should confess that the title of this paper, ‘An Exile from Canada to Van
Diemen’s Land’, is ‘borrowed’ from a book that provided much of the
information. The author was Fred Landon (1880–1969), a professor of history at
the University of Western Ontario. He had the good fortune to find a collection
of letters and journals written more than a century and a half ago. He arranged
them in order, provided enough background to set them in perspective, and
produced a fascinating story that was published in 1960.
preamble, let us proceed with the narrative. But I can hardly assume that you
will know very much about the history of my part of the world. So, first, a bit
of background. Not very many Europeans lived in Ontario until the time of the
American Revolution. As I wrote twenty years ago: ‘There were a few French
traders, three more or less ruined forts at the sites of Kingston, Toronto, and
on the American side of the Niagara River, and a small settlement along the
Detroit River. Otherwise the whole vast region was trackless forest and
wilderness, tenanted only by Indians’.
the close of the Revolution, more settlers began to move in. The earliest
Masonic record in what is now Ontario is the certificate, dated
11 February 1780, of Henry Nelles, a New Yorker who supported the British
during the conflict; he was initiated in the Lodge in the 8th or King’s Own
Regiment of Foot, No 5 on the Provincial Register of Quebec. After the war
many of those who had been on the losing side migrated north to Canada, so that
they could remain under the familiar flag. More than 30,000 of them moved into
the Atlantic colonies, 2000 settled in Quebec, and 7500 came to what is now
ANZMRC publishes a quarterly newsletter, Harashim (Hebrew for Craftsmen), which is circulated worldwide in PDF format by email.
first influx, settlers kept coming in, both from the United States and from
Britain. As a result of this immigration, the population increased so much
that, in 1791, Ontario was made into a separate colony, with the name of Upper
Canada. The first Lieutenant-Governor was a veteran of the Revolutionary War,
Lieutenant-Colonel John Graves Simcoe (1752–1806); he had been made a Mason in
Union Lodge, No 307 on the English Register (Moderns), Exeter, England, in
1773. The inaugural session of his First Legislature was held in Freemasons’
Hall, Niagara, Upper Canada, on 17 September 1792. During Simcoe’s term,
on 9 July 1793, his government passed a law forbidding the importation of
slaves—the first step towards freeing the African-Americans, seventy years
before the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.
evidence of progress, in general the traditions of government were very slow to
change. There was an elected representative Legislative Assembly, but it could
be overruled by two appointed bodies, the Executive Council and the Legislative
Council. By and large the authority tended to remain in the hands of a fairly
restricted coterie. Sir Francis Bond Head, who was sent out as Governor in
1835, lacked both military and civil experience, and was, we are told,
‘entirely unfitted by temperament for dealing with a frontier community or with
an Assembly that was demanding self-government’. He was consistently hostile to
any notion of democracy or responsible government.
There was a
mildly radical party, who felt that the system was undemocratic, and wanted the
government to be made more responsible to the citizens. They were known as the
‘Reformers’, and they called the ruling class the ‘Family Compact’ and accused
it of administering the country ‘according to its own good pleasure’.
Masons on both sides, as so often happens in political disputes in democratic
states. The ‘Reformer’ William Lyon Mackenzie (whose application for Masonic
membership had been rejected by St George’s Lodge No 9, York, in 1827)
provided a list of members of the ‘Family Compact’ that included five who were
members of the Craft and several who were to become Masons in later years. At
least three ‘Reformers’ in the Legislative Assembly were Masons, and we shall
refer to others shortly.
things came to a head, with several unsuccessful rebellions in 1837, followed
in 1838 by invasions of ‘Patriots’ who had escaped across the border.
Elijah Crocker Woodman: the first forty years
I want to
look at one of these ‘Patriots’ in more detail. Elijah Crocker Woodman was born
in Buxton, in southern Maine, in the northern United States, on
22 September 1797. In February of 1819 he married Apphia Elden, of Buxton,
and they proceeded to have seven children. He was a farmer and lumberman by
occupation. He was initiated into Masonry in Phoenix Lodge, No 24,
Belfast, Maine, on 20 September 1820, two days before his twenty-third
birthday. He was passed to the second degree on 18 December and raised to
the sublime degree of a Master Mason on 15 January 1821. Soon after
receiving his third degree he became Junior Deacon of the lodge (1821–22), but
there is no record that he progressed any further in office. (I am grateful to
MWBro John E Anagnostis, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maine, for
providing these details about Woodman’s Masonic career.)
