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Bemister Bulletin Fall 2003

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Bemister Bulletin - The Newsletter of the Bemisters of Carbonear

Vol 3 No 1                                                                                                                         Fall  2003
 Bemisters to hold reunion in Corfe Mullen in 2004
 201 years after William Willis Bemister left for Carbonear

 August 7, 2004 will see celebration
of John Bemister’s 257th  birthday
In the spring of 1803 William Willis Bemister set out for Carbonear as an apprentice for the Poole merchant firm of Geo. &  Jas. Kemp followed by younger brother,  Edward, a decade later.

From August 6 to 8,  2004 the Bemisters of Carbonear will be returning to Corfe Mullen for an historic reunion,  the first of its kind in South Dorset - the very heart of the migration to Newfoundland from the West Country.  Several dozen descendants of William and Edward Bemister from all over North America are expected to take part in the festivities that will include a celebration of the 257th birthday of William and Edward’s father John Bemister of Corfe Mullen.

An exciting weekend will be based  in Poole - only 2 miles from Corfe Mullen - with its excellent tourist facilities, museums, historic sites and steeped in the West Country tradition. Special dinners, bus tours through Thomas Hardy Country and on the trail of the Bemisters, a lunch at the Lamb’s Green site where William and Edward grew up,  church services at Wimborne Minster and St. Hubert’s and a rededication of the refurbished gravestone of John and Mary Bemister are among the highlights of the West Country Weekend in Poole and Corfe Mullen from August 6 to 8, 2004. 

There is strong local support for the venture and we are assured of a warm welcome in Dorset. The Wessex - Newfoundland Society’s Co-Chair,  Alan Perry, has provided enormous help with the planning and tells us that the Wessex Society is very excited about hosting a special welcome in our honour at Poole on Friday, August 6, 2004.

Coast to coast social events bring out 100+ Bemisters in summer 2002

Carbonear, Vancouver and the Albion Hills Conservation Area , north west of Toronto, were the sites of highly successful Bemister family social events in the summer of 2002.  The first, a catered dinner with about 35 participants, was held on June 15  in the beautiful Albion Hills Park north west of Toronto on a day the rain held up long enough for outdoor family activities.

In Carbonear on July 8, Bemisters  attended services at Bethany United Church followed by a stroll through the cemetery and an excellent Newfoundland buffet lunch at the Lion’s Club - site of the big celebration at the 1999 family reunion. Some 30 family members and friends took part in the event- including Bemister descendants from as far away as New England and Vancouver.

The Vancouver celebration was held on the weekend of August 3 and 4 beginning with a picnic on the Saturday and ending with a catered dinner on Sunday evening at the Coal Harbour Community Center.  The largest grouping of Bemisters on the west coast is descended from William Willis Bemister’s grandson, George Bartlett Bemister. But there are also many  descendants of Rev. George and Isobel Paine and Rev. Charles and Maria Ladner all of whom were represented at the gala dinner attended by 45 family members. There was also representation from Edward Bemister’s line through his daughters Elizabeth Susannah and Juliana.

More than 100 enthusiastic Bemisters took part in the three events and were strongly supportive of the proposed future activities - including the Corfe Mullen celebration next year.

Bemister Bulletin

The Bemister Bulletin is the newsletter of the Bemisters of Carbonear and is published on an annual or semi-annual basis depending on availability of material from interested family members.

Contributions about family births, deaths, marriages, social notes, achievements and family history are welcome and should be sent to the editor:

    Cameron Hopkins
    307-110 Sandra Street
    Garson, ON P3L 1P3
    e-mail: lchopkins - at -
please replace -at- with @ when emailing
    Telephone: 705 693 9453

EDITORIAL  -- Corfe Mullen: back to the Old Sod

200 years have passed since John and Mary Bemister of Corfe Mullen bade farewell to their son, William Willis Bemister,  who set out for Carbonear in the employ of the Poole merchant firm of Geo.& and Jas. Kemp.  It was the spring of 1803 in the midst of the Peace of Amiens - a break in the Napoleonic Wars - that provided just the opportunity for William to take an apprenticeship in the distant colonial outpost of Newfoundland, far from French privateers and English press gangs!

