The Farmer’s in Canada

The Farmer story begins with the arrival of the family patriarch at Campobello Island in 1828 at the age of 151.

In 1872, Captain Robinson-Owen began trying to sell the island … for the following seven years the island was administered by his widow with the assistance of his bailiff, John Farmer, who had come to Campobello with the Admiral as a boy of fifteen.

John Farmer married twice and it is from his second marriage to Julia Palmer that we can now trace 6 generations of descendants spanning two centuries. The story is fascinating and will be told in many chapters, one for each of the key players, beginning of course, with John himself. There are a great many others and their stories can be found in the Biographies section.

Whitechapel to Welchpool

Whitechapel is in London’s east end and close to the London Dockyards and was always a place for immigrants and the working class. It was made famous by Jack the Ripper, and saw the formation of the Salvation Army, and was home to the infamous “Elephant Man” but all of these occurred 75 years later.

St Mary Whitechapel

2 During John’s time in Whitechapel, the region was rapidly devolving into a “Dickensian” London with its squalor, poverty and suffering and containing the worst streets of London.  From graveyard records we know his mom died within two weeks of his birth so his early life must have been harsh. He had every reason to leave. Perhaps the fact his father was a cooper somehow that made it possible for him to get passage on a ship to the new world.

William Fitzwilliam Owen

His strong friendship with Admiral Owen3  and later with the Admiral’s son-in-law Capt. John James Robinson-Owen, appears throughout his life and one wonders how much time they spent together before arriving in Canada to develop such a strong friendship. Prior to this, Admiral Owen distinguished himself by mapping the great lakes (Owen Sound was named after him) and the entire east coast of Africa from the Cape to the Horn of Africa, southern Arabian, and Madagascar in the sloop Leven, losing half the crew to tropical diseases.4

In 1827, likely with John Farmer, he returned to Africa and settled a colony at Fernando Po/ Port Clarence, an island off the West Coast of Africa, now called Bioko.5 During the first year, he was joined by Lieutenant James Holman who was famous in his time as “the Blind Traveller”.6   Owen was a zealous anti-slaver. During his three-year command, his forces detained 20 ships and liberated 2,500 slaves. The Court of Mixed Commission was moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Port Clarence to hasten the legal process of emancipating slaves liberated from slave ships. Perhaps these values were instilled in John, it certainly gave him experience with the courts which would reappear throughout his life.

John & Admiral Owen mention in Historical Society book

Emigration to Canada

According to a reference in a book about the history of Campobello island, John Farmer arrived at Campobello at the age of 15, having traveled with Admiral Owen.

In 1872, Captain Robinson-Owen began trying to sell the island … for the following seven years the island was administered by his widow with the assistance of his bailiff, John Farmer, who had come to Campobello with the Admiral as a boy of fifteen.

And we have another reference about John’s arrival, this time from …

Some of the Admiral's retinue married and settled on the Island....John Farmer, the Admiral's right hand man and secretary, married Esther Gregg, a daughter of John Gregg who bought up a large section of Tyn-y-coed farm.

The Tyn-y-coed (house in the woods) house had been built by David Owen years earlier and is close to the Roosevelt cottage.

bought land in Friar’s Bay

Others buying in Friar's Bay were William Lank, another son of the first William; John Taylor, John Batson, Owen Parker and John Farmer.  Peter Dewade and Alfred Todd were also living there.

John Farmer’s Career

Placing John on the island has been difficult since that would be around the year 1828 and Owen was in Africa at that time. There is a reference in the Gallagher Journal that the island was deeded to Captain Owen in 1929 and I think I saw a reference to Captain Owen’s work in Africa started in 1827 and lasted two years. Perhaps he came to the island in 1829, before settling on the island in 1835 for good.7

In 1829 he (David Owen) made a deed to Rear Admiral Edward Campbell Rich Owen and his brother, Capt. William Fitz-William Owen, sons of his uncle Capt. William Owen, deceased. In December 1830, Squire Owen died and left the family property to Edward William Owen and William Fitzwilliam Owen, sons of Captain Owen. In 1835, now Admiral William Fitzwilliam Owen arrived on Campobello. He brought his family and two ships full of new settlers, cattle and supplies to the already 400 settled.

