This and That

In which are revealed the stories and mysteries behind a Family Bible, a watercolour painting, and a tombstone.

Have Courage My Boy to Say No!*

We were at a friend’s house on Saturday night for drinks and nibbles. I, without sounding all self-righteous I’m sure, said I had gone tea-total and would stick to water. Bert said in that case he had something he should show me and brought an old family bible. It was not his family’s but had been given to his grand-father in payment for some work he had done back at the turn of the 20th century. It was almost an encyclopedia of Christian biblical history with maps, descriptions and drawings of plants found in the Bible, genealogy that gave lie to Mr Darwin’s theories, some rather fine etchings, and some beautiful coloured pages to record births, deaths, marriages and the like. But what Bert wanted me to see was a page that he suggested, with a slight twinkle, that I might want to sign!

I would have been the first to have done so. Sadly none of the entries were filled in so the history of book and it’s owners is an unknown.

We had a Family Bible like that which was left in the attic when my mother’s house was sold. As a sidebar Bert mentioned that his grand-father could neither read nor write but was a incredible story teller with a remarkable facility with words.

*This is the title of a temperance hymn that can be found here sung by Mary Lou Fallis, the Prima Donna on a Moose.

Behold A Dark Rider

Before the iPhone digital camera, where you take six or seven photos just to make sure you go the shot; before the Polaroid that gave instant if now faded images; before the Brownie box where you made sure everything was in order before you took that one expensive photo; there was only one way for a world traveller to record what they saw: you sketched or painted it.

On April 30, 1837 someone, somewhere (possible North Africa), recorded the image of this horseman that hangs in our corridor. Who the artist was we do not know. Probably English, as the date is in English; possibly just a tourist, though more likely a military officer. But he, and we are assuming it was a he though watercolours were a favourite medium for gentlewomen of the period, captured an image from a moment in their travels.

Our good friend Don Andrus gave this to Laurent as a birthday gift two years ago knowing full well that he would appreciated it. The only thing Don knew about it was that it had hung in his Uncle’s study at the school where he was headmaster back in the 1930s. Though the date is clear the florid signature is largely illegible. We are left with a mystery that I fear will never be solved.

Island History – A Snap Shot

It is no secret that I am a taphophile and on our recent jaunt up to the Malpeque area we stopped off at the Malpeque Public Cemetery. A wander through the gravestones revealed one of those finds that gladdens the heart of any one who finds the history of a place amongst it’s memorials and loves a mystery.

Thomas and Jacob Clark were twin brothers born to Elizabeth Ann (Schurman) and Francis M. Clark on March 9, 1829. If church births were registered by time of birth it can be assumed that Thomas was the first born. Their tombstone records that they both died by drowning on July 22, 1852 . They were 23 years old.

And here’s another mystery. What were the circumstances of their deaths? Where they fishermen out trolling the water for their catch? Or was it simply a day out in a skiff that went wrong? Did a storm come up and swamp their boat? Was one brother trying to save the other?

Unfortunately the inscription at the bottom of the marker has been eaten away by time, the moss and lichens that have grown on it. Perhaps it would reveal a little more of their story and a snippet of the history of the Island. My curiosity may lead me to see if I can find out more.

The word for June 22nd is:
Taphophile / tˈafəfˌa͡ɪl/: [noun]
Someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, grave yards, tombstones and possibly funeral rites and rituals.
Ancient Greek τάφος (táphos, “funeral rites, burial, funeral, wake; tomb, grave”) + English -philia (from the Ancient Greek φιλία (philía, “love, fondness”).
As I have said before as a “tombstone tourist” it is paramount that respect be paid to those at rest and their families so any investigating will be done with that in mind.

The Stones on Yankee Hill – III

So finally I get around to actually taking you into the Yankee Hill Cemetery. It’s only been three years since I took the pictures! It was a sunny warm September day and the dappled light through the trees gave – me at least – the feeling of a Georgian novel. There was a touch of Byronic romanticism that you could picture on a threatening day suddenly turning Gothically sinister and on a moonless night downright frightening.

