Thursday, June 23, 2016

Charles Francis Smithers

On May 21, 1887, the day after the president of the Bank of Montreal died following a short illness, the New York Times reported on his death, noting that “the effect on the stock market was naturally to depress Montreal stock, though to a smaller extent than might be expected.” 

Charles Francis Smithers, my great-great-grandfather, had been president of the Bank of Montreal for six difficult years and, according to a published history of the bank, was “noted for his devotion to business, his high principles and his brilliant direction of the Bank’s affairs during the trying period that had encompassed the building of the C.P.R.”

C.F. Smithers, 1881
Charles was born in 1822 in Surrey, just across the Thames River from the City of London. He was the youngest son of merchant Henry Keene Smithers (1785-1859) and Charlotte Letitia Pittman (c. 1785-1861). As a young man, Charles moved to Waterford, Ireland, where he met Martha Bagnall Shearman. They were married in 1844. 

He came to Canada in 1847 as the accountant of the Bank of British North America. He served in the Bank of Montreal's Montreal office for seven years as accountant and sub-manager, he was sent to  be manager of the branch at Brantford, Ont. for two and a half years and was then promoted to the management of the bank in St. John, New Brunswick. But there may be errors in this timeline. His eldest son was born in England in the autumn of 1847, so perhaps Charles preceded his wife to Canada, or perhaps the family crossed the Atlantic in late autumn. The couple’s next child was born in New Brunswick in 1849. 

In 1858, Charles became an inspector and, in 1862, he was appointed joint agent of the bank's New York Branch. At that time, the bank’s official history says, his “quiet and disarming manner concealed a knowledge of banking equaled perhaps by only one or two other officers of the Bank.”

He left New York abruptly in 1863 to become branch manager of the London and Colonial Bank in Montreal. Three years later, he returned to New York City as a private banker and he rejoined the Bank of Montreal as its New York agent in 1869.  Charles, Martha and their growing family (they eventually had 11 children) lived in Brooklyn, where two of Martha’s brothers and their families lived. 

By the time Charles returned to Montreal as the bank’s general manager in 1879, he had been its senior agent in New York City for 10 years. Some people had criticized the bank for indulging in what they saw as risky speculation in a corrupt market. At the annual general meeting of the Bank of Montreal in 1880, Charles explained the importance of its New York business, noting that all loans had been based on good collateral with ample margins; meanwhile, there was a chronic lack of capital in Canada, and many loans were made simply on the basis of the borrower’s good reputation.

In 1881, Charles was elected president of what was then Canada’s most important bank. Over the next few years he faced two big challenges. The first was to steer the bank’s involvement in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) from Ontario in the east to the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The Bank of Montreal acted as fiscal agent for the railway, and it gave it loans for work in progress.

The C.P.R. project faced some political opposition and hostility from competing railway companies, and Canada’s overall economic situation was not strong at the time. But construction progressed rapidly and the railway needed a lot of cash. In 1882 -- before the workers had even reached the mountains or tackled the rock and muskeg of northern Ontario -- it cost $5000 a mile for delivered steel rails to Winnipeg. The railway spent some $99 million on construction and equipment, raising funds through a variety of sources, including the sale of stocks, mortgage bonds and land grants, and a $25-million government subsidy. The Bank of Montreal loaned the C.P.R. more than $11 million. 

Charles’ second big challenge was to direct the reorganization of the bank’s pension fund. Prior to 1884, there had been a fund to support widows and orphans of bank employees, but there were no guaranteed pensions for retirees or payments to those who became unable to work through illness. That year, the board of directors and shareholders approved a full pension plan for employees.

In a eulogy for his long-time friend, Rev. Dr. Cornish called Charles “a man of integrity and honour.” Following the funeral at Emmanuel Congregational Church in Montreal, Charles’ body was transported to the train station by horse-drawn carriage, then placed aboard a special train to New York City. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

See also:
Henry Keene Smithers, Non-Conformist, Writing Up The Ancestors, Dec. 1, 2014.

Photo Credit:
C. F. Smithers, Montreal, QC, 1881 Notman & Sandham II-62438.1 © McCord Museum

Merrill Denison, Canada’s First Bank. A History of the Bank of Montreal, volume II. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967.
Elizabeth Marston Smithers. Smithers Family Book, Institute for Publishing Arts, 1985.
“A Montreal Banker Dead” The New York Times, May 21, 1887.

