from Dr John
John and his family set sail on 31 March 1832 on the Columbus from Whitby. The Mewburns travelled Cabin class and seem to have been, socially, the most high-ranking on board. A bill advertising the sailing featured the fact that a surgeon would be on board.
We are fortunate that John kept a journal describing the voyage. A transcription exists in the family though the location of the original is unknown. That transcription with an explanatory commentary has now been published and can be seen in full in the Mewburn Matters section of this site.
John’s reasons for emigrating are not spelled out but in it he comments about the children, “for whose sakes … we were induced to sacrifice all our own attachments at home and brace the perils of the deep”. He then mentions the boys saying, “I do think I have done right and that God will bless my honest endeavours to place them in positions where success may crown our views.” These point to economic motives.
The decision was made in a trough for the UK’s fortunes with a slump after the Napoleonic wars, with the earlier loss of America and with Victoria’s empire yet to emerge. Agricultural workers had been rioting in protest against the introduction of threshing machines; emigration was being encouraged in the media; enterprises like the Canada Company were promoting opportunities in Upper Canada; the skills of a doctor were bound to be in demand; there were ten children to provide for.
Their status (and health consciousness) is evident in the fact that they had brought all their own food supplies (provided by John’s father-in-law, who was also a Whitby ship-owner) to be cooked separately for them, and including a goat for milk!
Nevertheless, it was a gruelling two-month journey by sail with the added burden of having three of their youngest children die within days of setting sail. They are reputed to have been suffering from scarlet fever, and must have been ill before they started. Two months of sea-sickness and poor nourishment was likely to finish off weaker passengers. Henrietta had a wretched time, nearly succumbing also in the first few weeks.
To keep his fellow passengers positively focussed John quickly organised twice-daily religious services. Bible study in between served to occupy the time. Without these distractions passengers had nothing to do (and no space to do it in) other than become obsessively concerned about their own woes.
On arrival John was treated every bit as well as he imagined his station deserved. In his Journal he said:
The kindness and more than civility we have met with has been very gratifying … His Excellency, the Governor, treated me kindly – I had two private audiences and one public. And one at which he introduced me to Dr. Skey, Inspector, who met me as an old friend!
Lady Aylmer sent to inform me she would have invited us to the Chateau, King’s Birthday, but thought it would not be agreeable.
My letters at once stamped me as a Gentleman! And wherever I called I was met with a cordiality and frankness I cannot describe. The Lord Bishop received me very friendly. The Chief Justice, a fine old man, was courteous in the extreme. The Arch-deacon was a true friend. From these gentlemen I have letters and strong recommendations to all the highly respectable people in the upper province.
The family settled first at York (which in 1834 became the City of Toronto) in the Niagara area of Upper Canada. John took an active role in local affairs. Within a year he was a magistrate and by 1846 he also held a post as coroner.
John settled at Stamford, Welland County on lot 56. Much later, in the agricultural census of 1861, John was still occupying a 3-acre portion next to 100-acres being farmed by his nephew Francis. Son Harrison was farming another 100-acres on lot 55.
Things were going well and after his first year John was even inspired to write a piece about the benefits of Canada. Entitled “A Letter to Mr Stickney of Holderness” it was an open letter intended for publication and to encourage emigration, though notionally offering a candid view of the situation there. He had no doubt that Canada could offer almost all that England did and for much less money (apart from decent accommodation in taverns!). Interestingly he quantifies this:
“No labouring man or mechanic with a large family, should venture here without £10 to £20 after landing at Quebec; a farmer, one of our smaller class, £200, the better sort, £500; and a gentleman who has a family to maintain, from £800 to £1000, together with a permanent income of from £50 to £150 per annum.”
We can assume he fell in the last category.
There is an impression in all this of Upper Canada as a peaceful, rapidly developing land, stable since Britain established control in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris – but for John this was hardly true. It was still part of a collection of colonies, each with distinct interests and issues, when the Mewburns arrived. Upper Canada was particularly British in tone and boasted a large number of former army officers, many of whom had been granted land for their service in Canada at the turn of the century. The first Dominion of Canada, with its four provinces, was not created until 1867; autonomy was achieved only in 1931, and complete separation from Britain in 1982.