Given the machinations of Captain MacKay it was necessary to find a new burial site for the good folk of Yankee Hill and the surrounding area. The land that John Cameron gave in 1810 for the log chapel was large enough to accommodate a graveyard. The small chapel (barely six metres square) was to serve the largely Presbyterian congregation of an extended area from Cavendish across the bay* to Park Corner. It can be assumed the original graveyard was of a considerable size though it’s exact boundaries are unknown. It was however situation on a pleasant hill with an aspect to the dunes beyond.

There appears to be no existing records of the early burials but there are 23 known memorials indicating the resting places of 27 souls from the area. The earliest marker remembers the death of Robert William Cundall in 1828 and the latest gravestone dates from 1904 with the passing of James W. Cousins.

The first stones on the path in are for Ann and Andrew McPherson and at the foot of their graves is a small marker that commemorates AMcP. Unfortunately nothing else is decipherable on the remnants of the stone – perhaps it is one of their children?

Behind the McPherson’s is a stone marking the resting place of George McLeod who was 4 years old when his family emigrated from Sutherlandshire in Scotland to PEI. Many of the other McLeod’s in the area came from the same area so he is possibly related to one or two of the McLeods buried in the cemetery.

A rather unusual table memorial separates his stone from what would appear to be a family plot for the McLeod clan. Unfortunately exposure to the elements has rendered the inscription illegible.

There is at least two grave widths between the headstone for the elder Hugh McLeod (1845) and that of Nancy (1869) and her husband Hugh (1866) which would suggest there are other family members whose headstones have gone missing.

The final resting place of John and Mary Cousins and several of their children and grand children.

A row of six gravestones mark the resting place of several branches of the Cousins family who held land in the French River area. John Cousins (1840) came to PEI in 1785 as an Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution. His family had been Huguenots from Normandy and the original spelling of the name was Couzens. After settling in Park Corner he married Mary Townsend (1850) in 1786. In 1775 when she was seven she had come with her family on Robert Clark’s ill-fated venture to found a New London. Cousins was one of the largest landowners in the region with over seven hundred acres.

The rather odd phrase “relic of” is used to indicate that Mary had been the surviving spouse of John. It also appears on the grave stone of Catherine McKay. It is a unisex term simply meaning “survivor of” and could be used for a widow or widower.

James, the son of William and Mary, is the last recorded burial in the cemetery in October 1904. He had been postmaster at Park Corner for many years. From the inscription on his stone it would appear that he had suffered for a long time from a unnamed aliment.

Several of the stones bear the maiden names of the wives – something that I would have thought unusual for the time. However a bit of research revealed that in Scotland it was a common practice until recently for a married women to be known formally, if not necessarily in everyday life, by their original surnames after marriage. It was a form of recognizing your birth clan. The custom carried over to memorials and tombstones.

Robert William Cundall Esq (1828)
& his son Thomas (1831)

Robert William Cundall settled in Park Corner and married Penelope Bassett the daughter of a landowner in the area. On her father’s death she inherited a share of Lot 20. Cundall died in 1828 at the age of 49 – his marker is the oldest of the existing stones. His oldest son Thomas died three years later in a drowning accident at the age of 13. According to the note in the graveyard the second son William took over the running of the family properties when his father died??? He would have been at the most eight or nine at the time so you do have to question that statement????

Though the log chapel was abandoned in 1836-37 burials were to continue for another 67 years. As time passed the chapel rotted away – though until recently there were locals who recall playing “fort” on the stone foundation and amongst the few remaining wooden crosses and toppling tombstones. The area became overgrown and as happens nature took back the land. However in 1971 a volunteer group cleared both Yankee Hill and Sims Cemeteries and in 1973, PEI Centennial year, they were declared memorials and Provincial historical sites.

