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TESTU DE LA RICHARDIÈRE, RICHARD, navigator, naval officer, port captain of Quebec; b. 15 April 1681 at L’Ange-Gardien (Que.), son of Pierre Testu Du Tilly, a merchant, and Geneviève Rigault; m. first on 22 July 1709 at Quebec Marie Hurault, and secondly on 17 Oct. 1727 at Quebec Madeleine-Marie-Anne Tarieu de La Pérade; d. 24 Oct. 1741 at Quebec without children.

Nothing is known of Richard Testu de La Richardière’s youth. During the 1690s he may have received instruction in navigation and pilotage from Louis Jolliet* and perhaps later from Jean Deshayes*. The intendant, Dupuy*, was later to claim that no officer had more improved the safety of navigation in the St Lawrence River and the training of pilots in the colony.

La Richardière probably went to sea before 1720, when he was reported captain of the Suzanne (130 tons) recently purchased by Joseph de Fleury de La Gorgendière. Three years later La Gorgendière gave him command of a newer ship, the 150-ton Marguerite. La Richardière sailed these ships annually between La Rochelle and Quebec until 1726 when, probably owing to the loss of the king’s ship Chameau in 1725 and to his experience, he was chosen to pilot the king’s ship to Quebec. There La Richardière applied for the post of port captain, vacant following the death of Louis Prat*. Intendant Dupuy privately, and then jointly with Governor Charles de Beauharnois, recommended La Richardière over other applicants. La Richardière obtained the temporary rank of flute captain, perhaps because of his service in the navy in 1726 and 1727, but in 1727 he returned to Quebec as port captain.

Prat had been little more than a harbour master, but La Richardière was given responsibility for navigation in the St Lawrence. He was to sound the shoals and banks in the river each spring after they had been altered by the ice coming downstream. He was to place marker buoys in the channel during the navigation season and to draw them up each fall. Beacons were to be erected on major capes and headlands. The anchorage at Quebec, known as the Cul-de-Sac, was to be kept in a proper state for vessels, and necessary repairs to ships were to be carried out. La Richardière was also to inform himself about the river’s shores and the depths of bays and rivers, and to share this knowledge with other ship’s masters. He was even required to survey stands of oak and pine in the colony, and the rivers from which to draw down timber, and to be familiar with the problems of stowing timber for sea voyages. Little wonder that in contrast to Prat, who had received 150 livres, La Richardière’s salary was 500 livres annually. In 1728, he was also directed to pilot the king’s ships through the passage at the eastern end of Île d’Orléans known as the Traverse at no extra cost to the crown.

With all of these responsibilities it is not surprising that La Richardière never carried out any timber surveys. He once attempted to establish pilotage fees of three livres per draft-foot on each merchantman that requested his services, but this proposal was rejected by the minister of Marine who ordered him to negotiate a mutually acceptable fee each time he guided a merchant ship in the river. Later, La Richardière abandoned these claims and devoted more time to improving his knowledge of navigation in the river.

The need was demonstrated in 1729 when the king’s ship, Éléphant, ran aground on shoals off Cap Brulé. The captain, Louis-Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, had not waited for the royal pilot but had pressed on upstream at night and lost his ship as a result. La Richardière and his men worked through September and October raising guns and cargo out of the ruined vessel. As a result Beauharnois and the new intendant, Hocquart*, pressed for La Richardière’s promotion to flute captain, but the minister sent only a commendation. A year later the commander of the king’s ship also recommended La Richardière: “he is always ready for duty and it would be difficult to replace him.” In response to these testaments, in 1731 La Richardière received a bonus of 300 livres.

