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VANE, GEORGE, engineer at St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1708, and at Annapolis Royal, 1711–15; d. Bombay, India, 1 May 1722.

After serving the exiled King James II of England until his death in 1701, Vane worked as a military engineer for the Republic of Venice. The Elector of Bavaria (France’s ally) sent for him as his chief engineer, a position which he assumed after eight months’ imprisonment in the Tyrol under suspicion of espionage. Following Bavaria’s defeat in 1703, he made his way home to England.

Appointed engineer to replace Robert Latham at St John’s in 1707, he reached the port the following year. He had very little time to improve the defences before the French attack under Saint-Ovide de Brouillan [Monbeton*] on 22 Dec. 1708 (o.s.), although new palisades which he had built delayed the attackers briefly. Probably because of his Jacobite sympathies, some British officers suspected him of conspiracy with the French: Major Thomas Lloyd, the garrison commander, called him a “cowardly villian” [sic] and “a traytor.” The French, who for their part allowed him as a prisoner of war to wander freely about Placentia (1709), worried that the British would make use of his knowledge of the French port’s defences. Yet after being released in July 1710 from confinement in Dinan, France, he was allowed to make his way to England, where he was invited to recommend improved facilities for the defence of the various ports in Newfoundland. He advised that, although the easiest and cheapest place to fortify was Ferryland (the first preference of others, such as Moody and Cumings), the harbour of St John’s was the largest and best. A new fort there, on a height called the Admiral’s Rock, should replace the old ones.

Sent once more to North America in 1711, Vane took part in the ill-fated Walker expedition against Quebec, after which Brigadier-General John Hill assigned him to the garrison at Annapolis. Vane’s first two years there, under the governorship of Samuel Vetch, were stormy. Vetch took an early dislike to him and found his cost estimates for the fortifications excessive. Vane, on his side, in letters to the home government, denounced his superior as a good governor “for his own profit,” one likely to drive away the Acadians whose agriculture the colony needed. While Vane asked for funds for fortifications, Vetch requested an official policy ruling; but the British government was apathetic.

Vane frequently angered other officers with his Jacobite opinions. On one occasion in 1712, Lawrence Armstrong, “not being able longer to bear It broke a large Glass decanter full of wine upon his head and had very near sent him to the other world.” Forbearing to discipline Vane lest it appear to be personal revenge, Vetch merely complained to the Board of Ordnance; but in September 1713 he found a charge under which Vane could be – and was – court-martialed and suspended from duty: Vane had accused another officer (Captain John Adams) of conniving with the governor to appropriate military stores to private purposes.

Evidently the Board of Ordnance, to whom Nicholson referred the matter, reinstated Vane. Vane must have worked well with Nicholson who, in spite of the government’s reluctance to spend money on fortifications, gave him substantial responsibility. When Vetch was reappointed to the governorship, Vane transferred to the East India Company’s service as a lieutenant in a Bombay infantry regiment (1716); was promoted major of an artillery company in 1718; and in 1722 died of apoplexy in Bombay.

F. J. Thorpe

AN, Col., B, 32, f.168;. C11C, 6, ff.208, 259. BM, Sloane MS 3607, ff. 11, 14 et seq., 16, 23v––25, 39–40v; Stowe MS 246, ff.4–5v, 18. PAC, Nova Scotia A, 3, p.287; 4, pp.21, 27; 5, pp.227–30; 6, pp.175–78; 7, pp.49, 127–29, 130–32, 133–34, 135–38; 8, pp.18, 24–26. PRO, C.O. 194/4, nos.76vii, 100ii, 109ix, 143iii, vi, 144; 194/6; 195/4, p.424. Documents relating to currency in Nova Scotia, 1675–1758 (Shortt), 42–43. PRO, B.T. Journal, 1704–1708/9, 1708/9–1714/15; CSP, Col., 1706–8, 1708–9, 1710–11, 1711–12, 1712–14, 1714–15. Dalton. English army lists, VI. Brebner, New Englands outpost, 60. Waller, Samuel Vetch, 247–48.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

F. J. Thorpe, “VANE, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 19, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vane_george_2E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vane_george_2E.html
Author of Article: F. J. Thorpe
Title of Article: VANE, GEORGE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: April 19, 2014