Archive for October, 2012

The Grisdales of Matterdale it seems went everywhere: to Canada, to the United States and to Australia. They also fought in England’s armies. But the son of one Grisdale woman was also an early New Zealand settler.

In a previous article I wrote about Levi Grisdale and his life as a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars.  After returning from Spain, where he had taken the French General Lefebvre prisoner, Levi and his first wife Ann Robinson had a son, who not surprisingly was also called Levi. He was born in March 1811 in Arundel, Sussex. At the time of their son’s birth it’s very likely that Levi and his wife were visiting Levi’s sister Jane who had moved to Arundel some years before and married a local stonemason called John Booker. It’s possible Levi’s wife had been living in Arundel while Levi was away fighting Napoleon in Spain. Whatever the case it’s a good guess that Jane was present at the christening of her brother’s child.

But this child was to meet a sad end. In the London Morning Chronicle of 5th March 1814 there appeared this notice:

ACCIDENT: Saturday a fine boy, the son of Serjeant Grisdale of the 1oth Hussars, who so gallantly took General Lefebre (sic) prisoner in Spain, and afterwards presented the General’s pistols to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, was killed in Romford by a gentleman’s carriage, the wheels of which went over his body. The child lingered in great agony twenty-four hours. The mother of the boy was so much affected by the fatal accident, that on Monday and yesterday she appeared to be in a state of mental derangement.

This is the story of one child of Jane Grisdale and John Booker who was to emigrate to New Zealand and found there a long line of New Zealand families.

Jane Grisdale was born in 1784 in Greystoke, Cumberland, one year after her brother Levi. On the 25th March 1805 she married a stonemason called John Booker in Arundel in the County of Sussex. How they came to meet we have no idea, but between 1808 and 1814 they were to have six children in the town. They then moved with their children to London where they had a final child called Jane in 1817. This is pretty much all we know of them. Jane died aged just 34 in early 1819 and was buried in the Church of St James, Piccadilly. Whether John Booker looked after the young family or whether they went elsewhere is unclear but they definitely stayed in London.

William Booker, Jane Grisdale’s Son. A Stonemason and early New Zealand Settler

The second Arundel born child was called William Booker and was born in 1808. In 1826 he married Jemima Neave in Saint Mary’s Lambeth, London. Ten children were to be born over the next 22 years: James (1827), Mary (1833), Frances (1834), Jane Ann (1834), Sarah (1837), Emily (1838), Elizabeth (1842), William (1844), Jemima Annie (1846) and John (1848).

In 1841 the family was living in Dorset Place, Westminster; William like his father was a stonemason. By 1851 the family was living in Hollings’ Cottages in Kensal Green, in the Parish of Chelsea. Did William ever meet his actor cousin Walter Grisdale in London? (see earlier blog).

But the family was obviously interested in starting a new life because in late June 1856 William and Jemima Booker, with seven of their children, boarded the sailing ship Creswell  bound for a new life and new adventures in New Zealand. They arrived at the little settlement of Nelson in the north of the South Island on 6 October 1856.

The Creswell, a barque of 574 tons, was a superior craft to most of the vessels sent out by Messrs. Willis, Gann and Co., and on each voyage to New Zealand made a fair average run for a ship of her size. She brought out a large number of our early settlers. Judging from the brief reports of the passages published in the papers during the fifties, nothing of an eventful nature occurred on any of her voyages.

In 1856 the barque arrived at Nelson on the 6th October, after making the passage in 104 days, and on this occasion landed 172 passengers.

The Bookers among them.

The small settlement of Nelson had been founded in 1842 by the New Zealand Company and it is possible this company paid for the family’s voyage. But why New Zealand? The answer I think must be connected with the couple’s first daughter, Mary Booker, who had been born in Saint Pancras, London in 1833. Somehow Mary had made her way to Melbourne in Australia where she arrived on the 5 October 1853 on the Statesman. She met and married George Ishmael Clarke there in 1854. The couple like many others had joined the Victoria Gold Rush and worked in the “diggings”, but George had quickly contracted a chest infection and before he died he had asked Mary, who was pregnant, to go to his parents (Ishmael and Mary Clarke), who were living in Nelson in New Zealand, to have their baby. After George’s death this Mary did and their child, George William Ishmael Clarke, was born in Nelson in April 1855. So I don’t think it beyond the realms of reason to think that it was perhaps Mary who had written to her family in London and encouraged them to join her down-under?

It’s interesting to imagine whether or not Mary crossed the path of the family of William Grisdale about whom I wrote in a previous article: . They were distant relatives and William Grisdale and his family were certainly in the Gold “digging” town of Mansfield, Victoria, by 1855. Even if they did meet would they have known that they were related?