When their younger son, Edward Bemister, set sail for Carbonear in June of 1812 he unexpectedly  found himself in the midst of war with America and was captured on the high seas by American privateers.  A year on a prison ship in Boston did  not make him a happy man! It is ironic that the first Bemister in the Boston States was there under duress when we think of how many of Edward’s descendants emigrated to Boston later in the century beginning with his daughter Stella Jane and followed by grandsons Thomas, Andrew, Dougald and others.

Now, 200 years later, the Bemisters of Carbonear have been fruitful and multiplied and scattered to the distant corners of the North American Continent - making a mark  in public life and private business, in arts and culture, in education and athletics, in the sciences and the professions, in the churches, schools, politics and community life: a contribution that is and has been remarkable and of which our ancestors would be proud.  Many generations of Bemister descendants have carried on an honourable tradition of achievement and community service.

201 years later, in August 2004, descendants of John and Mary Bemister will be getting together in Corfe Mullen and Poole.  It’s still a dangerous world!  Nonetheless it is in a spirit of friendship across borders that we will gather to celebrate our common heritage in the West Country of the U.K.

Through local historian extraordinaire, Alan Perry, we have fantastic support in the local community - including the Wessex-Newfoundland Society and the Parish Council - which will enthusiastically welcome back to Poole and Corfe Mullen the descendants of John and Mary Bemister.  We believe this is the first such reunion to be held in Dorset  for families linked to Newfoundland .

Alan Perry has an honorary doctorate from Memorial University of Newfoundland as well as an O.B.E. for his long time efforts to promote interest in and knowledge of the West Country migration to the east coast of Newfoundland. He and his wife Jill reside in Corfe Mullen and we are enormously lucky and very grateful to have their wonderful support for our family history project.

This will be the trip of a lifetime for many of the expected 50 or so participants.  Few families in North America know as much about their direct line as we do through the Bemisters and we will visit sites of vital importance to our ancestors including  Wimborne Minster where they were married in 1785. Lamb’s Green where they lived and St. Hubert’s Churchyard where they are buried.

Inevitably others of our ancestors hail from the West Country as well (for example the Howells are from Dorset, probably Poole, and the Grants from Sturminster Marshall) - and any who are interested in genealogy will have an opportunity to research their various family lines. For those interested in history, what better place to visit than the pier at Poole from which William and Edward set out for  Newfoundland?  The homes of many of the merchants are at hand - the Kemp mansion and Garland House for example - and the beauty of the South Dorset Coast is legendary.  Then there is the Thomas Hardy cottage for literary buffs and castles of the nobility - like Sir Walter Raleigh  - for those interested in dungeons - if not dragons!

This is the trip to the old sod you will tell your grandchildren about; you will learn some history, meet new cousins, renew acquaintances from previous Bemister events, and have lots of fun.  The trip will produce memories that will last a lifetime. A joining of hands across the pond.  Don’t miss it!

Bemister Family History Society to be formed

The huge success of Bemister social events over the past 4 years has prompted our organizing committee to look seriously at putting together a Bemisters of Carbonear Family History Society (FHS).  Since the first small gatherings of Bemisters in the summer of 1997 at Lorne and Martha Innes’  home in Mississauga and Marie Bemister’s seniors complex in North Vancouver, interest has continued to build in our genealogical/family history project. 

In 1998 more than 60 Bemisters got together for a pot luck supper at Innes’ home - more than 40 of them direct descendants of John and Mary Bemister - and from as far as Winnipeg and Elgin, IL.  This effort - as with later events - was made possible by the extensive genealogical research on the Bemisters by several family genealogists including especially Lorne Innes, Joyce Dobbie and Elizabeth Squires. 

This was followed by a major family reunion in Carbonear, NF in August 1999 which brought together 120 family members from 7 provinces and 6 states to a weekend of social activity, family history, cemetery visits and tours by sea and land.  It was a weekend of meeting long lost cousins and getting in touch with roots that proved to be an enormous success.  Because everyone wanted to keep the project alive,  we organized last year’s  well attended coast to coast social events that are described in this newsletter.

