Taking pride in their past in P.E.I.

Louise Campbell
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At the Sherwood Cemetery, Sam McBride visits the grave of his great-great-grandfather, Col. John Hamilton Gray.

Despite the intervening generations — and the distance between his Western Canada home and Gray’s in Charlottetown — his pride in his historical ancestor is clear.

“Gray’s first love was the military and he served with the British Army for some 21 years,” said McBride, who was visiting the Island in the fall of 2013 from his home in Castlegar, B.C. “His service took him to many places, but most of his time was spent in India and South Africa. He often boasted he had a daughter born in each of the four corners of the globe.”

Following his military career, Gray moved home to Prince Edward Island and settled in Charlottetown upon his return from the Crimean War around 1856. According to the City of Charlottetown website, he built Inkerman House — on Inkerman Drive — and named the house after the famed Battle of Inkerman, at which his father-in-law, John Lysaght Pennefather, scored a victory. In fact, Gray planted a magnificent lane of trees from North River Road to his house, with birches on one side and lindens on the other representing the two sides in the battle.

It was from his new home in Charlottetown that he entered public life. A staunch supporter of Confederation, he ultimately became premier of P.E.I. and host to the Charlottetown Conference. However, facing huge opposition to Confederation back home on the Island, after the Quebec Conference, Gray unexpectedly resigned in late 1864 ending his political career.

Now, about those daughters. While Gray’s first marriage resulted in no heirs, his second marriage to Susan Bartley Pennefather produced five daughters: Harriet, born on a troop ship in the Red Sea en route to India; Margaret in South Africa; Florence in England and Mary and Bertha both back home in Charlottetown. Gray’s only son who survived childhood, Arthur, was born to his third wife, Sarah Caroline Cambridge.

At the time of the Charlottetown Conference, teenagers Margaret and Florence helped their father host a party at his estate, Inkerman House, while the littler girls, Mary and Bertha looked on.

Despite the fact she was only two at the time, Bertha referred to herself in later life as a “Daughter of Confederation.”

Born to Bertha and her husband, Frederick Peters, Col. John Hamilton Gray’s grandson, Frederic Thornton Peters, is perhaps the most notable of his descendants. In fact, his story is detailed in a recently released book, The Bravest Canadian, written by McBride.

The second of Bertha’s six children, Fritz (as he liked to be called) followed family military tradition and joined the British Royal Navy at age 15. Four years later, Peters earned his first medal, Italy’s Silver Messina Earthquake Medal, for aiding in recovery and cleanup relating to that natural disaster.

That was just the start.

“Of the six Gray family members of Fritz’s generation to serve in the First World War, he was one of three to survive,” said McBride. “And one could even say thrive.”

By the time the war ended in 1918, Fritz had been awarded both the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross, Britain’s highest awards for valour at the time, aside from the Victoria Cross. In fact, some of Fritz’s naval colleagues believed he should have won the Victoria Cross, rather than the Distinguished Service Order, at the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915.

Peters’ service in the Second World War, following civilian pursuits in what is now known as Ghana as well as in England, was no less exemplary. In 1940, he assumed command of a British Secret Intelligence Service spy school that was preparing for anti-Nazi activity. During this period, King George VI presented Peters with a bar for his Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1942, he was heroic in efforts to capture Oran Harbour in French North Africa, earning both the American Distinguished Service Cross as well as the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest honour. Unfortunately, less than a week after the attack, Peters was killed in a seaplane crash on his way back to England.

Two generations later, another Gray descendant through Bertha is making the news, this time for astronomy. Great-great-grandson, Peter Dewdney is on staff at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Manchester in England. He is one of the key scientists involved with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The SKA, which will be the largest telescope in the world, is described as an instrument that will probe the evolution of black holes as well as the basic properties, birth and eventual death of the universe.

Of all of Gray’s children, only Margaret remained in Charlottetown as an adult. In the mid-1980s, Margaret’s diaries from 1863, 1876 and 1890 were collected into a book entitled One Woman’s Charlottetown. Margaret married Artemis Lord, a businessman and shipbuilder. Like his grandfather before him, their son Roland “Ernest” was a military man, serving in the Boer War. He eventually ended up in South Africa, where he met and married a lovely Australian woman named Ruby Sutton.

