In the spring of 1846 my 4 x great grandparents Thomas Thompson Dent Jr and Dorothy Hornsby set sail for New York bound for Canada. They arrived in New York on 24 June 1846 then with their five children, William, Thomas, Elizabeth, Richard and Henry, and baby Dorothy, travelled north where they established a farm in Ontario, Canada. Why did they make such a hazardous journey with the risk of disrupting their stable lives?
As the eldest son of Thomas Thompson Dent, Thomas Jr stood to inherit much of his land – Thomas Sr owned at least four farms in Bowes, Yorkshire, and the surrounding area. Did father and son fall out, or did Thomas Jr reckon that the prospects for his family were better served in Canada? When Thomas Sr died in 1854 he made no mention of Thomas Jr in his will, so the migration to Canada appears to have severed all ties within that branch of my family. That said, passenger lists indicate that Thomas Jr did travel to Britain then back to Canada in 1871. Although travel was slower in the Victorian era our ancestors were often more mobile than we sometimes realise.
In 1846 Thomas and his family made their initial journey by steerage, the cheapest form of maritime travel. Their ship, the Rappahanock, sailed from Liverpool with 453 passengers. Travelling by steerage, one imagines that their journey was a challenging one.
In the 1840s, Canada was a young developing country. The Canadian government were looking for settlers to farm the land and they made generous offers to entice people to settle. In Britain, orphans were often sent to Canada to work the land. Many of them stayed and you could argue that they faced better prospects in the fields of Canada than in the slums of a city like London.
Between 1815 and 1850, Over 960,000 people arrived in Canada from Britain. The new arrivals included refugees escaping the Great Irish Famine as well as people from Scotland displaced by the Highland Clearances. Infectious diseases killed between 25 and 33 percent of Europeans who immigrated to Canada before 1891.
The 1840s in particular saw heavy waves of immigration into Ontario. During this decade the population of Canada West more than doubled. As a result, for the first time, the English-speaking population of Canada West surpassed the French-speaking population of Canada East, tilting the representative balance of power.
An economic upturn followed in the 1850s, which coincided with an expansion of the railway system across the province. The economic situation improved further with the repeal of the Corn Laws and trade agreements with the United States. As a result, the timber trade, mining and alcohol distilling boomed. Farmers too benefited from this good fortune.
In Ontario, Thomas and Dorothy had two more children: Mary and Robert. In 1851 Thomas and his family were farming in Halton County. All their immediate neighbours – farmers, shoemakers, carpenters and a clergyman – came from either England or Ireland.
Ten years later, in 1861, Thomas and Dorothy were living in a two storey farmhouse built of brick. They were prospering. However, as we have seen, life in Canada could be a struggle with a battle against infectious diseases and within two years two of their daughters, Mary and Dorothy, died.
By 1871 the family had dispersed with sons and daughters marrying. Thomas and Dorothy worked their farm with the assistance of their son, eighteenth year old Robert. Presumably, they hired servants for seasonal tasks. However, at the time of the 1871 census none of those servants lived on the farm.
Thomas died in 1876, aged 69, of typhoid. He was buried in St Stephen’s Anglican Cemetery, Hornby, Halton County, Ontario.
By 1881 Robert was running the farm. Dorothy was seventy at this point and still going strong. However, she died in 1888 and was buried in the family plot at St Stephen’s Anglican Cemetery, Hornby, Halton County, Ontario.
As for Thomas and Dorothy’s children: William Dent married Margaret Featherstone. They raised a family and ran a farm in Halton, Ontario. Henry Hornsby Dent married Mary Ann Gilley. He also raised a family and ran a farm in Halton, Ontario. By 1911 he regarded himself as a Canadian. Robert married Augusta Tuck. He also considered himself a Canadian and farmed in Halton, Ontario. For this branch of the family the transfer of allegiance from Yorkshire to Canada was complete.
Of the daughters, only Elizabeth survived into adulthood. On 30 October 1861 in Halton, Ontario she married Henry Gastle, a farmer originally from England. The couple produced eight sons, pictured, c1880.
In all of this, what happened to my 3 x great grandfather Richard Dent? In the 1860s he decided that a farmers life in Canada was not for him and returned to Britain. More about Richard next time.