Along the way there has been an enormous expansion of knowledge about the Bemister family and a discovery of long lost branches such as the Shepherds and Ladners.  This whole rediscovery has been great fun for all - and has both been made possible by our genealogical efforts and has allowed us to build the family tree in ways we might not have thought possible only 5 years ago 

One of the outcomes has been the opportunity for several Shepherd descendants to visit Carbonear and St. John’s in the past couple of years - and not only pay respects to their direct ancestors - William Willis Bemister and Ann Howell -  in Carbonear Cemetery, but to meet numerous living relatives as well.  We did not know the Shepherds five years ago let alone be able to meet them! And Ian Scott’s web site played a pivotal role in this connexion.

For Helen, Marilyn and Virginia to run into  descendants of Juliana Bemister and Robert Joyce in Carbonear cemetery and know that they are 5th and 6th cousins is truly astonishing.  But in these matters you have to give serendipity a chance!  Organizing reunions and social events,  publishing a newsletter, building the family tree, recording family history all build a legacy that will amaze and delight  our children and grandchildren.

The organizing committee believes the time has come to formally organize a FHS.  A founding meeting will be held in the new year to adopt by-laws and elect a more formal Board to manage the business of the Society.  In practice there will be little difference to most members - but we will be able to better delegate tasks, provide a more effective means of participation for our widely separated membership, maintain a web site (which will surely become a major means of communication in the future), take care of older gravestones which have fallen into disrepair, and build on our genealogical project - on the web and otherwise.  And of course, hold Reunions!

We invite Bemisters who would like to help out to let us know how they would like to help - from being on the Board or committee, to contributing to the genealogical side of things, to donating money.  It helps to keep up the mailing list and all  contributions will be appreciated.

We expect to have a Board of about 8 members whose meetings will largely take place by phone, and with most of the society’s work being carried out by local committees as we are doing now.  (As many as 20 members have been part of our organizing group - based in Toronto, St. John’s, Carbonear and Vancouver.)  We have been working on a consensus basis and it has been very easy to make decisions - agreeable as we are!

The committee has decided to create a category of Honorary Life Member for all Bemister descendants (and spouses) who get to 85 years of age - as did John Bemister of Corfe Mullen.  So Sandy Hurbison of Nanaimo and Bill and Wesley Soper of Carbonear will be our first Honorary Life Members  - and their cards will be mailed out early in 2004. Theirs will be free, but for $10 or more your membership card will be mailed to you too!

They Lived By The Sea
2nd Edition of Carbonear family history book to be published in 2004

The first edition of Elizabeth Squires’ book has sold out.  The product of 40 years of research was launched in Carbonear at a gala event sponsored by the Carbonear Heritage Society only two years ago. The 400 page compilation of stories about 19th century Newfoundlanders sold out quickly.

The book is not  primarily a genealogy  - although there are genealogical charts in it - but rather a  story book about numerous Bemisters and others who did indeed live by the sea in the Carbonear - Harbour Grace area in the 1800s. It contains the very best published material available about the early Bemisters and truly a treasure to pass on to those who come after us: an attractive high quality coffee table book and an outstanding research tool.

The index has nearly 3000 references of which more than 100 are Bemisters and hundreds more are closely related to Bemisters.  For example, Rev. George Paine, Rev. Richard Shepherd, Rev. Charles Ladner and some of their descendants have entries.  Huge numbers of persons mentioned in the book are related to present day Bemisters  - and as a noted book publisher said, “it makes an important contribution to Newfoundland social history.”

 Elizabeth Squires is now taking orders for a second printing which will take place later this year. However publication is dependent on pre-publication orders and “Feedback from those who have read the book has been most gratifying,” according to Elizabeth.  “I don’t think most people realize what interesting lives our ancestors lived or how perilous life was in Newfoundland in the 19th century.”

According to Elizabeth this will be the last edition of They Lived By The Sea and later in the year she hopes to bring out yet another book with more social history about our Carbonear - Harbour Grace ancestors.  So this is the last chance to place an order and give your children and grandchildren a gift of memories that they will treasure and pass on to future descendants of John and Mary Bemister.