Hopefully the damaged caused by Dorian will be cleared away and it will be possible to once again cross the wooden bridge and experience a glimpse of the stories of the lives, loves, achievements and families of that corner of our Island.

Most of the historical information concerning individuals was provided by the object labels at the Cemetery.

The word for August 25th is:
Relic /ˈrelik/: [noun]
1.1 An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
1.2 A part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.
1.3 An object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.
1.4 (archaic) The surviving partner of a marriage i.e. widow or widower.

The Stones on Yankee Hill – II

On our visit to the area in September 2017 Doug and Pierre asked if we wanted to see two old cemeteries in the area. They didn’t have to ask twice – and we made our way first to the Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery and then across the road to the Yankee Hill Cemetery. Two cemeteries on either side of what was a country road, one now hidden in an overgrown grove of trees. But why two cemeteries so close together? As so often happens here on the Island it was a dispute over land.

In the Island land lottery of 1767 Lot 21 was granted to the McLaine brothers and in 1773 Robert Clark, a London merchant and Quaker, had bought it with the hope of setting up a lumber and trading centre. The first settlers (according to Clark many of whom were repentant sinners seeking a new life) arrived on Clark’s ship the Elizabeth in 1774 and founded the settlement of Elizabethtown and the broader New London area. Though the brig was a sturdy vessel equipped to withstand the winter extremes the settlers were not. It is thought that perhaps Clark had painted a brighter picture than what they found and the existence of the Old Cemetery (Sims Field) in 1774 would suggest that many did not survive that first winter. And sadly the Elizabeth proved not quite as sea-worthy and sank the next year. The settlement was soon abandoned and very little trace was left other than the cemetery and a street name.

Inspector of Highways J. B. Palmer drew this map of Capt Mackay’s proposed change to the existing straight road to Malpeck. B is the old cemetery (now known as Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery). The new road was to fork to the south of his property and go by the New Chapel (1810) ending somewhat short of the Ferry dock.
Map is currently in the Provincial Archives

In 1809 Captain William Mackay bought 615 1/2 acres of land from the Clark family. The sale allowed community access, under the High Road Law, on the road to Malpeck (Princetown Road) that ran through his property to New London Bay. Mackay almost immediately began to annoy his neighbours by blocking the road denying them access to the Old Cemetery (Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery), their new chapel, the public ferry dock and shipping facilities at the harbour. MacKay proposed a road that skirted his property and would have proved totally impractical for wagons and carriages. The matter went as far as the Governor and a full report was made that strongly favoured the community and suggested that the barriers be removed. But Mackay had his revenge – his neighbours kept their right of way but were not allowed to enter his property to bury their dead at the Old Burial Ground.

In his report the Inspector of Highways J. B. Palmer does imply that some of the community’s animosity may have also stemmed from MacKay’s earlier refusal to donate land for the building of a chapel. It had fallen to John Cambridge, Clark’s land agent, to donate a plot on the crest of Yankee Hill for the construction of a small log chapel in 1810. It was to serve the staunchly Presbyterian residents of New London, Cavendish (!) and Park Corner as a place of worship for the next 25 years until Geddie Memorial was build in nearby Springbrook. In 1836 the chapel was abandoned and fell into disrepair and decay. There is only approximate knowledge of where it was located on the site.

The Yankee Gale – George Thresher (1780-1857)
Oil on canvas – 1851
Confederation Centre of the Arts

I mentioned previously that the name Yankee Hill is attributed to the area being a home base for the American mackerel fishing boats that plied the rich waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Witnessing some of the destruction of Hurricane Dorian brought to mind one of the worst natural disasters in Island history: the Yankee Gale in October of 1851. For two days the winds buffeted and the seas swept over and sank some 120 vessels. It is estimated that as many as 250 sailors perished in the storm – many of them “Yankees”. Local people rescued the survivors and gathered the dead. All along the north shore of the Island, from Tignish to East Point local cemeteries became the final resting place for many of these sailors. It is thought that at least 25 American sailors were buried at Yankee Hill though their grave makers, possibly being simple anonymous wooden crosses, are not amongst the 23 grave markers that have survived storms, been overtaken by nature and the elements, now most recently Hurricane Dorian.

