The Bednall Archive

Last updated 12/08/2013

A Canadian Settler -Samuel Bednall of Cowichan 1829-1888

Samuel was the son of John & Frances Bednall of Church Broughton, Derbyshire and a great grandson of William and Martha Bednall (nee Hawkesworth) of Hanbury, Staffordshire. He was thus a direct descendant (4x great grandchild) of William (1627-1700) and Sarah Badnall of Hanbury and Uttoxeter, the common ancestors of the Bednalls of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere, including Australia.  A farm labourer  from the age of 11, he emigrated to Vancouver Island, British Columbia in the 1860s, cleared, improved and acquired land and helped found the new municipality of  North Cowichan. Later he was involved in establishing a steamer service between Nanaimo and Victoria which became a competitor for the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company's ships. After twice marrying women who had young children, he left no children of his own but he has a place in the memories of the descendants of his first wife, many of whom still dwell in the Vancouver area. 

A Derbyshire  Farming Life

 Samuel Bednall was born in the hamlet of Sapperton in the parish of Church Broughton, Derbyshire on the 21st of November 1829. He was the 3rd child and 2nd son of farm labourer, John Bednall and his wife Frances (nee Mansfield) of Church Broughton, Derbyshire. [i]  For many years Samuel continued to live and work, like his father, as a farm labourer in Derbyshire and apart from the births of his siblings and the death of his mother in 1855, nothing more is heard of the family until the 22nd of September 1856 when Sam married Eliza Bonsall in St. Michael's Church, Derby with Sam’s elder brother William and Mrs Harriet Burgoyne nee Hind acting as witnesses. [ii] At the time both Sam and Eliza lived in Queen Street, Derby and must have lived at least for the three months necessary for the calling of banns.   Eliza was the daughter of John Bonsall, an Innkeeper and farmer of Hartshay, Derbyshire and wife Ann but by the time of her marriage Eliza’s father was dead and Eliza was in domestic service in Derby. [iii], [iv] She was 9 years older than Sam [v] and 10 years before their marriage, had given birth to a son, Henry (Bonsall), who until at least 1851, lived with his uncle, Benjamin Bonsall of Hartshay. Later, however, he went to live with and work for his uncle, Ferdinand Booth of Pentrich, the husband of Eliza’s elder sister Rebecca and a farmer of 41 acres. [vi], [vii], [viii]

Nothing is known of their lives during the next four years but sometime between their marriage and 1861, the Sam and Eliza sailed to Australia, leaving Henry with his uncle Ferdinand in Pentrich. Why they chose to go to Australia is unclear. They may have originally intended to settle there, possibly attracted letters from one of Eliza’s Booth relatives (Abraham) who’d emigrated to Australia a few years earlier. However, whatever their original intention, Sam and Eliza decided not to settle permanently in Australia and in May 1862, sailed Victoria, Australia to British Columbia, on board a ship called "Seaman's Pride". [ix], [x] What happened to them then is still uncertain but they probably took lodgings in or near Maple Bay, Victoria, where Sam was able to find work and began the task of establishing themselves in their new country.  Six years later, on the 17th October 1868, 20-year-old Henry Bonsall, described as a joiner, arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the City of Baltimore and subsequently joined his mother and stepfather in Canada and became a farmer. [xi]

Sometime prior to April 1871 and leaving Eliza in Canada, Samuel returned to England and for a while lived with his brother-in-law, Ferdinand Booth, in Pentrich, Derbyshire. [xii] Why he returned to England is unknown but on 24th January 1871, he had written to the Canadian Federal Department of Agriculture requesting "all the information possible". In his letter he stated that several young men wanted to settle in Canada and that he'd advised them to go to the Northwest Territories. [xiii]  His business -whatever it was- in England completed, Samuel returned to Canada sometime between April and September 1871, probably on the 10th July 1871 when a "Sam Bednall, cooper" arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the S.S. Nemesis, a  352 ft long, screw driven, passenger ship of 2717 tonnes, operated by the Inman Line. [xiv], [xv] In September 1871, Sam set about acquiring land in the Comiaken District of British Columbia by pre-emption and the following year submitted a request under the Land Act relating to this. [xvi], [xvii], [xviii]

Pre-emption was a method of acquiring provincial Crown land by claiming it for settlement and agricultural purposes, a process that existed from as early as 1859. Although it was possible to pre-empt land and not live on it, all pre-emption's were intended solely for cultivation. Individuals, as well as companies and partnerships, could apply to settle and work (“improve”) the land and Samuel was one of these.  A Crown grant to the land was not issued until the pre-emptor made specified improvements and met the citizenship requirement. The Crown grant also had to be registered with a Land Title office to complete the process. [xix]

