How our Burgesses came to Montreal
by: Eric Burgess
John Burgess was born in Matlock Bath on May 9th 1878, to a single mother Elizabeth Hibbert. He had three sisters and one brother all of them older; Sarah, Mary Jane, Laura Agnes and Peter. His father another John had abandoned the family in late 1877 and went to Philadelphia. It appears that John never met his father.
In the 1881 census mother Elizabeth is listed as a widow and char woman aged 42. The oldest, Sarah had already left home and was working in the post office. This left the single mother with 4 children, two sons and two daughters, to care for. Given their circumstances the family would have been poor.
By age 12 John was working as an errand boy for a "green fruiter" named John Smith on the North Parade in Matlock Bath. At age 18 John signed up for the Navy and was recorded as being a grocer's boy. He served on the Impregnable from July 1893 the September 1894, on the Rupert November 1894 to May 1895. He served briefly in 1895 on the Thunderer, Vivid I and the Empress of India. By December 1895 he was commissioned to the Magnificent which is when his sailor picture was taken until September 1896 when he was briefly on the Vivid I again. In 1896 he got what was to be his last commission the H.M.S. Talbot.
John kept a letter his brother Peter had transcribed from one sent to Mr. Baker in Derbyshire. It would appear this letter was of significant sentimental value to John as he kept it for all the years that he was alive. Transcribed below:
"This is the letter which the Captain of the Talbot sent to Mr. Baker
April 13 1899
HMS Talbot - Portsmouth
Dear sir John Burgess deserted from the Talbot last October when the ship was at Montreal Canada. He was a unsatisfactory man but I am surprised he has not written to his mother.
I tried to improve him for good in every possible manner but he did not correspond with my efforts I asked him to come to my choir practices and be present at celebrations and be a total abstainer but I notice that he was often being punished for infractions of discipline and at last he deserted perhaps life in Canada and being compelled to work may do him good
Believe me yours very sincerely Wilson - sponsor
I copied this from the one he sent to Mr Baker he gave it to mother and she let me have it
P Burgess Oct 21 1899"
Below I have transcribed 4 articles from 3 issues of the Montreal Gazette. What I did not appreciate untill reading them was how big an event this was for the city. The mayor and the top brass of the Montreal Militia were in attendance as well as many prominent Montrealers of the time. It would seem that city's reputation for throwing a good party went back many years.
The articles illustrate the times and give us a feeling for the city that John came to adopt. It is not clear whether his desertion was planned before arriving or whether he was lured by the city itself. What we do know is that John hid his identity for several years after landing. He adopted the name Charles Wilson and he can be found in the 1901, and 1911 censuses as well as in the local directories under this false name. Much later in life he would ask for and be granted a pardon from Her Majesty the Queen.
The Ships Here
Montreal Gazette Saturday October 1, 1898
Talbot and Indefatigable Now in Port
Crowds Greet the Cruisers as They Reach the Wharf
Programme of the week.
What the civic committee Has Planned for the Entertainment of the Distinguished Guests.
It was about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, when two of the three British cruisers that are to visit this city during the next few days arrived in port. The vessels that came in last evening were the second-class cruisers Talbot and Indefatigable which had left Quebec about 5:30 in the morning. The Pallas, the third of the vessels to come to the port of Montreal, will reach here on Monday.
Quite a crowd had gathered on the wharf yesterday afternoon to await the arrival of the Talbot and Indefatigable, to the former of which Vice-Admiral Fisher had transferred his flag from the Renown, which vessel owing to her draught, was unable to come up to this city.
The cruisers left Quebec together, and the Talbot was the first to make Montreal, the Indefatigable being about half a mile astern. They steamed slowly up the channel, and as soon as the Talbot had come to her moorings at the Victoria pier and hoisted the white ensign at her stern, the acting Harbor-master Capt. Bourassa and Ald. Sadler, Stevenson, and Mr. Rene Bauset, the mayor's secretary, as representing the city, stepped aboard to pay their respects to the vice-admiral.
