by Sam McBride
One of the great coincidences of Canadian history is that there were two unrelated Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray — one in Prince Edward Island (born in Charlottetown in 1811 and died in Charlottetown in 1887) and the other in New Brunswick (born in Bermuda in 1814 and died in Victoria, B.C. in 1889).
The P.E.I. Gray was Fritz Peters` grandfather and my great-great-grandfather. He had the more prominent role among the J.H. Gray`s at the Charlottetown Conference of September 1864 because, as head of the P.E.I. government at the time, he was the official host of the conference and was elected by delegates to be chairman of the conference. Both J.H. Grays were fervent supporters of Confederation at a time when many of the men also known as Fathers of Confederation were lukewarm or actively opposing it. The two men were also alike in qualifying for the title of Colonel Gray — the P.E.I. Gray as a career officer in the British cavalry, and the New Brunswick Gray as an Lieutenant-Colonel in his colony`s militia.
In 2014, as part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial) of the Charlottetown Conference, a sculpture has been commissioned which will depict the two John Hamilton Grays interacting at the 1864 conference. The artist doing the bronze work is Nathan Scott from Vancouver Island. See the recent CBC report on the project http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/fathers-of-confederation-statue-to-be-unveiled-this-fall-1.2519721 and information on the artist http://www.sculpturebynathanscott.com/1/post/2013/11/canadian-artist-nathan-scotts-latest-public-commission-the-two-john-hamilton-grays.html
The fact that the artist is from Vancouver Island is interesting because Victoria, B.C. is part of the story of the two John Hamilton Grays and their descendants. In 1872 the New Brunswick Gray moved to Victoria to serve as a judge on the Supreme Court of B.C. He died in Victoria in 1889 and was buried in Victoria`s historic Ross Bay Cemetery, which has the graves of most of the famous B.C. names of the 19th century. The people who lead tours of the Ross Bay cemetery point out that this Gray was the only Father of Confederation buried west of Ontario.
I think it is ironic that the burial site and tombstone of the New Brunswick Gray in Ross Bay is in the Anglican section of the cemetery just a few yards from the grave and tombstone of former P.E.I. premier Frederick Peters, who was a son-in-law of the P.E.I. Gray. The person who organized Frederick Peters` funeral and burial at Ross Bay in August 1919 was his son Lt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, DSO, DSC, RN, who took leave from Royal Navy service to travel to Victoria to look after arrangements on behalf of his widowed mother Bertha Gray Peters. It is quite possible that Fritz — who later received the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for valour in the invasion of North Africa in 1942 — chose the gravesite because of its proximity to the “other“ Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray. While they were not related, there was a bond between Fritz`s grandfather and the other John Hamilton Gray as builders of Canada.
Last October while in Charlottetown for a book tour I visited the gravesite of my great-great-grandfather J.H. Gray at Sherwood Cemetery for the first time. I had visited the Ross Bay Cemetery on the other coast of Canada several times in recent years, but I paid closer attention to the Gray tombstone when I visited a couple of weeks ago while in Victoria. The Gray tombstone at Sherwood is much bigger than the one at Ross Bay, but is quite faded from the effects of weather and time, while the Ross Bay one is in good shape. Something they have in common is a small accompanying plaque installed years ago by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for deceased Fathers of Confederation. As can be seen on the accompanying images, the wording on the federal plaques is exactly the same, as both men attended the Confederation gatherings at Charlottetown and Quebec City, but not the one in London: “A delegate to the Intercolonial Conferences of 1864 (Charlottetown and Quebec) at which the basis was laid for the federal union of the British North America provinces in a new nation. This grave is marked by the Government of Canada.“
The PEI Gray was long-retired and died of a lingering illness in bed at his home Inkerman House on August 13, 1887. It must have been a difficult time for his daughter Bertha, who was about to give birth to her first child, Helen (my maternal grandmother), who was born August 31, 1887. At age 75, the New Brunswick Gray was still serving as a judge in B.C. when he collapsed on June 6, 1889 while walking down a street in Victoria, according to a report the following day in the Colonist newspaper. He was looking forward to a visit from his old friend (and fellow New Brunswick Father of Confederation) Samuel Leonard Tilley, who held the post of Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick at the time. Tilley arrived to find that Gray had died while he was en route. Tilley served as a pallbearer at Gray`s funeral, along with several Victoria judges, including the most famous of B.C.`s pioneer judges, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, also known as “The Hanging Judge“, who would die five years later on June 11, 1894 and be buried at Ross Bay Cemetery just a few yards from the New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray. Interestingly, Frederick Peters` father James Horsfield Peters was also an actively-serving judge when he died in Charlottetown on June 20, 1891 — in fact, at 80 years of age he had the distinction of being the oldest serving judge in Canada in the year he died. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/peters_james_horsfield_12E.html
Ancestry-wise, no one has ever established a family connection between the two John Hamilton Grays. The New Brunswick Gray had roots in England, while the PEI Gray was the son of Robert Gray, a United Empire Loyalist from Virginia who was born near Glasgow, Scotland. The PEI Gray`s mother, Mary Burns, was a descendant of the Burns family in Scotland, and the Stukeley and Browne families in England. Robert Gray was a penniless young man with no prospects in Scotland when he was hired as an agent in Colonial America by the Hamilton family of tobacco traders. He expressed his appreciation to his benefactors by naming his youngest son John Hamilton Gray. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_robert_1828_6E.html I do not have equivalent information regarding the naming of the New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray.
SHERWOOD PARK CEMETERY, CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI
The P.E.I. Gray tombstone at Sherwood in Charlottetown reads “John Hamilton Gray entered into rest Aug. 13, 1887. Erected as a loving trbute to his most beloved memory by his wife and children. Looking unto Jesus the auther (sic) and finisher of our faith.“ The wife who decided on the tombstone inscription was his third wife, Sarah Caroline Cambridge. His first wife, Fanny Sewell Chamier, died in her first childbirth. The second wife, Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, was mother to five daughters: Harriet Gray Stokes, Margaret Gray Lord, Florence Gray Poole, Mary Gray Abbott and Bertha Hamilton Gray Peters. Sarah Cambridge Gray was mother to daughter Rosie Gray, son Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton Gray and son Hamilton Edward Jarvis Gray (born in 1880 when his father was age 69). Of Sarah`s children, only Arthur survived to adulthood.
ROSS BAY CEMETERY, VICTORIA, B.C.
The tombstone of the New Brunswick Father of Confederation Gray says “John Hamilton Gray, D.C.L. 17 years a Judge of the Supreme Court of B.C. Eldest son of Wm Gray H.M. Vice Consul for Virginia U.S.A. Died June 5, 1889. Also, Eliza, his wife, daughter of Lt. Col. Ormondo H.M. 30th Regt Died Dec. 3, 1895. Aged 75.“