In 1830 he
migrated to Upper Canada; whether he originally intended to pass on through and
take up residence in the western USA is not clear. As things happened, he
decided to stay in Canada. He settled on Otter Creek, near what is now
Tillsonburg, and worked as a lumberman. He established a lumber mill there, and
floated his timber down to Port Burwell, on Lake Erie, at the mouth of the
creek, fifteen miles away. He brought his family to Canada in 1832, and that
year their seventh child was born there, in Bayham Township.
not active days for Freemasonry in Upper Canada. The Provincial Grand Master,
Simon McGillivray (c 1785–1840), was
one of the finest Masons who ever lived; but for various personal reasons he
had not been able to visit his Province after 1825. Then there was the horrible
Morgan affair in neighbouring New York in 1826. The Masons were accused of
abducting and murdering William Morgan, who had threatened to publish the full
texts of their rituals. This generated a lot of hostility, gave rise to the
Anti-Masonic political party in the United States, and caused many lodges to
close their doors. Inevitably, the effects of this disaster spilled over into
In May 1837
the Provincial Grand Master appointed a Deputy, John Auldjo (1805–1886), and
sent him out to investigate the situation and get things running smoothly. On
his return to England, Auldjo submitted a report which was very discouraging. He
said that he had heard of only three lodges in the whole colony that were still
active. Before he could take any remedial action, word reached him that his
brother had died, and he was required to return to Europe without having any
chance to revitalise things. At all events, there seems to have been no lodge
that was active in Woodman’s vicinity, so he was not able to maintain his
couple of years, an economic depression overtook the colony. Even though Elijah
Woodman had thousands of feet of cut timber in his mill and at the outport, he
was unable to sell it, because people simply didn’t have the money. In 1836 he
went broke and had to give up his mill. He moved to the village of London,
thirty-five miles further west. We don’t know how he managed to survive.
There was a
Masonic lodge in London, Mount Moriah, No 773 on the English Register and
No 20 on the Provincial Register; it did hold two meetings early in 1836,
before going into recess for nine years. Woodman’s name does not appear in the
minutes, but apparently he was a close friend of several of the members, if one
may judge from the similarity of names. In September 1837, while he was in
Detroit, Woodman was in contact with a Canadian named William Putnam, and in
fact he delivered a message from Putnam’s brother Joshua, who was still in
London District. Joshua Putnam had served as Secretary of Mount Moriah Lodge in
1829, and William Putnam was its Master in 1834. Moreover, in August 1838,
Woodman wrote to his wife, naming two friends whom she should consult for
advice if it became necessary for her to leave home; one was Mr Van Buskirk. H
Vanbuskirk had been passed to the second degree in Mount Moriah Lodge on
1 September 1835. In 1843 Woodman’s family was living in a house south of
London that belonged to Mr Odell. Joshua S Odell’s home had been the meeting
place of the lodge in 1830, and he served as Tyler in 1836.
A year after
Woodman’s move to London, the violence broke out. On 4 December 1837, north of
Toronto, there was an unsuccessful armed uprising against the government. A few
days later, plans were laid for another one near London. But this one was
anticipated by the Loyalists, and fifteen of the Patriots were captured. Fresh
arrests soon followed, and many Reformers, even if they had played no part in
the planned rebellion, found themselves imprisoned. There were, of course,
Masons on the Patriot side. The actual leader of the abortive uprising was Dr
Charles Duncombe, who had been the first Master of Mount Moriah Lodge, in 1820.
And on 8 December 1837 the Reformers had met in Flanagan’s Hotel, in
London, to make a plan of action if they should be attacked by the Tory
Orangemen, who were scheduled to meet on the following Monday. Fourteen men
attended the meeting, of whom four were past officers of Mount Moriah Lodge:
William Niles, John O’Neil, Joshua Putnam and William Putnam.
Reformer prisoners had been placed in jail in London, Woodman visited them and
tried to provide for some of their needs. On 9 June 1838 he too was arrested,
on the charge of ‘furnishing prisoners with knives and files to enable them to
break out of their cells’. After about ten weeks he was released, but then four
days later he was arrested again. ‘These rascally proceedings made me a rebel’,
he later wrote, and he decided to leave the Province. He went as far as
Wisconsin, but came back to Detroit in the autumn months of 1838, with the
intention of moving his family into the United States.
by no means the only Patriot who escaped across the border. There were quite a
number of them and several times that year they invaded Canada with the
assistance of American ‘Liberators’. As one of the latter subsequently wrote:
‘I entered the Patriot service with the best of intentions, only wishing that
our Canadian neighbours might, in the end, enjoy the same civil, religious, and
political freedom, with which the citizens of the United States are blessed’.
