VARIN DE LA MARRE, JEAN-VICTOR, commissary and controller of the Marine, subdelegate of the intendant, and councillor of the Conseil Supérieur of Quebec; b. 14 Aug. 1699 at Niort, France, son of Jean Varin de La Sablonnière, an infantry officer; d. some time between 1780 and 1786, probably at Malesherbes, France.
In 1721 Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre was a scrivener in training at Rochefort, France, and the following year was a scrivener of the Marine. On 22 May 1729 he was appointed chief scrivener of the Marine in Canada, and also assumed the duties of controller, substituting for Jean-Eustache Lanoullier* de Boisclerc, whom the king had just dismissed. He sailed from La Rochelle on 28 June 1729 on the Éléphant with his immediate superior, financial commissary Hocquart, and reached Quebec in mid September, after being shipwrecked near the île aux Grues some 30 miles downstream.
As controller, and later as commissary, Varin de La Marre undertook to put the colony’s finances in order. During the next ten years his work was so remarkable that Hocquart praised it virtually every year. In addition Varin took care of his own interests; he regularly asked the minister for additional remuneration and higher rank. On 18 Feb. 1733 he received letters of appointment to the office of councillor of the Conseil Supérieur of Quebec; he took his seat on 18 July, and continued to hold this office together with other posts until 1749. On 13 April 1734 he was promoted from chief scrivener to commissary and controller of the Marine in Quebec, with an annual salary of 1,800 livres. Meanwhile, on 19 Oct. 1733, in the presence of leading figures in Canadian society, he had married Charlotte, the daughter of Louis Liénard* de Beaujeu, a nobleman from an old family. She brought him a dowry of 6,000 livres to add to the 12,000 livres he already possessed.
In the summer of 1736 Varin de La Marre was sent to Montreal to serve as subdelegate of the intendant, an office left vacant when Honoré Michel* de Villebois de La Rouvillière came to Quebec to take over the intendant’s duties during Hocquart’s absence. In 1738, Varin obtained the minister’s permission to go to France to settle urgent personal matters, but because he was a valued official Hocquart would not consent to his leaving until the autumn of 1740. In addition to his usual duties, he issued the playing-card money and was responsible for supervising the Saint-Maurice ironworks and the king’s shipbuilding operations; his reports on these activities were well received by his superiors. He returned to Canada in April 1741, having secured a special gratuity of 1,200 livres from the minister, Maurepas, who two years later granted him the “haute paye” of 2,400 livres, the highest salary a junior official in Canada could receive. Finally, following Michel de Villebois’s appointment on 1 Jan. 1747 as commissary general and ordonnateur in Louisiana, Maurepas, after consulting Hocquart, promoted Varin commissary of the Marine and subdelegate of the intendant in Montreal, duties he assumed in the autumn of 1747. He returned to Quebec in the summer of 1749 to replace Intendant Bigot during the latter’s visit to Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). At the beginning of September 1749 Varin set up permanent residence in Montreal, where he wielded broad powers.
For an ambitious nobleman like Varin de La Marre, who was as fond of money as of honours, Montreal provided irresistible temptations and he engaged in commercial transactions in which his private interests were clearly, and improperly, in conflict with the interests of the state. In 1748 he had formed a trading partnership with Jean-Baptiste-Grégoire Martel de Saint-Antoine, the king’s storekeeper in Montreal, and Jacques-Joseph Lemoine Despins, Martel’s clerk. The company sold retail to the habitants and held interests in the trading posts in the pays d’en haut. In addition Varin personally sold to the king goods that he bought from merchant-traders Guillaume Estèbe and Jean-André Lamaletie and Antoine Pascaud. But since he could not at the same time buy supplies, sell them, and fix their price, he split his activities in two, and Lemoine Despins acted as a front for him. He was later to admit that from 1752 to 1757 he had increased the prices of the supplies for the king’s warehouses by 25 per cent. Finally, between 1755 and 1757 he was in partnership with Jacques-Michel Bréard, Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan, and Bigot, with whom he engaged in other malpractices. Having a presentiment that the web of his dishonest operations would soon be discovered, he sought to leave the colony. On 15 Oct. 1754 he asked the minister of Marine, Machault, to post him to either Cap-Français (Cap Haïtien, Haiti) or Louisiana. Machault does not seem to have acted upon his request, since two years later, on 15 Oct. 1756, Varin de La Marre made a fresh attempt, this time asking for permission to go to France to recover his health. The minister reluctantly granted him leave on 1 April 1757, while hoping that he would avail himself of it only if his health made it indispensable. Varin de La Marre returned to France in the autumn of 1757. His health did not improve, and he retired the next spring.
