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Halifax was established in 1749 by Britain to provide a strategic counter weight to New France on the Atlantic coast of North America.

In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht gave the French territory of Acadia to Britain, but it made no serious effort to settle the area beyond the colonial capital at Annapolis Royal (Port-Royal) on the Bay of Fundy. While Britain had nominal control of Nova Scotia the area was populated by French Acadians. France continued to maintain effective control of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sought to augment its strategic position with the construction of the fortress of Louisbourg on modern day Cape Breton island (Ile Royale). Control of the Gulf of St.Lawrence was critical both for access to Quebec and the fishing grounds of the Grand Banks.

With its large ice free harbour, Halifax provided the potential base to control the approaches to the St.Lawrence and to challenge Louisbourg, which had been returned to France in 1748 following its capture in 1745 by New England forces. Colonel Edward Cornwallis was sent with 2500 settlers to establish a settlement at what was then known as Chebucto. Halifax was founded on July 2, 1749 . The settlement was named in honour of George Montague-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, who was the President of the Board of Trade. Halifax's inner harbour was named Bedford basin in honour of John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford and Secretary of State for the colonies in 1749.

In the ensuing years of conflict Halifax became a significant naval base and garrison. It was the residence for the Admiral commanding the North American Station. A permanent naval dockyard was established in 1759. With the American Revolutionary War, Halifax became the largest Naval base on the Atlantic coast and destination for loyalists fleeing the revolution. When General William Howe fled Boston in March 1776, he brought with him 200 officers, 3000 men, and over 4,000 Loyalist refugees. This was the first of a steady stream of refugees as Britain lost control of the American colonies. Over 100,000 loyalists fled the 13 colonies and although few remained in Halifax their numbers swelled the colony's hinterland and lead to the creation of a mercantile class which would support the city's economic development and post war transformation. In 1784 it was estimated that 1200 Loyalists had settled in Halifax. It also received a large number of Loyalist Black Americans who swelled Nova Scotia's Black community. In 1792, 1200 of these Black Nova Scotians chose to settle in Sierra Leon. When a lasting peace was finally achieved in 1815, the population of Halifax was approximately 11,156.

Halifax's military and commercial role was developed in relation to the expansion of British power in North America in the 18th century and the subsequent 'Pax Brittanica' of the 19th century. These commercial and military roles were subsequently transferred to the new confederation of Canada .

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "The Surgeon's Mate and The Fortune of War"  follow.

In the Canon

The Surgeon's Mate begins: 'The Long Harbour of Halifax in Nova Scotia on a long, long summer's day, and two frigates gliding in on the tide of flood under their topsails alone:...' [1] Halifax appears in its historical setting when HMS Shannon arrives with the US frigate Chesapeake as its prize following their encounter off Boston on 1 June 1813. In The Fortune of War Aubrey, Maturin and Diana Villiers escape from Boston by virtue of the Shannon, and are thus present at its victory over the Chesapeake. In Surgeon's Mate they accompany the Shannon on its triumphant return to Halifax and share the British enthusiasm for the victory. This episode concludes with Aubrey's attendance at the funeral of Captain Lawrence.

While in Halifax, Aubrey meets Amanda Smith, with whom he has a short and indiscreet affair. Although Aubrey quickly leaves Halifax aboard the Admiralty packet, The Diligence, the dalliance continues to have consequences which subsequently appear in The Surgeon's Mate and The Yellow Admiral. Aubrey's encounter with Amanda Smith provides an additional plot device for O'Brian to develop his themes of marriage and relationship, reality and appearances which figure strongly in The Surgeon's Mate. Among these are Jack's relationship with his wife, Diana's with Johnston, and Maturin's with Diana.

Halifax serves as their backdrop until Aubrey, Maturin and Diana Viliers depart for Portsmouth on the Diligence carry news of the victory, Maturin's intelligence and Diana's Blue Peter diamond.


  1. SM, omnibus HC edition, Norton, page 2197
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