Nelson, New Zealand in the 1840s

Actually the young widow Mary had already remarried in Nelson some months before the arrival of her parents and siblings in New Zealand. She married the widower John “Jock” Fraser on the 27 March 1856 in “the residence of John Carter, Waimea Road, Nelson”. Jock was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish shepherd and he and Mary were to go on to have a large family before Mary died aged only 43 in 1876 in the Mount Cook region. But that was still years away and we can imagine Mary greeting her newly arrived family when they stepped ashore in the little settlement of Nelson.

What sort of place had they come to? For Europeans New Zealand was a new land:

In 1839 there were only about 2000 Pakeha (Europeans) in New Zealand. However the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which saw New Zealand become a British colony, had an enormous effect on the New Zealand population. British migrants were offered a paid passage to New Zealand, and 40,000 arrived here between 1840 and 1860.

Regarding Nelson:

 The New Zealand Company was set up by merchants, bankers and ship owners to sell plots of land to eager people in England and then transport them via ships to the new colony of New Zealand. The New Zealand Company established Port Nicholson as its first settlement, but wanted a second settlement in the South Island and had discussions with Governor Hobson about which land they could have.

The New Zealand Company knew there was going to be a place called Nelson and they knew they wanted it to be in the South Island, or Te Wai Pounamu as the Maoris called it. In May 1841, the New Zealand Company had three exploration ships ready to sail to New Zealand for this second settlement. The three ships were the Whitby, the Will Watch and the Arrow and they were under the command of Captain Wakefield. The ships arrived in Wellington in late August- early September 1841.

In October 1841, Captain Wakefield had successful discussions with the leading chief at Kapiti, regarding land available for settlement. The ships set out looking for a place suitable for settlement in the top of the South. Boats were sent out every day. The surveyors of the ship had decided upon what is now known as Kaiteriteri, but Wakefield wanted to look further. He sent out men to look in the far South-East corner of the bay and it was there that the site was discovered. The natural harbour which is now Nelson made it the preferred place for the new settlement. The Arrow entered Nelson on 1 November 1841.

Lack of an actual site for Nelson did not slow The New Zealand Company down in its quest to populate the settlements. In October 1841 it had arranged for the next four ships to set sail for Nelson. These four ships were the Fifeshire, captained by Captain Arnold, Lord Auckland with Captain Jardine as its head, Captain Bolton with the Mary Ann and lastly the Lloyds, with Captain Green. All of these ships ended up in Nelson, the first to arrive being the Fifeshire, on the 1st February 1842.

The Bookers lived in a Mud House like this in Blenheim

At first the Booker family lived in Nelson but later moved to the settlement of Blenheim, where William and Jemima were to remain until their deaths. Life was rude. The New Zealand National Museum tells us that William Booker was a “stonemason and his name can be found at the base of early head stones around Marlborough.” And that:

The Bookers lived in a mud house in Grove Road, beside Peddie’s and opposite Ball’s malthouse.

In the years to come we can find William and some of his sons in various New Zealand Electoral Registers. In 1876, for instance, both William Booker Senior and William Booker Junior were owners of allotments in Wairau, Blenheim and later Registers show them being “Bricklayers”.

I won’t trace here all that I presently know about William and Jemima’s children. I leave that to others – possibly their New Zealand descendants? But perhaps just a few facts: their daughter Jemima Annie Booker married William Henry Attwood in 1864 and went on to have many children before dying in 1928 in Blenheim. Their daughter Frances married William Hannam in 1857 and died in Blenheim in 1920. Son William married Rose Ann and John married Rachel, both had children as well. Daughters Elizabeth and (Violet) Emily it seems never married.

But finally, regarding their daughter Mary, who I have suggested was probably the reason the family came to New Zealand, one family historian has told us the story after she married John “Jock” Fraser. I will reproduce it here in some detail, with thanks, because I think it can give us a little flavour of the life and times of those early New Zealand settlers:

Jock/John Fraser…. came to New Zealand about 1840 with his younger brother Hugh.

On reaching New Zealand Jock and Hugh first settled in Nelson. In 1856 Jock married Mary (nee Clarke) Booker, a young widow (37 years his junior) with babe in arms. Before her premature death in 1876 they would have 8 children.

The Frasers and others left Nelson (the oldest settled corner of South Island) seeking clean, free sheep country free from the taint of scab. Their search took them to the Canterbury Region, home of “Mackenzie Country”. Mackenzie Country was one of the most celebrated pastoral areas in New Zealand. A great inland plain, noted for its pastoral richness and lakes.

About 1857 Jock took ownership of a large area (20,000 acres) in South Island from Pleasant Point to Marlborough. The Fraser brothers (Jock and Hugh) were the only highland Scots to take up sheep runs in the area. Most of the other men working the Mackenzie sheep runs were from England or low-land Scots. Jock and brother Hugh were the first to overland sheep from Nelson to Canterbury in the 1850s….

Jock’s brother Hugh sold their land in 1860 to Andrew Patterson and moved to North Island. In the 1860s Jock and Mary moved to Mt. Cook Station, one of Mackenzie Country’s historic sheep runs.