During his 28 years in Canada Varin de La Marre had succeeded in accumulating capital estimated by the author of the “Mémoire du Canada” at 4,000,000 livres, and in an inventory prepared in France in 1763 at 1,320,000 livres. In December 1761 Varin was arrested in connection with the affaire du Canada and imprisoned in the Bastille on a charge of having “during part of the time that he served as financial commissary in Montreal, tolerated, encouraged, and committed abuses, embezzlements, acts of betrayal of office, and breaches of trust in the furnishing of goods to the king’s warehouses.” He was indicted at the Châtelet, and the preliminary investigation of his case took 15 months. On 10 Dec. 1763 he was found guilty of the charges against him and was sentenced to banishment for life from the kingdom of France, to a fine of 1,000 livres, and to the restitution of 800,000 livres to the king.
On 9 Sept. 1770, after about seven years in exile, Varin de La Marre received permission from Louis XV to live in Corsica through the intervention of a family friend, the Duc de Noailles. Finally, in March 1780 Louis XVI allowed him to return to France and to settle in Malesherbes, near his son Jean-Baptiste-François-Marie, a dragoon in the royal troops. He probably died there, some time before his wife, who died on 23 May 1786 in Sens.
Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre typified the ambitious official who through talent and connections was able to reach the highest posts in the king’s service in Canada, but whose greed brought about his ruin.
AD, Deux-Sèvres (Niort), État civil, Notre-Dame de Niort, 14 août 1699. AN, Col., B, 53, ff.153, 556; 58, ff.425, 431; 61, ff.515, 536; 63, ff.471, 494; 64, f.421; 66, ff.7, 31; 68, ff.29, 51; 71, ff.35, 42; 72, f.33; 74, ff.18, 89; 76, f.61; 78, ff.56, 62; 81, f.57; 83, ff.3, 20; 85, f.25; 87, f.2; 89, ff.58, 75; 91, ff.32, 59; 95, f.10; 99, ff.27, 33; 105, f.12; 106, f.147; 107, f.7; 108, f.127; 120, ff .6, 30, 67, 84, 158; 125, f.210; 127, ff.266, 291; 137, ff.153, 165; 172, f.60; C11A, 51, f.387; 70, f.96; 71, f.134; 73, ff.143, 417; 74, f.192; 77, f.332; 78, f.57; 80, ff.298, 304, 307, 310, 314; 81, f.398; 82, f.282; 87, f.159; 88, f.29; 89, ff.184–87; 92, ff.292–96; 93, f.299; 97, ff.219, 221; 98, f.158; 99, ff.493, 495; 100, f.143; 101, f.287; 103, ff.23, 256; E, 383 (dossier Varin de La Marre); F3, 10, ff.268, 369; 14, ff.171, 213, 215, 223, 257; 16, ff.257–58; Marine, C7, 337 (dossier Varin de La Marre). ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 19 oct. 1733; Greffe de Jacques Barbel, 17 oct. 1733. Doc. relatifs à la monnaie sous le Régime français (Shortt), II, 600–1. “Mémoire du Canada,” ANQ Rapport, 1924–25, 197. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–60, VI, 271–72. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, VII, 428. Frégault, François Bigot. Cameron Nish, Les bourgeois-gentilshommes de la Nouvelle-France, 1729-1748 (Montréal et Paris, 1968), 132, 135, 138–39. P.-G. Roy, Bigot et sa bande, 40–41.