In June of 1838 came the Short Hills raid, an incursion across the Niagara
river into Upper Canada. The colonel and commissary-general was Bro Samuel
Chandler (1790?–1866), of the settlement of St John in the Niagara District. He
was the first of the raiders to be captured.
fiasco of the whole dreary sequence was the invasion from Detroit, and the
battle at Windsor—in which Elijah Woodman took part. On 4 December 1838 the
Patriot army crossed the Detroit river and landed at Windsor. The commander was
Major-General Lucius Verus Bierce (1801–1876) of Akron, Ohio, who on this
occasion displayed neither courage nor leadership. (He subsequently became
Grand Master of Ohio, in 1853.) The second-in-command was Woodman’s Masonic
friend, Brigadier-General William Putnam (1793–1838), who was killed in the
battle. Within 48 hours Woodman himself was captured and lodged in Sandwich
jail. Other Masons in the ill-fated venture included two Americans, Chauncey
Sheldon (born 1781/1782) of Utica, Michigan, and Samuel Snow (born 1800/1801)
of Strongsville, Ohio.
On 4 January
1839 Woodman was transferred to London. On January 18 he and Chauncey Sheldon,
the last two prisoners (and the two oldest, Woodman being 42 and Sheldon 57),
were brought to trial; they were found guilty of violence against the state,
and condemned to death. Altogether, 43 of these prisoners were condemned to
death and at least five were actually hanged. But the new Governor of Upper
Canada, appointed in March of 1838, was Sir George Arthur, who had arrived from
Van Diemen’s Land, where he had been Governor since May 1824. And so, on
27 March, the punishment for 18 prisoners was changed from death to
transportation. In fact, 58 prisoners from Lower Canada (now Quebec), and 92
from Upper Canada (now Ontario) were sent to the penal colonies of New South
Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. These people included at least four Masons:
Chauncey Sheldon; Samuel Snow; Elijah Woodman; and Samuel Chandler, the
prisoner from the Short Hills Raid.
From Canada to Tasmania (1839–1847)
notes that Woodman kept, we can trace the slow progress of his journey. On
2 April he left London for Toronto. At the end of May he moved to
Kingston. On 23 September he left Kingston for Quebec and on his arrival,
four days later, he was immediately transferred on board HMS Buffalo, which ultimately held 144
prisoners. The ship at once set sail, and on 12 November it crossed the
equator. On 28 December it doubled the Cape of Good Hope and finally, on
13 February 1840, after a voyage of four and a half months, it landed at
Hobart Town, in Van Diemen’s Land.
For the next
two years Elijah Woodman worked in ‘road gangs’. We have descriptions of what
was involved here. There were teams of four to six men; it was their job to
pull a cart full of stones, weighing close to a ton, from the quarry to the
work-site, a distance that might measure as much as two miles, over rough and
unfinished roads. They were expected to draw at least twelve such loads a day.
Woodman tells us that he worked like this successively at Sandy Bay, Lovely Banks,
Green Ponds Station, and Bridgewater.
after two years of hard labour and satisfactory behaviour, on 15 February
1842, Woodman was given a measure of personal liberty, by being granted what is
called a ticket of leave to work elsewhere. This allowed him to get a job on
the estate of the Hon William Kermode, of Mona Vale.
sojourn, there are occasional indications of his Masonic attitude, and sporadic
mentions of his Masonic colleagues. In a fragment of a journal dated
3 April 1840, he expresses his worry about his family, and adds the words:
‘All I can do is to pray the Chief Architect to preserve, protect and direct
them’. In 1841, we are told, his fellow-Mason Chandler escaped from Hobart by
sea, ‘assisted at various stages by fellow-Masons’ whom he had approached. The
others lingered on. Finally, early in 1844, Bros Elijah Woodman, Chauncey
Sheldon and Samuel Snow addressed a joint petition to the Master, Wardens and
members of Tasmanian Operative Lodge, No 345 of the Irish Constitution, at
Hobart, asking for help in finding work. In November of that year Sheldon and
Snow were pardoned, and at once they sailed for home. On 1 September 1845
they got to Honolulu on board the whaling ship Stieglitz. After he reached home, Samuel Snow wrote a thirty-two
page pamphlet on his adventures, called The
Exile’s Return; or a Narrative of Samuel Snow, who was banished to Van Diemen’s
Land, for participating in the Patriot War, in Upper Canada, in 1838
(published at Cleveland in 1846).
