Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 1: England to Canada

Today’s post is another installment in our new series about the life of Alfred Bonniwell, youngest son of Mequon’s Bonniwell family, and brother-in-law of Jonathan and Mary (Turck) Clark. If you missed them, our first installments are here and here. Although I—and others—have written quite a bit about the Bonniwells in Mequon, Alfred and his family have remained something of a mystery. It’s time to try and fix that. So for the next few posts our focus will be on Alfred Bonniwell, his life and descendants, as described in contemporary documents.

Alfred Bonniwell’s earliest record

The earliest record of Alfred Bonniwell that I have seen is an index of his 1826 baptism.1 It includes this information:

Name: Alfred Febbett Bonniwell
Christening Date: 7 May 1826
Christening Place: St. Mary’s, Chatham, Kent, England
Father’s Name: William Bonniwell
Mother’s Name Eleanor Bonniwell

St. Mary’s Church, Chatham, Kent. Photo copyright ©2008 David Anstiss; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License, lightly cropped for this blog. Source. Click to open larger image in new window.

Other, later, records indicate that Alfred was born on April 1, 1826. A baptism in the following month or so—such as on May 7th, 1826—would be pretty typical for Anglican parish baptisms of the period. So the date, as well as the names of the parents, are consistent with what we already knew about Mequon’s Alfred Bonniwell.


But how about the middle name, Febbett? I have not seen the original parish register, but as far as I can tell, this is a mis-reading or mis-transcription of Alfred’s middle name. Almost all other sources give Tibbett, Tebbett or just T. for Alfred’s middle name or initial. I’m convinced Febbett is an error, but I would like to see that baptismal record just to be sure.

Other archival documents?

I have not seen any other British records for Alfred Bonniwell. The first census of the United Kingdom would not occur until 1841, almost a decade after the Bonniwells left for North America. And although there may still be a some parish or school records for the Bonniwells in or near Chatham, Kent, c. 1826-1832, Alfred was only six years old when the Bonniwells emigrated. So this baptismal record may be the only surviving document of Alfred’s first years to be found in British archives.

On to Canada, 1832

When Alfred Bonniwell was about six years old, his parents and older siblings decided to leave behind their established and successful lives in Chatham and emigrate to Canada. The whys and hows of the family’s 1832 migration to North America are an interesting but complicated story. For full details, see chapter 8, “Coming to America,” of The Bonniwells: 1000 Years.2 Eldest son Charles Bonniwell later recalled the voyage and how after a series of early, stormy, difficulties they arrived in Canada.

We came to Quebec [city] finally and were stopped by quarantine officers. Although the ship had a clean bill of health, we had some delay about landing.3

Cholera was rampant in Canada at the time, and it’s likely that the Bonniwells first view of Canadian life may have been the new quarantine station at Grosse Île, in the St. Lawrence River near Québec city.4 Then, after their successful quarantine inspection, it was time to look around a bit.

Québec City

Once ashore, this is the view the Bonniwells—including six-year-old Alfred—would have seen, as they climbed to the city’s ramparts:

Hunt., C., Quebec vue des remparts, 1833 (reproduction, n.d.), BAnQ Québec, Collection initiale, (03Q,P600,S5,PLC73), public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

When we landed we walked about the streets, observing the scenes of the lower town and the upper town. The streets were several feet lower than the sidewalks, and my mother fell off the sidewalk and sprained her ankle. We picked her up and took her into a drug store and got a doctor.3

Though it wasn’t London or Portsmouth—or even the sprawling Royal Navy dockyards of their home in Chatham—it was the first city they would visit in the New World. But Québec was just a stopover on the way to their intended destination, the city of…


Leney, W. L. and A. Bourne., View of Montreal from Saint-Helen’s island in 1830, reprint 1871, Leggo and Co. BAnQ Québec, Collection initiale, (03Q,P600,S5,PLC7), public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

That’s the city of Montréal in 1830, as seen across the St. Lawrence River from Saint Helen’s Island. Take a moment to click and open the larger version of this image and note the many kinds of water transport on the river. From left to right there is a raft or ferry with 10 men rowing and two sails, a side-wheel steamboat, a large rowboat with single sail (most likely one of two types of boat: either a Mackinaw boat or a bateau), and a single-masted sloop with two jib foresails and a gunter- or gaff-rigged mainsail. It looks like the ferry is arriving or departing from the guarded booth at the end of the road at foreground, center.5

Their overseas journey now complete, the Bonniwell family would have gone ashore, unloaded their baggage and taken time to look around. There was much to see, such as this handsome vista along Notre Dame Street, one of Montréal’s principal avenues.

Leney, W.L. and Robert A. Sproule, Notre Dame Street, Montreal, 1830, Montréal, A. Bourne, 1830, BAnQ, slightly cropped and color adjusted. Click to open larger image in new window.

The 1831 census estimated that there were 553,134 people living in the province of Lower Canada. Montréal was incorporated as a city the following year. By the time the Bonniwells explored its streets in October, 1832, Montréal was, perhaps, the largest and most “British” city in the kingdom’s Canadian provinces.6 But Montréal was not a healthy city in October, 1832, and the Bonniwells would not have much time to enjoy the sights.

Cholera and tragedy

Cholera was raging through Lower Canada when the Bonniwells arrived, and about two weeks later, on October 18, 1832, father William T. B. Bonniwell died of the disease. Charles Bonniwell recalled:

When we got to Montreal, my father was taken down with Asiatic cholera and died. We buried him there, myself and my brother James being the only ones who followed him to the grave.

