‘Voices of Lambton Past’: Part 1 of the story of the Talfourd brothers

By Charlotte Vidal Nesbit

Charlotte Vidal Nesbit, a grand-daughter of Captain Richard Emeric Vidal, R.N., contributed history based articles to the Sarnia Observer during the 1930s. Born here in the St. Clair River District, in 1908 she organized the Women's Canadian Historical Society in Sarnia and served as its president until at least her 90th year.

In keeping with the concept of Voices of Lambton’s Past, the stories presented over the next few weeks are direct transcripts of articles written by Charlotte Vidal Nesbit that appeared in the Sarnia Observer.

The Talfourd Brothers – part one (from the pages of The Sarnia Observer – April 1939)

One of the best-known citizens of Sarnia in the early days was Mr. Froome Talfourd who lived for many years in a cottage on Front Street south of the curling rink. It was built in the centre of what is now front Street and a steep green bank sloped down to the beach of the bay. At that time the water was clean and there was a sandy beach, not very wide but room enough for the children from the Salter house, and from our house to play there – a quiet private beach and good for bathing. Mr. Talfourd had a boathouse, with a large rowboat in it and also a  bathing-house on wheels, English fashion. A wide lane stretched from the water through to Christina Street. This was the only way to reach the cottage and was much used both by passengers and also carriages, for Mr. Talfourd was fond of driving and always had good horses. He needed them, for during those years he was “Visiting Superintendent of Indians,” and was obliged to visit five different reserves and keep an eye on them all, and advise and help them. This he did for ten years and put his whole heart into it, for he had a warm affection for them and never lost interest. Considering the roads of that time, or rather the lack of roads, the difficulty of reaching many of these places and the time and hardships involved, we can understand that it was no light task.

The cottage faced east, and the front door opened onto a wide gravel sweep which formed a large circle from the wide handsome gate opening to the lane. The little garden with its shrubs and flowers was always in perfect order, and also the Lane. Inside the house, there was a square hall. The dining room was to the left as one entered. Opposite the front door was the drawing room, a large room with two windows looking towards the river. When Front Street was opened up from Russell’s Lane north in 1874, the cottage was bought by Mr. James King, the miller and was moved east to its present site. The street was cut through the hill, and the stone wall built to hold the cottage and its grounds in place. Alterations are made so that the entrance was from Front Street. It was six or seven years however, before the lane was closed and Mr. Flintoft bought the part adjoining his property. The stable was between the garden and Mr. Flintoft’s lot.

During Mr. Talfourd's life in Canada, he filled several official positions besides looking after the Indians. He was a commissioner to the Court of Requests, magistrate, a captain of militia and later a colonel of militia. Mr. Talfourd was one of three notable brothers. He was born in Reading, Berkshire, England in 1807. He was apprenticed to a business as a young man but he developed such a love of the sea that his parents allowed him to go as a passenger on the ship Charlotte Wylie with Captain Babb. This took them to many parts of the Mediterranean Sea and he enjoyed it so thoroughly that on his return, his parents were disappointed to find that instead of being disgusted as they had hoped, he was more determined than ever to stay at sea.

He next took a post as clerk to the celebrated Captain Marryat, who lived near his home. This voyage took him to the Scilly Isles, Madeira and other places in the Atlantic and during that time he wrote, to the captain's dictation, several of his well-known novels, especially “The Kings Own”. Later he sailed on H.M.S. African as clerk to Commander Harvey.

After this, being dissatisfied with his pay, he decided to come to Canada, and his younger brother Field came with him. They arrived in Canada in 1832, and settled first in the Township of Caradoc, two years later moving to the St. Clair River where both of them bought land immediately south of the Indian Reserve. The man from whom it was bought had built a log house and a grist mill. The latter was worked by water from Commodore Creek which flowed through his property. This creek has also been known as “Talfourd’s Creek” and is still running into the St. Clair, though not, I think, as large as it used to be.

In 1836 he married Eliza, sister of Dr. T.W. Johnston, a young man lately come from Ireland, who was to be the third mayor of the town, the first to be elected by acclamation. Soon after, Mr. Talfourd built a house of red brick near the river and they lived there till after his wife's death in 1855, when he moved to Sarnia

He says in his “Recollections” that he worked very hard for ten years, but did very well, both with the farm and the cord wood business. He built, too, a little church on his own land, with a churchyard which was the burying ground for that district. Here, his wife was laid. The move to Sarnia was made because of his appointment as Visiting Superintendent of Indians, and it was then that he bought the lot from Captain Vidal and built the cottage before mentioned.