In May of 1876 Mary and her 18 year old daughter Jessie die within a week of each other and are buried in Pleasant Point Cemetery. Jock lived until 14 April 1893 when he died at the Timaru Hospital. His funeral notice was published in the Timaru Herald on 17 April 1893:

“FRASER – The friends of the late Mr John Fraser, are respectfully invited to attend his funeral, which will leave the Timaru Hospital at 11 o’clock this Morning, for the Pleasant Point Cemetery, which will be reached about 1 o’clock.

Brother Hugh’s family (after moving to the North Island) branched out of farming and ran a box factory in Eketahuna before moving to Wairau (Hawkes Bay) and owning Willowflat Saw Mill. 

William and Jemima Booker’s Grave in Blenheim

In terms of the Grisdale family, although Jane Grisdale Booker had died at a young age in 1819, when her children were still small, I like to think that maybe in London and later in New Zealand her son William Booker just perhaps kept her memory alive. Did the family also know that they had a famous “Uncle” Levi Grisdale who had “saved England and Europe from Napoleon”?  It’s pretty certain that William Booker had met his uncle when he was a boy in Arundel, but whether he remembered anything and told his children we will probably never know.

It was probably with a mixture of hope and trepidation that William Grisdale boarded the 1300 ton sailing ship Genghis Khan in Liverpool docks on 23rd of March 1853. Accompanied by his wife Sarah and their recently born baby Elizabeth, they were bound for Australia and a new life – a life that would take them via Melbourne to the newly discovered gold fields of Victoria. But first they had to survive the journey, which, as we will see, they nearly didn’t.

The Genghis Kahn

William was the second child of William Grisdale, originally of Matterdale, and his wife Elizabeth Charter. William senior had become a “Dancing Master” in Penrith and William junior was born and christened there in 1817 – he himself became a “drainer”. William senior was the brother of the Wilfred Grisdale who had emigrated to Canada in 1816/7 and about whom I wrote in the last article. The older brother of William the Australian emigrant was another Wilfred Grisdale, he is my own 2nd great grandfather.

The family were assisted emigrants; the Colony of Victoria paid their fares, perhaps sponsored by early Melbourne settlers who were short of labour.

What had prompted William and his wife to make this hazardous journey we don’t know. All around England posters were appearing in villages and towns offering the prospect of a new life down-under. Newspapers had also recently started to print stories of gold diggers who had got rich quick, such as this one which appeared in the Liverpool Echo:

Men that were never worth five pounds in their lives are now possessed of fortunes, and the yoke is burdensome, and they scatter their money like chaff. The whole country for hundreds of miles is one immense goldfield.

Whatever the Grisdales’ reasons there was quite a procedure to be gone through. The Victoria Colonial Secretary’s Office worked in conjunction with the British Emigration Agent in London, “assisted by locally appointed Immigration Agents”.

These agents had to ascertain that the applicants were “of sober habit, industrious and of good moral character, and have certificates to this effect, signed by two respectable persons (but not by publicans or dealers in wines and spirits)”.

They had to give the agents their dates and places of birth, literacy, their trade if they had one, their present employment and any debts they may have.  Also they needed to produce a doctor’s report confirming that “they were free from infectious or contagious disease, had either had or were vaccinated against smallpox”.  Adult males were also required to be physically capable of the labour of their trade.

 Once the emigration Commission received and accepted the application, with its various forms and affidavits, the next thing was to wait for an embarkation order.  Applicants were advised not to give up their employment until they received this order, as it may be some time before passage space became available.  When this order was received, it was accompanied by a list of things they were required to supply for the journey, clothes for both hot and cold climates, towels sheets, etc.

Obviously William had been able to supply all this because on 15th March 1853 William and his small family boarded the Genghis Kahn with all the other passengers.

It was to be over a week before the ship sailed. On 22nd March the livestock for the voyage was brought on board: “ducks, fowls and sheep”, and the next day, the 23rd, the ship cast off and was towed into the Mersey by a steam powered tug.

All these details of the voyage, and the ones that will follow, are the result of one passenger named Joseph Tarry who kept a very detailed diary; his observations were subsequently published: A voyage to Australia in 1853 : the diary of Joseph Tarry. I don’t yet have an original copy of this book and thus I have relied heavily on, and am indebted to, a précis written by a family historian researching another Genghis Khan passenger called William Lee. I think it worth quoting this précis at some length:

The moderate easterly soon died down, leaving the vessel briefly becalmed in the Irish Sea, with a memorable view of the Welsh mountains.