The Founding Settler 

It is therefore clear that sometime prior to September 1871, Samuel and Eliza Bednall and many others had occupied land in Cowichan with the intention of cultivating and improving it.[xx] By 1873 the Cowichan settlers were sufficiently well established to petition “his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor in Council” for the District in which they lived to be “incorporated as a Municipality”, under the provisions of "The Municipality Act, 1872," and "The Municipality Amendment Act, 1873". The municipality’s boundaries were to be “All that tract of land comprised in that part of Cowichan set apart for school purposes under the name and title of Cowichan North School District, together with the surveyed district of Chemainus." The would be municipality had then a total population of 70 and the petitioners represented more than two thirds of “the male freeholders, householders, free miners (if any), pre-emptors, and lease-holders for a term of not less than two years”- Samuel Bednall was one of these. The petitioners were successful and on the 18th of June 1873, the Municipality was incorporated as "The Corporation of the District of North Cowichan." Samuel and Eliza were therefore part of the group of settlers who founded the municipality.

is in the south central region of Vancouver Island a few miles to the NNW of Victoria -today, a "picturesque region of valleys and vineyards, forests and farmland, sparkling lakes and crystal-clear rivers", it was then heavily wooded and almost totally undeveloped. Its modern history begins in the 1850s with the detailed mapping and naming of the area and the declaration of Vancouver Island as a colony but even so, many of the names come from other sources including the native Indians and various English and Spanish sailors. Settlement of this area brought with it problems similar to those experienced elsewhere in North America and particularly that of security. Drastic action was taken by the then Governor, in 1856, to establish the rule of law in the Cowichan Bay area following the murder of a settler by the local Indians. The Hudsons Bay Company also played a part in the establishment of settlements in this area by setting up a trading post and selling land to would-be investors in 1858-59. This attracted settlers to Cowichan (the earliest development north of Victoria) in the 1850s.

The original settlement was near the mouth of the Cowichan River where the natives had a village there named Quamichan. The location of the Cowichan Bay settlement gave it the benefits of a coastal harbour at a time when travel overland was extremely difficult and various groups of settlers came to the area. In 1862, for example, settlers who arrived aboard HMS Hecate established themselves to the North and South of Cowichan Bay. At that time (it is claimed) “settlement land could be bought from the Indians for two blankets”. Fishing and logging were important to the area with logs from the forests up the Cowichan river being brought down river the to the harbour in the bay. Early farmers were able to grow many different fruits well due, mainly, to the effect of the local topography on the (warm) climate.  Communications with the outside world improved with the coming of the telegraph Nanaimo in 1879 and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Victoria in 1886.[xxi]   

For more than 10 years, Samuel and Eliza Bednall lived and farmed in the Comiaken District of Cowichan, aided initially by Eliza's son Henry and from at least 1881, by a young French labourer, Xavier Lowah (Loire?). [xxii]  In 1875, Henry married a 16-year-old Ontario girl, Annie Boterill, on 16th June 1876 and settled down to a farming life in Cowichan on land next to that of Sam and Eliza.[xxiii]. In Henry and Annie’s long married life they raised a family of 15 and today have many descendants in Canada and elsewhere.[xxiv] Henry, who out lived his wife by many years, died in 1930 at the age of 84. [xxv]

 In May 1884, Sam became involved in establishing "The People's Steam Navigation Company", a $100000 company run by five trustees one of whom was Sam.  The new company purchased a paddle steamer, Amelia, a 148 ft long vessel, which had been built in San Francisco in 1863 and commenced operation on the Victoria and Nanaimo route in June 1884. They were in direct competition with the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company's ships and the two companies fought for customers until an agreement between the two was reached in July 1885.[xxvi]  However, 1884, was a bad year for Eliza who suffered a great deal of ill health and had to go into St. Joseph's Hospital, Victoria.  It was there that she died on 6 November 1884. Her obituary in The Colonist described her as "Eliza, wife of Samuel Bednall, native of Derbyshire, England, and late of Cowichan, aged c 65. Deceased lady was a pioneer of 1862 having gone to Cowichan with her husband in that year. She was a great sufferer for a long time and death was at last welcomed". [xxvii]