Charles’ Siblings:
Charles was one of nine children, three of whom died young: Rosa Anne (1811), Henry Keene (1812-1874), Alfred (1814-1874), Francis Pittman (1815), Sophia Anne 1817-1883), George Clayton (1817-1821), John (1821-1893), Charles Francis (1822-1887) and Mary Keene (1827-1859).

Charles’ and Martha’s 11 children:
These dates have been difficult to find. I started with the incomplete dates given in the privately published Smithers Family Book. In cases where I could not find actual birth and death records, the 1870 U.S. census and the 1861 Canadian census helped. and headstones and records from Green- Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn and Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal helped, and I have my own photos of the Smithers family plot at Green-Wood. 

Charlotte:  b. 1845, Waterford, Ireland; m. Joseph B. Learmont, no children; d.1934, Montreal, QC. 
Charles Henry:  b. 1846, London, England; m. 1. Amaryllis Boerum, three children; 2. Emily Brett, two children; d. 1912, New Hampshire, buried Brooklyn.
Francis Sydney:  b. 1849, New Brunswick or Montreal (probably born in N.B., baptized in Montreal), m. 1. Louisa Bancroft, four children; 2. Mabel Stevens Bouse, two children; d. 1919, New York City.
Martha Dunkin:  b, 1851, Montreal; m. Henry Dawson, no children; d. 1928, Brooklyn N.Y.
Emily:  b. 1854, Brantford, Canada West; m. 1873, George W. Carr, one child; d. 1930, St. Petersburg, Fl. 
John: b. 1856, Brantford, Canada West; m. Kate Brett, no children; d. 1912.
Elizabeth:  b. 1858, Montreal; m. Walter Hemming, two children; d. 1931?, Montreal.
Clara: b. 1860, Montreal; m. Robert Stanley Bagg, three children; d. 1946, Montreal.
George Hampden: b. 1863, New York; m. Frances Cook, two children; d. 1933, Montreal.
Christopher Dunkin: b. 1865, Montreal; m. Mabel Brinkley, three children; d. 1952, Long Island N.Y.
Alfred:  b. 1868 New York City; d. 1890.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford: A Tale of Two Weddings

Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford, Ireland is has been the site of many weddings in its 900 years of existence. One of them marked a turning point in early Irish history, another was an important union in my family’s history.

Waterford Cathedral
In 1170, the marriage of Strongbow, a Norman lord from England, and Aoife, daughter of the King of Leinster, was part of a sequence of events that resulted in the Norman conquest of Ireland.1 In 1844, my great-great grandparents were married at the same location, a few years before they immigrated to Canada.

The original church, on the crest of a small hill overlooking the city of Waterford and the River Suir, was built by the Vikings in 1096. The Normans constructed a new cathedral on the same spot in the early 13th century, but in the 18th century, city officials persuaded the bishop that the medieval-style cathedral was too old-fashioned and should be replaced. The new building, now Church of Ireland (Anglican) rather than Catholic, as it had been originally, was completed in 1779. It was designed by local architect John Roberts, who also designed much of Georgian-era Waterford as well as the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral.2

Christ Church has not changed a great deal since my ancestors were married there on September 10, 1844.3 Then, as now, it had a tall spire, a simple but elegant exterior and a pastel-coloured ceiling decorated with white stucco floral designs. Today, two magnificent Waterford crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Perhaps the bride (my future great-great-grandmother) paused in the spacious atrium between the front doors and the sanctuary to arrange her wedding veil before entering the church. According to family lore, her daughter Clara wore the same veil, and so did my grandmother Gwen, my mother and several other family brides.  

Interior of Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford
That day, the bride was Martha Bagnall Shearman (1826-1897), daughter of Thomas Shearman (1785-1850) of Waterford and Charlotte Bennett Clarke (dates unknown).4 The Shearman family had originally come from England to Ireland around 1650 and settled in County Kilkenny. Charlotte was the daughter of the late Charles Clarke ( -1830), whose firm made wrought iron, pewter and brass goods in Waterford.5
The groom, Charles Francis Smithers (1822-1887), was the son of London merchant Henry Keene Smithers (1785-1859) and Antigua-born Charlotte Letitia Pittman (c. 1785-1861). According to Slater’s 1846 National Commercial Directory of Ireland, he lived on Bachelor’s Walk in Waterford and worked as a pork butcher.  