 The first few days at sea were horrific, storms and gales tossed the ship about, water poured down the main hatchway into the steerage, and crockery and tin ware, clothing and food, were scattered in confusion all over the passengers’ deck.  This would have been a terrifying experience for William and Elizabeth, as they would never have been to sea before in their lives.  The damp conditions added to the emigrants’ discomfort, for most were miserably sea sick.  “If we did not sleep in boxes”, wrote emigrant Joseph Tarry, “we should be tossed out of bed…”

 As the weather and their health improved, passengers adjusted to shipboard life.  The men made out a roster so that two were awake at all time during the night to assist any sick passengers and prevent irregularities. Soon passengers and crew were reporting thefts to the Master, who announced a thorough search of all luggage on arrival at Melbourne, the thefts stopped immediately.

 The early April days were pleasantly warm as they approached the equator.  Most passengers had written letters, in case they met a homeward bound vessel, but none were sighted.  Entering the South Atlantic so as to follow the Great Circle Route, the ship once again ran into bad weather.  About 30 feet of her top mizzen mast being lost in a storm on April 7th. Soon icy gales and mountainous seas caused the loss of 60 feet of her main mast and damaged her foretop mast.  Even experienced seamen were afraid to go aloft and eventually the Master himself began to climb the rigging, calling on his crew for “the best men among you” to follow him.  Much later, in better conditions, the Master told the passengers that in twenty years at sea he had never experienced such a storm.  The deck was strewn with smashed and splintered timber, torn canvas and broken ropes.

 Passengers were confined below as heavy seas washed over the upper decks, frequently splashing down the main hatch in spite of its canvas cover.  They were cold, often hungry and frequently ill.  The cooks could not keep water in their boilers because of the tossing of the ship.

 The cooks’ fires were constantly being doused with sea water.  When hot food could be prepared, the English emigrants complained that puddings cooked in sea water were unpalatable.  The Scots and Irish were sometimes able to bake oatcakes from their ration of oatmeal, on a griddle provided for their use.  

 The t’weendecks was overcrowded.  The passengers became tired of each other, and even such minor and familiar nuisances as lice contributed to make conditions intolerable

 There was a great deal of illness at sea. Many of the small Scottish children were suffering from malnutrition before the voyage began, and had little resistance to the measles, scarletina, diarrhoea and typhus which swept through the steerage compartments, taking 30 lives

 On May 23rd , a large piece of floating ice struck the ship.  Visibility was poor, and when Prince Edward Island was passed it was completely hidden in thick fog.  Antarctic gales increased, breaking a yard arm.  Waves struck the ship with the thunder of cannon balls.  An officer described the “Genghis Khan” as being “almost a wreck”.  The Chief Mate, held in esteem by all the passengers for his seamanship and courage, was suddenly demoted.  After too much alcohol he had become insane, threatening to sink the ship.

 The Great Circle Route was terrifying not only for the rough weather, darkness, and prospect of meeting icebergs and uncharted islands, but also for its intense loneliness.  No other ships were seen on this route, no friendly greetings, no visits of crews from passing ships.

 As the “Genghis Khan” neared Port Phillip, Joseph Tarry wrote of the growing excitement amongst the emigrants “and no wonder after being shut up in this floating prison for a quarter of a year without      having seen a speck of God’s fair earth or a green leaf and for many weeks not even a ship.”

 On the evening of June 24th the cry of “Land Ho!” brought everyone on deck.  Cape Otway was clearly visible to the north, bathed in moonlight.  Next day the  “Genghis Khan” with the aid of a pilot entered the Heads, anchoring at the Quarantine Station on Ticonderoga Bay, where two families suffering from scarletina were taken on board the hospital ship “Lysander”.

Ticonderoga Quarantine Station used when the Grisdales passed through

The Portsea Quarantine Station (“Ticonderoga”) on the Mornington Peninsular had been established the previous year as a response to the arrival of the “fever ship”, the Ticonderoga. The Health Officer based there was Superintendent of the Sanitary Station. He was charged with boarding every inward bound ship to ascertain the state of health of its passengers and crew and where necessary to place the ship in quarantine.

 Fresh beef was brought aboard, and appetites revived amazingly.  Their strength renewed six seamen deserted during the first night, bound for the goldfields.  A day of absolute calm at the Heads had been followed by a storm so rough that it was impossible to sail, and the “Genghis Khan” finally reached Melbourne a week later, on a beautiful clear winter day.  In spite of the storms and epidemics 256 of the passengers could count themselves fortunate that they had lived to arrive in the colony.

Melbourne in 1854

Passengers were then transferred to land in small boats and then either paid for transport up the River Yarra to the small town of Melbourne or they had to walk.

The Melbourne that confronted the Grisdales was a rough old place. In the same year they arrived William J. Wills wrote home to his father:

I do not like Melbourne in its present state. You are not safe out after sundown and in a short time you will not be safe during the day. There were some men taken out of the river drowned, suspected to have been murdered, and several attempts at robbery, while we were there.

It was in this Melbourne that immigrants such as the Grisdales completed the formalities of their passage in the Immigration Depot on Collin’s Street and here they usually found their first work.

