How does a gardener in a failing economy afford to purchase passage on a ship for a family of four in the hope of bettering his life in Canada? The answer may lie with a blacksmith.
The gardener was my great-great- great-grandfather Charles Brodie, born 1796 in Innerleithen, Scotland. The extended Brodie family lived in three neighbouring villages along the River Tweed: Peebles, Innerleithen and Traquair. The economy of the area rested on raising sheep augmented by wool-weaving. Hand weavers, however, were replaced by machines following the introduction of the steam engine at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Factories were built in cities close to cheap transportation routes forcing workers to leave their farms to find employment. The Scottish border towns fell into economic decline.
The blacksmith was Charles’ great-uncle, Alexander Brodie (1733 – 1811). Alexander was born in Traquair but reached the status of a master blacksmith in London. He designed The Register Stoves and Fire Hearths for Ships. Wood-burning iron stoves were a central feature of ships in those days, essential for cooking and warmth, but at the same time very dangerous. Many ships went to watery graves in flames. Brodie’s design was not only bigger but safer. The Royal Navy placed his stoves in all its ships “to the preservation of many valuable lives” according to a plaque in Traquair’s parish church commemorating his achievement. Alexander was handsomely rewarded for his design.
After the untimely death of his wife and two children, Alexander returned to Traquair. There he put his fortune to work to improve the lives of his fellow villagers. He eventually opened a woolen mill in Innerleithen, ushering in the industrial age. When Alexander died in 1811 his estate, worth over half a million pounds, was distributed, following a twenty-year court feud, among seventeen nieces and nephews. Charles’ father William (1751-1836) was one of the inheritors. Shortly thereafter Charles immigrated to Canada. One can only assume that the money came from his father’s inheritance.
Charles and his wife Elizabeth Kerr (b.1805) arrived in Canada in 1831 with two sons, Charles age twelve (1819-1859), and William age two (1829-1908). They settled in Montreal where the family grew to include two more sons, Robert (1835-1905) and Thomas (1838-1894). Charles was my great-great grandfather.
In 1850 Charles Jr. moved to Quebec City and opened a flour and grocery business. Robert, William and Thomas eventually joined him. Following Charles’ death in 1859 Robert and William formed a new partnership, the W. & R. Brodie Co. This company monopolized flour distribution in Quebec City and was the beginning of what today is the Brodie Flour Company.
In Quebec City’s Mount Herman cemetery, a granite monument stands high on the cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The four sides of the monument detail the life of each Brodie brother. Two sides include the inscription “Born at Innerleithen, Scotland. Died at Quebec“. A blacksmith’s legacy.
Brodie, Peter – ancestry.ca. Blair Family Tree
William N. Boog Watson (1968) ALEXANDER BRODIE AND HIS FIREHEARTHS FOR SHIPS, The Mariner’s Mirror, 54:4, 409-412, DOI: 10.1080/00253359.1968.10659464