Family patriarch William T. B. Bonniwell was buried at the city’s Anglican church that same day.7

Bonniwell, William, burial 18 October 1832, Christ Church (Anglican) Register, Montréal, Lower Canada; Institut Généalogique Drouin, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, Drouin Collection; Gabriel Drouin, compiler, via Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2008. Click to open larger image in new window.

18 [October 1832] Bonniwell Buried

William Bonniwell an Emigrant died on the eighteenth day of October one thousand eight hundred and thirty two aged fifty years and was buried on the same day by me, John Bethune Rector
Witnesses } W. Harrison
present } Welton [sp? possibly Helton?]

Montréal’s Anglican Christ Church still exists, now known as Christ Church Cathedral. William T.B. Bonniwell was buried at the church’s previous location on Notre Dame Street. That building, the second Anglican church on the site, can be seen in the lithograph above. It is the church at end of street, under the tallest spire at the far right of the image. That Christ Church building—Montréal’s Anglican cathedral since 1850— burned in 1856. The cathedral was rebuilt in its new location, 635 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, between 1859-67, where it remains.8


William Bonniwell was only 50 years old when he died in Montréal. His widow Eleanor was 47 years old and now had sole charge of her large family. Among them was her son Charles, the eldest at 27 years old and his brother James, 21. Charles had been married less than five years, and was accompanied by his wife Sophia (Munn) Bonniwell, their infant daughter Eliza, and toddler son, Charles, junior. Other Bonniwell children—all now fatherless—also accompanied them. The youngest of these was six-year-old Alfred.

What next? The familiy’s plans to patent land in Lower Canada were dashed by William T. B. Bonniwell’s death. Instead, the family decided to follow the advice of Bonniwell sons George and William—who had earlier migrated to New York City—and join them in the Empire State. And then? On to Wisconsin Territory, citizenship, and a few surprises.



  1. Alfred Bonniwell’s christening information is from: “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch, : 22 March 2020), Alfred Febbett Bonniwell, 1826.

  2. Bonniwell, George. The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, [n.p.], 1999, pages 54-58. Copies available from the Jonathan Clark House Museum and directly from the author. For more information, send me a note via the blog’s Contact link and I’ll forward it to George Bonniwell.

  3. The Charles Bonniwell quotes in this post are from a Milwaukee Sentinel profile of Charles published April 23, 1899, and reprinted in The Bonniwells, pages 56-57.

  4. BAnQ offers this information about the Grosse Île quarantine station:

    In the 19th century, an increasing stream of people was leaving Europe to rebuild their lives in North America. Around 1830, an average of 30,000 immigrants arrived annually in the City of Québec, the main port of entry to Canada. Approximately two-thirds of these newcomers were from Ireland. This unprecedented immigration on the St. Lawrence River took place at a time when major cholera and smallpox epidemics were sweeping through Europe. In order to help control the spread of the diseases, the quarantine station at Grosse Île, located in the St. Lawrence River downstream from the City of Québec, was established in 1832 and operated until its closure in 1937.

    At the same link, BAnQ provides more information on the history of the quarantine station, along with a searchable database that can connect you with:

    33,036 references to immigrants who stayed, were born, married or buried at the Grosse Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. The database also includes references to immigrants who were born or died at sea during those years. It also includes references to immigration workers and their families who were living on the island.

  5. For future reference, the ships in this picture are the kinds of ships that Jonathan M. Clark would have used when he emigrated from Stanstead, Lower Canada, to the United States via Lake Champlain and Whitehall, New York, in April, 1831. The Bonniwells would have taken a similar route when they left Montréal for New York in 1832. (More on that, next time.)

  6. According to the Group of Archivists of the Region of Montréal, “[t]he population had grown from 9,000 inhabitants around 1800 to 23,000 in 1825, then to 58,000 in 1852. As of 1831, the majority of Montréal’s population was of British origin.” 

  7. Other sources, including The Bonniwells, page 57, give William T. B. Bonniwell’s death date as October 17, 1832 and indicate he was buried the following day. The handwritten record of death and burial by Montréal’s Rev. Bethune is clear that William T. B. Bonniwell died and was buried on the same day, October 18.

    Charles and James Bonniwell may have been the only two members of the family to attend their father’s hasty burial, but Rev. Bethune, the officiant, was also accompanied by two witnesses, “W. Harrison” and one “Helton” or “Welton.” I have not been able to trace these two witnesses, but they may have been church staff—the sexton and his assistant, perhaps—as both signed the register as witnesses for many of Christ Church’s other burials in the weeks before and after Wm. T. B. Bonniwell’s interment.

  8. For more on the history of Montréal’s Christ Church, I recommend Adams, Frank Dawson, A History of Christ Church Cathedral […], Montreal, Burton’s Limited, 1941, complete with illustrations, maps, and facsimile portraits, and available as a free pdf via the Collections de BAnQ. The book also has some detailed information on the first steamboats in Canada, a history with relevance to the Bonniwells and, II believe, to Jonathan M. Clark and other Mequon immigrants from the north.

    William T. B. Bonniwell was most likely buried in the Protestant Old Burying Ground, formerly located just outside the walls of the Old City of Montréal. That cemetery became full by 1854 and was closed to new burials. The site was later transformed into a public park known as Dufferin Square; at that time, bodies from the Old Burying Ground could be transferred to the new, larger cemetery outside the city, if families or friends were willing to pay costs. Many bodies were never transferred.

    Dufferin Square was later displaced by highway and other urban construction and is now the site of the city’s Complexe Guy-Favreau. Further construction and archeology have run into remnants of the Old Burying Ground and its original occupants.