In 1832 York had a population of just 5,500, about half that of Whitby, and further afield there was real backwoods land. However, a war with America had been fought just 20 years earlier and in late 1837 there was a rebellion against colonial rule in Upper Canada. John, as a volunteer militia officer, took part, but his farm was a target and:
“The extensive barns of the loyalist, Dr. John Mewburn, at Danby House, in Stamford village ... were destroyed by the hands of the incendiary.”
Despite that setback, John and Henrietta built their life in Canada with the surviving children.
In the end he died of apoplexy, a stroke, in 1864 but had certainly achieved his aim of creating a new life for the family when uprooting them in 1832.
Seven children survived to start the new life in Canada with John and Henrietta.
John Mewburn (1788) Tree
Ann Mewburn 1814-1862
Ann was born at Whitby 18 September 1814; she did not marry. She was present at Stamford with her parents in the censuses of 1851 and 1861. She then is the subject of a probate record at London in 1877 when the affairs of her father were being settled. Her death was given as 25 May 1862 and administration of her effects was granted to her brother Harrison.
Harrison Chilton Mewburn 1815-1909
Harrison, the eldest of Dr. John Mewburn’s sons was born 20 November 1815 at Whitby and baptised on the 21st.
Harrison, like all the boys, played his part in the militia and Caniff recounts that:
“Harrison Chilton Mewburn and Thos. Chilton Mewburn were in the cavalry troop that hunted down the American sympathizer and rebels who had successfully attacked Col. Magrath's lancers at Font Hill … the wounded were brought down and placed in the Queen's Own Hospital, and visited by Francis C. Mewburn under Dr. Winder, the Surgeon of the Queen's Own. Francis C. Mewburn, some years after, purchased the house."
He focused on farming, eventually with 100 acres on plot 55 next to his father. He was living at Welland Hill farm, Port Dalhousie, when he married Emily Sutton of the Falls at Stamford on 07 June 1844. She, however, died and was buried in 1848 at Stamford. Harrison and Emily had a son, John Herriman Mewburn (who was an exhibitioner in 1862 and had matriculated with honours in mathematics and ‘general proficiency’ at Upper Canada College), but by the time of the 1852 census both were dead and Harrison was back living with his parents.
Harrison Chilton Mewburn (1815) Tree
Harrison and his son, like John, were involved in the militia because these were still unsettled times in Canada. Towards the middle of the 19th century Irish republican sentiment was growing in the UK. There were great numbers of Irish settlers and their descendants in the USA and, following the Young Ireland uprising of 1848, the Fenian Brotherhood was established in the USA to support the cause. The British presence in Canada was conveniently close. This led to an attempted invasion of Lower Canada in 1866 with the aim of holding Canada hostage to gain Irish independence. The Fenians made clear their intention to invade, despite the avowed neutrality of the USA, and this led to the Canadian volunteer militias being called out on 1st June. John Mewburn had died two years before, but his student grandson John Herriman joined the Toronto University Rifles - University Company Number 9 Queen’s Own in 1866 and died at the battle of Limeridge, apparently of exhaustion.
There is a lengthy account of John Herriman’s funeral in The Fenian Raid. His name appears also in the Methodist church at Ridgeway on a memorial tablet to all those killed in the battle.
At the time of the 1852 census, after his wife’s death, Harrison was living with his parents; by 1861 he was living at Brockville, Leeds, and working as a school teacher. By 1866 he was listed as the school head at Carleton Place Union Grammar and Common School.
At some point Harrison must have made a return visit to England because in 1869 he married his cousin Dorothy Mewburn from Darlington, daughter of his uncle Francis, the railway solicitor. For some reason they were married in Quebec on the 5th of September at Holy Trinity Church, the Anglican Cathedral. They appear in the censuses for 1871, 1891 and 1901 at Stamford, but had no children.
Harrison lived to be 93, dying at Danby House on lot 56 at Stamford on 04 May 1909. Dorothy died a week later on 11 May 1909.
Francis Clarke Mewburn 1817-1908
Francis Clarke was named after both his grandfather and a great grandmother. He was born on Good Friday the 4th April 1817 at Whitby in Yorkshire, at “about four O’clock in the Morning” to “John & Henrietta Mewburn”, and baptised on the 5th March.
Frank continued the medical tradition. Medical training was not so well developed in Canada at the time so he became a student at the University of Pennsylvania where he appears among the matriculants for 1837-38.
Always active, he, as a Licentiate, was among a group of practitioners who petitioned for better regulation of the profession in Upper Canada and had a law passed in May 1839 to establish a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Upper Canada.
