NNWFHS Meetings & Events

From Bedworth to Niagara – the early travels of William Chamberlain.

William Chamberlain was the son of John Chamberlain, labourer, and his wife Ann (White).  His parents were married, after Banns, at St. Modwen, Burton upon Trent on 9th January 1804.  By 1806, it is known that John and Ann Chamberlain were living in Rotherhithe, SRY, and on 6th May 1810, William, their third son was born.  On 30th September 1810, William was baptised at St. Mary’s church, Rotherhithe.

By 1810 William’s siblings had both died; it is not known when John, Ann and baby William removed from Rotherhithe, to Bedworth, but on 16th May 1813, William’s sister Elizabeth was presented for baptism at All Saints church, Bedworth. 

Ann (White)  Chamberlain  was born in Bedworth  and baptised at  All Saints  on  16th

November 1788, daughter of John and Elizabeth (Spurrit) White of Bedworth.  It is assumed that the Chamberlain family removed from Rotherhithe to be close to Ann’s family.  Following their return, two additional children: Thomas (1815) and Hannah (1821) were baptised at All Saints, Bedworth.

The family settled in Bedworth; throughout his life, William Chamberlain believed he had been born in Bedworth, and all documentation produced during his adult life confirms this belief.  It was only after decades of searching that his actual place of birth was finally established.

John Chamberlain, labourer, died in Bedworth and was buried at All Saints church, Bedworth on 20th October 1820, leaving his widow, Ann, with four children.  The Census of Woodlands, Bedworth, taken on 28th May 1821, shows Ann living with her parents, her widowed sister Elizabeth Finch, her own children: William, Thomas, Elizabeth & Hannah, and her three nieces: Mary, Elizabeth & Esther.

Widow, Ann (White) Chamberlain was married to Joseph Farndon at St. Giles,  Exhall, on Christmas Day 1826, by which time William had already left the family home.  Records show that William, then aged 15 years, was enlisted, at Coventry, as Private 472 of the 68th Regiment of Foot (Durham Light Infantry) on 30th January 1826.

Following initial training, which included a 29 day march, William was sent to his first posting in Kingston, Upper Canada (now Ontario), arriving there on 24th March 1826.

001Kingston Harbour May 2016
002Kingston Harbour May 2016

003Kingston Harbour May 2016

 Kingston Harbour – May 2016  Kingston Harbour – May 2016

William’s first posting was to Fort Henry, Kingston, which was situated on an elevated part of the land, close to the mouth of the Cataraqui river, where it flows into the St. Lawrence river, at the East end of Lake Ontario.

The fort had been built during the Anglo-American War of 1812 (to 1815), when the United States of America were in conflict with the United Kingdom, its North American colonies (Canada) and Native American allies.  Whilst this war is scarcely remembered in Britain, it is clearly of great significance to present day Canadians in Ontario, since defeat of the invasions ensured Canadians would remain part of the British Empire, rather than being annexed to the United States of America.  Commemoration of the war was highly featured in Ontario during the 2012 – 2015 period.

004Outline Plan of Fort Henry May 2016

An outline plan of Fort Henry – May 2016

 005Fort Henry from Kingston Harbour  006Fort Henry May 2016

  Fort Henry from Kingston Harbour

Fort Henry - May 2016

On 24th March 1827, William moved from Fort Henry in Kingston to Fort George, which was situated at Niagara on the Lake, and where he was to spend the next two years.  

The original buildings, completed in 1802, were the headquarters of the British Army and the local militia.  Unfortunately, they have almost all been demolished, most of the damage being caused during the Anglo-American War of 1812. In May 1813, the American Army invaded Upper Canada through Fort George, but were repelled in December 1813, and retreated across the Niagara river to their base at Youngstown, New York.

 007Northern part of Niagara on the Lake

Northern part of Niagara on the Lake – Fort George & Fort Mississauga

Whilst a new ‘Visitor Centre’ and a new Fort George stand close to the original site, some older remnants may still be discovered.  These include the site of the Military Hospital, the blockhouses which provided the accommodation for other ranks, and a stone powder magazine.  Further, Fort Mississauga, built to replace Fort George, stands on the site of the first lighthouse in Canada, and has a commanding view over Lake Ontario. 

Mississauga Fort lies by the side of the Niagara on the Lake Golf Club, but access is still possible.

When he arrived at Niagara on the Lake in 1827,  William would have been housed in what is now the Niagara Historical Society Museum building [#11 on the diagram], then two storey barracks.  For the next two years, he would have  exercised on the parade ground, have spent 13 days in the Military Hospital, and been on duty at Fort Mississauga by the side of Lake Ontario.

Fort George - 1815 - Right

008Site of Military Hospital
Site of the Military Hospital

 009Fort George 1815

Whilst there is little remaining of the original buildings at Fort Mississauga, the entrance, the brick tower and star-shaped mounds which surround the site are still very impressive. 

010Fort Missussauga 1 011Fort Missussauga2

 L & R  Fort Mississauga, Niagara on the Lake 

A passageway allows exit from the site to the side of Lake Ontario, the original iron gate is still in situ, albeit in a rather distressed state !

 012Lake Ontario  013Lake Ontario2

 Lake Ontario viewed from Fort Mississuaga

Lake Ontario viewed from Fort Mississuaga

On 25th September 1829, William was on the move again, this time travelling via Montréal and ‘Sylvia’ transport, along the St. Lawrence river, past Newfoundland, eventually arriving in Fermoy, Ireland, in November 1829.   Here he was to stay until March 1830, before moving on again.

Records show that between March 1830 and 1834 William was stationed in Athlone, Durham, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Darlington, Alnwick, Barnard Castle and Edinburgh, at times working as a Recruiting Officer.  In October 1834 he arrived in Gibraltar and remained there until January 1838 when he was posted to Jamaica.  In July 1841 he arrived back in Canada, at Fort William Henry, Madawaska (now part of Maine, USA), following a sea journey of 38 days. 

On 1st October 1842, William took his discharge at Dégele, Quebec; he was given six months’ pay and disappeared from records.  He re-appeared on 7th August 1845, to marry Martha Brown, of Bedworth at St. Michael and All Angels Church, Coventry.

Following his marriage, he was father to five children: William, John Thomas, Henry, Susan Elizabeth and Tom.  His wandering did not stop, however.  He spent the next four decades working alternatively as a weaver and an employee of the Great Northern Railway, until his death in 1892, in Hyde, Cheshire.

What is so puzzling, is why no mention of his travels around the globe was ever passed down to his descendants.  The things he must have seen and  the cultures he must have experienced – what a wealth of knowledge !  

One thing for sure, William must have seen and marvelled at Niagara Falls… why on earth did he not tell us about them ?

014Niagra Falls1  015Niagra Falls2
016Niagra Falls3 017Niagra Falls4

Dr Carole A. Eales, 2016

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