New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Founding of Campobello Island

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From the blog at

The following description of Campobello Island is from the History of Islands and Islets in the Bay of Fundy, Charlotte County, by J.G. Lorimer, Saint Stephen, N.B., 1876.

These paragraphs are only slightly edited, to omit references to other parts of his book which would be out of context here. That slight editing leaves his elaborate descriptions intact, and some of these are excessive even by 19th century standards. The history of old events and descriptions of the island will still be interesting to people who know and love Campobello.

I particularly enjoyed some of Lorimer’s irony, such as when speaking of smuggling: “If there existed a disposition among the people to cheat the custom house, no fairer opportunities present themselves than are to be found at Welshpool. And nothing can better prove the firmness of the people to resist the temptation of illicit traffic, than the every day and every night opportunity, without the attempt.”

 Admiral Owen

Admiral Owen’s Home at Welshpool, Campobello, c. 1890-1900

New Brunswick Museum

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Campobello Island

“Calkin’s Geography” describes Grand Manan as 20 miles long and 8 miles broad, and also describes Campobello as 8 miles long and 4 or 5 miles broad. The reader of this little history, as well as the writer of it, must bow acquiescently to Calkin’s text-book. But for the sake of courtesy, admitting its correctness, it will not do to be so credulous as to believe the Map of New Brunswick, 1867, which places Wilson’s Beach, near Head Harbour, opposite Lubec! The south-eastern coast-line of this valuable island is irregular .and broken, presenting no sheltered harbour from Owen Head at the western passage until quite up to Head Harbour at the eastern passage.

Admitting the island to be 8 miles long and 4 miles broad, and that in configuration it is a right-angled parallelogram, then its area would contain over 20,000 acres; but from its broken coast line and large areas of water at Welshpool, Harbour de Lute, Wilson’s Beach, Herring Cove and at Head Harbour, the total area of rock and soil cannot be more than, say 15,000 acres. But that number of acres, situated where they are, tell in forcible language the great value of this very important island.

Located almost within gun-shot of the town of Eastport, as may be supposed, it holds uninterrupted intercourse with it, not only daily but hourly.

Welshpool and Wilson’s Beach being the principal marts of trade on Campobello, they hold a commercial relationship with the most easterly town of the State of Maine, that keeps up a personal friendship each for each which nothing less than national hostilities could destroy.

Campobello is delightfully situated, and seems to coquet with the waters of the Bay of Fundy on the one side and with those of Passamaquoddy Bay on the other. The shores all around the island are abundantly stored with fish, and the fishermen of Campobello are noted for their enterprising industry—for their courage and their dexterity in handling their splendid boats in a heavy sea. Perhaps these daring boatmen of Sambro, Nova Scotia, and the hardy fellows of St. Johns, Newfoundland, would find their match in the fishermen of Campobello, and, indeed, of those of all the islands in the Bay of Fundy.


Welshpool presents quite a village aspect. Sheltered cozily from nearly all the storms that sweep over the bays, this snug little town-like village carries on quite a brisk trade. Possessing excellent facilities they are utilized by several enterprising traders, to the mutual convenience and advantage of vendors and consumers. There is a neat Episcopal church, having a lovely site on a romantic looking hill, and near by a schoolhouse with all the modern improvements. Accommodation for visitors can be had at the village at moderate prices, and to those who prefer a very quiet lodging in preference to noisier places, Welshpool offers her hospitalities. Here is a goodly cluster of fish-houses, where pickled, dry and smoked fish are prepared for exportation in large quantities. Here at Welshpool is a mineral lead deposit, which a few years ago was worked with considerable activity; but like many other similar enterprises, it fell through; and the sound of the miner’s pick is no longer heard at Welshpool, blending in cheery unison with the boatman’s song. If there existed a disposition among the people to cheat the custom house, no fairer opportunities present themselves than are to be found at Welshpool. And nothing can better prove the firmness of the people to resist the temptation of illicit traffic, than the every day and every night opportunity, without the attempt.

Here at Welshpool Admiral William Fitzwilliam Owen resided. Admiral Owen owned the island. Welshpool was consequently the depot for all the naval stores on the station. The old Admiral could stand on elevated ground and look over his island domain and the busy population of it, and speak forth the words of command as authoritatively, as when standing on the quarter-deck of a man-of-war issuing orders to his gallant tars.