It is worth noting that this suggests he was attending in some capacity at the York Hospital at the age of 15. Caniff, quoting an editorial in the Toronto Patriot, mentions “an apprenticeship with his father of five years” before Philadelphia.
He married Henrietta Tonge Shotter, the daughter of Spencer Wood Shotter and Frances Lough of Kent, England, on the 25th July 1841 at Stamford, Ontario. She died on the 31st December 1904 at Toronto. Frank died on the 30th July 1908 at Toronto, Ontario.
Francis Clarke Mewburn and Henrietta
In his military career he was involved with the Fenian Raid of 1866 as Surgeon for the 19th Lincoln Battalion when he gained the Canada General Service Award. He can also be found in militia records where, for example, in 1873 as Surgeon for the 44th Regiment, Welland he was picking up $65 per day plus $16 for his horse for attending a 3-day annual exercise camp.
Frank appeared in censuses at Stamford for 1861 and 1871, but by 1881 was practising in Montreal. He died 15 July 1908 and was buried at St John the Evangelist, Stamford.
John Bowyer Mewburn 1818-1818
His was a brief life at Whitby in June 1818 so he was never part of the Canadian adventure.
John Mewburn 1819-1908
John was born 21 August 1819 and baptised on the 24th. He was thirteen when he made the voyage to Canada so only some of his formative years were spent there. They included encouragement towards the militia so John managed to be part of a notable Canadian military engagement. There was considerable dissatisfaction with the styles of government in both Upper and Lower Canada and in 1837, for different causes, rebellions were started in the two colonies each seeking reform with a more republican flavour. John though was a loyalist and was commissioned in the Queen’s Own Canadian Regiment.
A body of rebels – the Patriots – sought refuge on Navy Island in the Niagara River where it acts as the border with the USA. They regrouped there with the aim of re-invading Upper Canada. The SS Caroline was being used to provision their efforts by moving supplies from American sympathisers. Loyalist militia under commander Andrew Drew manned seven rowing boats, in one of which was John. Their aim was the ‘cutting out of the Caroline’. They drifted down to her at night hoping to take her by stealth. When close they were challenged and fired upon but managed to board her, remove her crew, tow her out into the river, set her on fire then leave her adrift, eventually to go over the falls and be destroyed. Exciting stuff for an 18-year old.
However, it seems he was more determined to succeed in business and he returned to England. He appeared in the 1841 census, when still just 21, living at Goldsmiths Place, Shoreditch, London and working as a clerk. According to his nephew, John Mewburn Levien, this was a position at Barclays Bank obtained for him by his uncle Francis, the Darlington lawyer. Banking was John’s forte and the Chilton family were his main sponsors. His uncle Thomas Chilton was a founder and director of the Liverpool Union Bank (now part of Lloyds). By 1851 John was living in Liverpool, working as a bank cashier and lodging with another of the family, Mary Chilton, originally from Staithes near Whitby. Soon after, in June 1851, he married Mary Levien at Sidmouth, Devon, where her family had a second house. Her father was a Jewish stockbroker in London; her grandfather had been born in Jamaica and her grandmother in Holland – a cosmopolitan background. They were married by Mary’s cousin, the Rev. John Levien.
As an aside, John and Mary took a particular interest in her nephew, John Joseph Levien, and it has even been suggested that they adopted him, though whether that was so in a legal sense may be doubted. He appeared with them as a 7-year old schoolboy at Hale in Lancashire in the 1871 census and again, after John’s retirement, at Myrtle Cottage, Sidmouth in 1891 – but was described simply as a nephew. He was an executor for the wills of both John and Mary and in his professional life, as both a professor of singing and a music critic, added the Mewburn name to his own. John Joseph’s father worked latterly in the manuscripts section at the British Museum, and for a time went under the name of Barber which is the name in which John Joseph’s birth is recorded at St Andrew, Holborn (and the name under which he was first registered at St John’s, Cambridge). Several of the family actively espoused the Church of England – fear of prejudice may have been strong.
John and Mary lived at Hale in Lancashire through the censuses of 1861, 1871 and 1881 by which time he was Chief Cashier for the Liverpool Union Bank (number two in the bank hierarchy, so very successful in his business career). They had no children and that may have enabled him to indulge his love of things military for, at Liverpool, he was instrumental in establishing a militia volunteer force.
