Leaving a 'Stamp' on Canada
Recently I have had cause to think about emigrant ancestors – after all, nearly all us have relatives somewhere along the line, who have packed their bags and embarked on a new life in distant lands. To date my blogs have focused on those that headed for the goldfields and farmland of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They have encompassed those who had no choice in the matter, those who embraced the pioneering spirit and forged successful lives for themselves overseas, those that returned home and those that tried but didn’t make it! However, barring a very brief foray into the story of brothers George Hodgson and Alexander Middleton, engineers on the Canadian railways, who returned to Scotland with a Canadian wife a piece in the shape of two Hazelwood sisters, I have done very little delving into others who made the journey to Canada, if in fact I have made the connection at all. A quick flick through the Dictionary of Canadian Biography using place names such as Alnwick as a search term brought up an array of familiar surnames, Selby, Stamp and Donkin in particular.
The Selby family are perhaps better known for their connections in the north of the County around Norham, Twisell, Beal and Berwick upon Tweed. The name Prideaux Selby is more associated with the Berwick Naturalists than the military adventures of his namesake and relative, although he too was born in Alnwick. Whilst not related to me directly, they do have links to the Younghusbands, the Wood family of Pressen and subsequently the Nicholsons of Thornton and Smiths of Windywalls of whom I wrote back in November 2016. That article also recounted the tale of synchronised suicide and the rather bizarre custom of Deodand. The Selbys are an interesting family – not least Frances Selby, who for her second husband married the ‘murderer’ of her first, a Captain John Hiniosi who had been stationed at Holy Island in 1689.
The other two both make it into my extended family tree too:
Edward Stamp was the son of Thomas Stamp and Mary Nicholson born circa 1813 in Alnwick. He was a Master Mariner and ‘industrialist’ who in the 1860’s became involved in the Canadian lumber business in British Columbia. A memorial plaque mounted on a rock in Stanley Park Vancouver reads
Captain Edward Stamp
His biography states that ‘several geographical features in the vicinity of Alberni have been named after him, including Stamp Falls Provincial Park which surrounds the falls on the Stamp River’. I can honestly say I had no idea of his business connections or timber operations in Canada as all his main ‘life’ events took place in England.
When it comes to explaining relationships in this particular branch of the tree it becomes complex to say the least, being littered with more cousin marriages than you could shake a stick at. For the purposes of this post it is quite sufficient to say that Mary Wood was the daughter of William Wood of Pressen, that Jonathon Middleton above is 1c4r to me, and his wife Jane Nicholson was his 1st cousin. Thus Edward Stamp was both his nephew AND his 1c1r. Furthermore, Jonathon Middleton was also uncle to the Alexander and George Hodgson Middleton the railway engineers mentioned in the opening paragraph. If that wasn’t enough Jonathon was also ‘step’ uncle to Alexander Beazeley who, with his parents and family emigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1850, and from where several letters written to Nicholson family members back home have survived. The letters provide a glimpse of the challenges faced by emigrants regardless of wealth or background. As Alexander writes to his cousins following his mother’s death ‘So you see that our Colonial life has not been quite such a cheerful one as we had anticipated. Sickness & death are sad destroyers of family comfort, & the gradual thinning of the family circle is not a pleasant thing to-look upon.’
Well that is quite enough on that little lot – they bamboozle me at times, so how anyone else can be expected to follow the connections I have no idea. There is a purpose to this explanation, however, and that is to illustrate how often there are ‘wheels within wheels’ and that other family connections may underlie decisions to seize opportunities, or even emigrate to far flung corners of the globe.
Of course, Biographical works often only portray the successful and other noteworthy individuals – they rarely tell the story of the ‘ordinary’ man. The third chap on the list John George Donkin, whilst an educated, clever and literate man, seems to have become notable for a very different reason.
Born in 1853 in Morpeth, he appears to have been the 2nd great nephew of William Donkin and his wife Barbara Carnaby whose daughter, (as some may remember from early posts), was killed by lightening on the eve of her marriage in 1837. This also places him as 3 times great nephew of the happy couple at the Northumbrian ‘wedding of the century’ back in 1750. Like his distant cousin, John George doesn’t seem to have fared particularly favourably in life either poor soul! He seems to have been somewhat of a drifter who struggled to find his niche during his short life of 38 years.
His biography states that
Donkin would have passed into obscurity had he not published, a year after his return to England, an account of his experiences under the title Trooper and Redskin in the far north-west: recollections of life in the North-West Mounted Police, Canada, 1884–1888. As an ordinary constable he had served during the rebellion, come into close contact with Riel, and lived the life of a mounted policeman in the early years of western settlement. His book, however, contains little of the self-glorification, heroism, and romance that is characteristic of most literature of the period on the NWMP. From the moment he arrived on the prairies, Donkin was struck by the contrast between his own experience and the way the country was portrayed by those “journalist globetrotters” who had set forth its “wondrous glories.” The result was an unembellished account of the daily routine of mounted police life, the harshness of the climate, the rude prairie settlements, and the loneliness of police detachments. With an eye for detail, Donkin described his experiences in a candid and critical manner, leaving behind a valuable record not only of the NWMP but also of western Canada at an important period in its development.
Copies of his wonderful book are readily available to purchase, but a copy is also available free of charge through Archive.org (see link in text above) and needless to say it proved an irresistible diversion to writing this blog! A quick ‘google’ brings up several posts about J G Donkin including the Christmas 2015 entry of the RCMP Veterans Association Facebook page. Tragically ‘Down on his luck, penniless and sick, he died on March 22, 1890 of alcoholism in the workhouse at Alnwick, Northumberland, England, just two years after leaving the Force.’ It would seem rather conversely that this rather unassuming and observant man has inadvertently left the most enduring legacy of the three!