Return To England

Following Eliza's burial in the Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C, Samuel returned to England [xxviii] reporting home to his fellow colonists in August 1885 that he had seen "ex-Mayor Turner and Mr John Hall" (who had settled in Nottingham) several times. Although he went on "there is plenty to see" and "lots of fun in Old England" he wanted to "see old Victoria again before winter sets in". [xxix]  However, he was to stay in England longer that had intended and during this time he met Derbyshire born “widow”, Mrs Mary Ann Brown nee Cutts and on 15th December 1886, married her in Nottingham. [xxx],[xxxi] This marriage raises questions because Mary Ann married William Brown early in 1870 and a year later gave birth to a daughter, Minnie. When the census was taken in 1881, Mary Ann and her daughter Minnie were living with Mary’s parents William Cutts, an assistant Overseer of Taxes and his wife Sarah, in Hartshay near Pentrich. Her marital status was then noted as “Married” so if widowed, her husband must have died between 1881 and December 1886 when she and Sam Bednall married –so far his death has not been found.   

Back in Canada, the Victoria Daily Colonist noted “Samuel Bednall, Victoria, British Columbia was married at Nottingham, England, Dec 15, 1886 to Mrs M Brown of Derbyshire. They will leave for Victoria in the spring”. [xxxii] However, the couple’s plans were upset when Sam suffered a "cerebral apoplexy" or stroke that, fortunately, wasn’t fatal but its effects on Sam were such that he decided not to return to Canada. 

Instead, he lived quietly with or near his brother-in-law Thomas Cutts and other in-laws, in Hartshay.  Nineteen months after his first stroke Sam suffered a second and 6 hours later, died. [xxxiii] He was buried in Pentrich churchyard a few days later and subsequently his relatives and friends erected a head stone "in loving memory of Samuel Bednall, late of Victoria B.C". [xxxiv]   A month later the Victoria Daily Colonist informed all his Canadian friends and neighbours that “Samuel Bednell, a former resident of British Columbia and owner of a large farm in Cowichan had died at Derbyshire, England, Oct 16, 1888” adding that “About 2 years ago deceased disposed of his farm and left for England. He was aged 59”. [xxxv]  

He left behind him personal effects valued at only £6-10s and in Ross Bay Cemetery, the lonely grave of his wife Eliza and in England his grieving 2nd wife Mary Ann whose task it was to obtain probate of Sam’s surprisingly small estate. [xxxvi]  She also had to consider her future but what conclusion she came to is not known. Perhaps, since probate was granted to her as “the wife of William Brown of Hartshay, Derbyshire” she returned to her first husband but he does not appear on the 1891 census returns for Hartshay, Pentrich and Ripley? 

 Mary Ann outlived Sam by almost 40 years, dying in the home of her widowed sister Hannah (with whom she’d lived for many years) on Lowes Hill, Ripley, on 15th March 1927.  Although described as a dressmaker in 1911, [xxxvii] Mary Ann was reasonably well off when she died and left an estate of £1260 to her daughter Minnie. [xxxviii]


A working class cottage with a simple hip roof, front porch and double hung windows at 152 Dallas Road, James Bay, which was constructed before 1889 and originally owned by Samuel Bednall, has been listed on the City of Victoria’s “Heritage Register”.  It is described as "A modest working class cottage with hip roof, front porch and wood, double hung windows on the front elevation. In 1891 Sam's property was sold to Captain Samuel Willan, a master mariner and pilot involved in the seal trade who, like Sam Bednall, was "significant in shaping Victoria". [xxxix]

 Samuel was one of (so far as is known) the first Bednalls to visit Australia. The others included his Hanbury, Staffordshire born namesake and first cousin once removed, who was transported to Tasmania in 1826; his second cousin, William Tompson Bednall (born Leicester) who emigrated to Australia in 1854 and another second cousin, John Bednall (also born Leicester) who was transported there in 1850.


 [i] Census Returns for the 1851 Census of England & Wales 1851. Public Record Office (PRO)-HO107/2011 fol.   page 25, Church Broughton, Derbyshire.   

 [ii] UK General Register Office Certificate of the marriage of Samuel Bednall and Eliza Bonsall, registered at Derby 2nd quarter 1856  Vol 7b  fo. 537. See also IGI Marriages at St. Michael’s Parish Church, Derby, 22nd September 1856, Samuel Bednall to Eliza Bonsall, Groom’s father John Bednall.

 [iii] National Archives (UK). HO107 Piece 190 Bk 2   fol.15, Page 22. Census England & Wales 1841: Hartshay, Pentrich, Ripley, Derbyshire Head of Household: John Bonsall, age 65, Innkeeper. His family comprised his wife Ann, aged 65, daughter Eliza, aged 25 and son John, aged 20.