The Gazette illustrates his military career:
1860. 13 April. John Mewburn, gent. 1st Lieutenant, 15th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers.
1862. 29 April. Title of Captain-Commandant has been conferred on Captain John Mewburn of the 15th Lancashire Artillery Volunteer Corps
1865. 24 November. 15th Lancashire Artillery Volunteer Corps. Captain John Mewburn to be Major. Dated 11th November, 1865.
1890. 18 April. 6th Lancashire. Lieutenant-Colonel and Honorary Colonel J. Mewburn resigns his commission; also is permitted to retain his rank and to continue to wear the uniform of the Corps on his retirement. Dated 19th April, 1890.
1892. 13 December, Volunteer Officer’s Decoration to Lieutenant-Colonel and Honorary Colonel John Mewburn, retired, 6th Lancashire.
Col. John Mewburn
John’s artillery volunteers were apparently the first such force to be entrusted with a 64-pounder gun and ammunition, and were tasked with manning a fort at the mouth of the Mersey in event of invasion.
Again, according to Mewburn Levien, John, as warden of St Chrysostom’s Church in Everton, was responsible for founding perhaps the first working-men’s club in England.
John retired with Mary to Sidmouth where they lived at Myrtle Cottage through the censuses of 1891 and 1901, and John occupied himself as a local magistrate. He died in 1908.
Thomas Chilton Mewburn 1822-1892
Thomas Chilton was born at Whitby on 08 January 1822 and baptised on 04 February. He survived the sea passage of 1832 and was educated at Upper Canada College where he appears in the roll for 1839. Thomas became an accountant and rose to become Inspector of Customs for Ontario. As we have seen he was also a militia volunteer and, with Harrison, part of the action at Font Hill in June 1838 (while still at school!) following what is known as the Short Hills Raid. However, he seems not to have continued with military matters to the extent of other family members.
Thomas can be found in Canadian censuses for 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891, always in Hamilton with his family. To begin with he was a book-keeper for a bank. Because of this he achieved a little local fame reported in the Hamilton Evening Times of Friday, 22 July 1864 after a burglar broke into his house during the night in an apparent attempt to take the keys to the bank. Thomas woke to find chloroform being applied to him but struggled free and got to a case of pistols. He then managed to turn on the gas-light but the burglar fired at him shattering a mirror before escaping. Two weeks later after a similar attempt the burglar was caught.
After the bank he became a “commission merchant and land agent” but in 1875 he joined the Customs Service and two years later became Inspector for Ports – a high-ranking civil service post. He appeared for many years in the Canadian Civil Service Lists where as an Inspector he earned $2,000 compared with a clerk on $650, or a preventive officer on a mere $50.
Thomas was married twice, first to Jane Gourlay Hamilton, daughter of Robert Hamilton a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and Lieut. Col. Of the 2nd Lincoln Militia, on the 17th March 1847 at Hamilton. The Hamilton’s were significant land-owners. A number of their land transactions are held in the S.C. Mewburn papers at Archives of Ontario. They show that Jane’s grandfather, the Hon. Robert Hamilton bought some 700 acres in Humberston, Walpole, and Grimsby between 1801 and 1806, while her father was granted about 1,370 acres at Walsingham in 1811.
Jane died at 40 and was buried at the Hamilton Family Burial Grounds, Niagara.
Sixteen months later Thomas married the widowed Rachel Amanda Cory (Baker), daughter of Dr Benjamin Cory, on the 21st July 1862 at Cook County, Illinois. A year later Thomas and Rachel’s only child, Sydney Chilton, was born.
Thomas also gained a little fame as one of the World’s first online games players. His friend Hugh Baker was president of the Hamilton District Telegraph Company. In 1876 Hugh had heard Alexander Graham Bell talk about successful long-distance telephone calls. He then arranged for telephone equipment – the first in Canada – to be installed in Hamilton. Hugh had long been using the telegraph to play chess with Thomas and another friend Charles Cory – now he installed three telephones in each of their houses to allow three way conversations over the games.
Thomas died, still working at 70, from ‘La Grippe’ and was buried at Hamilton Cemetery. In his obituary in the Hamilton Times of 07 March 1892 he was described as:
“a man of unusual activity and though sometimes eccentric in his ways was very much liked by the custom house employees, from the highest to the lowest.”
Rachel died on the 29th January 1917 at Winnipeg and is buried with him.