One of John’s many activities and duties was Treasurer and we see a reference to the fishery operations in 1867.

The island has always relied on fishing as means of survival and money. The first weirs were erected in 1840.  By 1850, twenty-one fishing weirs had been placed which employed 78% of the population.  In 1861, the islanders had sold $66,000 worth of cod, haddock pollock, herring, hake and mackerel. This would convert to approximately to $1.5 million today.

As we have seen in an earlier passage, John acting as Bailiff, assisted Lady Owen in managing the affairs of the island for the next 15 years.

In 1855, Admiral Owen built St. Anne’s Anglican Church which still holds services today. In the graveyard next to the church lies the Admiral, who was buried there in 1857.  Admiral Edward Owen’s daughter Cornelia married John Robinson in 1839.  He assumed the surname of Robinson-Owen to comply with the requests and conditions of the Admiral.  Lady Owen’s passing in 1852 left Captain Robinson-Owen manager of the families portion of the island.
The Owen era ended in 1881, when Mrs. Cornelia Robinson-Owen sold her portion of the island to the Campobello Company. This was a group of Americans who intended to turn the island into a summer resort. A great get-a-way from the heat and disease still prevalent in busy cities along the American Eastern Seaboard.  Between 1881 - 1883, 3 hotels were built to accommodate these wealthy visitors: The Owen, Tyn-Y-Maes and Tyn-Y-Coed. These hotels flourished until around 1910.

A historical conversation with John Farmer

 Outing (excerpt from Google book) which contains an interesting passage about having met John Farmer.
No hills were too steep to climb no grades too sharp for a coast. The fog disappeared the woods grew a lighter green the sky overhead was a deep dark blue the sunshine warm and inspiriting the breeze fresh and dry. Back across the island we flew past the two splendid hotels through Welsh Pool Landing and out along the bluff that overlooks the Passama quoddy. On one side the rough rocky tree sprinkled land on the other spread out the broad bay with its many islands bright in the sunshine. The glimmering water in which were mirrored the white sails of ships the little green islands the tree covered hills of the larger Deer Island beyond the bay penetrating far up into the land between the hills these are but hints for a picture which it would be difficult to draw with words. Three fine hotels have been built by the company who own the island The Owen named from Admiral Owen to whom the island formerly belonged The Tyn y coed a Welsh name signifying the house in the woods. The Tyn y maes or house in the field. All three are beautiful in architecture and site. Families from the Provinces and from many parts of the United States spend the summer upon the island. Near the Owen stands the house of the old admiral from whom the hotel receives its name. Many interesting relics of the old gentleman and of the former life of the people are preserved. The admiral's portrait hangs upon the wall of his former office which also contains some old chairs and tables. On a shelf lies a case of duelling pistols a necessary piece of furniture for the gentleman of half a century ago.
Old John Farmer the collector of customs met the party as we dismounted at the wharf to wait for the boat “Boys” he said “I’ve been watching for you I’m proud of you!” The Yankees are showing their stock when they take to such out of door sports as riding those wheels. They are getting back to the spirit of old mother England. I’m an Englishman and I’m proud of you. Now every mother's son of you has got to come and drink with me. The president assured him of the unbending temperance principles of the company. Well take lemonade or soda but come on and the old gentleman who had evidently been drinking our health before we arrived led the way to “the store” which served in the triple capacity of grocery, restaurant, and saloon. We drank the health of the kind hearted old man who waxed communicative and began to give his conversation an autobiographical tendency. He had been the agent of Governor Owen years ago and managed his affairs while he was away from the island. But the whistle of the ferry boat broke in upon the discourse. As the boat steamed away the old gentleman braced himself against the piles of the wharf spasmodically waved his hat and as far as his circumstances would allow gave a parting cheer which we answered in full chorus from the deck.