William and his family had survived all the perils of the journey to Australia but their adventure was only just beginning.

William and Sarah Grisdale’s grave in Mansfield cemetery

Whether William first worked in Melbourne or moved straightaway to the booming gold digs in and around the Upper Goulburn River is unclear. But by 1857 at the very latest he and Sarah were living and having more children in the gold fields, first in Mansfield and then in Jamieson, both entrepôts servicing the exploding gold rush settlements. In total William and Sarah had seven more children in Australia and many of these were to work in some of the many “diggings” in the area, including Wood Point, Ten Mile and Gaffney’s Creek. They weren’t only miners, but farmers, lumbermen and labourers as well. Near Wood Point there is even a “Grisdale Creek” – not a coincidence I’m sure!

But that story is for another time.

William Grisdale died in Mansfield in 1886 and is buried in the cemetery there with his wife Sarah. They must have done well because such a grave stone would not have come cheap.

As throughout much of its history, Britain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was an unforgiving and brutal place for ordinary people trying to make a living.  Quite a number chose to emigrate to the New World, to find a better life. The life they found wasn’t always easy, it was often hard in the extreme, but their courage and fortitude often paid off, at least for their descendants. This is the story of one Matterdale man and his family who did just this: Wilfred Grisdale.

The area of North Monaghan in Ontario as Wilfred Grisdale might have first seen it

In the early nineteenth century much of Upper Canada was still a land of virgin forest and lakes. Of course there were natives Indians but in much of Ontario, for example, many of the forests had no settlements. When there was any path at all it was just, as early pioneer Charles Fothergill put it in 1817, “a windy way through the forest made by the Indians”.

One small piece of this vast land became the Township of North Monaghan, which is situated in the southwest corner of what is now known as Peterborough County.

The latest history of the township, published in 1990 by the North Monaghan Historical Research Committee and titled A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989, says this:

Prior to 1817,  few humans had set foot on the Township soil or gazed from the Otanabee river at its heavily forested shores.

Although “a few tracks were testimony to the presence of Indian hunting parties in the past”.

But in 1817 the surveyor Samuel Wilmot had already completed the first survey of the area, the land being divided into lots to which early settlers would stakes claims. One of the very first 11 settlers in North Monaghan was a certain Wilfred Grisdale. In 1817, he staked a claim to Lot 4 (East ½) of concession number twelve.

Wilfred and his family are the founders of a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Jenny Hill Farm, Matterdale. Wilfred Grisdale was (probably) born and raised here

Wilfred Grisdale was born in Matterdale in Cumberland in 1782, probably at Jenny Hill Farm. He was the fourth child of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: also called Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred Senior had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. It is this second Wilfred that is the centre of this story.

Wilfred was to marry Jane Bell in the village church of Hutton in the Forest near Carlisle, the Cumberland county town, on the 6th November 1803, aged 21. The family settled in Carlisle itself and seven children followed, all baptized in Saint Mary’s Church, Carlisle: Gideon (1804), Ann (1805), Wilfred (1807), Ruth (1809), James (1812), Jane (1810) and Joseph (1816).

I wrote about Wilfred’s brother Gideon and his ballet dancer daughter in my last article. For parochial interest, his brother William was my 3rd great grandfather.

In 1816, or in early 1817, Wilfred emigrated with his whole family to Canada to start a new life.

We don’t know the precise reasons for the family’s decision or which ship they travelled on to the “New World”, but the Carlisle newspapers of the time were full of advertisements trying to attract people to move to North America offering the prospect of land grants and assistance with the passage. Perhaps Wilfred was attracted by one of these?

Whatever the truth, Wilfred and his family arrived in North Monaghan in Upper Canada in 1817, perhaps following the route taken in 1825 by Peter Robinson who brought many Irish settlers to the area. Robinson had “sailed from Liverpool to New York and proceeded from thence to Toronto by way of Niagara”. Only later were more direct and less “roundabout” routes to Toronto available.

The settlers from the “Old Country” came by boat as far as Cobourg. From there some found their way by ox cart to Rice Lake and then by smaller boats to spots along the Otanabee River. Others walked, carrying their possessions, north through the forest by way of Port Hope.

Once there, there were two methods of staking a land claim:

By lot or by following the surveyors trails until a lot of land which pleased them was found. Taking note of the number and concession from the marked posts of the surveyors, they returned to Port Hope to make the required application to the land agent in order to secure their lot. During this expedition visit, one or more nights had to be spent in the forest.

Where having kindled a fire, they lay down to sleep beneath the branches of a group of trees, wearied and fatigued, and worse, perhaps wet and torn with the mishaps of the journey.

A Pioneer Settler House in Canada

Wilfred had to stake his claim. “The first requisite to procure land in those days was to take an oath of allegiance, on which a certificate was issued as evidence of the fact.” Usually no payment was needed due to the unsettled nature of the area. Once he had staked his claim in North Monaghan in 1817, the hard work began for Wilfred and his wife and young family: clearing the forest, building a rude wooden hut or “shanty” before the onset of winter and trying to grow or procure enough to survive.