In 1857 he married Jane, daughter of John Thornton of Providence, in the Township of Moore. In 1867 he had a very severe illness which left him unfit for work, so he resigned his position, sold his household goods, took his wife to England, meaning to stay there for two or three years. Before leaving Sarnia, the Indians of the Sarnia Reserve gave him a great feast, and speaking to them at that time, he promised a feast every year on his birthday, the fourth of November, until he came back. This promise he kept for twenty years instead of three, and these feasts cost him $50, as I know, for my father acted as his agent and looked after all his Canadian interests. The first year the list of food was as follows, and the other years was much the same. There were 400 Indians present, men, women and children: 11 turkeys, six small pigs, 27 pounds of venison, 25 loaves of bread, 500 buns, 50 pounds flour, one barrel of apples, 20 pounds sugar, 15 pounds butter, 3 pounds tea, 1 bushel cranberries, ingredients for 10 puddings, 6 fruit cakes, 700 cakes.

Mr. Talfourd never left England again. As the time drew near to leave, his wife became nervous and upset at the thought of the ocean voyage which she dreaded. He saw that it was affecting her health and so gave up the idea. He built a house in Wandsworth, South London and kept a horse. So they enjoyed much driving about in taking their friends to see many places. Visitors from Canada were always welcome, and the Talfourds did much entertaining this way. Mr. Talfourd also became connected with a number of charitable institutions and found his time fully occupied. His wife died in 1895 and after that he was a broken man, though he lived till 1902, having reached the age of 95. He was a good man, and a good citizen, kind and helpful. He was also an ardent teetotaler and had a unique way of celebrating the fact. He calculated how much he had saved each day through the year by not using intoxicating liquor, and that amount he gave to various charities.

Little is now known of the parents of the three Talfourds. The father, Edward Talfourd was born in Reading in 1765. He was a brewer there for many years, then he moved with his family to Fulham where he remained for the rest of his life. He died and was buried there in 1833. His wife was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Noon, but the dates of her birth and marriage are not known, or even her first name. The few things recorded are that she was a very devout, good woman, that she used to take long walks with her eldest son (Thomas Noon), that she made special gooseberry tarts for him on his birthday. We know, too, that she lived long enough to see him raised to the Bench in 1849.

It is said that the Talfourds had a large family, but if so they probably died very young or nothing is known of any more than four, Thomas Noon, Anne, Froome and Field. Of these Anne was born in 1802 and lived till 1891. She was unmarried and resided next door to her brother Froome after his return to England. He was very fond of her and named his only child after her. This little one was born in Sarnia and died in infancy.

Froome was the second son but I have placed him first because he lived so long in Froomefield and Sarnia and was so closely connected with the town, as indeed he still is, for one of the streets in the south end of the town is named after him, so that his name at least one never be forgotten.

(next week the second part of this story tells us about Field Talfourd, brother of Froome)

HISTORICAL NOTES from Bob McCarthy: 

An historical plaque where the Talfourd Creek ends at the St. Clair River reads:


Froome (1807-1902) and Field (1815-74) Talfourd emigrated from England in 1832 and in the following year took up adjoining lots here in Moore Township. Froome had previously served in H.M.S. Ariadne under Captain Frederick Marryat, the author Field soon moved to the United States, then back to England, where he became an accomplished portraitist. Froome purchased his brother’s lot and laid out the townplot of "Froomfield" on the combined property in 1836. He later became a magistrate, commissioner of the court of requests, and a lieutenant-colonel in the Kent militia. As "visiting superintendent" to the local Indian reserves, Froome lived in Sarnia from 1855 to 1868 when he returned to England.

 Produced in 1846, Smith's Canadian gazetteer: comprising statistical and general information respecting all parts of the upper province, or Canada West describes the village as:

 FROOMEFIELD,  or TALFOURD'S,  As it is more commonly called; a Village in the township of Moore, situated on the River St Clair, four miles and a half from Port Sarnia. It was laid out in 1836 by F. Talfourd, Esq. The situation is one of the most beautiful on the river. Steamboats stop here to take in wood. A small stream, formerly called ** Commodore's Creek, on which is a grist and saw-mill (not now in operation), enters the River St. Clair at this point Here is a neat Episcopal Church, and an excellent windmill. Number of inhabitants about forty. Village lots of one-third of an acre are selling here at £10. currency.  Trades. — Two waggon makers, one tailor, one shoemaker, one blacksmith, two joiners.


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