With the exception of the Beazeley family, the accounts above relate predominantly to British Columbia and The Western Provinces of Canada. A look at the names featured when Berwick upon Tweed is entered in a search of the CDNB appear to be more concentrated to the east in Quebec and Ontario. James Cockburn lawyer, businessman, and politician; b. 13 Feb. 1819 at Berwick upon Tweed left for Montreal in 1832, surveyor Alexander Aitken, journalist Robert Middleton (mother thought to have been a Buglass) and Matthew Bell, leaseholder of the St Maurice Ironworks in partnership with David Monro were amongst their number.
A number of the individuals named above could hardly be described as true ‘emigrants’ as several returned to Britain. Most could certainly not have been described as from impoverished backgrounds, and a couple it would appear saw Canada merely as a commercial opportunity linked to their UK based businesses. They are hardly representational of the tens of thousands of emigrants that left British shores in the 19th century. Some of whom would pay the ultimate price, but for others Canada presented opportunities and brought success that could never have been realised at home.
Although British emigration began in the 18th century and legislation was in place to protect passengers from 1803, it was the ‘Act to Regulate the Carrying of Passengers in Merchant Vessels, 1828’ that marked the start of what would become known as ‘The Great Migration’ throughout the 1830s.
This was the first legislative recognition that the state was responsible for the safety and well-being of emigrants leaving the British Isles. The Act regulated the number of passengers that could be carried on a ship, determined the amount of space allocated to them, and required the provision of food and water for the voyage. While based on earlier legislation, the 1828 Act was the true foundation of British and colonial legislation, designed to protect emigrants from unscrupulous shipowners and shipmasters and from the perils of the North Atlantic crossing.
Emigration continued well into the the 20th century. At times it was incentivised, either through government channels with offers of free land, or by means of parish assistance given to the ‘deserving’ poor, whilst at others it was made more difficult than it was already, e.g. in 1832 a tax of 5 shillings per adult was imposed on those leaving the UK for Canada, with children taxed on a sliding scale. Nevertheless the majority of folks who headed for Canada in search of a 'better' life would have paid their own way. Canada, like any other country was subject to economic highs, lows and political strife and tension. The Library and Archives of Canada has an extremely informative site looking specifically at emigration through the ages and is a great place to start for those seeking to trace emigrant ancestors. Donkin’s words ‘journalist globetrotters’ and promised ‘wondrous glories’ was without a doubt not a word of a lie, but this was not necessarily limited to the newspapers. Pamphlets delivered to every farmer and blacksmith in the United Kingdom in 1897 on the instruction of the Canadian High Commissioner in London
… promised productive soil, adequate rainfall, a good growing season, bountiful crops and a healthy climate. Such words as "cold" and "snow" were universally banned from the pamphlets in favour of the more positive terms "invigorating" and "bracing." With their colourful covers and attractive photographs, the pamphlets visually reaffirmed the Prairie West as a land of prosperity and happiness.
The Ship’s List website is another highly informative website and although very few passengers are actually named, it holds lists of ships arriving in Quebec and Montreal in some detail from 1817. These have been extracted from the Canadian Press, along with other articles which tell the emigration story ‘warts and all’. The list makes interesting reading, not least for the details of imported goods the ships were carrying. Numerous arrivals are listed from Newcastle and Shields carrying coal which is perhaps no surprise, whereas this notice which appeared in the Berwick Advertiser in April 1834 may be somewhat unexpected for some.
It is often forgotten that Berwick’s former prosperity was largely due to its port. The ‘Port of Berwick’ is still in operation today (albeit it from the other side of the river) and cargoes are now more likely to be fertiliser, grains, cement, animal feed and timber from the Baltic and Mediterranean than people bound for Quebec! A quick check of The Ships List for 1834, confirmed the ship departed Berwick on the 26 April and arrived on 10 June, carrying a Miss Cockburn, a Mr & Mrs Hall and family, a Mr Forster and 214 settlers plus a load of ‘general’ cargo.
Further digging in old newspapers revealed that 20th century emigrants from the Border Region formed clubs and societies and regularly kept in touch with home. Mr William Hogg who hailed from Berwick upon Tweed founded such a group in Toronto in 1923.
Mr Hogg was a regular contributor to the newspapers keeping folks at home up to speed with events and news of friends and family overseas. Nor was emigration restricted to people – the newspaper plays witness to a String of pedigree Clydesdales in 1905, 7 couple of Lauderdale foxhounds bound for Montreal in 1925, but possible the strangest item to cross the water was a ‘relic’ of former times in 1924.
The 16th century carved bulls horn is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland, or at least it was in 2012 when this picture was taken by Kim Traynor, perhaps it couldn’t rest easy so far from home.
Should you encounter any unexpected or unusual links with Canada, do please let us know!
 Rev James A Raine, Pedigree of the Selby Family of Twisell Castle, Norhamshire, The History and Antiquities of North Durham as subdivided into the Shires of Norham, Island and Bedlington, which from the Saxon Period until the year 1844 constituted parcels of the County Palatine of Durham, but are now united to the County of Northumberland, London, 1852, p.315.
 Stanley Park Vancouver,
 The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/stamp_edward_10E.html
 Dictionary of Canadian Biography http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/donkin_john_george_11E.html
 RCMPVets Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/RCMPVets/posts/homeless-veteran-left-account-of-christmas-eve-in-the-early-mounted-police-winni/981513715243338/
 Library and Archives Canada http://www.collectionscanada.ca/immigrants/021017-2111-e.html
 Library and Archives of Canada http://www.collectionscanada.ca/immigrants/021017-1100-e.html
 The Ships List http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/Arrivals/1834b.shtml