When their son, John “Ernest” Sutton Lord, was but three months old, the couple relocated to Charlottetown. Unfortunately, the senior Ernest died two days before his son’s second birthday. Shortly thereafter, his wife moved with the boy to Melbourne, Australia, where she would be close to family.

“As the story goes, Margaret was none too pleased to be so distant from her grandson, so she sprung into action,” said Charlottetown resident Sandi Hurry, Margaret’s great-granddaughter. “Her husband who, by that time, was a senior official with the federal fisheries department on the Island pulled strings to get Ruby a job. And that’s how Margaret got her grandson, my father, back.”

Continuing a somewhat surprising Confederation connection, the widowed Ruby went on to marry Phillip Errol Palmer, grandson of another Island Father of Confederation, Edward Palmer.

Eventually, Margaret moved to Souris to live with her daughter and son-in-law, Gladys and Wilf Wright. Some Souris residents are sure to remember their son, Artemis “Artie” Wright, John Hamilton Gray’s great-grandson, and his wife, Carrie (nee Sinclair). Artie followed his father’s footsteps into the postal service. Wilf was the mail sorter on the Charlottetown to Souris run (and all points in between) while Artie became Souris postmaster.

Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray travelled to the four corners of the world, and that travelling gene seems to have filtered down through the generations, with the impact of his descendants being felt both through the people singled out for this column and the many who are scattered far and wide.

What’s also felt is a strong sense of pride in being connected to this Island family.

“My mother, Dee Dee Dewdney, heard many bedside stories about her famous ancestor, Col. John Hamilton Gray, from her grandmother, Bertha Gray Peters, who was his daughter,” said McBride. “Dee Dee and, indeed, the entire Dewdney and McBride families have always been extremely proud to be descendants of a man who had such an important role in the founding of Canada.”

Confederation Connections: Finding the Fathers’ Families will be presented in The Guardian every month with the last one running in August. It is based on genealogies of the families of the Island Fathers of Confederation, as prepared by members of the P.E.I. Genealogical Society, and sheds light on some of the descendants. The series is written by Louise Campbell of Louise Campbell Writing Services and is her first foray into genealogy and family history. To give feedback on this series, which is presented in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, contact the author at louise.campbell@tacsltd.com. For more information on the P.E.I. Genealogical Society project, visit its website at http://peigs2014.ca.



Gray was famous in the British Army as well as in Island politics. A soldier with service in India and South Africa, he returned to the Island after a 21-year military career and was soon asked to enter political life.

Strongly in favour of Confederation, Gray was premier of P.E.I. from 1863 to 1865 and hosted the Charlottetown Conference.

When Islanders rejected Confederation after the Quebec Conference, Gray left political life and went back to his first love, the military, this time on the Island and within the Dominion. Gray's estate, Inkerman House, was named after the Battle of Inkerman, in which his father-in-law Sir John Pennefather had fought.

Gray was married three times, with five daughters from his second marriage and one son from his third marriage.

Organizations: Inkerman House, British Army, Distinguished Service Order British Royal Navy Dogger Bank British Secret Intelligence Service Distinguished Service Cross.In American Distinguished Service Cross Physics and Astronomy Department University of Manchester P.E.I. Genealogical Society Louise Campbell Writing Services Dominion

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, South Africa India Western Canada Inkerman England Quebec Castlegar Crimean North River Road Britain Red Sea Souris Italy Ghana North Africa Melbourne Australia

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Recent comments

  • dutch thompson
    March 14, 2014 - 12:47

    Hi- Am now visiting Victoria Bc and toured Ross Bay Cemetery where I saw Hon. John Hamilton Gray's grave yesterday. Confused as to what is in Sherwood - is it a memorial grave -? cheers Dutch Thompson

    • Sam McBride
      March 17, 2014 - 17:27

      You know, it is a different John Hamiton Gray in Ross Bay Cemetery. The one from Charlottetown is buried at Sherwood Cemetery. The Father of Confederation with the same name, from New Brunswick, is the one buried at Ross Bay.

  • Muriel Walton
    March 08, 2014 - 20:37

    Another of Sam McBride's ancestors.