Charles Robin & Co. held at the Nova Scotia Archives show that Day was paid £50 per year, some of which was invested for him by Robin in British stocks.

It has been suggested that James left a wife and child behind in England, but I have found no evidence for this. Nor is there any evidence for James having every served in the Royal Navy. In his letters and journals Robin does refer to James's fondness for alcohol, but otherwise held him in high regard: "We'll never find another like him."

Upon arriving in Paspebiac, James Day laid out a shipyard and repaired the Charles Robin & Co. ship Hilton. He then began work on his first ship, the Fiott, which was launched in 1792, but unfortunately captured by the French in 1794. A second ship, the If,  followed two years later. In total, James Day built 16 ships for Charles Robin & Co., about one every two years, and numerous smaller boats.

The eighth ship constructed at Paspebiac was named after its builder. The Day, completed in 1806, was a square-rigged vessel of 185 tons with two decks and three masts, 84 feet long and 23 feet wide. Black birch was used for the hull while the masts and spars were of white pine. Like all of Robin's ships she bore no figurehead, however, during the War of 1812 she did mount two four-pounder guns. On her maiden voyage she carried 2250 quintals of dried cod to Malta (a quintal is equivalent to 112 pounds), and then proceeded to drydock in Liverpool where her bottom was coppered. For the next 27 years the Day sailed to Palermo, Naples, Lisbon and various ports in Spain. She lost a mast in 1810, suffered hull damage in both 1817 and 1818, and became stuck in ice for 15 days in the spring of 1822. In 1826 the Day began taking dried cod to Brazil. Although she was sold in 1833, the Day continue sailing until at least 1847.

Unlike most Robin employees, James Day was permitted to raise a family in Paspebiac. About 1803, he married Angelique Brasseur. Angelique was the daughter of Mathurin Brasseur and Catherine Therese Duguay. Mathurin was an Acadian refugee from Ile St Jean (Prince Edward Island) who had escaped to the Baie des Chaleurs in 1758 during the Expulsion of the Acadians. Before her marriage to James, Angelique had an illegitimate son named Jacques who was born in 1795 but died in 1801.

Day Mill, New Carlisle, Quebec
James Day died on 15 Mar 1833 at Paspebiac. By the time of his death he had acquired a considerable amount of property around Paspebiac including a mill. In his will he divided his property amongst his wife and five children. After her husband's death, Angelique left Paspebiac and joined her two daughters in St Helier, Jersey, where she died in 1849.

James and Angelique's daughter Angelique married Francis Luce, shipmaster in the employ of Charles Robin & Company. They left Paspebiac for Jersey about 1830. Her sister, Sophia, married Francis's brother, John Luce, and also left Paspebiac for Jersey. Their brother John married Jane Eleanor Munro of Bas-Caraquet in New Brunswick. Another son, William Day, married Jane's sister, Mary Charlotte Munro. William was found dead in his bed at the age of 33.

James Day (1843-1933) and
Angelique Veneta Day (1867-1948)
James and Angelique's oldest son, James, became a miller. In the 1861 census he is shown as having a grist mill and a lumber mill at New Carlisle to the west of Paspebiac. James married his cousin Maria Day (1811-1897), daughter of his uncle William Day (1772-1847) of Westbourne in West Sussex. James and Maria were married in Westbourne in 1827, and their son William James Day was born there during a visit in 1841.

James died in 1876 and was buried at St Peter's Anglican Cemetery in Paspebiac. His son James (1843-1933), my great-great-grandfather, became a merchant. James married Annie Harris Crawford who was born across the Baie de Chaleur in Pokeshaw, New Brunswick. Their daughter, Angelique Veneta Day (1867-1948) married Arthur Cooke of New Carlisle (1865-1936), my great-grandfather.


David Lee, “Robin, Charles ,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Universit√© Laval, 2003, accessed June 1, 2015,

David Lee, The Robins in Gaspe: 1766 to 1825, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1984


  1. Are you familiar with a Captain Philip Jeune and George Jenne/Jeune that were in the area in august of 1849? Looking for info on them.