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A Most Unusual Headstone


As some people would say, there is a lot of lost history in our cemeteries.  Many of those life stories have been forgotten about.

Many years ago, Bill Clarke, then Director of the Restigouche Regional Museum, took it upon himself with the help of some summer students to gather information on some of the people who lay in our cemeteries and taking pictures of some headstones.  For 2-3 summers during our regular Bon Ami Festival, he held Ghost Walks or Historical Walks in the cemeteries at night with headlights or flashlights and with much respect he explained the life of some of these individuals.

One of those chosen was a visit to the most unusual headstone in Riverview Cemetery, that of Henry Chalk, who died here on November 1859 at the age of 52.  His plot looked like a real coffin all on its own.  Henry Chalk was from Swansea, Wales, Captain of the Schooner Vulcan. There seems to be quite a bit of writing on top of the stone which we cannot decipher, time and weather have made their marks.  Even attempting to go at different times on sunny days with more or less luminosity did not accomplish much more. Then a good friend found an idea on the internet which seemed to be working well. Using some regular flour on the writing and a light brush to remove it afterwards worked wonders.

The following could be read:

Sacred to the Memory of Henry Chalk Master Mariner of Swansea who died at Dalhousie the 18 November 1859 aged 52.

I always wondered about this individual, why was he buried here?  What a better way to pass the time during the pandemic and be productive than doing some digging by research. My options were limited with what was available in our area plus not being on Ancestry and living far away from Wales.  With most small archives centers closed due to Covid-19, we have to find other ways to find answers.  Thank God for friends and other genealogical researchers!

The only Protestant church for that time period in Dalhousie was our today’s St John’s United Church with records starting in 1855.  A former member of the Restigouche Genealogical Society, Jocelyn MacKenzie, was instrumental in providing the entry of his death in their church records.  The information found is a primary source as it was given by the ship’s crew at the time of Henry Chalk’s death, as follows:

“Henry Chalk, Captain of the Schooner Vulcan died shortly after coming ashore on November 18, 1859 and was buried the next day November 19th.-William Murray, Minister”

Another step was contacting via email one good friend from Jacquet River, N.B. born Carole Doyle Roberts.  She now resides near Bristol, England and being so close to Wales, it was worth a try.  Carole tried her luck and discovered many important documents on this Captain. 

The 1841 Wales Census of County  Glamorgan, Swansea, District 5, finds Henry Chalk at age 35, a sailor with a wife by the name of Mary Ace age 30 and 4 children: Mary 7, John 6, Elizabeth 4 and Henry Jr. 2. Living with them is Elizabeth Ace 65, mother-in-law.

The marriage for the couple was found in St Mary’s, Goat Street, Swansea, Wales as follows:

"Henry Chalk of this Parish, bachelor and Mary Ace of this Parish Spinster, were married in this Church by Banns this fifth Day of May in the Year One thousand eight hundred and thirty three. -Thomas Bowen, Curate. This Marriage was solemnized between us and signed Henry Chalk and Mary Ace, In the Presence of: James Griffiths and William Davies."

When their eldest child Mary was born March 8th 1834 and baptized on March 9th 1834 in St  Mary’s, Goat Street Chapel (Wesleyan), in County Glamorgan, Swansea, Wales, some further information is noted about her mother Mary who is the daughter of John & Elizabeth (possibly Jones) Ace.

The 1851 Census for the same region finds wife Mary, age 42 living alone with her children, her husband Henry must be at sea.  Wife Mary’s occupation is Publican / Blue Bell Inn, meaning she runs a pub. A few more children are noted besides the 4 previous, as Ann Jane b. ca 1842, Jennet b. ca 1845, and Margaret b. ca 1847.

The 1861 Census finds wife Mary, age 50, a Master Mariner’s widow with 5 children still with her: 2 sons are Commercial Clerks, 2 daughters are Milliners and one is at school.

Henry Chalk was in the British Merchant Service in the coasting and foreign trades.  His Master’s Certificate of Service shows he was born in Swansea, County Glamorgan, on March 17, 1808.  He was employed in the Capacities of Apprentice, Mate and Master for 29 years.  The certificate was issued at Swansea on January 24, 1851 and signed by Henry.  His duty as Captain was short lived as he passed away 8 years later.

Other documents found in the UK, Registers of Birth, Marriages and Death at Sea from 1844-1890: BT153: Registers of Wages & Effects of Deceased Seaman- Piece 04 (1859-1862), mention that Henry Chalk died on 18th of November 1859 in Dalhousie of chronic inflammation!

Even with his date of birth noted on his Master’s Certificate, my friend was unable to find with positive certainty his baptismal date and the name of his parents.

Obviously another ship from Wales or the British Merchant Service came to Dalhousie, N.B. afterwards to bring that unusual headstone. 

Some people are not comfortable with this stone, giving them goose bumps, but it is different. Maybe this was the way for the Merchant Service to honor theirs but it remains a mystery and also a good part of the writing on it. 

Nonetheless, Mr. Chalk found his final resting place here far from his home and he is not forgotten. 

By Suzanne Blaquière, Dalhousie, N.B, April 17, 2021

Suzanne is a NBGS Miramichi Branch member, a former NBGS Restigouche Branch member, Restigouche Regional Museum Board member and part of the Restigouche Archives Support Group.

 Previously published in Generations 2021 Fall, Issue 169, Vol 43-3


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1 Comment

This is a fascinating piece, indeed! So interesting to learn of people's lives who came before us.

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