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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland

From Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland
By E. Seary, William Kirwin
pg 33

BEM(M)ISTER, surnames of England, from the English place name Beaminster (Dorset), so pronounced locally. (Reaney). Traced by Matthews in Poole (Dorset) and Christchurch (Hampshire).

In Newfoundland:
Family traditions: John Banister (1747-1832), probably the first Bemister to winter in Carbonear, started the family which survived there until recently, and was buried at Cork Mullen (Dorset) (MUN Folklore), William Henry, from Brighton (Sussex), settled at St. John's between 1865-1875 (MUN Folklore).

Early instances: George, schoolmaster of Bonavista, 1791 (USPG); William Bemister, from Christchurch (Hampshire), planter of Green Bay, deceased 1814 (Royal Gazette 10 Nov 1814): Thomas Beaminster, of Greenspond, 1815 (DPHW 76): W.W. Bemister, of Harbour Grace, 1817 (D'Alberti 27); Edward, planter of Freshwater (Carbonear), 1823 (DPHW 48); Reuben, of New Perlican. 1859 (DPHW 59A); William, of Hare Bay (Bonavista B.), 1871 (Lovell).

Modern status: At St. John's and Ragged Harbour (Fogo district).

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Devon-Newfoundland Story: A Celebration of Historical and Cultural Connections - 2017

As published by The Devonshire Association For the Advancement of Science,
 Literature and the Arts

In the first two weeks of April 2017 the Devonshire Association (, in collaboration with the Devon Family History Society (, is planning a celebration of nearly 600 years of contact and interaction between Devon and Newfoundland.

The Association, which was founded in 1862 to promote the study, understanding and appreciation of every aspect of Devon, is an active organisation with over 1300 members. It has both historical and existing links with Newfoundland: several of its present members have collaborated with Newfoundlanders in history, archaeology and music, and in the 1970s and 1980s the Association had a Newfoundland Branch, based in St John’s. Developing these connections is one of the aims of the planned celebration; another is to make ordinary Devonians and Newfoundlanders more aware of the importance of each place in the history and development of the other, and of how much culture they share.

Powderham Castle - rose garden

The celebration will be county-wide, but particularly centred in Exeter, the county town, and in Bideford, a North Devon port town with strong historic Newfoundland connections. The core event will be a weekend of talks, workshops and exhibits: starting with a reception on Friday April 7th in Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, awarded UK Museum of the Year in 2013; and continuing on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th with a symposium in Devon County Hall in Exeter, in which a series of talks by experts from both sides of the Atlantic will explore aspects of shared history and trade, dialect and folklore, music, mumming and dance. Alongside and interspersed with these will be an informal programme of exhibits, short talks and conversation in which family history interests can be shared and discussed. Both before and after this central weekend, there will linked events in other Devon towns, and excursions to these and to other places with particular Newfoundland connections.

These will include a tour on Thursday 6th to Dartmouth, Totnes, and to Compton Castle, the seat of Sir Humphrey Gilbert who first claimed Newfoundland for a British colony, and still owned by the family. Friday 7th will explore Exeter, a walled city founded by the Romans, with fine mediaeval and later buildings; and will visit the pretty adjacent port of Topsham. Monday 10th will visit Plymouth, with its citadel and old harbour. On Tuesday April 11th Bideford and Barnstaple will run a full programme of events, including talks, museum visits, displays and pottery workshops – North Devon pottery was widely used in C17th and C18th Newfoundland, and is still made. Throughout the two weeks several museums in Devon towns are mounting special exhibitions linked to the overall celebration. There will be a concert of folk music involving musicians from both Devon and Newfoundland, which will explore their shared traditions and may tour between several venues in the county.

