ESTCOURT, JAMES BUCKNALL BUCKNALL, army officer and surveyor; b. 12 July 1802 in London, second son of Thomas Grimstone Bucknall Estcourt, mp, and Eleanor Sutton; m. there 15 Aug. 1837 Caroline Pole Carew; they had no children; d. 24 June 1855 near Sevastopol (U.S.S.R.).
James Bucknall Bucknall Estcourt was a scion of an old Gloucestershire family and received his education at Harrow. He entered the army on 13 July 1820 as an ensign in the 44th Foot and then transferred to the 43rd Foot on 7 June 1821. He was promoted lieutenant in 1824 and captain the following year. His early service included garrison duty in Ireland from 1821 to 1825, at Gibraltar from 1825 to 1830 (except for a stint with the British army expedition to Portugal in 1827–28), in England from 1830 to 1831, and back in Ireland until 1834. In January 1835, as second-in-command to Colonel Francis Rawdon Chesney, Estcourt set out with an expedition to survey the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. He distinguished himself in his direction of the magnetic experiments and by his arduous efforts before the expedition returned to England in September 1836. On Chesney’s recommendation he was promoted major on 21 Oct. 1836 and brevet lieutenant-colonel on 29 March 1839.
Following his return to England, Estcourt was granted leave of absence until 31 March 1838. His regiment had been ordered to New Brunswick in June 1834 and had made a renowned overland trek to Lower Canada in December 1837 to reinforce Sir John Colborne*’s troops during the rebellions of 1837–38. In March 1838, accompanied by his wife, Caroline, Estcourt left England on board the Pique for Halifax. After their arrival in June, they proceeded to La Prairie, Lower Canada, where the 43rd was temporarily stationed, and then in July travelled via the Ottawa River, the Rideau Canal, and Lake Ontario to the Niagara frontier in Upper Canada. In August they settled at Lundy’s Lane, not far from regimental headquarters at Drummondville (Niagara Falls). During the latter part of 1838 and in 1839, besides fulfilling his regimental duties, Estcourt busied himself conducting road surveys, particularly of the Cayuga Road from Niagara Falls to London, the poor condition of which he drew to the attention of military authorities. He and Caroline also engaged in the social life of the Niagara frontier, participating in sleighing parties, visiting Toronto on occasion, and sketching local scenery, particularly Niagara Falls. In late summer 1839 he was ordered to rejoin the depot companies of the 43rd at Portsmouth, England, and by September the couple had left the Canadas.
Estcourt remained in England until 1843. On 31 March the foreign secretary, the Earl of Aberdeen, appointed him British boundary commissioner in fulfilment of article 6 of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, signed with the United States in 1842, which had determined the American border with New Brunswick and Lower Canada. Estcourt’s instructions enjoined him not only to demarcate the line but also to examine the possibilities of defending it. The delineation of this boundary had been a bone of contention since 1783 when the Treaty of Paris, ending the American revolution, had broadly defined it. A joint commission set up in 1796, on which Britain was represented by Thomas Henry Barclay* and before which Ward Chipman* pleaded the British case, had determined the boundary from Passamaquoddy Bay to the source of the St Croix River. From 1816 to 1821 Barclay and Chipman replayed their roles and first Joseph Bouchette* and then William Franklin Odell* acted as chief surveyor on the British side when another commission struggled unsuccessfully to define the line between New Brunswick and Lower Canada on the one hand and Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York on the other. In 1830 the dispute was arbitrated by Willem I, King of the United Netherlands, but his award was rejected by the United States. Over time jurisdictional conflicts between Maine and New Brunswick authorities [see Ward Chipman; Sir John Harvey] and border disputes elsewhere led to the formation in 1842 of the Webster–Ashburton commission, which produced a treaty settling the boundary from the head of the St Croix to the St Lawrence and providing for a joint survey to demarcate the line.