We are lucky to have a book written by a Peterborough County man in 1867, called A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough. This man was Dr Thomas W Poole and he had both experienced much of what he described or, for the very early settlement years, he had relied on first-hand accounts from the surviving first settlers. He writes:

The first settlers… encountered difficulties and privations of which we, in after time, can have but a faint conception. Unaccustomed as many of them were to the new scenes in which they found themselves placed; with scant provisions, and separated by long wastes of wood water from their fellow-kind, their situation, with their wives and little ones must have been at times appalling; and by less indomitable spirits, would have been relinquished in despair.

Wilfred Grisdale was one of these settlers and was, indeed, with his wife and “little ones”. Dr Poole continues the story:

During the first few years, great difficulties were often felt in procuring the necessary provisions with which to support life. These had to be brought all the way from Port Hope or Cobourg, in the most laborious manner, and in the total absence of even the most ordinary roads; the only guide being the “blaze” upon the trees through the interminable forest, in which they seems entombed. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that whole families were often for weeks without tasting bread, and that the herbs and succulent roots of the rich woods were often called into requisition to lengthen out their scanty fare.

But as Dr Poole tells us from the testimony of the settlers themselves:

Gradually the blue smoke from the settler’s shanty, and the tiny opening in the forest, began to appear here and there, at intervals, often of miles between… But the number of shanty fires gradually grew larger, as giant trunk and tender sapling groaned and fell beneath the sturdy strokes of the settler’s axe, then the huge heaps appeared, rolled together by united effort. The flames crackled and roared.

Far away into the gloom of the dark forest shot the gleam of the evening fires, which told that a conqueror had come, and that civilization and the luxuries of comfort and refinement were on the way to cheer and enliven these rude fastnesses of nature, and bid them smile with a new growth and a more prolific harvest. The first rude shanty gave way to a substantial and comfortable mansion. Flocks and herds increased; and as time progressed and the population grew, the rude wilderness became a comparative garden.

Mercifully during the first hard years in Canada all of the Grisdale children survived. Wilfred and Jane even had one more child called Maria born in North Monaghan in about 1822 – the first Grisdale of this family to be born on North American soil.

We can only hope that Wilfred and his wife were able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in the manner evoked by Dr Poole:

Well may the veteran pioneer pause now in the evening of his days and look around on the wonders wrought by time and industry. Proudly may he point to the spot where he first reclined beneath the spreading trees, wet with the morning dew, during that first visit to his future farm, and contrast the scene with the present, with its broad acres and cultivated fields, its neat farm houses and thriftly barns, which he expects soon to leave a rich heritage to his children.

I hope so.

The Grave of Maria Grisdale in Thorold, Ontario. Maria was the first and only Canadian born child of Wilfred Grisdale

We don’t know when Wilfred and his wife Jane died but we do know that his children soon started to move to, and settle in, other parts of Ontario (Upper Canada) as well as across the border into Michigan.

I won’t go into the marriages and children of Wilfred and Jane’s own children here because it would involve writing a book. For those who are interested, please refer to my own family tree on, mentioned in the “About” page of this blog.

What, however, is clear is that there are alive today in Canada and the United States literally hundreds and probably thousands of Grisdales (and others) who owe their existence to the decision of Wilfred and his wife Jane to leave Cumberland, where the family had lived for centuries, and to make the hazardous voyage to Canada to start a new life.

I hope some of Wilfred and Jane’s Canadian or American descendants will write some of the fascinating stories of their children.


North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990,  A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989.

Thomas W. Poole M.D, Peterborough Review, Peterborough, 1867, A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough.


This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.


London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. The stories of some of Gideon’s siblings are well worth telling and I will probably return to them.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Grisdale, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

On the 22nd July 1812 near the Spanish city of Salamanca the Duke of Wellington’s British and Portuguese army was fighting a major battle with Napoleon’s French, commanded by Marshal Marmont. It turned out to be significant victory for the British and helped to consolidate Wellington’s growing reputation as a winning General. The price of course was, as usual, thousands of dead and wounded on both sides. One of these was Lieutenant Bethel, the Adjutant of the 40th Regiment of Foot (South Lancashire). Bethell was “severely wounded” and died of his injuries shortly afterwards.

The Duke of Wellington inspects his Foot soldiers before the Battle of Salamanca

The consequences of such personal tragedies always spread further. Bethell left a widow called Martha back home in Malpas Cheshire. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars the House of Commons regularly granted “relief” i.e. payments to the families of soldiers who had been killed in the wars and had been left in difficult even penurious situations. Though it has to be said the families of officers tended to fare better than those of “common” soldiers. In 1815 the House granted £30 to Martha Bethell:

Widow of the late Lieutenant and Adjutant Bethell of the 40th Foot, who died of the wounds he received in the Battle of Salamanca, in consideration of his meritorious services, and the destitute situation in which she is left.