In the summer of 1841, Her Majesty’s steamship Columbia, Commander Cartwright, arrived from England, for the purpose of surveying the Bay of Fundy and its coasts, under the directions of Admiral Owen. Commander Cartwright and the old Admiral disagreed. The cause of the disagreement was best known to themselves; but it ended in Captain Cartwright leaving the ship Columbia and taking up his residence in the City of Saint John, having received the appointment of residentary hydrographer, in which capacity he acted. Commodore Harding, R.N., was sent out from England to take command of the Columbia.

Mr. John T.C. Moses, now a resident of Grand Manan, received an appointment, in the spring of 1842, as assistant surveyor in the service of this naval survey. The Columbia steamed over to Annapolis Royal shortly after to regulate her nautical instruments, chronometers, &c., &c, and returned to Campobello to receive fresh orders from the Admiral.

Commander Harding, with an efficient staff of surveyors, went to the City of Saint John, remaining about six months in those waters, surveying the harbour and the River Saint John. The survey of the river between Saint John and Fredericton was performed during the winter on the ice, and the men suffered severely from exposure, to cold. These surveys being completed, the Columbia steaming to Grand Manan surveyed all the south-east portion of the island—the Murr ledges and the Outer Islands. St. Andrew’s Harbour next received attention from the attentive Columbia.

In 1843 the Government wharf and a large store were built at Welshpool, and yet remain (although dilapidated monuments) as evidences that the surveying steamer Columbia had been there; and the venerable proprietor of the soil, Admiral Owen, and after him Captain Robinson-Owen, but that they have left the once busy scene of operations, and left it to return never!

They died not on the battle-field; but slept / A quiet sleep—in peace—while others wept.

Sic transit Gloria mundi! [Thus passes the glory of the world] Such are the fluctuations of human happiness—such the fading of worldly glory!

Three young New Brunswickers—Forbes, Burton and Otty—joined the Columbia while on the Bay of Fundy survey. Young Otty subsequently joined a man-of-war on the Mediterranean station; but was unfortunately drowned, just as his promising abilities began to bud for blossom! He was of the City of Saint John, and had he lived, would doubtless have won fame for himself and his native city.

The present lighthouse keeper at the southern Wolf Island, Mr. Edward Snell, was Queen’s pilot on board the Columbia and from his lone look-out now can find food for reflection.

In the summer of 1844, Admiral Owen went to England in the Columbia, his family accompanying him. The old Admiral of Campobello and of the steamship Columbia hoisted his broad pennant on going into the harbour of Portsmouth, and felt no doubt something of the spirit within him which swelled the spirit of the brave Collingwood, when he with full flowing topsails carried his ship into action!

Captain Robinson, of the Royal Navy, subsequently arrived from England, and having taken one of the old Admiral’s daughters as a life-prize, the son-in-law ultimately became the possessor, the proprietor occupant of Campobello, taking the name of Robinson-Owen; hence afterwards, he was always addressed as Capt. Robinson-Owen.

After Campobello became the property of the son-in-law, he received sundry applications by gentlemen of New York for the purchase of the island, and a surveyor was sent on to survey the entire island, preparatory to the consummation of sale. If the writer has been correctly informed, the stipulated price was one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And although that reads a large sum, yet, taking the island’s wealth of broad acres into consideration, its unbounded wealth of sea-fishery, its wealth of valuable timber and undergrowth of lovely young trees, its rich pasturage, its numerous leased plots of cultivated gardens and neat residences, its water-power for mill privileges, its minerals, its almost unrivalled beauty of location, and the very entrepot for commercial facilities and advantages with the most easterly town of the most easterly state of the United Sates of America, that amount of money, in comparison with its intrinsic value, is a mere trifle.

It seems rather singular that no sale was effected, as Captain Robinson-Owen was willing to sell, and another party was anxious to buy. The captain’s terms, however, were very likely cash down, and therein may have been the cause of no transfer.

There is a portion of the island—Wilson’s Beach and vicinity—that is freehold, independent of the rest of the island, which would restrict the purchase of Campobello to certain defined limits, and that, of course, largely interferes with a sole proprietorship. Head Harbour lighthouse, too, with its other erections belong to the Dominion of Canada; and the time has not yet arrived when the Canadian Government will put any of her public works in the market for sale.

