I am going to begin this post with a confession. I know I have been a bit of a zealot when it comes to historical accuracy, but I must admit that I really am not sure if Bemister Hill existed in 1827. William Willis Bemister came to Carbonear from Corfe Mullen in Dorset in 1803 to work as a clerk for the Kemps (local merchants). He married Ann Howell in 1810. They had nine children, so obviously they had a house somewhere! But rather than having been named by, or for William, it is more likely that Bemister Hill was named after their son John who made a name for himself at his father’s merchant company. He later became a Conservative member of the House of Assembly and governor of the Newfoundland Savings Bank.
William Willis Bemister (Photo Credit: Bemister Family)
Despite not having been able to nail down the date of origin, Bemister Hill worked for me geographically. I also knew that it would serve the story well, just as the widowed Elizabeth Janes would. I can recall reading in some family record that her husband Daniel did pass away before “Liz”, but the house he left her, and Elizabeth’s standing in the community, are both products of my imagination.
Regardless of the accommodations described in the novel, it is a fact that Ananias lived in Carbonear and worked for Robert Pack during these years. And for readers who may be following this blog from afar (bless you) the photographs that I present here may be of particular interest to you. I have avoided any present-day pictures of Carbonear town that reflect the “urban” setting that has been a product of construction and infrastructure since the mid-1850s. I want you to have a better feel for what Ananias may have experienced first hand.
Carbonear on a Summer's Day - the view into the Harbour. Sadly, it is impossible to find the Carbonear of Ananias' day. Everything that was - is gone. Even the old churches that remain did not exist at that time.
This is Carbonear on that same summer's day looking out the Harbour to Conception Bay. You can see Carbonear Island in the background on the left. It is view that Ananias would have seen from his accommodations on Bemister Hill, once he is welcomed into the home of Aunt Liz Janes and her housekeeper / co-conspirator, Constance.
For local historians, these Chapters are replete with the history of the town and many of its people in the 1820’s – a segment in time that I believe has been buried by the more popularized history from the latter half of the century when John Rorke established his merchant empire as Fryer Gosse Pack and Slade Elson (the merchant companies that figure prominently in the novel) had run their respective courses.
I think that Robert Pack was genuinely how I chose to depict him. He was well-liked and contributed greatly to the town - and later to the colony - as a statesman, justice of the peace, and (as we would say today) an influencer.
The summer home built by Robert Pack known as Rural Retreat. (Photo Credit: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador) He typically lived above the Fryer Gosse Pack premises on Water Street, as did many of the men and boys who worked for him.
One last photo for those of you who may someday walk the area along this coast.
The road to Flat Head.