Letter #3 was written by James Keane (Kaine) to his parents in Freshford Ireland. We last heard from James a year ago when he was in Montreal and he has now relocated to Goderich in Huron County in Canada West or Ontario. I believe that he joined his brother John who as mentioned in the last letter moved “up country” to Uncle Joseph (Uncle Joe) and took a job as a teacher. Note: Information about Huron County will follow in a subsequent post.

In his always elegant handwriting, James sends detailed and interesting instructions to his parents, Charles and Bessie Kaine, on how they should make their way from Ireland to Goderich including what provisions to bring on the ship. He suggests, “Flour, potatoes, pigs heads and breasts”.

There was also the first sign of the sibling rivalry with his older brother John that appears in other letters. Among other comments about his brother, James (Jim) says, “He has got married instead of helping ye when he got on his feet and leaves poor Jim to struggle for himself.”

3 Kaine Letter
Transcribed from the original by Kerrin Churchill 14/11/17
James Keane (Kaine) Letter from Goderich, Ontario, Canada to Freshford, Kilkenny, Ireland
Goderich March 27, 1855
Dear Father and Mother
I suppose that ye think that I have forgotten ye altogether but be assured it is not the case. Dear parents I suppose that ye think of coming out this summer if my note is of any use I should be delighted. I am happy to know that ye think so much of your beloved John as ye say that he is the kindest of all. But I prefer actions to soft words however there is no use of talking about that. He has got married instead of helping ye when he got on his feet and leaves poor Jim to struggle for himself. Dear parents I am worth £20 with a little assistance from Uncle Joe. So dear parents if ye think it would bring ye out I sure feel great pleasure in sending it if ye think it would not I suppose it would be better wait until next spring if the Lord with spare me so long I would be able to send what ye would require. Uncle Joe wishes very much to have ye out and says that his house would be your home. If ye think that would bring you to Montreal by bringing a letter from Mr. Mease to the Emigrant office of Montreal stating that ye had not Enough of money to bring ye up the country I think they would send ye to London then Uncle Joe would meet ye in London. It’s no disgrace to apply to the Emigrant office. Many’s a one applyes and has plenty of money. Ye need not care what clothes ye would have in the vessel so as ye had a clean suit when ye would arrive here. So now dear parents I must leave ye to judge for yourselves hoping it will be enough. If you were coming I think that the best food would be flour, potatoes, pigs heads and breasts of coarse you would have biscuits. Ye need not expect any help from Christie as he is an apprentice. He is learning to be a Carpenter. and I think it would be better sail from the nearest Seaport as to come to Liverpool you would get such a tossing about. I hope dear parents that you will excuse this awful wrighting I being in haste. I hope ye will wright as soon as ye get this. Direct your letter to me or uncle Joe. It makes no matter which.
We are all well thanks to God.
No more at present from your affectionate son James Keane
Direction of letter James Keane Goderich America Upper Canada or Canada West.
When you would come to Quebec take the steamboat for Montreal from Montreal to Hamilton from Hamilton you take the rail cars to London. If you would write as soon as ye would arrive in Quebec to have uncle Joe meet you in London.
Remember us all to aunt Bess. Hoping she is well to Mr. Mease Mr. Stannard aunt Mary Ann and family and all the rest of our friends
James Keane

Every time I work on a new post, I read and reread the letter that I am sharing and find that some assumptions I made while transcribing the letter were the wrong ones! I am not an official historian so I suppose that this is okay. I enjoy the process of digging deeper to understand and imagine the lives of these pioneer relatives however brief or unclear the glimpses are.

One wrong assumption I had when I read about the provisions James suggested his parents bring with them, was that I thought the supplies were to set up their new household in Canada. It was only when I learned more about the ships that the emigrants were travelling on that I realized it was food for the journey that in 1855 could take over a month. The following newspaper article I came across describes the situation,

“From Liverpool each passenger receives weekly 5 lbs. of oatmeal, 2 1/2 lbs. biscuit, 1 lb. flour, 2 lbs. rice, 1/2 lb. sugar, 1/2 lb. molasses, and 2 ounces of tea. He is obliged to cook it the best way he can in a cook shop 12 feet by 6! This is the cause of so many quarrels and…many a poor woman with her children can get but one meal done, and sometimes they get nothing warm for days and nights when a gale of wind is blowing and the sea is mountains high and breaking over the ship in all directions.”
—Anonymous, New-York Daily Times, October 15, 1851

From what I have deduced about the Kaine family, thankfully I do not believe that they were as destitute as some of the Irish immigrants that arrived in Canada a few years earlier as described in the following article about “coffin ships”. Regardless, it could not have been an easy journey.