Henrietta Mewburn 1823-1851
Henrietta was born at Whitby on 09 February 1823 and baptised 06 March. Once in Canada she remained at home; did not marry and died at just 28. She appears in the English probate records like her sister Ann as a consequence of her father’s will, and where the date of her death is given as 25 December 1851 – a sad Xmas.
Rebecca Mewburn 1824-1832
Rebecca was born on the 9th August 1824 at Whitby and baptised on the 24th. She was the second to die on the journey, around the 17th April, and was buried with Eleanor and Arthur at the protestant burial ground of Quebec on the 25th May 1832.
Eleanor Margaret Mewburn 1825-1832
Eleanor Margaret was born on the 26th December 1825 at Whitby and baptised on the 21st January 1826. She died perhaps around the 19th April 1832 on the journey to Canada and is buried at Quebec.
Arthur Mewburn 1828-1832
Arthur was born on the 11th May 1828 at Whitby and baptised on the 7th June. He was the first to die on the journey to Canada – “Shortly after the Pilot left the Vessel” – according to his father’s account, so perhaps on the 16th or 17th of April – and is buried at Quebec.
Isabel Mewburn 1830-1861
Isabel was born at Whitby 07 March 1830 and baptised 03 April. She was the youngest survivor of the sea voyage. Sometime around 1850/51, though no record has been found, she married Charles Weyland, of Irish origin, and they went off to farm at Marbleton in Wolfe County, Quebec. They appear there in the 1851 census but Isabel died either in 1861 or 1875. Subsequent census records indicate that she had two sons – George (1852), who remained unmarried living with his father, and Chilton Mewburn Weyland (1859) who married Mary Sophia Chester in 1884 and raised a family in Quebec.
Francis Clarke Mewburn’s Children and Grandchildren
The public availability of records diminishes as we approach the present. That availability also varies by province so the story becomes increasingly patchy as the descendants spread out from the Niagara homeland. In this and subsequent chapters the story is just the best that can be assembled so far. Subsequent improvement may depend on feedback from present-day descendants, but that has not been pursued very actively.
Francis Clarke Mewburn (1817) Tree
Dr Francis Clarke Mewburn had seven children.
Isabel Mary Mewburn 1843-1926
No birth record has been found for her but census records suggest she was born around 1843. She was with her parents in 1861. Isabel married an American, Joseph Nicholson Gordon, on the 28th January 1863 at Drummondville and censuses indicate that she became a naturalized American citizen that year. Joseph was a teacher and they went off to live in Ellicot City, Maryland, USA where they appear in the 1880 census.
Joseph died in 1892 and is buried at St Johns Cemetery. The 1911 census has a remarkable entry where two widowed sisters are living together at 38 St Patrick Street, Toronto. They are recorded as JN Gordon and AC Bohn. They seem certainly to be Isabel and her sister Annie. However, they give their years of birth and ages as 1854/56 and 1862/48 respectively – over ten years younger than we should expect! Each gives the expected month of birth, though. In 1920 Isabel was in Baltimore, again with Annie, this time 17 and 20 years younger respectively!
Isabel died at Baltimore on 24 August 1926 and is buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Ellicot City. This line remains in the USA.
Isabel Mary Mewburn
Frank Mewburn 1844-1844
An infant death.
Arthur Mewburn 1845-1867
No birth record has been found for him but census records suggest he was born around 1845. Arthur moved to the USA and in 1863 the directory for Buffalo, New York lists him as a clerk living at 220 Main.
In 1867 he was elected a member of the St George’s Society of New York, a charitable body but dedicated to encouraging Englishness. However, later that year he died apparently as the result of an accidental gun-shot wound. He was buried at Stamford, aged just 23.
Annie Chilton Mewburn 1848-1928
No birth record has been found for Annie but census records suggest she was born around 1848. She is in the censuses for 1861 and 1871 (aged 14 and 22 respectively) and was still living at home at Montreal in1881 aged 33. She married Dr Jacob Bohn, a pharmacist from Monticello, Illinois, some time between 1881 and 1891. However she was with the family again in Toronto in 1901 by which time she had been widowed.
She was in Toronto with sister Isabel in 1911, though with a false age – but AC Bohn is an unusual name so it was clearly her. Incidentally, the censuses indicate she became a naturalised American in 1911. By 1820 she was living with Isabel in Baltimore and she died there on the 4th May 1928.
