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Posts Tagged ‘Montreal’

On the 9th of April 1831 at the age of 29 or 30, my great-great-great-grandfather William Campbell, son of John Campbell and Margaret Asher, left Elgin in Morayshire, Scotland by ship and sailed to Canada. He arrived in Montreal on 26th May, 1831, the first of my ancestors to set foot on Canadian soil. His wife Isabella (née Masson, alternatively Mason) followed in March 1832.

William Campbell and Isabella Masson were born in Morayshire near the North Sea, William in 1801 and Isabella in 1796. Family legend has it that William, crossing a brook one day, overheard a beautiful singing voice and was enchanted. The owner of the voice was Isabella, daughter of Alexander Masson and Isobel Hardie (or Hardy). William and Isabella married in 1827.

Cottertown of Budgate, home of Alexander Masson (Duffus Parish, Morayshire)

One hundred and eighty-two years ago this month William Campbell left Scotland for Canada; he bought land from his brother John who had arrived before him and built a house at Lot 31, Concession 9, Thurlow Township, Hastings County (Ontario), and his wife joined him the following year. It is not known what prompted the Campbells to emigrate; they set sail for Canada before the potato crops failed in the late 1830s and before the peak of eviction of Highlanders from their homes in the 1840s and 1850s.

The first steamship, the Royal William, crossed the Atlantic in 1833, so William and Isabella would have travelled by sailing ship. William left Elgin on the 9th of April, 1831 and did not arrive in Montreal until late May.

View of Montreal Harbour, 1830s

William continued on overland to what is now southern Ontario but was then known as the Province of Upper Canada, a colonial territory of Great Britain. The population of Upper Canada (236,702 according to an 1831 census) consisted of Canadian- and foreign-born British (about half the population), Acadians, Metis, First Nations (Anishinaabeg: Odawa, Ojibwe/ Chippewa, Algonquin, and Iroquois), United Empire Loyalists, and freed and fugitive American slaves.

Upper Canada, 1800

William and Isabella raised nine children: Flora (my great-great-grandmother), Elizabeth, William, John, Isabella, Margaret, Alexander, Helen, and [unknown female]. The first three of their children were born in Scotland and the rest in Thurlow Township, Hastings County, Ontario. William, who had been a stonemason by profession in Scotland, was justice of the peace for Hastings County, and a farmer.

Painting by George Ackerman of the Campbell homestead, 1866

The Campbell house in the 1980s

Isabella Campbell and her daughters

William Campbell’s gravestone with Masonic symbol, Roslin, Ontario

My information is that Isobel Hardie Masson, mother of Isabella Campbell, is also buried at Roslin so she must have at some point joined her daughter and son-in-law in Canada. Apparently her husband Alexander Masson died and is buried in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. How this came to be, I do not know. There is some suggestion that Isobel Hardie was somehow related to Captain Thomas Hardy, to whom Admiral Horatio Nelson addressed his famous deathbed words “Kiss me, Hardy” after being fatally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar, but I have no proof of the veracity of this story.

Note: Much of the information in this post is taken from the book William and Isabella Masson Campbell of Hastings County, Ontario: their ancestors and descendants by Margaret D. Leslie Lindner, another descendant of William and Isabella Campbell and their daughter Flora Campbell Leslie. The photos of William and Isabella, Alexander Masson’s house, the page from William Campbell’s notebook, the image of the Campbell homestead painting, the photo of their homestead taken in the 1980s, the photo of Isabella and her daughters, and the photos of William’s gravestone are also taken from that book.

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In the early hours of September 22, 1899, the SS Scotsman of the Dominion Line ran aground in a fog in the Strait of Belle Isle, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Approximately thirteen of her 396 passengers perished, among them my great-great-grandmother Alice (Thornhill) Robinson and her eldest daughter Ellen. All of the victims were women (and a child, by one account) by virtue of the fact that they had been in the first lifeboat lowered, which sank although the Scotsman herself did not.

Newspaper accounts disagree about the number of lives lost (between ten and fifteen, depending on which story one reads) but are in agreement on most of the essentials although the details vary widely. Due to a seaman’s strike in Liverpool, the Scotsman was crewed by “scabs” instead of the regular crew, and their actions in the hours following the wreck were despicable. Reportedly, the crew broke into the liquor supply and proceeded to get drunk and break into cabins and steal passengers’ valuables while Captain H.T. Skrimshire and his officers worked valiantly to assist the surviving passengers. The crew are described, perhaps somewhat dramatically, as “tearing the rings from the fingers of fainting and dying women”.

One newspaper article suggests that the first lifeboat that was lowered was swamped before it could get clear of the ship, but other accounts suggest that this swamping occurred because the “wharf rats” hired in Liverpool to crew the Scotsman had neglected to insert the plug.

Surviving passengers had to climb a 200-foot cliff and trek twelve miles over difficult terrain to the Belle Isle lighthouse, most clad only in thin nightwear and at risk of succumbing to the cold and damp. Before setting out for the lighthouse they survived for several days on biscuits and tinned meat taken from the ship, and berries they found ashore. Once arriving at the lighthouse they were looked after as well as possible by Mr. Coulton, the lighthouse keeper, and his sister, until all but fifty who had not made the trek were picked up by the steamship Montfort and taken to Montreal. (The remaining surviving passengers and crew who had not made the trek to the lighthouse were rescued by the steamships Grecian and Ottoman. A small number of passengers made the return voyage to England instead on the Monterey, the next ship to arrive.)

Police were waiting on the docks to arrest the crew; unfortunately they were in uniform which gave the crew the opportunity to throw some of their loot overboard before being searched, and for some of them to jump ship and escape. Nevertheless, between 24 and 30 of the scoundrels were arrested. The police also had their hands full in preventing an angry mob that had gathered at the docks from throwing the thieving crew members into the river. The surviving passengers arrived in much the same state as they had been after the wreck — first class as well as second class passengers hatless and coatless, some of the ladies skirtless and wrapped in shawls and whatever else they’d been able to cover themselves with.

Alice and Ellen had been returning on the Scotsman from a two-month trip to Europe when the tragedy occurred. In a letter sent home by Alice, written from Switzerland on Hotel de Zermatt letterhead and dated August 14, 1899, she writes, “We go on to Geneva at the end of this week and remain there 4 or 5 days then to Paris and will be back in Bolton by the 26 then we leave for home on the 14th of September on the Scotsman Dominion Line … We have had a lovely time and have seen some beautiful scenery but one gets tired of all that and longs for the dear ones at home.”

My great-great-grandmother and her daughter were supposed to have sailed up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, and my great-great-grandfather Alfred Robinson had traveled from Toronto to Montreal to meet them there. The happy reunion was not meant to be; in those days before instant communication, he was informed after he arrived in Montreal that his wife and daughter had perished. Alice was 48 years old, Ellen 19.

Sadly, this loss was not to be the only such blow that Alfred would suffer in his life. Nearly sixteen years later he would receive news of his son William’s death in Victoria.

We longed to hear each loving voice,
We craved each loving smile,
Ne’er dreaming that the hand of Death
Was holding you the while;
Were ever hearts so pierced with grief,
Were ever hopes so crushed?
When told the voices we would hear,
Beneath dark waves were hushed.

We’ll miss you, sister, daughter, dear,
We’ll want you, mother, wife;
But vain ’twill be to pray those waves
To give our sweet ones life.
Dear hearts, ’twas doubly hard to part;
We can but bow the head,
And wait that Great Re-Union, when
The sea gives up its dead.

[from a memorial booklet for Alice and Ellen Robinson]

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