John as director of a major railway in NB

The St Andrew and Quebec Railway is now rapidly progressing from the harbor of St Andrew's toward Woodstock on the St John river a distance of about 80 miles This company in addition to a liberal charter obtained from the Provincial government a grant of the unappropriated lands for the distance of 5 miles on each side of the line. This grant embraced about 260,000 acres between St and Woodstock. Much of this land is valuable its timber in addition to its agricultural capabilities. The authorised stock of the company is 200,000 sterling. Of this amount 100,000 is taken in England and the stockholders are allowed one acre of land for every 1 sterling paid up. This given the company the command of l00 000 cash funds on hand. Julius Thompson Esq has been appointed agent of the company and came out under the direction of the English stockholders in October last. Under his auspices the work of construction is going with vigor. One section of the road was placed under contract in 1850. John G Mvrzas Est the contractor is driving the work with great vigor. Five miles of the road from St Andrews to Chamcook is entirely graded and a portion of the superstructure laid. A vessel with iron and machinery despatched from England some time since and is expected that the cars will run from St Andrews to Chamcook this present winter. The next division of the road from Chameook to Bartlett s Pond is to be opened in the spring. A further of sixteen miles carrying the road to the branch of the Digedeguash river is to be put contract immediately and prosecuted with vigor and it is expected that the line to Woodstock 80 miles will be in operation in 18 months from close of the present year 1850. The officers of the company are ninsc roas John Wilson Esq of Chamcoolr President Admiral Owen of CampoBello Capt J Robinson Charles Moses Esq John Farmer Esq Hon H Hatch ot St Andrews Harris H Hatch Esq Geo D Street Esq E Wilson Earp Hon Geo S Hill oi St Stephens Geo J Thompson Esq Chas Cornell Esq of WoodstockJ R Tuppcr Esq _ John Rogers Esq of St Andrews Treasurer JH Whitlock Esq Secretary AP Robinson Esq of Portland Maine 

John seems to have had many duties and held many titles during his years on Campobello island:
  1. Collector of Customs
  2. Magistrate
  3. Surveyor of Roads
  4. Constable
  5. Justice of the Peace
  6. Bailiff he Petitioned the House of Assembly in 1874 to put the islands into a separate county. 
  7. Incorporated, among several others,  the Campobello Hotel Company in 1871.
  8. Incorporated the Campobello Mill Manufacturing and Shipbuilding company in 1874.
  9. Was Deputy Treasurer, Fisheries in 1867
  10. Incorporated the church with Admiral Owen (and his religion Episcopalian)


Book: Campobello, An Historical Sketch, Kate Gannett Wells


Church Corporation. Soon after Admiral Owen had become resident magistrate and commissioner for solemnizing marriages, to which the witnesses as well as the bridal couple signed their names, he signalized his authority by giving for three years certain wild lands as commons for cattle to those who should belong to the "Church Episcopal Congregation," when formed. The lease was duly signed by himself and by John Farmer, in trust for the people. Such privilege, even if actuated by worldly motives, proved of sacred benefit, for measures were immediately taken to form a Church Association and corporation, with the proviso that such persons as had decided objections to profess themselves members of the church could by no means become a part of such corporation. The Admiral's cattle ranged free in the commons, but on all other licensed and [Pg 27]marked cattle were paid the fees which accrued to the benefit of religion, and large must have been the income thereof.
The regularly ordained preacher was sent from St. Andrews but four or five times a year. On all other appointed days the Admiral read his beloved service, even till 1842, when a resident missionary came to live on the Island. Thirteen years after, in 1855, the church and burial ground were consecrated by the bishop of the diocese. Most solemn and tender must have been those first rites, when confirmation was administered to three persons, and holy communion to forty others, in that little building surrounded by the dark balsamic firs, looking with its cross over the waters toward the New England steeples.
English friends sent money to the church, and the Owen family gave memorial offerings. The reredos, with its silver cross, was a memorial to Captain John Robinson, the grandson of the Admiral. The block of stone from which the font was carved was taken from the Church of the Knights Templar at Malta, and carried to Florence by the Admiral's son-in-law to be wrought into graceful form, and then was borne across the ocean to this tiny, much loved church. The chancel carpet, worked on canvas in cross-stitch; the altar vestments; the stoles; the chalice veils, green, white, crimson, purple, each bearing the symbol of the cross in varied stitch and design,—were all wrought by the delicate fair hands of the Admiral's daughter, and her children, and their friends, as an offering of self-consecration and of devotion to the building up of a higher life among the Islanders. These, too, brought their gifts, and replaced with chandeliers the wax candles which had been set in holes in the book-rests; and, when the sea called away the men, an old lady, rich in humility and good works, rang the bell for the weekly services.