William Willis Bemister (1789-1863)

For those interested in family history: as well as the weekend event it will be possible to visit Tree House in Exeter, the research centre of the Devon Family History Society; and the Society is also planning a family history help desk on April 11th and a talk and display on April 15th, all in Bideford. Devon will be in early Spring, and we hope that many Newfoundlanders will take the opportunity to visit this beautiful, historic, amazingly varied county and take part in this celebration of our common heritage. For those wishing to explore on their own we will provide details of car hire companies and bus and rail timetables. If you may be interested in coming please email without commitment, and we will keep you posted with developments. You will be made very welcome.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Devon 2017

Devon 2017
as posted on the website of The Wessex Society of Newfoundland

A proposal for a themed excursion to Devon, APRIL 2017

The Devonshire Association (DA), a society founded in 1862 to promote subjects linked to Devon in the science, literature and the arts, is exploring the idea of hosting a two-day symposium in April 2017 in Exeter which would focus on the historic and cultural connections between Devonshire and Newfoundland. The Wessex Society of Newfoundland and others have been invited to participate. A DA steering committee has been up and is currently making plans to develop a program which envisions having presentations on a wide range of subjects including music, history and folklore, and also a half day in which Newfoundlanders & Labradorians could meet Devonians informally to explore family histories and genealogies. There would also be a reception in a historic building, probably St Nicholas’ Priory in Exeter, and a concert of shared music.

The Devonshire Association also plans to seek the interest of the Devon towns historically most involved with fishery, trade and colonization of Newfoundland – Dartmouth, Totnes, Plymouth, Teignmouth, Bideford, Topsham, Newton Abbot – in arranging exhibitions and satellite events, over perhaps a one or two week period. Coach tours could be arranged throughout the county area.

It is hoped that this would be an attractive enough event to tempt visitors from Newfoundland for a themed holiday. At present April 2017 is being considered as a good time, when Devon is already into spring and we are still emerging from winter. Nothing is yet fixed, however, and the Devonshire Association is discussing timing, venues, other participating organisations, probable costs, and sources of funding.

Meanwhile they are asking our views on the proposal. Are we interested? If so, is the timing appropriate?

We will discuss these ideas in more detail later and examine such important issues as costs. It seems possible that a group tour throughout Wessex and the West Country could be feasible which, in addition to the proposed Devonshire Association event in Exeter and South Devon, could include visits to places such as the Salisbury Plains (taking in Stonehenge and Aldershot), the New Forest of Hampshire, Bristol, Poole, Dorset and Somerset with a day or so in London to conclude.

The following is a letter to the Wessex Society received in December 2014 from Robin Wootton, President of the Devonshire Society outlining their proposal.

I am writing to all the people with whom I have already been in contact about a proposed Devonshire Association event exploring historical and cultural links between Devon and Newfoundland. This is an update on progress.

The suggestion originally came from the DA’s Music Section, and preliminary ideas have since been explored by a small informal group comprising Paul Wilson and Marilyn Tucker (musicians, with Newfoundland connections), John Allan (archaeologist, with Newfoundland interests) and myself. Bill Gilbert, who knows Paul, Marilyn and John in both capacities and was visiting them earlier this year, took part in one of our meetings.

The Association’s Executive has now taken on the initiative, and has set up a formal steering group chaired by the Vice Chairman, John Mather, with the same people plus Sadie Green, an authority on North Devon pottery and its transatlantic trade, and Julien Parsons, of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. John himself is a retired Geology professor.

The original idea has grown considerably. We now envisage the event as a longer celebration built around a two day symposium with contributions from experts an a wide range of subjects, history, dialect, folklore, music, artefacts; but also involving a half day in which Newfoundlanders and Devonians could meet more informally to explore family histories, genealogies etc. There would be also be a reception in a historic building, probably St Nicholas’ Priory in Exeter, and a concert of shared music. We hope also to interest the Devon towns historically most involved with fishery, trade and colonization in Newfoundland – Dartmouth, Totnes, Plymouth, Teignmouth, Bideford, Topsham, Newton Abbot – in arranging exhibitions and satellite events, over perhaps a one or two week period. Coach tours could be arranged. The Devonshire Association itself has a historic connection with Newfoundland. We had a Newfoundland Branch in the 1970s and 80s; and it would be nice if the old relationship could be renewed.

We are hoping that this would be an attractive enough event to tempt visitors over from Newfoundland for a themed holiday. At present we are considering April 2017 as a good time, when Devon is already into spring and Newfoundland still emerging from winter. Nothing is yet fixed, however, and we are still discussing timing, venues, other participating organisations, probable costs, and sources of funding.

We should be very glad to have your views on the proposal, and particularly on the timing.

With my very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,
Robin Wootton

For more information and to contact the organizers

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Professor J.W. Nichols (1846-1916)

Joseph William Nichols, FSA - played a key role in developing the visual arts in Newfoundland.

