poetry and prose about place

Briar Island Rock #2 ‘the shipwreck’

with 13 comments

How did your family first come to the country where you now live?

In my last post, I introduced the story of my great-great grandfather, William, who arrived in Canada, when he was about seven years old, by shipwreck.

William and his mother, brother and step-father took the schooner Trafalger.  It was a 3-masted square-sterned ship with two decks, 96 feet long and 25 feet wide.  The family embarked from Hull, England for Canada on May 31, 1817.

The ship was headed for Saint John in New Brunswick, but became lost in thick fog and was shipwrecked off Brier Island, on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy.  In a letter reported in the Hull Advertiser, the Captain of the Trafalgar gave a detailed account of what happened:

 I am sorry to inform you of the loss of the Trafalgar, on the 25 July, about half-past eight o’clock in the evening, upon Brier’ s Island, in the Bay of Fundy, about 60 miles below St. John’ s [Saint John, New Brunswick].  I had been running up all the day, it being very thick could not see anything; at seven p.m. I hove the ship to, with her head to the Westward, thinking we were well over to the Westward, sounding in 40 fathoms; the tide running very strong, and before we could see the land, we heard the surf against the rocks; got sail upon the ship, but being too close the strong tide set us upon the rocks; it being high water when we got on, run out a kedge to heave her off, but all to no use.  At low water, the ship was dry all round, amongst the rugged rocks, which went through her in different parts; the ship having as much water in the inside as there was on the outside at high water.  The passengers were all safe landed that were brought out, and got all their baggage on shore.  We are saving all the stores that we can, but they must be taken up to St John’ s to be sold, as there are no people on Briers Island to purchase anything.

–          ‘Letter from Captain J. Welburn to H. Cochrane, July 30, 1817. Saint John, New Brunswick’, Hull Advertiser, September 27, 1817.

The shipwreck was also reported in the New Brunswick Courier:

Shipwreck! – On Friday evening last, about half-past eight o’clock, the ship Trafalgar, Capt. Welburn, went ashore on Briar Island in a very thick fog – the ship will be a total wreck; chief part of the materials saved – The Trafalgar was from Hull bound to this port, and from hence to Quebec, and had 159 passengers, which together with the crew were all saved.

–          ‘Shipwreck’, Marine Journal, New Brunswick Courier, Volume 7, No. 325, Saint John, New Brunswick, August 2,1817.

The ship’s passenger list is available at The Ships List (   It lists the heads of the various families on board.

One of the saved passengers was my great-great grandfather, William, a child of about seven years.  William’s father, also named William, had been a carpenter and was killed by lightning while working on a building.  His mother married for a second time, and sold her first husband’s tools to get her second husband out of the army. 

It would have been hard for them after the shipwreck, but there was a small community of people living on Briar Island – it had been inhabited by fishermen since 1769, and by Loyalists after 1783.  After the shipwreck, William’s family eventually settled in Digby County, Nova Scotia.    

Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my own family’s pilgrimage to Briar Island in 1993.

'luggage, landed on the shore' (detail of a larger drawing by Jane Tims, 2011)

© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

December 3, 2011 at 8:26 am

13 Responses

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  1. Hello Jane!
    I wish to discuss ancestor of mine who was on this ship The Trafalgar.
    About 25 years ago, I received family papers through my mother. Among which was a typed “family history”
    letter done by a relative to my maternal grandmother.
    In this letter, details are mentioned in regards to this similar family history content as you have written here on
    My question: what is the Surname of your 2x Great Grandfather William? And his Stepfathers Name?
    According to my history letter. My ancestors were involved in this shipwreck.
    Surnames Lowther. Three brothers, were among this crew. William, Joseph, and Jonathon.
    Thankyou, Sincerely, Annie


    Annie Thomas

    December 10, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    • Hi Annie. Glad to hear from you. My great great grandfather’s surname was Spavold and his step-father’s name was Hill. Interesting that our ancestors probably knew each other, probably quite well. I don’t know much more than I put in my post, except the Hill family settled in New Tusket near Weymouth, Nova Scotia, after the ship-wreck. Jane


      jane tims

      December 22, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    • I am researching, and also descended from, the Lowthers that came to Canada in 1817 on the Trafalgar and shipwrecked on Brier Island, NS. There were actually 4 brothers – Thomas, William, Jonathan and Joseph. I would like to share/exchange information with anyone who might be descended from this family. They settled in Amherst, Fenwick, Leicester, Minudie; and William settled in Westmorland County, NB.

      Liked by 1 person

      Sharlene Jones

      February 28, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      • Hi Sharlene. Interesting! I think how weird it is that our ancestors knew one another, probably spoke on a daily basis for a while. And yet you and I only meet through a blog! I don’t know anything about the Lowthers, but someone will be able to help! Jane.


        jane tims

        February 28, 2021 at 6:41 pm

  2. Hi, my great great grandfather was george humber whittaker. His father was william allen whittaker..trying to find info on his parents. Think this may be william allen whittaker who ended up in saint john N.B. He married a mary French in 1820 or 1822..William allen whittaker was 24 when he immagrated from england..

    Liked by 1 person

    Devon whittaker

    April 9, 2018 at 11:07 am

    • Hi. My William was William Spavold who travelled with his mother and her husband Bill Hill. They later settle in Digby and the area. To look for your relative, you could look at the list of the many immigration ships from England. I am sorry he is not the William you are looking for! Jane


      jane tims

      April 10, 2018 at 4:08 pm

  3. […] Tims writes the blog Niche Poetry and Prose, and she tells the story of her great great-grandfather, William, who was aboard Trafalgar on that […]


  4. Family history can be fascinating- your great-great-grandfather proves it.


    Watching Seasons

    December 10, 2011 at 1:31 am

    • Hi. When I study my family history and discover a new name, I am thrilled, but nothing can compare with finding out a little about their lives. Jane


      jane tims

      December 10, 2011 at 8:55 am

  5. Hi Jane, What courage they all had, and a miracle they were all saved. This drawing of yours says so much.


    Ellen Grace Olinger

    December 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    • Hi Ellen. They certainly had courage. They really didn’t have much choice but they forged ahead and I owe my existence to them… Jane


      jane tims

      December 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm

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