Beginning in 1730, each year one or two pilots from the king’s ship were left at Quebec to acquire greater knowledge of the St Lawrence by working over charts during the winter, and they assisted La Richardière in hydrographic surveys downstream the following summer. In the spring of 1731, Pierre Dizet and a crew of five, with La Richardière, made the first of several such voyages. They were not easy. On the first, La Richardière was unable to survey the south shore; “the journey that was carried out this year, in which he lived only on biscuit and salt pork, was equivalent to a voyage of three or four months.” The next year the pilot was Jean-Baptiste Garnier. Illness interfered with the voyages of 1733 and 1734 but in 1735 the surveys were resumed. Another pilot, Jean Galochau, piloted the king’s ship upstream, leaving La Richardière with greater liberty for his surveys. During the next three or four years the most extensive hydrographic surveying and navigational improvement during the French régime were carried out.

In 1735, La Richardière and a young pilot, Gabriel Pellegrin*, familiarized themselves with the whole length of the river and completed an important survey of the Strait of Belle Isle. Both the governor and the intendant had been worried about the lack of knowledge of the area and recommended that it be considered as an alternate route into the St Lawrence. Up to that time, New France could be blockaded by ships cruising between Newfoundland and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Only French fishermen, chiefly from Saint-Malo, made regular use of the Belle Isle waters. La Richardière’s voyage to the strait was the longest of its type. His expedition left Quebec in mid-May and returned four months later. A chart and journal containing its observations were sent to the “Dépôt des cartes et plans” at the Marine in Paris where they were added to its growing body of knowledge. Twenty years later, Gabriel Pellegrin returned to these waters when he guided units of the French navy through the strait to France to avoid a British force cruising off the main entrance to the Gulf of St Lawrence [see Emmanuel-Auguste de Cahideuc].

In 1736, accompanied by the pilot Julien Joly, La Richardière carried out a systematic survey of the islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Two years later, he and his assistants covered the south coast of Newfoundland. In 1739 and 1740 they continued to work in the gulf, surveying Île Saint-Jean, Baie des Chaleurs, and the Strait of Canso. To lower costs the intendant began to hire local vessels sailing between Quebec and Louisbourg, Île Royale, to carry La Richardière and his survey party to their destination rather than outfit a special craft.

In the fall of 1736, La Richardière had gone to France. He returned in 1737 with the rank of fireship captain and a salary of 1,000 livres annually. Bonuses on top of this amount indicate the regard in which he was held. On the return voyage, La Richardière took up an old idea of establishing navigational aids for the Traverse. Aided by pilots on board the king’s ship, 20 members of the crew, and ten Canadian axemen, he cleared a path 100 ft wide and 1,000 ft in length through Île aux Ruaux. In 1739, two large wooden panels were erected on stone foundations at the edge of the St Lawrence at Pointe Saint-Jean and at Saint-François where two low points on Île d’Orléans, normally visible only on clear days, were located. The initial constructions were not high enough and a year later they were extended.

La Richardière’s health was not always good. He may not have carried out a major survey in 1741, but he continued to work until his death at Quebec on 24 October; he had returned from piloting the king’s ship to La Prairie, Île aux Coudres. Had depression and war not followed his death, La Richardière’s program might have been continued, but no working appointment was made until years later. Quebec remained without a port captain until after the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. La Richardière’s annual surveys were not renewed in the St Lawrence, but the result of the work during the 1730s provided the basis for French navigational charts published two decades later.

James S. Pritchard

AN, Col., C11A, 46, p.300; 48, pp.82–83, 261; 50, p.58; 51, pp.103v–4, 106; 52, pp.48–49; 54; 56, pp.14–14v; 59, pp.117–19; 61, pp.29–30; 65, pp.8–9; 67, pp.5, 7–8; 71, p.20; 75, p.92; 114, pp.55–55v., 300, 326–26v.; Marine, B4, 41, pp.5v–6v; C7, 319; 4 JJ, 8, nos.41, 46 (PAC transcripts). P.-G. Roy, Inv. ord. int., II, 225–26, 243–44, 291–92. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. P.-G. Roy, “Les capitaines de port à Québec,” BRH, XXXII (1926), 65–78.

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James S. Pritchard, “TESTU DE LA RICHARDIÈRE, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/testu_de_la_richardiere_richard_3E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/testu_de_la_richardiere_richard_3E.html
Author of Article:   James S. Pritchard
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   September 29, 2023