An English trained artist known at "Professor Nichols" or J.W. Nichols, he emigrated to St. John's from his home in Leeds, Yorkshire to become Art Master at the Methodist College. He was the son of 
Rev. George Nichols, (1818-1886) whose home in 1886 was listed as Milton Cottage, Kirkstall, near Leeds, England.

Joseph left his position at the Methodist College to create and run the St. John's School of Art which was known for:
Classes daily in oil, watercolour, painting on china, pastels, modelling, design, machine and architectural drawing, sketching from nature. Art Exhibitions were held regularly. Students sat yearly for examination of the Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Daily News - St. John's, Feb 8, 1966
Upon his retirement in 1908 he was awarded a pension from the Carnegie Retiring Fund.

"Hearty congratulations to Professor J.W. Nichols, whose thirty-five years of arduous work in this Island have been recognized by Mr. Carnegie who has offered him a life pension. Mr. Nicholl's [sic] name is so closely connected with the history of Art in this Colony that it is known wherever a Newfoundlander is to be found. He has done good and faithful work, and in thus recognizing his work and ability the Laird of Skibo Castle has not only honoured him and his adopted country, but has also honoured himself. That Mr. Nicholls [sic] may enjoy many years freed from the anxieties that seem inseparable from the workers of this strenuous age, will be the wish of all who know him."

Free Press - St. John's, 14 Apr 1908.
- transcribed by M. Elizabeth Squires

He married Ida Suzanna Bemister on the 13th of November 1877 in New Perlican, Newfoundland. Ida was the orphaned daughter of Mary and Capt. Willis Bemister of Carbonear and along with her siblings lived with various family members. They were married at the residence of the bride's uncle, Reuben James Bemister, J.P., by the Reverend Thomas H. James of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, assisted by the Reverend J. Lister.

Professor Nichols sketches were requested by newspapers and when the SS Arizona had a collision with an iceberg in 1879 and was brought to St. John's for repairs the Canadian Illustrated News in reporting the news created engravings based on his sketches.
Double click on the images to see details.

The entry on Nichols in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland & Labrador has an error in his name calling him John instead of Joseph:
Nichols, John W.
(1846-1916). Educator; artist. Born Leeds, England. Married Ida Bemister. Nichols came to Newfoundland in 1870 as a drawing master at the Methodist College in St. John's. In 1873 he left the College to found the St. John's Art School, which taught classes in painting, sketching, design, modelling and architectural drawing. The students participated in examinations and competitions administered by the Royal Drawing Society, and exhibitions which were held regularly. In 1908 Nichols represented Newfoundland at the International Congress for the Development of Drawing and Art Education. He retired from the School that same year but continued to teach art throughout Newfoundland. Active in the Methodist Church, in 1915 he edited A Century of Methodism in Newfoundland 1815-1915. Nichols died in St. John's on July 16, 1916.

Centre for Newfoundland Studies (J.W. Nichols),
A.C. Hunter Newfoundland Collection (J.W. Nichols).
He was also an active Methodist and church historian, and as mentioned above when it was time to celebrate a century of Methodism in his adopted city it was Nichols who was recruited to tell the story. Not only was he the editor but provided sketches to illustrate the book as well. The full book is now available digitally through Memorial University of Newfoundland.

He was also known for his sketches of Newfoundland scenes. Most of these are unfinished or are field sketches, likely made for reference purposes to be developed later into paintings in his studio.
Trinity from Cove, Oil Sketch by J.W. Nichols

Codroy Valley - J.W. Nichols

Ferryland - by J.W. Nichols

"Humber River from part of Little Rapids looking east" - sketch by J.W. Nichols

Heart's Content  - watercolour sketch by  J.W. Nichols

Boaat on a Pond - watercolour sketch by  J.W. Nichols

Professor J.W. Nichols (1846-1916)
Professor J.W. Nichols (1846-1916)

A sketch from a photo album once owned by J. W. Nichols - unsigned.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bemisters Gather

Bemisters from across North America are headed home - to an ancestral home being Carbonear, Newfoundland. Keep posted here for updates on Bemister 2010. By the way this blog post is being written in the airport lounge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island - as we await our flight to St. John's.

Looking forward to seeing everyone.

Ian Scott