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BLAKE, CHARLES, army officer, surgeon, apothecary, landowner, office holder, and businessman; b. 13 Aug. 1746 in Bath, England, son of John Blake; m. first 12 April 1783 Mary Sunderland in Montreal, Que.; m. there secondly 31 March 1804 Harriet Antill, and they had two daughters; d. there 22 April 1810.

Nothing is known about Charles Blake’s early years. On 3 June 1770 he was appointed surgeon to the 54th Foot, a British regiment stationed in Ireland. On 15 May 1772, retaining the same duties, he was transferred to the 34th Foot, which was also posted in Ireland. He arrived in the province of Quebec in the spring of 1776 with the troops under Major-General John Burgoyne* sent to fight the Americans. His first experience in North America was disappointing. While serving as chief surgeon during the 1777 expedition against Fort Stanwix (Rome, N.Y.) under Lieutenant-Colonel Barrimore Matthew St Leger*, he lost his kit and surgical instruments in the course of the force’s retreat. On his return to the province, he was temporarily assigned to the post of royal surgeon at the Hôpital Général in Montreal. He received a commission on 12 Oct. 1779 as surgeon to the Montreal garrison, where he carried on his profession until December 1783, after the end of the American Revolutionary War.

In January of the following year, immediately after he was placed on half pay, Blake went into partnership with Dr Henry Nicholas Christopher Loedel* to practise medicine and to trade in pharmaceutical products. The partnership, in which Blake put up two-thirds of the capital, turned out to be profitable; moreover, the firm soon enlarged the scope of its activities and ventured into the real estate field. At the outset the two partners owned a pharmacy well situated on Rue de la Grande-Parade. They not only imported drugs and medicaments from an apothecary in Bristol, England, but also prepared their own with the help of assistants. Their customers came from among doctors in Montreal and in regions as far away as Niagara, and the patients in their medical practice were mainly prominent people. The partners sometimes taught the rudiments of medicine to beginners. Thus in 1800 Peter Diehl began a seven-year period of training with them; Blake considered him almost a son and sent him to medical schools in England for further study. John Horatio Ferris, who prepared medicaments under Blake and Loedel, accompanied them for three months on their visits to the sick, having each case explained to him; he also had full access to the books on pharmacy and surgery in their library.

Blake played an important role in the development of a statute that from 1788 would establish some supervision of the medical profession in Quebec. The last initiative in this area dated back to an ordinance of 1750 promulgated by Intendant François Bigot*. Blake had been commissioned in September 1782 to investigate the Baie-Saint-Paul malady [see Philippe-Louis-François Badelard; James Bowman*]. In 1787 he and some colleagues presented a report to the committee of the Legislative Council on population, agriculture, and settlement of crown lands which had been established the preceding year by Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton]. In his discussion he suggested a treatment to arrest the Baie-Saint-Paul malady and used the occasion to criticize harshly the practice of medicine in the province; he even asserted that certain doctors had killed more of His Majesty’s subjects than had the late war against the Americans. To remedy the situation he proposed that examining boards be set up in Montreal and Quebec with authority to license candidates for professional practice. The ordinance of 1788 gave effect to Blake’s recommendations, and he was appointed to the first Montreal board of medical examiners, an office he retained until his death.

Blake’s business affairs prospered at the same time; about 1800 he purchased a two-storey stone house on Rue Notre-Dame which later became his residence. He also owned two other houses, on Rue de la Capitale, and a farm with an orchard in the faubourg Saint-Laurent. In 1803 he obtained a grant of 1,797 acres of crown land in Clifton Township, Lower Canada, and subsequently he bought lots in several Upper Canadian townships. He shared certain of these properties with Dr Loedel. Socially his situation was enviable; his relations with the most eminent medical practitioners, army officers, lawyers, and merchants give proof of his importance. Moreover, he lent large sums to members of the bourgeoisie in Montreal and the surrounding region at six per cent, the usual rate; in 1794, when he renewed his contract with Loedel, the debts owing to the partnership amounted to £2,681. A number of his fellow citizens chose him as guardian, proxy, or administrator of their property, probably because of the reputation that he had acquired while a justice of the peace for the District of Montreal from 1796 until 1810.

An outstanding figure of the professional petite bourgeoisie at the opening of the 19th century, Blake had succeeded in winning recognition from colonial officialdom, as well as certain favours. Having launched into new fields of activity, such as retail trade, investing in property, lending money, and even buying slaves, at the end of his life he was moving upwards in society.

Gilles Janson

ANQ-M, CE1-63, 12 April 1783, 31 March 1804, 1 March 1806, 8 Aug. 1809, 24 April 1810; CN1-16, 13 févr. 1804; CN1-29, 22 Feb. 1786; 22 Feb., 30 April, 9 July 1787; 14 Nov. 1788; 3 June 1790; 26 July 1792; 23 Sept. 1793; 16 May 1794; 1 Oct., 2 Dec. 1795; 31 March 1796; 18 Jan., 13 March 1797; 27 Feb. 1798; 29 Nov. 1799; 5 Feb., 17 Nov. 1800; 29 May, 6 Sept. 1802; 28 Jan., 20 Oct., 12 Dec. 1803; 7 Jan., 5 Oct. 1804; CN1-74, 3 mai 1803; CN1-185, 31 Jan. 1797; 29 June 1799; 15, 22 Oct. 1802; 11 May 1803; 8, 21 March, 30 April, 28 May 1804; 16 Aug. 1805; 20 March, 1 Aug. 1806; 19 Feb., 12 Oct. 1807; 19 Feb., 2 July, 20 Aug. 1808; 23 Feb. 1809; 15 March, 15 May 1810; CN1-254, 19 janv. 1785. AUM, P 58, G2, 1801–9. BL, Add. {{mss }}21721: 61, 158; 21722: 312; 21735/1: 60; 21740: 120, 186, 201, 213; 21742: 104; 21744: 45; 21772: 81; 21790: 107; 21796: 43; 21799: 4, 6, 26; 21821: 50, 81; 21873: 8, 256 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 27-2: 497–554. Doc. relatifs à l’hist. constitutionnelle, 1759–1791 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921), 2: 569, 917–18. “Une correspondence médicale: Blake à Davidson,” P.-A. Fiset, édit., Laval médical (Québec), 23 (1957): 419–48. Quebec Gazette, 3 Nov. 1785; 15 May 1788; 16 July 1789; 19 July 1792; 25 July 1799; 22 March 1804; 16 July 1809; 26 April, 22 Nov. 1810; 26 March 1818. Quebec almanac, 1788–1810. Langelier, Liste des terrains concédés, 1175. Abbott, Hist. of medicine. M.-J. et G. Ahern, Notes pour l’hist. de la médecine, 52–55. William Canniff, The medical profession in Upper Canada, 17831850 . . . (Toronto, 1894; repr. 1980). J. J. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Canada and a sketch of the medical history of Newfoundland (2v., Toronto, 1928), 1. Louis Richard, “La famille Loedel,” BRH, 56 (1950): 78–89.

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Gilles Janson, “BLAKE, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blake_charles_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blake_charles_5E.html
Author of Article: Gilles Janson
Title of Article: BLAKE, CHARLES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: July 24, 2014