A summary of part of Marie Lonergan's (nee James) research into the life of her great, great grandfather: Rev. Robert James, Vicar of Ubbeston 1855-1876
Prior to taking up the post as Vicar of St Peter's, Ubbeston in 1855, Robert James (born Crosthwaite, Westmoreland in 1821) was a missionary in Prince Rupert's Land (now largely in modern Canada), from 1846 to 1851 when he returned with his wife and children, Mary Anne, Charles Rupert and Edwin, to England. His wife (born Emma Marie Dillon in Wrexham in 1820) was suffering from ill health. Life in The Red River Settlement was hard; harsh snowy winters, followed by floods. According to James' journal in 1847, the temperatures were as low as minus forty seven degrees Fahrenheit. The journal also mentions how difficult it was to travel in ‘the cariole' when the weather was bad. The vehicle was basically a horse-drawn toboggan with high sides. Spring was not much better as the subsequent thaws caused severe flooding. Melting ice in the rivers added to the problems. Crops could not flourish when waterlogged. James managed to establish an academic curriculum in the local schools.
In 1852 daughter Emma was born in Clerkenwell, London. Another daughter, Ellen, was born in Bexley Heath, Kent. Rupert, the youngest child, would be born in Ubbeston.
By 1855 records show that the Rev. Robert James had become the first resident vicar of St Peter's, Ubbeston where he remained until his death on 20 June 1876.
In 1866 two of the Reverend's sons, Charles Rupert James and Edwin James, returned to Canada with local farmer, William Skeet. In 1861 at the age of 19, William had been head of the house and running White House Farm. The previous census in 1851 shows his mother as the farmer since her husband, also called William, had died in 1847. A letter of introduction from Samuel Strickland of Southwold indicates that more local young men accompanied them:
The bearer of this is the Son of the Rev'd. Mr James of Ubbeston in this County, who with several of his neighbours, very respectable young men, are desirous of obtaining land and settling in Canada… March 28th 1866
The Rev'd. James sent Charles, his son, a letter from Ubbeston Vicarage dated July 9 1867. Despite the obvious hardships of life in Canada, James expresses his wish to return there:
My Dear Charlie,
Tho' I have as usual very little to communicate, I do not like another mail to leave without a few hasty lines. You will be glad to hear we are all well at home. We are now in the mid summer months, but we have had cold gloomy weather- the last week or two has been fine & the farmers have gotten up their hay nicely. The harvest will be moderate & late. You are now in the midst of your hot Canadian summer but I gather from the papers that you have not had much clear hot weather yet.
It is nearly a week since we heard from Edwin, except a line on the margin of a newspaper which was a great relief to us. We are expecting a letter from both of you by next mail. James Fisher had a letter from William Skeet lately & he said you both & he were well. [At the age of 24 in 1861, James C Fisher was a farmer of 153 acres in Heveningham Long Lane and the head of the household. Probably the farm known as Fisher's Farm. He later married Harriet from Laxfield and became a linen draper in London. By 1881 the family was back in Laxfield. They were running a Grocer & Drapers business.]
I hope Edwin is getting on nicely with Mr Aubain & with the law. The time is wearing on fast. I need not say how eagerly we long to see our way to meet & see you both again. It never ceases to play on our minds. Tho' we do not doubt you will go cheerfully & successfully on. We never regretted the step & see nothing here to desire you back. Times are dull, hard & unsettled in England & many are casting about in the winds what they are to do. I trust you are in good health. When we heard of the probability of another Fenian raid, we felt anxious for your safety as a volunteer. Do write soon dear Charles & tell us about yourself & movements. Are you trying the stone work, or are you still with Mr Tully? When you hear of a living falling vacant in Canada keep us in mind. Tho' it seems one has a bad chance unless on the spot. I will live in hopes, & as the desire is as strong as ever, in our minds, I cannot but believe it is God's will that I should get Annie out.
Annie is writing to Edwin. She is very well now. Emma looks pale but she is growing wonderfully. Nellie has grown much & is quite a character. Pertie [Rupert] is a dear little fellow, day and out confusion. I bought him a nice cane fishing rod and we have been several times on Taylor's Hill to the ponds, but except for the first tries have hardly had a bite. [Taylor's Hill is opposite Ubbeston Hall.] He is pale as usual but grown and hearty. He gets on nicely with his lessons and is longing when able to write you a long letter. It will please him immensely if you were able to enclose a little epistle to him. He is always talking about you and I often find him looking at your ‘Cartes'.
I have really nothing to tell you about Ubbeston - not a change. Gerroulds are all well. [Probably the Garroulds, a farming family living in nearby Cookley.] We walked over to see them the other day. James got a blow on the eye with a cricket ball & was blind for some days. Bryants have sold off & taken an eatery tho' in London.We all fear he will lose his little all. [Possibly the Bryant family, farmers in nearby Linstead Parva.] Bonsalls are as usual unsettled & ailing. Tom is in hospital near London for his scrofula, but no better. [The Rev. Thomas Bonsall was curate at Linstead Magna & Parva.]The people who came to Chandler's farm at Huntingfield are nice people & we often exchange visits. Mr. Whitechurch said a day or two ago he wished he might wake up sometime & find himself in Canada. He is losing. [The family who came to run Huntingfield Farm after the Chandlers went by the name of Whitechurch - possibly relatives of Charles Whitechurch who was to become Charles James' father-in-law.]