John Farmer fought in the local militia…

Lt in the local militia and successfully fought the Finian's in a raid in 1866.
In 1864 the militia on the Island:

Lt. Col. - James Brown
 Capts - B. Fitzgerald; John McIntosh; C.E.O. Hatheway; Joseph Patch; John Leeman
 Lts - John Chaffey; Warren Worster; John Farmer; Adjutant Henry Conley; Owen Parker; James Leonard; Charles Savage
 Ensigns - William Cheney; Porter Dexter; William Harvey; John Leonard; Henry
 Leeman; Luke Byron; W. D. Hart; Simon Leonard
 Quartermaster - John Kay
 Surgeon - Charles Gun
By 1866 the militia was disorganized.  However the Fenian "invasion" occurred that year.  The Fenian Brotherhood was a secret revolutionary society founded in America in 1858 to establish a republican government in Ireland.  A force of several hundred armed men were sent to Eastport in April 1866 for the purpose of taking Campobello.  The expedition failed and was later called by the Fenians "The Campobello Fiasco."  They did seize the British flag at Indian Island from the Customs officer and burned four warehouses there.  The NB government sent a large force to the border and the Fenians dispersed.  This incident helped the cause of Canadian confederation.
The Civil War in America played no significant role in the Island.  A few "skeedaddlers" arrived at Campobello, so-called neutrals living on the American side but they were not looked on with favor by the islanders and soon left.


Capt. Robinson-Owen began to require that the people pay their rents in English gold - no paper money - because of the American Civil War.  This created hardships for them and leases were cancelled overnight - many had to let their farms go.  The tenants on the Island were unhappy with the Captain and would not cooperate with him at all.
By 1872 Capt. Owen's health was poor.  His oldest son, Sir Owen C had served in China and was ill; his 2nd son, John Hemery died at sea in 1870; his daughter Portia became a nun in the Community of St. John the Baptist in New York; his daughter Cornelia was engaged to Lt. Basil Edward Cochran, RN.  He was a Commander serving on the 'Britomart' which had been stationed at Halifax, NS but cruised the Passamaquoddy since the Fenian invasion. Cornelia would be leaving the Island after her marriage.  Capt. Owen put the Island on the market in 1872.
The contract to sell the Island fell through and in April 1874 the Captain died while at Frederickton.  Mrs. Owen managed the Island affairs.
Chester Townsend settled on Harbor de Loutre having been sent for by John Farmer to run the mill.
Several lots of land were sold, mostly to the sons of the "old families" Hannah Shannon, Owen Parker, George Batson, Daniel Hilyard, Louisa Moses, Isaiah Newman, John Farmer, Cadwallader Flagg, Hibbard Batson, Michael Chapman, William Best, John Porter,  William Beatty.



John Owen Farmer – St Annes Church

  1. Campobello -The Outer Island-by Alden Nowlan  

  2. Whitechapel – Wikipedia Article  

  3. William Fitzwilliam Owen 1774-1857 

  4. Book: Voyages of the Levan 1821-1826 

  5. Bioko – Fernando Po – Port Clarence 

  6. Book: Voyage Round the World – with Captain Owen 

  7. References to John Farmer