Historical information about European settlement of the Lantzville area from 1850 to 1914 will appear here.
The Chambers Diary
Here are the articles researched and prepared by Brian Blood containing contextual information. Below this are the original scanned documents.
CHAMBERS DIARY - London to the BC coast 1891 – Brian Blood Lantzville historical society.
The SS Grecian, was built by William Doxford and Sons in Sunderland England in 1879 for the Allan Line. At 3,613 tons she was tiny by modern standards but was equipped to carry 50 first class passengers, 270 second class and 500 in steerage. She began service on the Glasgow to Quebec run and was briefly used as a troop ship carrying Imperial troops for the Egyptian campaign of 1882. She ran in the 90s from London to Quebec and occasionally to New York. In a winter storm on Feb 9th 1902 she was wrecked on rocks near Halifax with no loss of life.
A diary of a voyage and train trip came into my possession recently and is destined for the historical society archives. It is the story of a family’s emigration in 1891 from London to Vancouver and on to Bowyer Island in Howe Sound. The young girl in the story eventually came to a farm in what is now Lantzville.
Benny Negrin was in possession of this diary for a number of years but we don’t know who gave it to him. Benny’s handwritten notes suggest that the diary came from the Thicke family. The Negrins purchased their farm from the Thickes and members of the Thicke family lived adjacent to the Negrin farm for many years.
The narrator of the emigration story is identified only as “J.C.” and features a man named Arthur and a little girl named May. A close reading suggests a female narrator. Dorothy Thicke of Lantzville provided an important clue. I knew that my grandmother, Marion Ethel Copley (nee Thicke) had a sister-in-law named May. My mother, Hazel Blood, remembered her Auntie May. May would have been around 8 years old in 1891 which fits with the descriptions of the girl in the story. Dorothy remembered that her mother-in-law May’s family name was Chambers. May Chambers married David Thicke of Lantzville. Dorothy married their son Bob Thicke. The diary entries end at Bowyer Island in Howe Sound. Dorothy remembered a family connection on her late husband Bob’s side with Bowyer Island but didn’t know if it was through his mother May Chambers or father David Thicke.
It now seems very likely that this diary was written by the mother (J.C.) of May Chambers and describes the journey of herself, her husband Arthur and their daughter May.
From the diary: London, Thursday, April 16th, 1891
We left Fenchurch St. Station by special boat-train about 11 a.m. and arrived at Tilbury docks about 1:00 p.m. From thence we went on board the tug which was to take us to the SS Grecian which was lying about mid-stream, but while on the tug-boat, we were each presented with a New Testament by Royal Mariner’s Society (free of charge) and after we had all successfully passed the Doctor, to show that we had no lurking disease amongst us, we were allowed to embark on the Grecian, which is a ship of 3,613 tons and commanded by Captain Le Gallais. Our first impression being that she was not very clean, but then she had only just come out of dock, besides which it was a very dull day, with a continual drizzling rain falling. We found the steerage in the after part of the vessel. The stairs, or as Arthur calls them, companion ladders, are roughly made affairs of unplanned timber and almost perpendicular. The Grecian, not being a regular passenger boat, the steerage is one of her cargo holds temporarily fitted up for us, men on one side, women and children on the other, long narrow benches between which serve as tables. We had not been ten minutes on board when a very heavy woman, in trying to get below, pitched head first and severely hurt herself in the way of bruises etc. About 2 p.m. the tug left us, taking ashore the friends of passengers who had come to see them off, and at the same time we started, being greeted with cheers and waving of handkerchiefs etc. from the tug which were heartily responded to by all on the Grecian. We had dinner about 3:00 p.m. which consisted of barley broth, beef and potatoes boiled in their jackets. The latter tasted very bitter, and beef was very ancient. Mr. Hutchby made the best meal and said it was very good compared to what they had in the army at times. All busy themselves arranging boxes etc. Arthur May and I stop on deck as we find it more pleasant than below. Two more people fall down the companion in the course of the afternoon but being very light-built and young, they do not seem to be hurt. Tea is served below at 6:00 p.m., tried it and found it very bad indeed so got some water from the cook (gave him tuppence) and made some from our own stores. The bread and butter were fairly good. We passed in sight of Margate and Deal about 7:45 and Dover 9:00 p.m. , Folkestone 9:30. The pilot was taken off at Deal which took some time as it was blowing rather fresh, the wind lulled later on. We were served with a tin-mug and plate, knife, fork and spoon. Knife cast iron. I imagine won’t begin to cut. These five articles were for use at breakfast, dinner, and tea. We had a good deal of trouble with the washing up as there was only cold sea water to do it with. Afterwards the tin plates had to do as washbasins. We also had straw beds and pillows. About 10 p.m. we were informed that all females must go below at 8 p.m., we having been privileged tonight only on account of it being our first evening. We retired at once, all seeming pretty cheerful. Men can stay on deck all night if they choose. Neither of us slept very well, male element – mostly rather rough and noisy.