The award was “back-dated” to 22 October 1822, possibly the date when Martha had appealed for help.

And this brings us to the issue of money. In order to pay for the wars against Napoleon the British crown and government needed as always a lot of money. They introduced many new taxes on an already suffering populace. By the turn of the nineteenth century tax collecting in Britain had taken on many of the features we would be familiar with today, including a nationwide network of tax Inspectors and “Collectors of Customs”.

Being a customs collector was, locally, a prestigious, well remunerated, though still much despised, profession. One Collector of Customs active throughout the wars, and thus helping to finance British battles such as Salamanca, was a certain Benjamin Grisdale. He was born and baptized in Matterdale in September 1764, one of the many children of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple.  On 7th September 1791 Benjamin married Jane Maddock in Malpas, Cheshire. It’s quite likely that he had already started his Tax career, a life that took him and his growing family from Malpas (where he had stayed awhile) to Whitchurch in Shropshire, then to Bolton Le Moors in Lancashire and thence to Halifax in Yorkshire. Benjamin and Jane had at least nine children, the last being baptized in Halifax on 16 April 1813 – so she was conceived it seems at around the time Lieutenant Bethell was being fatally wounded at Salamanca.

Whitehaven Harbour in the nineteenth century

Sometime at the end of the Wars or shortly thereafter Benjamin was appointed “Collector of Customs” for Whitehaven, so it was back to Cumberland, before moving again to Carmarthen in Wales. Jane his wife died there. She was buried on 29th September 1827 in Saint Peter’s Church, Carmarthen.

And so for some years the lives of these two people at the heart of this story, Benjamin and Martha Bethell, continued in their very different ways. Benjamin was quite well-to-do whereas, we might surmise, Martha was still probably struggling to avoid “destitution”. We don’t know how or where Benjamin and Martha met but they were married in Carmarthen on 23 Nov 1830; Benjamin being 56 and Martha 55.

It seems that Benjamin with his new wife and some of his children stayed in Carmarthen for a few more years. Maybe Benjamin had already retired from his tax collecting job, we can’t be sure.

In August 1834, Sarah, Benjamin’s youngest child was married in Liverpool, as reported in the Carlisle Journal:

On the 13th inst., at St. Bride’s Church, Liverpool, Mr Thomas WILLIAMS, youngest son of Mr. Wm. WILLIAMS, Ty-Brith, Vale of Clwyd, to Sarah, youngest daughter of Benjamin GRISDALE, Esq., Carmarthen, and late Collector of Excise, Whitehaven.

But sometime after 1834 they moved back to Whitehaven, to the little village of Hensingham. It is here we find the end of their story. Beneath a bush in the Old Churchyard at Hensingham there is a gravestone with the following inscription:

Sacred to the memory of Benjamin Grisdale Collector of Excise who departed this life 28th of July 1848 aged 84 years.

 Also Martha his wife who departed this life on the 5th June 1865 aged 90 years. And formerly widow of Captain and Adjutant Bethel who was killed at the Battle of Salamanca.

Also Ann daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale died on the 11th May 1865 aged 70 years.

Frances the widow of John Heylin and fourth daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale who died Novr 29th 1865 aged 65 years..

Thy Will be Done.

Hensingham Church, Whitehaven, Cumberland

It is pleasing to know that both Martha and Benjamin had led such long and full lives, we hope they were happy together.

Such are the little connections that are English history.

On the 19th October 1781 the British and German forces besieged at Yorktown, Virginia commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis “having little ammunition, food and supplies left” agreed to surrender to the French and American armies, the latter under General George Washington. Cornwallis had been waiting for a relief force under General Henry Clinton, but it came five days too late. The British and Germans marched out into captivity with their colours furled, the drummers playing a British march, reputedly (but in no way proved to have been) The World Turned Upside Down. This defeat led to Britain eventually acquiescing to American independence and the creation of the United States. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. But not far from Cornwallis on this day in 1781 would have been his good friend Benjamin Grisdale from Matterdale in Cumberland. One more example of how members of this small rural family seem to have spread throughout the world and been present at some key moments in history.

Surrender at Yorktown 1781

Benjamin Grisdale was born in Threlkeld in Matterdale and was baptized there on the 21st February 1744. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and Ann Browne. Benjamin followed a route already well trodden by the clever children of poor Cumberland families. He was probably a pupil at the Free Grammar School at Barton in Westmorland and entered Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1760 to study Divinity, aged 15. His maternal uncle Joseph Browne had been educated at Barton School and Queen’s College and was later to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Benjamin received his BA from Oxford in 1764 and his MA in 1767. His brother the Rev Dr Browne Grisdale would follow the same route to Oxford and to ordination and was subsequently to become “Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty”, “Chancellor” of Carlisle and a powerful Justice of the Peace.