Five days after his appointment Estcourt embarked for Boston, where he landed on 19 April 1843. The same day he met with the American boundary commissioner, Albert Smith. In this and subsequent meetings, in Bangor, Maine, on 1 May and in Houlton on 1 June, Estcourt and Smith planned the year’s work of making the astronomical survey and cutting the boundary line from the source of the St Croix to the intersection of Hall’s Stream with the 45th parallel. Estcourt’s permanent staff included a secretary, a surveyor, three Royal Engineers, and six non-commissioned officers of the Royal Sappers and Miners. To these he added a local surveyor, John Wilkinson*, and perhaps as many as 120 local axe-men and foremen. By the end of the 1843 season most of the work on the north line, from the source of the St Croix to the Saint John River, as well as the settling of the Saint John River boundaries, had been completed. The arrival of winter, the failure of needed equipment to appear, and problems in verifying earlier surveys all delayed the running of the astronomical surveys, however. Aberdeen commended Estcourt on his work and, in response to a request from him, dispatched an additional 14 sappers, to hasten progress in 1844; that year Estcourt would employ 500 foremen and axe-men.
Although Estcourt and Smith had agreed in December 1843 on the American and British roles during the 1844 season, failure by the American Congress to grant necessary appropriations left the British alone in the field. Having arranged in the spring to lay in supplies at strategic points along the highlands line, which stretched from the source of the southwest branch of the Saint John River to the head of Hall’s Stream, Estcourt agreed with Smith in June that the British would cut all boundary lines until the Americans arrived, but that the lines thus determined would be considered exploratory until confirmed by a joint survey. As a result the British surveyed the entire highlands boundary and cut 140 miles of exploratory lines from the Kennebec Road to Hall’s Stream in addition to those from the southwest branch of the Saint John to the Metgermette Portage. The Americans cut the intervening line, between the Kennebec Road and the Metgermette Portage, when they came into the field later in the summer.
The season’s work over, in January 1845 Aberdeen again approved Estcourt’s management, but, commenting on the heavy expenses, he reiterated a desire to see Estcourt’s establishment reduced. Estcourt had already removed from duty ten sappers and a Royal Engineer in anticipation of winding up operations in 1845. That season the two parties determined astronomically the 45th parallel and jointly surveyed the southwest and south lines from Lac Pohénégamook, Lower Canada, to the southwest branch of the Saint John River, the highlands line to Hall’s Stream, and the west line along the 45th parallel to the St Lawrence. Since the British had done most of the work in 1844, the Americans cut and marked with iron reference monuments the 45th from Hall’s Stream to the St Lawrence. By 10 July 1845 Estcourt was able to report that all the work had been completed, except for the placing of iron markers, which was to be done by the Americans. The commissioners met in Washington in October to finalize surveys, maps, and other details. They had directed work over 670 miles of boundary from the St Croix to the St Lawrence, of which only 179 miles were formed by rivers; almost all the remainder had had to be cut through wilderness. The cutting operations had been preceded by astronomical survey measurements of remarkable accuracy; on one occasion two cutting parties separated by 64 miles of forest arrived within 341 feet of each other. In addition the entire operation had been conducted in a spirit of utmost cooperation, and Estcourt was praised in the House of Commons in 1845 by Sir Howard Douglas* for his work on the commission which, in effect, demarcated definitively a boundary that had long bedevilled Anglo-American relations. He returned to England in 1846, and the next year the commission’s final report was tabled.
Estcourt had gone on half pay from his regiment in August 1843 in order to take on his duties as boundary commissioner. He continued on half pay after his return to England, and in February 1848 he entered the House of Commons as Conservative mp for Devizes, the family borough. He did not seek re-election in 1852, and on 21 Feb. 1854 he received a staff appointment as adjutant-general with the rank of brigadier-general in the British expeditionary force to the Crimea. He performed his duties diligently and efficiently, and was promoted major-general on 12 Dec. 1854. However, Estcourt and Major-General Richard Airey, Lord Raglan’s chief staff officers, were savagely criticized for the terrible suffering experienced by the British force in the winter of 1854–55. Raglan strongly defended their conduct, and they were not replaced. Estcourt continued to throw himself into his work, but on 21 June 1855 he was struck down by cholera, and in spite of the care devoted to him by Caroline, who had accompanied him throughout the campaign, he died on 24 June. Caroline survived until 17 Nov. 1886.
