Britain might have captured Canada from France in 1711 instead of 1763 if it had not been for the amazing foul-up of an expedition under Sir Hovenden Walker. The leadership of the strongest military force that had ever sailed from Britain was incredible. Sir Hovenden Walker was an Admiral of the Royal Navy, but there is no record of how he obtained that rank. His second-in-command was General Jack Hill, who would be called a playboy today. He was appointed because his sister, Abigail Hill, was Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber.
The Walker-Hill expedition totalled 9 warships, more than 60 transports, and 12,000 troops, many of whom were highly trained soldiers who had fought under Marlborough. It looked as though the final hour had come for France in North America.
The fleet sailed from Nantucket on July 30, 1711. One of the British ships captured a French ship in the St. Lawrence. Its captain was a French officer, Paradis, who knew the river well and accepted a bribe to pilot the fleet up the St. Lawrence. On August 22, while near Anticosti Island, Admiral Walker believed they were sailing near the south shore. Although the captain of the flagship reported that land had been sighted (the river is 112 km (70 miles) wide at that point), Walker’s argument persisted; they were near the south shore. He ordered the fleet to stop for the night, with bows pointing north. Then he went to bed.
Before he fell asleep, an officer came into his cabin and reported that there were breakers on all sides. Walker ordered him out. Soon the officer returned and urged the Admiral to look for himself. Walker appeared in dressing gown and slippers, and called the pilot Paradis. It was soon established that the fleet was off the north shore, in treacherous water near Sept-Iles. The warships were saved, but 10 transport and service ships were wrecked. About 500 men were rescued, but after a conference with General Hill, Walker decided to return to Britain. There were still 50 ships and 11,000 men available to fight!
Walker was dismissed from the service on half-pay, while General Hill went back to being a “man about town.” The incident is known in Canadian history as “the magnificent fiasco.”