Lloyd Thomas Mewburn 1849-1925
No birth record has been found for him but census records suggest he was born around 1849 (and after Annie). Lloyd was at home in 1861and again in 1871, aged 20. He married Helen Murray Wright on the 5th July 1875 at Goderich,
He too got involved with the military and in 1866 was a private in the Queens Own Rifles and saw action in the Fenian Raid. That gained him the Canada General Service Medal.
In business he started out as a travelling salesman and then 1881, a clerk in Hamilton. However by 1891 he had established a wholesale grocery business, at that point with one employee. By 1901 he was earning $2,000 a year.
The Mewburns were by then prosperous folk and played their part in the Hamilton social scene. Tyrell’s Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London for 1903, has them as:
Mewburn, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd
122 Macnab street, S.
Mr. H.L.M. Mewburn.
Miss M.H. Mewburn
Mrs., nee Wright.
The pleasures of receiving on Wednesdays are a sore loss to us today. But then other newspaper items tell us that Lloyd was President of the Hunt Club so there really was a social whirl.
Lloyd however was pressing onwards in business and on January 18th 1904 The Daily Herald of Calgary announced that:
T B Mewburn and staff left Hamilton Saturday for Calgary to take charge of the Canada Grocery company’s branch here.
Quite where the ‘T. B. Mewburn’ came from is not clear.
A little later in the History of Ontario there is a comment that LT Mewburn & Co. Ltd., wholesale grocers, were operating a substantial three-story brick warehouse. He was now independent and can be seen as such in the 1916 census.
He died at Calgary in 1925 and today is memorialized on a fine stone at Banff Town Cemetery.
Spencer Wood Mewburn 1853-1865
No birth record has been found but census records suggest he was born around 1853. He appeared as a seven-year old in the census for 1861 but died in childhood aged just 12 and was buried at Stamford.
Frank Hamilton Mewburn 1858-1929
No birth record has been found but the Dictionary of Canadian Biography gives his birth as the 5th March 1858. Frank was with his parents in the 1861 census, (where he was given as Hamilton, though it seems that did not stick) 1871 and 1881 when his father was practising in Montreal. He married Louisa Augusta Nelson on the 14th December 1887 at Lethbridge. By 1891 he had a young family and was practising as a surgeon in Lethbridge and by 1901 was in Toronto. Frank Hamilton’s career has been much written about. There is a brief entry in Caniff but there is more detail in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
MEWBURN, FRANK HAMILTON, surgeon, politician, army officer, and university professor; b. 5 March 1858 in Drummondville (Niagara Falls), Upper Canada, youngest son of Francis Clarke Mewburn and Henrietta Tonge Shotter; m. 14 Dec. 1887 Louise Augusta Nelson in Lethbridge (Alta), and they had two sons and a daughter; d. 29 Jan. 1929 in Edmonton.
Frank H. Mewburn represents the fourth generation of a six-generation medical-military dynasty.
After graduation from McGill College (MD, CM 1881), Frank H. Mewburn served for a year as house surgeon at the Montreal General Hospital. In March 1882 he accepted appointment as house surgeon at the Winnipeg General Hospital, a position that appears to have included all aspects of the hospital's operation. His four years there were not without the occasional controversy brought on by his quick temper and colourful vocabulary, but his work was appreciated; on resigning, he was presented with a gold watch and chain. In March 1885, with the opening salvo of the North-West rebellion, a wing of the building had been taken over as a military base hospital. Here Mewburn gained his first experience as a military surgeon, under James Kerr, and for this service he was awarded the North West Canada Medal.
In December, Mewburn visited Lethbridge on the invitation of Elliott Torrance Galt, manager of the North-Western Coal and Navigation Company Limited, and accepted appointment as its medical officer. On his arrival early in 1886 he was also made acting assistant surgeon to the local detachment of the North-West Mounted Police. Later he became chief medical officer of the Canadian Pacific Railway when it was extended through the Crowsnest Pass. On three occasions (1899, 1900, 1905) he served as mayor of Lethbridge. It was during his 27 years there that Mewburn honed his skill and established his reputation as the premier surgeon of the west. Provided with the most primitive of facilities, he was well suited to the role of a self-made surgeon. He kept up his reading of medical journals. Mewburn's first operation on an aboriginal patient, a Blood Indian from whom he removed a goitre, established his reputation with the native population and led, following similar successes, to his identification as one with special competence in thyroid surgery. He performed his first abdominal operation in 1893 (the drainage of an abscess from a perforated appendix, with the patient surviving) and his first Caesarean section in 1903. From that point, recalled his one-time medical partner Walter Stuart Galbraith, his surgical progress was "continuous." Mewburn was by nature an innovator and although not dexterous, he was painstaking in his attention to detail and patients' best interests. Those who knew him commented that all who consulted him, rich or poor, aboriginal or European, received the same dedicated care.