Estcourt was described by his contemporaries as a man of the world, of good nature and judgement, and a perfect gentleman. In recommending him to the post of boundary commissioner, John Gellibrand Hubbard, later Lord Addington, had praised his temper, energy, and integrity. The contemporary historian Alexander William Kinglake called him “a man greatly loved by Lord Raglan, by all his friends at headquarters, and indeed by all who knew him.” Had he lived, he was to have been appointed a kcb, in spite of the problems in the Crimea; instead Caroline was made a kcb’s widow by special patent in 1856. Viewed in perspective, Estcourt emerges as a competent, if not spectacular, peace-time staff officer. His work on the boundary commission, although generally well executed, exhibited logistical shortcomings which were later magnified in his tragic Crimean experience.
[James Bucknall Bucknall Estcourt is the author of a report which appeared as G.B., Commission for running and tracing the boundary line between her majesty’s possessions in North America and the United States under the Treaty of Washington, 1842, North American boundary: narrative of the survey . . . (n.p., n.d.). His correspondence as British boundary commissioner, published as G.B., Foreign Office, Correspondence respecting the operations of the commission for running and tracing the boundary line . . . , under the VIth article of the treaty signed at Washington, August 9, 1842 . . . (London, ), was reprinted with other documents in G.B., Parl., Reports, correspondence, despatches, and papers relating to the boundary between the British possessions in North America and the United States of America (Shannon, Republic of Ireland, 1969).
A volume in the MTL contains a copy of each of these publications and another report bound together with two pencil sketches and two water-colour drawings of scenes near the boundary done by Estcourt. He and his wife, Caroline, were amateur artists, and a large collection of their water-colours and drawings of the areas of the British North American colonies that they visited is preserved in the PAC. The couple are portrayed in a print depicting the sleigh club of the 43rd Foot at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1839. j.b.]
Gloucestershire Record Office (Gloucester, Eng.), Estcourt papers (mfm. at PAC). PAC, MG 24, A10, 7: 55; RG 8, I (C ser.), 277: 104; 675. PRO, WO 17/1542: 95, 103, 135, 140; 17/1543: 173; 17/2384. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1800: 589; 1802: 683; July–December 1837: 302; July–December 1855: 189. United Service Gazette, and Naval and Military Chronicle (London), 8 Nov. 1845. DNB. G.B., WO, Army list, 1820–55. R. G. A. Levinge, Historical records of the Forty-Third Regiment, Monmouthshire Light Infantry, with a roll of the officers and their services from the period of embodiment to the close of 1867 (London, 1868). Roll of officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898 . . . , ed. R. F. Edwards (Chatham, Eng., 1898), 24–26. H. G. Classen, Thrust and counterthrust: the genesis of the Canada–United States boundary (Don Mills [Toronto], 1965), 89–92. International Boundary Commission, Joint report upon the survey and demarcation of the boundary between the United States and Canada from the source of the St Croix River to the St Lawrence River . . . (Washington, 1925). A. W. Kinglake, The invasion of the Crimea: its origins and an account of its progress down to the death of Lord Raglan (8v., Edinburgh and London, 1863–87).
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Cite This Article
Jim Burant, “ESTCOURT, JAMES BUCKNALL BUCKNALL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/estcourt_james_bucknall_bucknall_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jim Burant|
|Title of Article:||ESTCOURT, JAMES BUCKNALL BUCKNALL|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||March 22, 2023|