THE CHAMBERS FAMILY SAGA CONTINUED
We have learned a little more about the Chambers family through the B.C. vital stats website and our own files. The diarist (J.C.) is Jessie Chambers who was born Jessie Clark in 1858 and married Arthur Chambers in Bordeaux, France in 1881. Jessie died in Vancouver in 1907 aged 49. Arthur Chambers was born in 1853 and died in West Vancouver in 1935 aged 82. Their daughter May was born in Glasgow in 1882 and died in Vancouver in 1951 aged 68. In 1893 Arthur Chambers bought ten acres in what is now Lantzville (then Nanoose District) from Charles Rumming of Northfield. He paid $100 in monthly installments of $10. This waterfront acreage was then the second property west of the Nanoose First Nations reserve land. May was not an only child. The Lantzville Historical Society has a copy of Arthur’s will from 1929. May was to receive $400, Arthur jr $300, and the “balance” to daughters Winnifred and Phoebe. Arthur’s profession as stated on May’s 1882 birth certificate was “artist: painter” and on the property transfer of 1893 as “photographic artist”. If you are a Chamber’s descendent, or know of one, please contact myself or any member of the historical society. Brian Blood
From Jessie Chamber’s Diary: Friday, April 17th, 1891
All got up about 6 a.m. and on deck as quickly as possible. The male element are scattered about on the deck and all busy with their ablutions, each having about a coffee-cupful of water in their tin plates, boy at the pump serving out the water , very carefully. Weather very cold but bright and sunshining. Breakfast at 8 a.m. Stew, potatoes etc. with fragments of meat in it. It did not taste bad. Bread, butter and coffee, the latter very bad. Great difficulty, greasy plates and only sea water to wash them in. We promenaded the deck all the forenoon, resting at intervals to watch the occupations of our fellow voyagers, the young men mostly playing cards, reading seems to be the only amusement for the women. Dinner the same as yesterday. We fell back on our own stock as being more palatable to us. We passed a large vessel. Weather very fine and much warmer than in the morning. Passed Eddystone lighthouse about 5:30. Women are again privileged to remain on deck until we pass land’s End which we do about 9:30 p.m. There are three very bright electric lights which tell us we are leaving Old England and all our dear friends and old associations behind. There is now the wide Atlantic and far North-West. A new country and new faces before us. We all go below somewhat saddened. The roughs made so much noise and used such dreadful language (having no regard for women and children) Arthur was obliged to call the attention of the Captain and he came below and spoke to them after which they kept quiet. The moon shone in the portholes almost as bright as day.
Saturday, April 18th, 1891
I got up about 7 a.m. feeling rather sick, got May up and went on deck, where we found Arthur walking up and down. Rather breezy, sea a little rough. I got very sick and had to lie down. Arthur bringing our feather beds and pillows on deck (hardest kind of feathers I ever felt). I had no sooner lain down than May was sick: we continued sick all day, and as there is no attention paid to poor emigrants, Arthur kept us pretty tidy by the liberal use of broom and bucket, and I can fully recommend him as being a very attentive steward altho’ he did an occasional growl at me not being able to get to the side of the vessel. We kept on deck all day, most of the other sea-sick passengers also lying about wrapped in their blankets, etc. Women and children are served with a kind of beef-tea about 11 a.m. which is pretty good and the only thing May or I can take today. The wind is very cold and high-sea. Sighted several sailing vessels sailing swiftly, some beautiful. Sea-gulls are following in the wake of the vessel. We manage to get below about 7:45 p.m. All are very quiet—being too sick to make much noise.
Sunday, April 19th, 1891
I got up at 7 a.m. so as to get on deck for fresh air, am sick directly I stand up. I find Arthur waiting to assist me up the companion, taking his own bed on deck for me; he then brings May up. She is better although the sea is heavier today and vessel rolling. I am not the only one suffering “mal de mer” as there are still quite a number of the passengers unable to sit up, and one of the ship’s boys on his first voyage was sick and the rolling of the ship threw him down. His face was cut and he was laid up for two days. Weather is clear but very cold. I drank a little beef tea. Arthur brought our dinner on deck, but neither may nor I could eat anything. I had a cup of tea from our own store. Marmalade was served with tea below, but the roughs devoured it and gave not the slightest chance to anyone who did not choose to fight to obtain it. No Divine Service held today, there being too many ill, It came on a nasty drizzling rain about 6:30 which drove us all below, as there was not a sheltered spot on deck. There was a great deal of card-playing going on below, but after I had retired, I heard the Chief Steward, who is a Scotchman (speaks very broad) come and tell them “Sunday’s no a day for playin’ cairds”. Arthur told me that before saying anything, he slipped quietly behind each party and confiscated the cards. The roughs are very noisy afterwards. I was rather sick in the night – May continued all right, her attack being very slight for which we were very thankful. Arthur has not the slightest feeling of sickness.