On the 22nd February 1768, shortly after receiving his MA, and probably through connections he had made at Oxford, Benjamin became the Chaplain of the British army’s elite infantry regiment: the 33rd Regiment of Foot, commanded by Colonel Charles Cornwallis, the “Earl Cornwallis”. For its conduct, professionalism and discipline during the War of Independence the regiment was later given the nickname ‘The Pattern’. One Sergeant commented:

I am bound to record here that I have felt a certain shamefacedness, on visiting the barracks of the 33rd Regiment, who were commanded by the young Earl of Cornwallis, to compare their high state of appointment and the steadiness of their discipline with the slovenly and relaxed bearing of most of our own companies. One can always correctly judge a regiment by the behaviour of its sentries. I have seen men go on duty in the 9th dead drunk and scarcely able to stand, but with the 33rd the sentry was always alert and alive in attention; when on duty, he was all eye, all ear… During the two hours he remained at this post the sentry continued in constant motion and could not have walked less than seven miles in that time. The 33rd thus set a standard of soldier like duty which made me secretly dissatisfied with the 9th, and which I have never since seen equalled but by a single other regiment [the 23rd RWF] which was brigaded with the 33rd under the same Cornwallis in the later campaigns of the American War. – Sjt. Roger Lamb, 23rd RWF

We know nothing of Benjamin’s early years in the army but when the American colonies rebelled the 33rd of Foot was sent to help in their repression. Benjamin Grisdale went with them. The 33rd landed at Cape Fear, North Carolina on the 3rd May 1776.

Cornwallis wrote this aboard the HMS Bristol about two weeks before their arrival in America:

I have nothing to inform your lordship of but that our passage has been very tedious and that we are still 370 leagues from our rendezvous at Cape Fear. We have with us twenty ships in company, besides two artillery-ships and four victuallers…. The troops are in general healthy…

The 33rd Regiment of Foot Guards

The regiment saw action almost immediately after landing; starting at the first siege of Charleston, South Carolina in June-July 1776. They then fought in many of the engagements of the American War of Independence: Long Island, NY (August 1776), Harlem Heights, New York (September 1776), Fort Washington, New York (November 1776), Brandywine, Pennsylvania (September 1777), Germantown, Pennsylvania (October 1777), Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania(December 1777), Monmouth, New Jersey (June 1778), the defence of Newport and Quaker Hill, Rhode Island (August 1778),  Old Tappan, New York (September 1778), Charleston, South Carolina (March-May 1780), Camden, South Carolina (August 1780), Wetzell’s Mill, North Carolina (March 1781), Guilford Court House, North Carolina (March 1781), Green Spring, Virginia (July 1781), before arriving in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.

Benjamin Grisdale was there throughout.

There is much to tell about the exploits of Cornwallis’s regiment over the course of the war, but this story is not about the Americans’ struggle for independence but rather about Benjamin Grisdale himself.

General the Earl Cornwallis

Cornwallis himself was quickly “paroled” after Yorktown and returned to England but many of the men of the 33rd were not so lucky and were to remain in captivity until 1783. It is not known exactly when Chaplain Grisdale was released. But after returning to England and leaving the army, through the benefaction of Queen’s College he was given the “living” of the parish of Chedworth in Gloucestershire in 1785 and, through the intervention of the Cornwallis family, he also received the living of Withington Gloucestershire in 1791.

Benjamin Grisdale and Charles Cornwallis had obviously become good friends during their time together both in England and America, because they were to exchange numerous personal letters when Cornwallis was subsequently posted all over the world and until his death in India 1805. Here is one written by Cornwallis to his friend Benjamin from a “Camp near Banglalore” on September 8th 1791:

Dear Grisdale

In the same packet of letters which contained yours of the 18th December, I found one from Mrs Cornwallis, informing me that she had given you the living at Withington. I trust you will know me too well to doubt the sincerity of the joy which I felt on that occasion: may you long enjoy every comfort and happiness of domestic life.

God know when our war will end, I hope and trust it will be soon, or it will end me; I do mean that I am sick, I have stood a burning sun and cold wind as well as the youngest of them, but I am plagued, and tormented, and wearied to death.

God bless you my dear Grisdale, I have no time to send you news, but can only assure you that I am with great truth,

Your most faithful and affectionate friend,


Benjamin didn’t marry until 1791 when he was 47 His wife was Elizabeth Unwin  the daughter of William Unwin of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. They had seven children: Charles (1793), William (1795), Elizabeth (1797), Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William 1807/8. Of the boys only the second William was still alive in 1841 when he died at Cubberley Rectory in Gloucestershire where he was curate, aged just 34. He had attended Rugby School and followed his father to Queen’s College Oxford.

The Rev Benjamin Grisdale died on 18 June 1828. He had a full life indeed.