In 1913 Mewburn moved to Calgary, where he limited his practice to surgery. At the outbreak of World War I he offered his services to Samuel Hughes, the minister of militia and defence, who wired back, thanking him while regretting that he was too old. Sydney Chilton Mewburn remembered his cousin's reply: "Reference your wire - go to hell! I am going anyway," and he did. After travelling to London at his own expense, he was taken on strength as a Major in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on 1 July 1915. Promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in 1916, he was posted on 11 April 1917 to the Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Red Cross Hospital (later No.15 Canadian General Hospital) at Taplow, in charge of the surgical division. On the basis of his experience there, he would publish a paper in 1919 on the management of lesions of peripheral nerves. In 1918 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
Mewburn's return to surgical practice in Calgary in June 1919 was brief. In 1921 he accepted the founding professorship of surgery at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Previously students had been required to take their final two years in eastern Canada. His organization of the surgical department and surgical teaching, along with instruction in medicine, enabled the faculty to award its first degrees in 1925. He himself received honorary LL.D.s from McGill University in 1921 and the University of Alberta the following year. Through the magnetism of his personality and the stories from his past that he wove into his halting presentations in class, the Colonel (a name he did not discourage) became a favourite with his students, who made him an honorary president of their Medical Club and Osler Society. Within his profession, he served as second vice-president of the American College of Surgeons in 1927-28. In January 1929, at age 70, he developed pneumonia after walking home from the university hospital in freezing weather. He died three days later and was buried with full military honours. His name is perpetuated by the Mewburn Medal in Surgery at the University of Alberta and the cairn erected in his honour in 1937 on the grounds of the Galt Hospital in Lethbridge.
Frank H. Mewburn was short (five feet six inches) and of slight build (140 pounds). His dominant feature was his walrus moustache, which gave him a somewhat fierce appearance, but it was offset by his twinkling blue eyes. Many who knew him personally felt compelled to record their observations of a character they respected and loved. He was a study in contrasts. Impatient, irascible, and scathing when faced with what he judged to be carelessness or stupidity, he could be charming, and his humanity and dedication to his patients, profession, and the wider community were never in doubt. He has become a part of the folklore of the old west.
It is a remarkable life, ignoring the recruitment board in Canada to join the CAMC in London – and then go on to become a Lieutenant Colonel and gain an O.B.E. Then to become Canada’s first professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Alberta!
His irascibility on one occasion led to a formal complaint against him. The principal complaint against him was dismissed by the hospital board but he was censured for using inappropriate language and behaviour towards his patients. Later, in Lethbridge, he was so popular that he was re-elected mayor by acclamation with no one opposing him.
Frank died on the 29th January 1929 and is buried at Edmonton, Alberta. Louisa was buried with him in 1937.
Frank and Louisa had three children – Frank Hastings Hamilton, Helen Chilton and Arthur Fenwick. Descendants of theirs still live in Canada.
The medical tradition was continued by this Frank Hastings Hamilton Mewburn who sustained his father’s achievements by becoming Professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Alberta and also a Lt. Colonel in the militia. In their Centenary year the University celebrated him as follows:
Frank Hastings Hamilton Mewburn was born September 6, 1888 in Lethbridge, Alberta to parents Louisa Augusta (Nelson) and Frank Hamilton Mewburn. He received his education from McGill University, graduating with a BSc in 1913 and a MDCM in 1914. He went on to post-graduate studies at Harvard Medical School in 1922-23.
In military service with the Royal Canadian Medical Corps (1917-18) during World War I, Mewburn was a captain and combatant officer with the Canadian Field Artillery of the 20th Battalion (1914-17), commanding officer of the 4th Field Ambulance Unit (1917-18), and stationed at the Canadian Red Cross Hospital in Cliveden, England.
Following the Great War, Mewburn was medical officer with the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment.