The programme of entertainments for the officers and crew while in port, as finally agreed upon by the vice-admiral and city representatives was as follows:-
Today -12:30, Mayor and reception Committee call upon Vice-Admiral Fisher to officially bid him welcome, and they will remain to luncheon. At 2:15, the vice-admiral with some of his officers, will return the Mayor's visit at the City Hall, and on this occasion His Worship anticipates a large turn-out of aldermen and citizens especially those who participated in arrangements. At 2:30, one hundred men from each ship will take cars, provided by the Street Railway Company, and run up to the lacrosse match and the footbal match.
Tomorrow - A detachment of the officers and men of the Indefatigable, will attend divine service at Trinity Church (corner St-Denis street and Viger square), at 11 a.m. The police Band, will accompany the boys in blue from the vessel to the church.
Monday 10:30 a.m. the vice-admiral, officers and as many of the crews as possible, will attend a review of the fire brigade on the Champs de Mars. At 1 p.m. the vice-admiral gives luncheon to a certain number of invited citizens. At 2:15 p.m. tha Mayor and aldermen take the vice-admiral and officers for a drive round Mount Royal Park; 8:15 p.m., first performance of H.M.S Albacore, by 150 officers, men and boys of H.M.S Renown, at the Academy of Music.
Tuesday -The vice-admiral departs for Niagara.
Wednesday - 8:15 p.m., last performance of H.M.S Albacore at the Academy of Music.
Thursday - 8 p.m., smoking concert to the petty officers and men; 9 p.m. ball to officers at Windsor Hotel.
Friday -Departure of the Indefatigable.
The Talbot is a twin screw second-class cruiser of 5,600 tons, 360 feet long, and an indicated horse power of 8,000. She has a speed of 20 knots. Her officers are: Captain Edward H. Gamble; commander, Lewis Bayly; lieutenants, J.D. Daintree, Cuthbert E. Hunter, R.S. Evans, W.H. Leadbeater, W.D. Paton; lieut.-mar., N.A.W. Scott; chaplain, and naval instructor, Rev. W. Highmoor; fleet surgeon, Alex L. Christie; staff-paymaster, F.G.W. Taylor; fleet ensign, G.B. Alton; sub-lieutenant, John Hutchings; surgeon John C. Rowan; assistant paymaster, B.H. Woodman; assistant engineers H.F. Bell, E.R. Armor; gunner, J.R.W. Thompson; boatswain, A.H. Goatley.
From the Warships
Montreal Gazette October 3rd, 1898
The Formal Exchange of the Visits Between the Mayor and the Admiral
His Worship the Mayor, accompanied by his private secretary, Mr. Rene Bauset, several aldermen and a few members of the reception committee, called upon Vice-Admiral Sir John Fisher, at 12:30 on saturday afternoon to officially welcome himself, officers and men to the city. The party was most hospitably entertained on the Talbot and remainer for luncheon.
Shortly after 2 o'clock vice-Admiral Fisher accompanied by Captain Gamble, of the Talbot, retuned the visit, arriving at the City Hall about 3 o'clock. the function was informal , His Worship the Mayor simply introducing the distinguished naval officers to the citizens present. Among those who paid their respects to Sir John and Captain Gamble, were in addition to the Mayor, Mr. L.O. David, city clerk; Mr. William Robb, city treasurer; Ald. Sadler, Stevenson, Laporte, Gallery, Wilson, Gagnon, Archambault, Marsolais, Kinsella and Turner; Lieut.-Col. Gordon, D.O.C.; Lieut.-Col. Caverhill, Lieut.-Col. Cooke, Lieut.-Col. Starke, Hon. J.D. Rolland, Dr. Kennedy (representing the St. Patrick's society); Mr .P.J. Coyle, Q.C.; and a few others. Mr. Henry E. Cobb, mayor of Newton, Mass., and several prominent citizens of that place were also present.
A detachment of about 150 sailors and marines from H.M.S. Indefatigable attended morning worship in Trinity church yesterday. The police band headed the parade, escorting the blue-jackets from the ship's side to the church and back to the ship again.