It was probably a fairly large wedding. Martha had at least four living brothers and sisters and she had a large extended family on the Shearman side. Perhaps Charles’ parents traveled from London, and his five brothers and sisters may also have attended. 

The first of their 11 children was born in 1846 while Charles and Martha were still in Ireland. Their second child was born in London in 1847, the year of Ireland’s terrible potato famine. By the autumn of 1849, they were living in Montreal, and from then on the family moved back and forth between Montreal and New York City.6
Martha was not the only member of her family to leave Ireland. Her brothers Thomas and Henry immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, as did her sister Mary Anne, while her brother Robert Clarke Shearman settled in New Zealand. Martha and Charles no doubt felt they made the right decision to leave Ireland, as economic and political difficulties continued there for many years. And for Charles, North America offered great career opportunities: he was president of the Bank of Montreal from 1881 until his death in 1887. 

Charles and Martha are buried together in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn..7

See also:

My Shearman Brick Wall, Writing Up the Ancestors, February 9, 2014, I have recently learned a great deal about this family’s Irish roots and will write about them over the coming months.

Henry Keene Smithers, Non-Conformist, Writing Up the Ancestors, Dec. 1, 2014. This is one of several articles I have written about the Smithers family in England. 

The Elmes of Antigua, Writing Up the Ancestors, Nov. 17, 2014,
Clara’s Wedding Veil, Writing Up the Ancestors, April 27, 2014,

Photo credits: Harold Rosenberg, Janice Hamilton, Janice Hamilton
Notes and Footnotes

1. In 1166, 100 years after the Norman conquest of England, Dermot MacMurrough, the deposed King of Leinster, Ireland, asked for help from the Normans to recover his kingdom. Strongbow, the nickname of English-Norman lord Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, agreed to send a fighting force to help. In return, MacMurrough pledged the hand of his daughter Aoife. The promised troops attacked Waterford in 1170 and Strongbow and Aoife were married in the Viking church overlooking the city’s ruins. 

Across the Irish Sea, King Henry II of England worried that Strongbow was too successful and might eventually conquer all of Ireland, so in 1171, Henry sailed into Waterford harbour and from there marched to Dublin, where all the provincial Irish kings submitted to him as Lord of Ireland. 

Over the following centuries, the Normans sealed their power in Ireland by building well-fortified castles. Meanwhile, many of the Normans who settled there slowly adopted Irish customs and language.  The descendants of Strongbow and Aoife were members of English, Scottish and Welsh nobility. As far as I know, I have no ancestors among them.

2. Christ Church Cathedral Waterford, (accessed June 6, 2016).

3. The wedding date is mentioned in the privately published family history Smithers Family Book, compiled by Elizabeth Marston Smithers and printed in 1985. I confirmed the date several years ago with Church of Ireland Registers obtained from the Waterford Heritage genealogy center.

4. The following announcement, with spelling errors, appeared in the Clare Journal and Ennis Advertiser, September 23, 1844: “Charles F. Smither, Esq. to Martha Baynell, daughter of Thomas Shearman, Esq., of Waterford.” (, accessed April 11, 2016)
5. My information about the Shearmans comes from notes forwarded to me by a distant cousin whose Shearman ancestor immigrated to New Zealand. Those notes come from a genealogy prepared in 1853 by John Francis Shearman and stored at the archives of Maynooth University, Republic of Ireland. I will be writing about the Shearman family in more detail in the coming months.

6. The sources of the information in this paragraph come mainly from Canadian and U.S. federal census records. I will write in more detail about Martha and Charles and their family shortly.

7. According to their gravestone in Green-Wood Cemetery, Martha was born Oct. 19, 1826 and died Dec. 20, 1897, while Charles was born Nov. 25 1922 and died May 20, 1887. I have found no other documentation other than the gravestone for either of their birth dates. I confirmed Martha’s date of death with several other sources, including the New York, New York Death Index, 1862-1948 on Charles’ death date is confirmed in the record of his funeral service at Emmanuel Congregational Church in Montreal, which can be found in the Drouin Collection on