[iv] National Archives (UK) HO107 Piece 2143, folio 749, page 32, Census of England & Wales 1851:Abbey Barns Cottage, St. Werburgh’s Parish, Derby.  Eliza was a live-in servant with John Cockayne “Officer to the Sheriff of Derbyshire…” and his wife Caroline.

 [v] Eliza may have been the girl of the same name who was baptised at Pentrich on 14 January 1816 and if this is correct, she would have been 13 years older than her husband. See Lichfield Joint Record Office: Bishop’s Transcripts: B/V/7  Pentrich 1663-1868; IGI Film No. 0498114

 [vi] National Archives (UK) HO107 Piece 2145, folio 143, page 2, Census of England & Wales 1851: Hartshay, Pentrich, Ripley, Derbyshire.

 [vii] National Archives (UK):  RG9 Piece 2513 fol. 68 page 11. Census Returns for the 1861 Census of England & Wales 1851. Pentrich Lane End, Pentrich, Derbyshire. Ferdinand Booth was a “farmer of 41 acres”.  

 [viii] Registers of St. Michael’s Parish Church, Pentrich, Derbyshire. Entry PSM/01/013 : 1839 Marriage of Rebecca Bonsall and Ferdinand Booth. 

 [ix] Samuel & Eliza Bednall do not appear in the 1861 census returns for England and Wales. National Archive (UK)-RG9 Census of England & Wales 1861

 [x] Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852 to 1886.  Public Record Office of Victoria, Australia. Film: May 1862  page 004.  

 [xi] National Archives, Washington, D.C. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897; Arrival: New York, United States; M237_302; Line: 42; List Number: 1110. Year: 1868; New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA. Arrival of Henry Bonsall in New York 17 October 1868

 [xii] Census Returns for the 1871 Census of England & Wales 1851. Public Record Office (PRO)-RG10 Piece 3589 fol. 21 page 33. Pentrich, Derbyshire.   

   [xiii] Library & Archives of Canada   Canadian Federal Board of Agriculture, General Correspondence. RG17 Vol. 44  File No. (creator) 4130. MIKAN No.1973261  S. Bednall 1871/01/24      

 [xiv] Castle Garden Immigration Center, New York, USA-Online record of arrivals 2007    

 [xv] A ship of the Inman Line of 352.6 ft by 41.5 ft and 2177 tons burden, built in Glasgow by Tod & MacGregor in 1857.


[xvi] From Comiaken Hill, comiaken being a Cowichan Indian word probably meaning "bare, or void of vegetation". Source “Place Names on Vancouver Island”. 2006  

 [xvii] British Columbia. Dept. Of Lands And Works. GR-0766: Originals, 1861-1886, 1.56 m Pre-emption records relating largely to Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The records consist of pre-emption registrations, certificates of pre-emption, pre-emption sketches, certificates that certain lands are unoccupied and open for settlement, some certificates of improvement, and correspondence. Pre-emption records for west coast land. Originals; 1861-1886. (1.56m), Box 10, Folder 51, File 1272, Comiaken District Name: Samuel Bednall: Date 31 Sep 1871.

 [xviii] British Columbia.  Dept. Of Lands And Works.GR-0868 Originals, 1871-1883, 44 cm. Letters inward to the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works. GR-0868. British Columbia Dept. of Lands and Works Chief Commissioner of Lands and Water correspondence inward Originals. 1871-1883. (44 cm) Box 1:  Folder 2: File 122/72: Contents: Samuel Bednall requests the Land Act.

 [xix] Information  provided by   Details of the pre-emption process varied over the years and generally was as follows: A block of vacant, non-reserved, unsurveyed Crown land was selected by the pre-emptor, the land was staked out, a written application submitted and subsequently, a Certificate of Pre-emption would be issued. After improving the land, satisfying residency qualifications, and having the land surveyed, a Certificate of Improvement was issued and the land purchased at a discount rate or at no further charge. A Crown grant was then issued and ownership of the land passed into private hands. The Crown grant had to be registered at a Land Title office and a Certificate of Indefeasible Title (land title deed) issued for the process to be fully completed. Responsibility for keeping records of the land now passed to a Land Title office. If the new owner defaulted on taxes, the land reverted to the Crown

 [xx] Cowichan-Bay-Lake & River(W of Duncan): originally both the lake and the river were known simply as "Kaatza" the Indican word for "the lake". The name "Cowichan" is that of the confederation of Salish tribes which once possessed the Fraser River delta, the Gulf Islands, and much of southern Vancouver Island. Two meanings have been claimed for Cowichan: "the warm land" and "between two rivers". Source “Place Names on Vancouver Island”. 2006     

 [xxi] See the history of Cowichan at

 [xxii] 1881 Census of Canada: Cowichin & Salt Spring Island, Vancouver, British Columbia, FHLFilm1375921, N.A. Film No. C-13285; District 191; Sub-district C; Page no.17; House no. 94.