A large crowd of civilians gathered about the church to witness the parade, and there was enough enthusiasm among others to add their numbers to the turnout and follow their blue-jacketed idols along the route. The parade was consequently swelled from the three deep file of the sailors to the utmost limits of the street and sidewalks.
The blue-jackets were a fine looking body of men and they marched with that swing characteristic of the British tar.
Seats were reserved for the sailors in the front of the church, off the centre aisle, and the remaining pews were well filled by visitors and regular attendants.
As is usual with a sailor congregation the singing was particularly bright and strong, the tars taking a hearty share in the musical service.
An appropriate sermon was preached by the Rev. J.H. Graham, the pastor, in which he pointed out the necessity for a consistent faith in the doctrines of Christianity to those who, in the voyage through life, would encompass the perils and dangers that beset it. His address was aptly illustrated by showing that in he science of navigation it was essential that certain truths should be implicitly accepted, in order to safely guide a vessel amid the dangers that abound amid the world or waters.
The ball tendered by the citizens to the officers of H.M. warships Talbot, Indefatigable and Pallas bids fair to outdo anything of the kind yet given in this city. The Victoria Rifles full orchestra, under the direction of Bandmaster Quivron, will render a programme of attractive dance music that will afford ample enjoyment to the most fastidious. The presence of all the guests in uniform and the large attendance of officers from the city corps will lend color and brilliancy to the festive occasion, which will be a fitting finale to the week's gaiety. The Windsor Hall will be elaborately decorated for the occasion.
The sailors of the visiting warships have no reason to complain of the hospitality shown them while in Montreal. In the various entertainments the militia have had a prominent , almost the prominent part. Two of the jolliest affairs of the week were the luncheon and games on the mountain yesterday afternoon and the smoking concert in the Vics' Armory, in the evening. The Officers and men of the 2nd Regiment Canadian Artillery are certainly to be congratulated upon the success of their entertainment on the mountain. The games were very successful, and the luncheon, well the luncheon was just as nice as it could be, Mr. R. Wilson-Smith, honorary colonel of the regiment, and Lt.-Colonel Cole, commanding , were assisted in their duties by a number of the officers, and the affair was graced by the presence of a number of ladies prominent among them being Lady Winter, wife of the premier of Newfoundland; and Mrs. F. Minden Cole, wife of the commanding officer.
The smoking concert in the evening was a fitting conclusion to such an enjoyable day, and the committee of sergeant-majors, who had the arrangements in charge deserve a warm vote of thanks. They were Sergt. Major W. R. Converse, Duke of York's Hussars; Sergt. Major L. W. Watson, 1st Prince of Wales Fusilliers; Sergt. Major McGill, of the Vics; Sergt. Major Gardiner, of the Royal Scots, and Sergt. Major Levasseur, of the 65th, with Col. Sergt. Keen, honorary secretary.
British Cruisers Leave for Quebec
Montreal Gazette October 11th, 1898
Leave Deserters Behind
Seventeen Jolly Tars Now Missing, When the Roll is Called-
The cruisers Talbot and Pallas left port at 8 o'clock yesterday morning and proceeded to Quebec, whence after a short stay, they go on to Halifax.
Notwithstanding the early hour of their departure, a considerable number of people, including Ex-Mayor Wilson-Smith, Col. Stevenson, Mr. Robert Mackay, president of the Harbor Board, and Captain Bourassa, deputy harbor-master, gathered on the pier to bid them adieu.
On the motion of ex-Mayor Wilson-Smith, cheers were given for Captain Gamble and his officers as the Talbot was being warped out into the stream.
Captain Riddell and Mrs. Riddell and a number of the Renown's officers, who have been visiting Toronto and Niagara Falls, proceed to Quebec on the Talbot.
During the cruisers stay here, a large number of the seamen and marines overstayed their leave to such an extent as to be considered deserters. Many of these returned to their ships before the time of departure, either on their own account or by force.
Upwards of sixteen are, however, still missing, whether owing to a reciprocated hankering after the navy of an adjacent power or their inability to resist the temptation to prolong the pleasure offered by a life on shore, remains uncertain.