ANTROBUS, EDMUND WILLIAM ROMER, army officer, office holder, and justice of the peace; b. 16 Jan. 1795 in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville, Que.), son of John Antrobus*, a merchant, and Catherine Betsey Isabella Cuthbert, daughter of the seigneur of Berthier, James Cuthbert*; m. 1 June 1830 Catharine Esther Brehaut, daughter of merchant Pierre Brehaut*, at Quebec, and they had 13 children, 12 of whom survived infancy; d. 31 Oct. 1852 at Quebec.
Descended from eminent families on both sides, Edmund William Romer Antrobus was brought up in a strict, religious atmosphere and remained a faithful member of the Church of England throughout his life. At age 17 he was studying law in the office of the acting attorney general, Edward Bowen*, but he decided instead to follow in the footsteps of his brother and uncle by choosing a military career. Colonel George Robertson, married to his mother’s sister, was commanding officer of the Canadian Fencibles, and on 4 April 1812, shortly before the War of 1812 broke out, Antrobus signed on with the unit as a volunteer. He was promoted ensign on 2 Sept. 1812 and lieutenant on 14 Nov. 1813.
Antrobus is said to have distinguished himself in various engagements in Upper Canada, for which he received a war medal, before being involved in his most memorable battle. On 30 March 1814, 4,000 American troops made a serious attempt to reach Montreal. Two hundred men from a small British post on the Rivière Lacolle commanded by Major Richard Butler Handcock of the 13th Foot, together with another 300 men seven miles away, put an end to the attempted invasion. Antrobus had been in the thick of the battle and his joy at the victory was immeasurably increased by the invitation to exchange into the 13th Foot. He did so on 24 Aug. 1815 and served overseas in Spain and Portugal, presumably in mopping up operations after the Peninsular War. He was on half pay from 1817 to 1829. In England he obtained a miniature portrait of himself, thought to have been painted by the artist Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Antrobus probably returned to Quebec in 1818 and on 6 July 1819 he was appointed deputy to his father, overseer of highways for the district of Three Rivers. The following year, on 28 January, he succeeded his father. In 1821 he was appointed justice of the peace. Three years later he ran for a seat in the House of Assembly for the riding of Saint-Maurice but was badly defeated by Charles Caron and Pierre Bureau*. When Thomas-Pierre-Joseph Taschereau* died, Antrobus was asked to assume his duties as overseer of highways for the district of Quebec. He was commissioned on 11 Nov. 1826.
When the governor-in-chief, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], founded the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in 1824, Antrobus was among the charter members. The following year he was in a deputation with Mathew Bell* and Pierre-Joseph Godefroy* de Tonnancour to deliver an address welcoming Dalhousie to Trois-Rivières. In 1827 Dalhousie set up a joint monument to James Wolfe* and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*; Antrobus’s name was listed among the donors. Presumably then, the governor-in-chief knew him when he asked Antrobus to become his extra provincial aide-de-camp in 1828. Antrobus succeeded the chief provincial aide-de-camp, Jean-Baptiste Juchereau* Duchesnay, after the latter’s sudden death on 12 Jan. 1833, and thus attended Governor Lord Aylmer [Whitworth-Aylmer*].
A few years later, in protest against the plurality of government posts, the House of Assembly resolved on 26 Feb. 1836 “that the cumulation of the Offices of Grand Voyer [overseer of highways] of the District of Quebec, and of Provincial Aide-de-Camp, in the same person, is contrary to the public good, and incompatible with the due and efficient performance of the duties of the said Offices.” Antrobus continued, however, to occupy the post of overseer of highways until it was abolished in 1841 and that of aide-de-camp until his death in 1852. On the suggestion of Colonel Charles Stephen Gore*, Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson*] also made him deputy adjutant general of militia for Lower Canada on 14 Dec. 1837.
Antrobus was very much a military man. During the second half of his life, at a time when the British military were looked up to by the inhabitants, he was a proud member of the 71st Foot. He always enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow officers and made them feel welcome in his home.
As aide-de-camp, Antrobus often became attached to the governor he was serving. His diary indicates that the parting at the end of a term of office could be quite emotional, especially in the case of Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*, who was critically ill. Probably the only time Antrobus was called upon to defend a governor was on 25 April 1849, when Lord Elgin [Bruce*] signed the Rebellion Losses Bill at the parliament buildings in Montreal and was subsequently pelted with rotten eggs and stones by infuriated tories as he drove away in his open landau. Despite his aide-de-camp’s efforts, Elgin was hit as was Antrobus himself.
Throughout his years of involvement with the governors and their entourages, Antrobus frequently dined with small groups at Government House or planned gala receptions for 500 guests, each of whom he presented to their excellencies. Consequently he became acquainted with a large number of the social élite, vividly catalogued in his diaries, at the successive seats of government: Quebec, Kingston, Montreal, Toronto, and again Quebec. Often he preferred to dine at home with his family and friends. His concern for his children is apparent in a passage from his diary dated 7 Dec. 1845: “To bed at 12, kept watching the children who coughed dreadfully [eight of them had whooping cough], until 6 this morning when I took an hour’s nap.” The last entry in his diary tells of having spent the evening playing whist with Lord Elgin and ends with, “I feel very ill.” He died five hours later of cholera. Lord Elgin recommended to the Legislative Assembly that the widow of his faithful aide-de-camp, left with 12 children, be awarded a pension for life of not more than £200 a year. After some lively debate, the motion was amended to provide for an annual grant and was passed.
Antrobus was remembered by author Charlotte Holt Macpherson as figuring among the prominent characters of Quebec and as “just the right man in the right place, handsome, dignified, overflowing with bonhomie, a favourite with all.”
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, ler juin 1830, 1er nov. 1852. PAC, MG 24, F50; MG 30, D1, 2: 345; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 352, 361, 364, 367, 373, 518. Private arch., W. G. Antrobus (Downsview [Toronto]), Geneal. information; Doris Hart and Valerie Maxwell (New Milford, N.J.), E. W. R. Antrobus, journal, 1832–34; Lucienne Minguy (Quebec), Geneal. information. PRO, WO 17/1519: 163, 178, 193, 211, 217. Bas-Canada, Chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1836: 525. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.),11: 1420–23. Quebec Gazette, 8 July 1819, 27 Oct. 1825, 27 Dec. 1837, 3 Nov. 1852. G.B., WO, Army list, 1813, 1815–16, 1818, 1830. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). P.-G. Roy, Fils de Quebec, 3: 73–75. [C. H. Gethings] Mrs Daniel Macpherson, Reminiscences of old Quebec (Montreal, 1890). “Edmund-William-Romer Antrobus,” BRH, 12 (1906): 78–80. “La famille Antrobus,” BRH, 41 (1935): 506–8. P.-G. Roy, “Les grands voyers de la Nouvelle-France et leurs successeurs,” Cahiers des Dix, 8 (1943): 181–233. “Valuable miniature donated to Chateau,” Gazette (Montreal), 19 Jan. 1938: 13.