The numerous lessees resident on Campobello are too warmly, too firmly attached to the British flag, to see any other hoisted over their heads, emblematical of a foreign lessor. Such as patriotic Major Brown would never consent to it.

Campobello, in common with the other islands of the Bay of Fundy, is the nursery of a hardy, skillful and enterprising race of men, who, should the hour of need demand their services, would prove themselves able and undaunted sailors—men who would never surrender the flag of their country but with their lives. Of such stuff is our islanders composed.

At the time of the threatened Fenian invasion, Campobello was loyal to the core.

The western part of this lovely island approaches the shore of Lubec quite closely. The channel between the American town, Lubec, and the shore of Campobello is narrow, and at low water it looks to the uninitiated as an easy task to wade across. The attempt, however, would teach the lesson of its impossibility

At a noted head-land nearby rises up from the rushing tide a high rock, which, from its singularly marked resemblance to the head of a monk, has received the name of Friar’s Head. Old dame Nature seems to have had a special regard for Grand Manan and Campobello in way of carving out for them the representations of clerical dignitaries! She may have intended the Old Bishop at Northern Head, and the Old Maid at Southern Head, Grand Manan, as representatives of Adam and Eve, but missed it. And, indeed, very few of the posterity of those two ancient worthies would be willing to accept those two rough-looking portraits of humanity as the pictures of the father and mother of us all!

Geographically considered, there is a dissimilarity between Grand Manan and Campobello. For instance, Grand Manan has on its south side, its coves and harbours, and roads and villages. Campobello, on its south eastern side, has no harbour or sheltered cove, or roads, or villages. The western side of Grand Manan offers no favours to seamen or landsmen—in safe harbours, roads, or villages. The north-western side of Campobello has its harbours, its villages, and its gardens. Therein, is the dissimilarity.

Wilson’s Beach:

This portion of Campobello is no unimportant one. The Wilsons, after whom it is called, carried on a large and lucrative fish trade at one time here, and were highly esteemed, as accommodating and liberal-minded traders. The beach opens out on the river which runs past it from the Bay of Fundy, and between it and Deer Island and Indian Island. It is called the eastern passage, between Eastport and Head Harbour. The tide at either ebb or flood rushes past Wilson’s Beach with astonishing velocity; and a vessel, once in the tide, even in a calm, will be carried onwards with wonderful rapidity. The eddies along both shores perform a friendly work in counteracting many a disaster which the whirling tides might otherwise occasion.

There is a Free Will Baptist Church at this place, and quite a population. After the Wilsons closed up business, the fishermen traded principally at Eastport, but as there is a store there now, a large share of the custom remains there, which proves of great convenience, especially in rough weather and during the winter season. The denominational faith of the people is principally divided between the Episcopalians and the Free Will Baptists. Quackery either in preaching or physic is not sufficiently patronized on Campobello for any adventurer to try the experiment.

The postal arrangements of and for the island afford good encouragement to the business-man, and to those who wish to hold daily intercourse with newspapers.

The venerable mail-conveyancer, Mr. Rice, of Welshpool, has been on the route between that pool and the town of St. Andrews for many long years, and the many conflicts he has encountered while conveying Her Majesty’s mail-bags to and fro between those ports would form quite an interesting chapter. During the winter season, particularly, to navigate the turbulent waters of the Passamaquoddy River and the St. Andrews Bay in a two sail boat, and that without any additional assistance, must have tried the skill and nerve of the fearless mail-man, Mr. Rice. But he was never known to shrink from his duty on account of a storm. Perhaps, indeed, his zeal betimes would appear to out-run his discretion: and when many a man would have let the mail-bags lay over until the storm abated, he would close-reef his sails, and grasping his helm with a practised hand, bear away for the good old shire town of the County of Charlotte.

Welshpool, annually, is the scene of a Fish Fair. At the close of the summer and autumn fishing the fair is held. And competitors for prizes exhibit specimens of fish with as much of the spirit of competition as the best Agricultural Fair can show. This fair proves, a jolly time, and invitation cards are posted off in good season, away up the St. Croix, even to Upper Milltown, not omitting St. Andrews, St. Stephen and the American City, Calais, on the way.