For complete ordering information write to us or e-mail to: lchopkins -at-
just replace -at- with @ when you write (this method reduces unsolicited mail from automatic mailers to our addresses)
Bemister web site to promote 2004 Family Reunion in Corfe Mullen
The Bemisters of Carbonear have a Web site!  In 1803 when William Willis Bemister came to Carbonear the only net he was interested in was the one that might catch fish.  200 years later we are promoting our return to the “old sod” with a site on the Internet -

Thanks to Ian Scott of Charlottetown, PEI, we will have a web connexion through  his web site -  Bemister@HomePort  - to Reunion 2004. Typing http://nfld.welcome to will get to the appropriate links.  Eventually this will develop into an independent Bemisters of Carbonear web site with lots of genealogical information, pictures, material from reunions, newsletters and so on.

Right now the site will be used to promote the reunion in Corfe Mullen and will carry all of the latest information available.  We hope that increased use of the WWW will make our communications more effective and economical.  And we are sure that Capt. Willis Bemister - who was Ian Scott’s great great grandfather -  would be impressed by our use of modern technology!
Organizing Committee

Committee members and contact people for our Corfe Mullen event in 2004 are as follows:
Martha Innes
Ken Bemister
Lorne Innes                     
Eileen Wilson,          
Bert Parsons
Cameron Hopkins          
Suzanne Fitzpatrick       
Lillian Salmon       
Mary Moloney
St. John’s
Sandra Rowe
Did you know?

On July 20, 1857 Capt. Willis Bemister made port in New York as master of the Orient. It was just 12 years later on July 5, 1869 that Capt Willis died in New York while in port as master of the brigantine, Two Brothers. He was only 50 years old.

But we had never been to Newfoundland......
Feature Article by Helen Lodge -
a 4th great granddaughter of William Willis Bemister

Helen, Marilyn and Virginia set out to find ancestors in Britain’s oldest colony -
 and uncover more relatives than they imagined - living and dead !

In the beginning...

It all began on April 9, 2003.  No, I guess it really began decades ago in my mother's childhood when she began to record her family history while interviewing visiting relatives.  We have always known about our Shepherd and Bemister ancestry.  (But we had no idea we were “lost.”) But we got serious about researching our roots in the mid-80s and we found, to our astonishment, that Rev. Richard Shepherd and his wife Maria, along with a lot of their family, had ended up in Perry, Ohio!

We had just always assumed that they finished out their life wandering around Canada.  This meant a summer trip to Ohio to check it all out and then my mother began researching Methodist Church records to follow his trail.  We even had the opportunity to visit Sutton-on-the-Forest in Yorkshire, England (original home of the Shepherd family) on research trips in 1993 and 1996.  But we had never been to Newfoundland.....

I guess I should introduce us. My name is Helen Lodge. I live in Nevada, MO and I am descended from Richard Knight Shepherd, one of four sons of Rev. Richard and Maria Shepherd who survived the Civil War.  My sister, Marilyn, our mother, Virginia - both from Cedar Rapids, IA - and I try to travel for a couple of weeks each summer to research various branches of our family tree.  We have had a great deal of fun through the years in libraries and courthouses, wandering through cemeteries, and doing a lot of research by correspondence in the "pre-computer" days.  But we had never been to Newfoundland......

For the past few years, we have been concentrating on my maternal grandfather's lines and the mystery of the parents of my great-great grandfather, William M. Smith.  We finally identified his family in the summer of 2002 after a lot of work and perseverance (mostly on the part of our mother), but that is another story.

So, we talked about where we wanted to go for the summer of 2003 and we knew we wanted to concentrate on the Shepherd branch of the tree.  And we had never been to Newfoundland......

The Net catches more than fish.

About a year ago, I found information on the internet that convinced me that there would be lots of Bemister information and a grave or two to visit.  Little did I know how much information awaited us about our family!  So we decided to go to Newfoundland.......

On the evening of April 9, I was “surfing the net” in preparation for our trip.  I typed in "Bemister" and "Carbonear" in the search engine on my computer, and suddenly, up popped a Bemister reunion website!  Well, you can imagine my shock and delight!  I quickly e-mailed the webmaster, Ian Scott, and the next day I got a wonderful email from him.  He passed my query on to Cameron Hopkins, and it was then that I found out that we had been “lost”! Many of you will remember Ian from the Carbonear reunion in 1999 - he is the great great grandson of Capt. Willis Bemister - Maria’s brother.