An orthopaedic surgeon in Edmonton in 1919, Mewburn became the University of Alberta’s first instructor of orthopaedic surgery in 1922-23. He went on to serve the University as a lecturer of orthopaedic surgery and surgeon-in-charge of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Alberta Hospital (1923), superintendent of the Polio Hospital, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery (1931), head of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery in the Department of Surgery and Clinical Surgery (1924-48), and honorary professor of orthopaedic surgery (1948).
Orthopaedic surgeon to the Department of Pensions and National Health from 1923-45, Mewburn was lieutenant colonel and consultant in Orthopaedic Surgery with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
A member of the Alberta Division of the Canadian Medical Association, Mewburn was also a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
It is notable that he signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in December 1914 – before he had quite finished his medical studies – and at that point he had already had seven years in the militia.
Thomas Chilton Mewburn’s Descendants
Thomas had three children. His son from the first marriage died young so it is only from the second marriage that the line continues.
Thomas Chilton Mewburn (1822) Tree
Jessie Hamilton Mewburn 1848-1939
Jessie, according to censuses, was born on the 25th January 1848 at New Brunswick. She married James Young on 20 Sep 1866. In 1871 and 1881 they were living at Trenton where James was a merchant of some kind. However by 1891 they had gone off to live at Prince Edward Island (with Jessie’s birth now Ontario) with James’s elderly father, Reuben, where they were now farming on what was presumably Reuben’s place. They had 10 children. James died in 1918 and Jessie herself lived on until 1939.
Robert Charles Chilton Mewburn 1850-1854
A brief life, but it is commemorated in one of the three memorial windows at St Saviour, the Brock Memorial Church at Queenston. On it is the legend:
I am the resurrection and the life.
In memory of Robert Charles Chilton Mewburn,
born Feb. 25th, 1850, died Sept. 9th, 1854.
There is a reference to a Charles in WG Reive’s Historical and Genealogical Notes held at the Niagara Falls Library, and it is assumed that it is for Robert Charles. His burial is at the Hamilton Family Burial Grounds, Niagara.
Sydney Chilton Mewburn 1863-1956
Sydney was the product of the second marriage. He became a distinguished figure – barrister, Major General and Government minister in charge of Canadian military resourcing in WW1. A good deal has been written about him. He turns up in cabinet papers at The National Archives, Kew and his personal papers are held at Archives of Ontario.
As a young man he was active in local matters and benefitted from living in the lively west-end of Hamilton. That included sporting interests and in 1877 Sydney helped to raise funds to start the Leander Club for rowers in premises on Bastians Wharf.
Later in life he took on several directorships. Key details of his life have been summarised in his entry for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Mewburn, Sydney Chilton (1863-1956), soldier and politician, was born in Hamilton, Canada West, on December 4, 1863, and died there on August 11, 1956. He was called to the bar in Ontario in 1885 (K.C., in 1910), and practised law in Hamilton. In 1910 he became commanding officer of the 13th Royal Regiment of Hamilton; and on the outbreak of the First World War he served in an administrative capacity in the department of militia and defence, rising to the rank of major-general in 1917. During the conscription crisis of 1917, however, he retired from the army and successfully carried East Hamilton as a Unionist in support of Sir Edward Borden. He became minister of militia and defence in the Borden government, and resigned this portfolio only in 1920, when demobilization had been completed. He continued to represent East Hamilton in the House of Commons until 1925. He was created a C.M.G. in 1916.
As well as becoming a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) he was awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle for his part in resourcing the Canadian campaign in the Balkans in 1918-1919.
Sydney is the only Mewburn ever to have appeared in the UK’s Who’s Who and Who Was Who. Despite his exposure to power and high office he remained a modest man unswayed by the trappings. His refusal of a knighthood shows him to have been a man of duty and high principle (while staying at the Savoy).
On the 10th October 1888 Sydney married Mary Caroline, a sister to John Labatt the Canadian brewing magnate (children of the founder John Kinder Labatt). This family link brought about Sydney’s involvement in a notorious kidnapping case. John Labatt’s son John had his car highjacked in the morning and was kidnapped then held to ransom. The kidnappers first phoned John’s brother Hugh who panicked. Sydney though was at the house for a meeting with both. He took charge, called in the police and ultimately became part of the prosecution team when his nephew’s kidnappers were brought to court.
Most accounts of Sydney’s life omit the fact that he married again, in 1942, five years after Mary’s death. Again he chose from the Labatt family though Ephie, daughter of Ephraim, was only a cousin of Mary. They were together for ten years.