Newspaper editors or their representatives are there; and doctors and lawyers and ministers—both ecclesiastical and governmental—and ladies, all slippered for the dance, do congregate at Welshpool on the happy occasion of the annual fish fair. Then it is that the fastest sailing boats spread their canvas wings to fly over the waves of the Quoddy, in daring speed to win a first, a second or a third prize. Then it is that many a heart beats high in glowing anticipation of being present at the Campobello fish fair and the ball in the evening!

The ball opens and the spirit of merriment may be supposed to make its appearance; and in the words of the Rev. John Skinner, author of “Tullochgorum” and other songs, sings:

[Poem deleted.]

The samples of fish cured at Campobello are very creditable; and the “Finnan baddies” from there, find a ready sale at remunerative prices in the American markets, and in the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and elsewhere.

Welshpool has now regular steam communication with St. Andrews; and that of itself is a great acquisition to its many other facilities and advantages.

The Head Harbour light and the keeper’s residence stand on a bold, rugged rock, on the extreme north-east point of Campobello, directing the mariner through the channel that leads to Eastport and Indian Island. The West Isles, lying opposite, is only separated from this rocky point and Wilson’s Beach by this tide-river, which rushes at all times of tide with great velocity. Head Harbour seems an appropriate name for the Harbour here found. The lighthouse points the way, and vessels seeking safety from a storm, if once within this harbour, can ride out a gale without feeling it. The harbour penetrates the island for a long distance, and with its little separative windings, affords calm security and a lee-shelter that cannot be excelled even by its near neighbor, the far-famed L’Etang. The banks and shores and extended land on each side of this splendid river-harbour presents a very pretty pastoral picture in summer, as flocks of bleating sheep with their sportive lambs enrich the beauty of the scene. The mother of milk and butter and cheese, too, can occasionally he seen reposing on her verdant couch on a gentle knoll; chewing her cud with the utmost complacency, and quite indifferent to the approaching stranger under canvas. But the stranger-sailor, while looking pleasingly at the good-natured face of the dreamy cow, cannot say with Selkirk : “They are so unacquainted with man, their tameness is shocking to me.”

There is a long, narrow stretch of sharp rocks, extending from the keeper’s house to the mainland, nearly resembling the back bone of a whale. Over this, when the tide leaves it, is the pathway to the island road. Quite a fair road runs through the middle of the island from east to west; and along this road, here and there, is a small clearing and a small house, a small cow, a small lot of poultry, a few small chickens, with two or three small children. It reminds one forcibly of a new settlement on a small scale. To the lover of inland scenery—of Nature’s handiwork in a quiet way—a drive along this central road through Campobello (or to those who prefer a good long walk) with shrubbery and rich undergrowth of woods and tall, waving branches, composing a welcome shade from the heat of cloudless sunshine, this road will be found very pleasant. At some little elbow turnings, there are the prettiest alcoves imaginable, where the velvety grass and thick foliage of saplings, woo the passer-by to rest awhile. They seem, indeed, as though they were for “whispering lovers made.”

On leaving this woody road from an eastern starting point, or entering it from the western part of the island, the broad basin-like waters of the Harbour de Lute, fringed at many parts of its here flat and there elevated shores with neat cottages and gardens, impress the beholder with the happiness of those who make happy blending of rural with sea-life their happy choice. The residents of Campobello are thus happily circumstanced. On it is sufficient variety of landscape, to meet the desire of those who love to ramble through the woods; or, if desiring more adventurous recreation, can climb to the top of a lofty spruce, free from apprehension that Bruin may catch him on his descent; or take a stand on the edge of a precipitous cliff, and look out on the ever-heaving bosom of the Bay of Fundy; or casting the eye downward, see the whirling tides and eddies lashing the rocks of ages beneath his feet. Around it, those who love boating, can enjoy that salt-water luxury to any extent; for bay and river, cove and harbour are all before them for the using. No doubt many a roving youth, and others seekers of wealth in distant lands, have often thought when far away from their Campobello Island home, like adopting the words of the poet Gray, and say or sing:

[Poem deleted.]


Written by johnwood1946

January 5, 2014 at 2:06 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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