 [xxiii] List Of Persons Entitled To Vote Electoral District Of Victoria City (British Columbia). 1875 Samuel Bednall & Henry Bonsall listed for the Cowichan Polling District

 [xxiv] British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency. British Columbia, Canada. British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency: P.O. Box 9657, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W 9P3. Name:Henry Bonsall; Gender:Male; Spouse Name: Annie Botterill; Spouse Gender:Female; Marriage Date:8 Mar 1875; Marriage Location:Victoria; Registration number:1875-09-001022; BCA Number:B11367; GSU Number:1983524;

 [xxv] British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency. British Columbia, Canada. British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency: P.O. Box 9657, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W British Columbia, Canada, Death Index, 1872-1990 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, Operations Inc, 2001. Name:, Henry Bonsall; Gender:, Male; Birth Year:, abt 1846; Death Age:, 84; Death Date:, 20 Nov 1930; Death Location:, North Cowichan; Registration number:, 1930-09-432570; BCA Number:, B13138; GSU Number:, 1952650.

[xxvi] Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest:   E. W. Wright, Published in 1961 by The Antiquarian Press. page 323.

 [xxvii] The Victoria Daily Colonist. (British Columbia), 1884-11-05*. Died at St Joseph's Hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, Nov 6, 1884, Eliza, Wife of Samuel Bednall, native of Derbyshire, England, and late of Cowichan, aged c 65. Deceased lady was a pioneer of 1862 having gone to Cowichan with her husband in that year. She was a great sufferer for a long time and death was at last welcomed. G 46 E 9

[xxviii]  The Victoria Daily Colonist. (British Columbia), 1888-11-11*  Died at Derbyshire, England, Oct 16, 1888, Samuel Bednell, a former resident of British Columbia and owner of a large farm in Cowichan. About 2 years ago deceased disposed of his farm and left for England. He was aged 59.

[xxix] The Victoria Daily Colonist. (British Columbia)  Tuesday Morning, Aug. 11th 1855, page 2, column 1. 

[xxx] Burials in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C., Canada also 

Last Name First Name Age Date died Country Born City Born City Died Block Plot
Bednall Eliza 65 6 Nov. 1884 England Derbyshire Victoria B.C. G 46E9

 [xxxi]  UK General Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 4th quarter 1886, Nottingham, vol. 7b fo. 569 Marriage of Samuel Bednall. See also The Victoria Daily Colonist (British Columbia), 1887-01-12 "Samuel Bednall Victoria, British Columbia was married at Nottingham, England, Dec 15, 1886 to Mrs M Brown of Derbyshire. They will leave for Victoria in the spring". 

[xxxii] Victoria Daily Colonist (British Columbia), 1887-01-12

[xxxiii] Parish Register Transcripts for Pentrich, Derbyshire: Burials 1712-1930. Samuel Bednall of Hartshay, was buried on 19 October 1888.  See also [17] below.
[xxxiv] UK General Register Office Certificate of the Death of Samuel Bednall, a retired farmer, aged 59 years which was registered at Belper, Derbyshire, on 17th October 1888. Vol.7b fo.819. NB: His death was registered by his brother in law, Thomas Cutts of Hartshay, who was present at Samuel's death. 

[xxxv] Victoria Daily Colonist (British Columbia), Colonist, 1888-11-11

[xxxvi] Probate of Samuel Bednall’s estate was granted on 16 January 1889, at the Principal Registry (UK), to Mary Ann Brown, wife of William Brown of Hartshay, Derbyshire. Samuel’s effects were valued at £6-10s-6d. His address was given as James Bay, Victoria, British Columbia late of Hartshay, Pentrich, Derbyshire. 
[xxxvii] National Archives (UK) Census of England & Wales. RG14: Piece 20973  Schedule 86.  Lowes Hill, Ripley, Derbyshire. 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
[xxxviii] Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Mary Ann Bednall 1927.
[xxxix] City of Victoria. Planning & Land Use Committee Report, Dated 17th March 2011. Subject: 152 Dallas Road –Proposed removal of heritage covenant and land use covenant.

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