Now, you all know Cameron, (or if you don't, you should) and I have since observed that he is like the Bemister Shepherd (no pun intended), finding all the lost Bemister sheep and returning them to the family fold.  He put me in contact with two Shepherd cousins, Sara Shepherd from Georgia, and Monica Knight from New York.

We were absolutely thrilled to find that a copy of a journal written by Richard about 1830 existed and we were able to get a copy, and also a picture of Maria herself.

A change of plans

Cameron and I continued to talk, and through his encouragement, we decided to change  the dates of our vacation to coincide with his annual trip “home” to Newfoundland. And then we went to Newfoundland.......

169 years later

Cameron met us at the airport and took us under his wing, showing us all the sites up and down the coast and in St. John’s, and, after a couple of days of seeing the area, off we went to Carbonear!  We met Bert and Gertie Parsons, toured Carbonear, drove down Bemister’s Hill, and visited the interesting Carbonear Museum.  We were delighted to participate in the Sunday Church service, reading to the same congregation that Rev. Richard Shepherd had preached to 169 years before.

We got a guided tour of the Carbonear cemetery, and met Mary Elizabeth Squires, the author of the wonderful book, “They Lived by the Sea.”

We were thrilled to see and explore the area where it all began for Ann Howell Bemister, and for Rev. Richard and  Maria Bemister Shepherd.  Cameron arranged a lunch for Bemister descendants  - with delicacies like cod au gratin, fish and brewis, and cod tongues - and it was thrilling to meet a lot of our cousins. We even met new cousins by coincidence in the cemetery, and by design in a St. John’s pub!  Thanks to everyone who took the time out to get together! I can’t describe how much it meant to us to meet so many new cousins.

Fond memories

And now, back home, as school has started and the reality of life has returned,  I often sit in my office, put on one of my new CDs of Newfoundland music, and dream about the whales, the puffins, the Avalon coast, Carbonear Island and all the other places that we saw.  I think about all my new cousins and remember the fantastic week we had.  I am so glad we were “found” and the three of us are all very happy that we have finally been to Newfoundland!

Photos preserve memories of Bemister events

The inserts include photos taken during the 2002 Bemister Family Reunions in Vancouver, Carbonear and Albion Hills, ON and also a photo taken at the luncheon in Portugal Cove in Newfoundland in July 2003 in honour of our New Found Shepherd cousins  from the US.

Note that the picture taken at Portugal Cove includes Connor Tucker O’Brien - age 3 weeks!  He is descended from Edward and Susannah Bemister through Mary Amelia and at that time of the picture was perhaps the youngest living Bemister.  He is an 8th generation Bemister (G8) in the New World - maybe the first on Edward’s side of the family and therefore a 7th cousin to 8th generation Bemisters on William Willis’ side, for example, the younger generation Bemisters in Vancouver descended from George Bartlett Bemister!!! Note too the wonderful banner - Bemisters of Carbonear - produced by Ken Bemister for the Vancouver event - which will find use internationally!

Also we have a picture of Sandy Herbison of Nanaimo, BC with her son Bob.  Aunt Sandy is the granddaughter of Rev. Charles and Maria Ladner and at 93 is the oldest living Bemister - and the first honorary life member of the Bemister Family History Society.

The photo of Alan and Jill Perry of Corfe Mullen was taken in St. John’s in October 2002 while they were attending a meeting of the Wessex  - Newfoundland Society..

Bemister history contest

The picture of Helen, Marilyn and Virginia was taken at a location of great historic significance to Newfoundland and also of great significance to 19th century Bemisters. 

The first one to register for the 2004 reunion or for a membership in our FHS who can tell us what that significance is, will receive as a prize, a 2004 Newfoundland pictorial calendar.  And recognition in the next issue of the Bemister Bulletin!!!

   Cameron Hopkins - for the Bemister Bulletin

Do contact us at:
lchopkins -at-
  just replace -at- with @ when you write (this method reduces unsolicited mail from automatic mailers to our addresses)
Bemister 2004 reunion details

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