less fortunate. His pardon did not come through until 23 July 1845. By that
time his health was broken, and he could not arrange his passage home. He was
ill and destitute. On 8 July 1845, he had ‘approached the Masonic lodge in
Hobart, outlining his connection with the fraternity’. Bro John Shick began to
bring him a weekly allowance of four shillings. On one occasion several
brethren visited him and, as he says: ‘They also examined me, to prove that I
was a master mason which I did to their satisfaction’. Then, on
25 November 1846, John Shick died. Another friend and supporter was Bro
Wallace the proprietor of the Prince of Wales Inn. He and his wife provided
many kindnesses to Woodman and even paid for his medical treatment.
The ordeal ends (1847)
8 February 1847, the Captain of the Young
Eagle, a whaling ship, agreed to take Woodman home. When at last he was
preparing to go on board, the members of the lodge set about collecting the
warm clothing, the medicines, and the petty comforts he would need for the long
voyage. Before departing, Woodman wrote a brief note to his Masonic brethren:
return you my sincere thanks for your charitable kindness toward me in making
me comfortable on my passage home. I do not know how to express myself in terms
suitable for the occasion. My feeble pen fails and my feelings are better felt
than described . . . I now leave you, praying God to
protect our Institution and to overshadow the brethren with his tender care and
It was on 1
March 1847 that he finally boarded the ship. One may well imagine that he was
tempted to echo Samuel Snow’s parting words:
Van Dieman, ruin’s gate,
joy we leave thy shore:
fondly hope our wretched fate
drive us there no more.
Woodman had several severe medical problems, including tuberculosis. His
condition deteriorated and on 13 April he was no longer able to write his
diary, but began to dictate it. By 6 June he was no longer able even to
dictate. On 13 June he died, and two days later he was buried at sea. A
few days later the ship was wrecked; by some miracle, the notes he had written
managed to survive.
back in Canada, things had become somewhat better. As a result of the troubles
of 1837–38, in 1838 the British government sent out a notable Mason, the Earl
of Durham (1792–1840), as Governor of Canada in 1838; he had been initiated
into Masonry in Granby Lodge, No 124, Durham, in 1814. On his return to England
from Canada, he presented detailed recommendations as to how the problems
should be dealt with. In effect, Lord Durham’s report, we are told, ‘set the
pattern for granting responsible representative government’ to the British
wife and some of his family continued to live in London. His eldest daughter
married Elijah Leonard (1814–1891), a successful iron-founder of London, who
went into politics, and eventually was called to the Senate of Canada.
So here, in
Elijah Crocker Woodman, we have a man who felt a certain sympathy for those who
protested against what they perceived to be oppressive government excesses, who
was driven to violence by the injustices inflicted on him because of this
sympathy, who was sentenced to a punishment that seems to us excessive today,
who was transported thousands of miles away from his family, who was forced to
do physical labour that eventually destroyed his health, but who seems to have
preserved his Masonic ideals, and was helped by the Masons in a far-off land.
Once again, as so often, we find Masonic lessons in the lives of our
Landon, Fred: An Exile from Canada to Van Diemen’s Land:
Being the story of Elijah Woodman transported overseas for participation in the
Upper Canada troubles of 1837–38 (Toronto, 1960).
(ed): Whence Come We? Freemasonry in
Ontario (Hamilton, 1980).
‘A Report on Masonry in Upper Canada in 1837’ in Proceedings of the Grand Lodge AF&AM of Canada in the Province of
Ontario, vol 126 (1981), pp 1A–9A.
Robertson, J Ross: The History of Freemasonry in Canada from
its introduction in 1749 (Toronto, 1900).
‘Woodman, Elijah Crocker’ in Dictionary
of Canadian Biography 7, 1836–1850 (Toronto, 1988) 923–924.
Snow, Samuel: The Exile’s Return; or a Narrative of Samuel
Snow, who was banished to Van Diemen’s Land, for participating in the Patriot
War in Upper Canada, in 1838 (Cleveland, 1846).