The first coffin ships headed for Quebec, Canada. The three thousand mile journey, depending on winds and the captain’s skill, could take from 40 days to three months. Upon arrival in the Saint Lawrence River, the ships were supposed to be inspected for disease and any sick passengers removed to quarantine facilities on Grosse Isle, a small island thirty miles downstream from Quebec City.

But in the spring of 1847, shipload after shipload of fevered Irish arrived, quickly overwhelming the small medical inspection facility, which only had 150 beds. By June, 40 vessels containing 14,000 Irish immigrants waited in a line extending two miles down the St. Lawrence. It took up to five days to see a doctor, many of whom were becoming ill from contact with the typhus-infected passengers. By the summer, the line of ships had grown several miles long. A fifteen-day general quarantine was then imposed for all of the waiting ships. Many healthy Irish thus succumbed to typhus as they were forced to remain in their lice-infested holds. With so many dead on board the waiting ships, hundreds of bodies were simply dumped overboard into the St. Lawrence.

Of the 100,000 Irish that sailed to British North America in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition, including over five thousand at Grosse Isle. https://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/coffin.htm

Some other information I discovered in my research related to John Kaine’s new wife, Mary Pentland, my great great grandmother. Mary was born on Amherst Island near Kingston Ontario in August 1828. I had wondered how she had met and married John and was thrilled to solve that mystery. Well maybe not every intimate detail but at least how she got from Amherst Island to Huron County.

Mary Pentland born 1828 Photo 1

Mary was the daughter of Mary Jane Finnegan (b. 1798) and Samuel Pentland (b. 1789) who had married in 1821 in County Down in northern Ireland south of Belfast. Mary Jane and Samuel came to Amherst Island in 1824 as a young married couple to make a new life as did many of their friends and neighbours from County Down. I found a book that mentioned them by name and said that Samuel was a cottage weaver. The book is A New Lease on Life: Landlords, Tenants, and Immigrants in Ireland and Canada. By Catharine Anne Wilson. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994.

The following article from another source outlines the story of Amherst Island and the troubles settlers encountered as the landowner of the island became bankrupt. Many of the settlers were forced to leave.

In 1788, Amherst island was granted by the Crown to Sir John Johnson, who had lost most of his possessions in the War of Independence. In 1823, Sir John’s daughter, Catharine Maria Bowes, gained control of the island and legend is that she later lost it in a card game in Ireland. What can be documented is that in 1827 Mrs. Bowes was in financial trouble and gave a power of attorney to the Stephen Moore, 3rd Earl Mount Cashell, who purchased the island from her in 1835.

Families from the barony of Ards, County Down, began arriving in the 1820s. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s their numbers swelled as friends and relatives continued to arrive, but by the 1860s the movement had subsided. Settlers who arrived in the early years moved straight onto the land while those arriving after 1850 seem to have worked for friends before renting land. By 1841, the community had three schools and a population of over 1,000 people. The majority of families were Presbyterian, 5-6 were Church of England, 10-12 were Roman Catholics and only a few were Methodist. Most settlers lived in shanties or one-storey log houses on the rented land, although some had purchased their property from Mount Cashell.
While Amherst Islanders prospered from the grain trade in the 1840s, their landlord fell upon hard times. The famine in Ireland hurt Mount Cashell badly. Distressed Irish tenants and declining rents placed a heavy burden on a landlord who was already in debt because of lavish living and beleaguered by an untrustworthy agent’s embezzlement. In 1848, he mortgaged Amherst Island. Several more mortgages followed on his Canadian properties, and in 1856 his creditors foreclosed and Amherst Island was sold at public auction for much less than its market value


In researching census records, I discovered that Samuel Pentland, Mary Jane and their family including Mary were living in Goderich in 1851. They must have settled there after leaving Amherst Island. There is John Pentland mentioned as well. A relative? But that is a story about another family!

1851 Canada Census Canada East Huron County Wawanosh Samuel Pentland

So in conclusion, the three Kaine brothers John, James and Christie were settling in Goderich with assistance from Uncle Joe. I have yet to discover much more about Uncle Joe. John, a teacher, was now married to Mary Pentland, Christie was training as a carpenter and James was trying to make his own way. They were now ready to bring the rest of the family over from Ireland.

The next post will provide information about Huron County, their new home.

3 thoughts on “Letter #3 March 27, 1855: Bring Pigs Heads and Breasts

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