We remembered your birthday on the 22nd last & fervently drank to your health - and now good-bye our own dear Charlie. God bless and keep you & dear Edwin. Your old friends all complain you do not write, especially at Wood Hall. [Isabella Vertue Edwards.] We all send you both best love.
I am your ever affectionate father
P.S Poor Mr Wooliver our old Dr. died last week from Typhus fever & has left his wife & 5 children.
A letter written by William Skeet to Charles James in 1869 indicates that Charles and Edwin James are back in Ubbeston. Skeet has left Canada for the U.S. and finds it easier to earn a living there than in Canada. He tells of his adventures and asks about all the Ubbeston news.
Little Strangers, April 28/69 
I hear that you are again at home so I take the opportunity to write you a few lines. I hope they will reach you safely. I wrote you three times since I left Canada but never got any answer to. I supposed they did not reach you. I would like to get a line from you to tell me how you spent your time after I left you and where Ted is and what doing, in particular all about the Ubbeston news. You know what sort of news will interest me. I can no longer get a line from any of my old friends round the old parish.
Tell me if your Papa & Ma still have good health & Rupert is he grown much and Emma and Nelly. I expect Emma is grown quite a pretty young lady… Are you setting the girls wild with those big whiskers that were sprouting when I last saw you? Is all round the home much altered? Is Annie married or engaged? I would like to come over and see you all but as I can't afford it I must beg of you to send me all the news you can. I think all my old friends have forgotten me. I wrote J Fisher a long letter about four months since but he never answered it.
Now I will tell you a little of my own history. I was travelling all last summer. I went threw [through] the Indian Nation nearly to the Gulf of Mexico then to Colorado on the Rocky Mountains. I then took up some land in the south, part of the state of Kansas, intending to settle but the redskins drove me off so this summer I have rented a nice farm near Leavenworth City. I have got in twenty five acres of oats and twenty five acres of corn and hoop [hope] to finish planting corn in about ten days. I like the south part of the state best as cattle can live on the grass all winter. I shall go down again as some of the Indians are a little peaceable. I did not see a house from the tenth of June till the first of November. I like this part much better than Canada. Tis much easier to get a living and not so much rowdyism. If a man insults you here there is nothing to do but take a shot.
Now old friend I hoop [hope] you won't think it too much trouble to tell me the news. I hope you have recovered your health. I was very sick last spring but was not like you [who] had a good home to go to but the trip across the plains fixed me up and I am now stronger than ever. Remember me kindly to your Mama and Papa & best love to Annie and the rest of the family. Tell Annie her kind friendship while in Ubbeston is as fresh in my mind as it was the morning I left for Darsham Station. I hope you will soon answer this so if tis agreeable to you we can keep up a close correspondence.
With best love I remain
Whether William ever had any more news of Ubbeston, where he was baptised on 11th May 1841, the son of William Skeet, a farmer, and Mary Ann George, we do not know but it is possible that he found happiness in his new country. The 1880 census for Sarcoxie Township, Jefferson, Kansas lists a William Skeet now 38, a farmer and born in England, married to Ella, a native of Kansas and ten years his junior. Their children are William E. (8), Henry George (4), Georgeana (2) and Ellen a new-born. [Interestingly there are a number of Skeet headstones in Ubbeston Church and one records Georgianna Skeet's death in 1865. She was William's younger sister and it appears that his daughter was named for her.)
After his wedding in 1870 Charles Rupert eventually emigrated to Canada with his wife Lucy Whitechurch who came from Harlton, Cambridgeshire. A letter sent to him from Ubbeston Rectory by his youngest brother, Rupert, on February 10th 1874 gives some of the flavour of life in Ubbeston. Rupert was about 16 at the time of writing and appears to have the teenagers' disease of boredom! He mentions he has ‘nothing to do' and appears to complain that the place is dull and many people crowd out the rectory but he also furnishes us with some Ubbeston and Heveningham news [Heveningham is the adjoining settlement and the rectory was on the border of the two parishes]:
Today is the election day at Halesworth & Papa & Mr Bowland are gone. It is awfully cold up in this old study so you must excuse the writing. Albert Bowland is continuing to live here until July when I expect to leave. There are always so many people always here and it is a dull place as you know. Owen [the Rev. Henry Owen, Rector of Heveningham and JP] was taken ill on Saturday and Papa had to take his service for him. He is much better than he used to be. He has calmed down a good deal. He is an old man & time he shut up shop. Old Threadgale [Perhaps Joseph Threadgale, one of the signatories on the Vicarage mortgage.] is still here working as usual in his old shop. He never forgets to ask after you, & all the other old people you may know about here are as usual as far as I know. Old Mrs Spool is dead. [Possibly Charlotte Spall wife of Rumburgh farmer, David.] There are very nice people living where the Tacons used to live. The only nice people in the place…
The Rev. James never did get his wish to return to Canada to live and work, but died in Ubbeston in 1876. His son, Charles, pictured left, remained in Canada.
With thanks to Marie Lonergan for allowing the letters from her personal collection as well as use of her own research. Thanks also to Don Foster for the photograph of Rev. James and access to his family history research.