Again this entry has turned out a little longer than I expected however in the next (and last, I promise) post I’ll share photos of those markers and a few anecdotes about the people they eulogize.

NB: Much of the historical information I have included comes from an article by Chester B. Stewart in the Island Magazine published by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. Roadblock 1810 is a treasure trove of anecdotes and facts that paint a colourful picture of life in the early days of settlement here in PEI.

The word for July 11 is:
Gale /ɡāl/: [noun]
1.1 A very strong wind
1.2 A burst of sound, especially of laughter.
Mid 16th century: perhaps related to Old Norse galinn ‘mad, frantic’.
Interesting that the U. S. National Hurricane Centre gives the figures for “gale force winds” as being between 61 km/h; 17 m/s; 38 mph and 117 km/h; 32 m/s;72 mph. We’ve experienced a few of those over the past four years.

One Lady’s View

Well yesterday saw the last cruise ship of the season arrive and depart. The Oceania Riviera closed off what has been a record cruise ship season. A total of 87 ships disgorged 128,000 passengers and 55,000 crew members onto our ruddy shores. Our location and daily walks with Nicky and Nora meant that I met many of those visitors, often for long chats. The three top questions have been: Are you from here? What brought you here? What are winters like here? And the general opinions of their visit has been very positive. People seem to greatly enjoy their time spent on the Island.

But according to archivist and historian Harry Holman that wasn’t the case with at least one 19th century traveller. On his always informative blog Sailstrait Mr Holman reveals the Honourable Lady Brassey’s rather candid views on the Island and its denizens on her visit in October of 1872.

A left click on this illustration from Anna Brassey’s 1878 best-seller A Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months will take you to her entry from that earlier voyage and entry on her visit to Charlottetown.

An illustration from A Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months, Anna Brassey’s best selling travel journal of her trip around the world. A left click will take you to her private account of an earlier voyage.

Mr Holman tells me he has over 50 accounts of visits to Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island before 1900. He hopes to gather them together and publish them as a book. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

November 5th is Love Your Red Hair Day – so gingers of the world get loving!

A Royal Obsession

A recent look at the tabloids – oh come on you all read the headlines at the supermarket and you know it!!!!! – suggests a rather unhealthy obsession with our Canadian (Britian has some claim to them too) Royal Family. The details of suspected peccedillos, fusses and feuds amongst various members of the House of Windsor-Mountbatten seem to fascinate us lower classes as we tug at our forelocks and cry “Will they not leave poor Princess Megan alone?” Most totally unaware that she will never be “Princess” and isn’t exactly “poor” on any level.

But this obsession with British Royalty is nothing new for members of the fifth estate and their readers, particularly our American cousins. In 1860 Queen Victoria’s eldest son Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales visited the British Colonies and it appears that almost every breath he took was recorded by journalists and breathlessly read by their subscribers.

In his, always fascinating, blog Sailstait PEI historian, archivist and writer Harry Holman recounts the heady days in August 1860 when the visit to our Island by HRH was the news not only locally but internationally. Fine proof that the obsession with our Royal Family is nothing new.

March 29 is the 88th day of the year and a piano has 88 keys so naturally today is International Piano Day.


It was not a pretty sight and the correspondent for the New York Tribune made  it the centrepiece of his reporting of the event.  And what an event it was. The biggest thing to hit Charlottetown in its history. The first visit ever of a member of the Royal Family. Today it has become commonplace as every decade one or more Royals cycle through the province. It was not always so.

View of Royal Fleet at Charlotte Town 1860. From Journal of the Progress of the HRH Prince of Wales through British North America and his Visit to the United States. 1860.

When H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, came to North America it was a major event wherever he visited. Not only did he visit the British Colonies, still four years away from becoming a nation, but he also travelled to the United…

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